Forty-five years ago today, the last American ground troops left Vietnam after almost a decade-long military intervention. Even though the soldiers had gone, more than 7,000 civilian employees of the US Department of Defense stayed behind.
"Our mission has been accomplished. I depart with a strong feeling of pride in what we have achieved, and in what our achievement represents," American commander General Frederick Weyand said at the time.
His threshold for accomplishment must have been lower than much of the American public's. By January of 1973, shortly before a peace agreement was hammered out in Paris, Gallup polling found that 60% of respondents believed that the US had "made a mistake sending troops to fight in Vietnam." In 1965, at the beginning of American involvement in the conflict, only 24% of respondents thought it was a mistake.
"Now it becomes a matter of will and determination on the part of the South Vietnamese," a soldier told the New York Times.
This was before the 1975 fall of Saigon, which ended the conflict with the surrender of South Vietnamese forces. As a refresher, those were the guys the US went over there to aid. Vietnam is now a communist state, but the US normalized relations with the country under President Bill Clinton and entered into a trade agreement under President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama visited the country in 2016.
By the end of the conflict, North Vietnam had withstood more bomb tonnage than Germany, Italy and Japan during World War II. According to the US Department of Defense, more than 2 million US troops served in South Vietnam. 58,220 Americans died, along with 1 million civilians. 1,601 American soldiers are still unaccounted for.