Some days can be hugely important and memorable: December 7 (the Pearl Harbor attack, 1941), June 6 (D-Day, 1944), and September 11 (the terrorists attacks in New York and the Pentagon, 2001).
Others might be lesser known but important components of a much larger event, and that brings us to today, June 16. While numerous historical military moments happened on this day dating back to the pre-Revolutionary War days, June 16 has this distinction: From 1954 until 1970, the date is indelibly tied to the incubation and escalation of the Vietnam War.
On June 16, 1954, the Viet Minh — a revolutionary group headed by Ho Chi Minh seeking the ouster of France from Vietnam — found themselves under pressure from China and Soviet Union not to adversely impact talks between the communists and socialists at the Geneva Accords. China’s Chou En Lai told the Viet Minh — firmly in control in North Vietnam — to pull out of Laos and Cambodia. The non-binding agreement reached in Geneva set the groundwork by which the French left, and Vietnam would hold free elections to determine unification of the North and South by 1956. South Vietnam refused to sign off and was supported by the United States. North Vietnam continued intensifying its infiltration of South Vietnam, ultimately leading to the war.
On June 16, 1961, six years after it began providing advisors to South Vietnam, the U.S. agreed to increase the number of combat trainers and advisors from 900 to 3,200, and was raised to 16,000 before President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.
On June 16, 1965, the Navy began working to reactivate its hospital ship, the USS Repose (AH16). Last used during the Korean War, the Repose had been decommissioned at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco in 1954 and spent years languishing as part of the Mothball Fleet in Benicia. It returned to Hunters Point to be refitted, arrived in the South China Sea in February, 1966, and served during various Vietnam campaigns until being decommissioned again in 1970.
Also on June 16, 1965, the U.S. committed to sending 21,000 more troops to Vietnam, and would have more than 540,000 there by 1969.
On June 16, 1967, with a special military tribunal under way in Saigon, the Vietcong threatened to execute American POWs if “three Vietnamese patriots” received death sentences during the tribunal proceedings.
On June 16, 1970, the U.S. Senate refused to establish a deadline for troops to leave Vietnam, and the House followed with a similar denial a day later.
Also on June 16, 1970, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong seized a freight train bearing rice and other supplies, in essence cutting off the Cambodian capital city of Phnom Penh. The U.S. and South Vietnam had tried to sever North Vietnam’s supply lines in that country, the new government of which sided with the South Vietnamese and Americans. The North Vietnamese responded by recruiting Cambodian revolutionaries to aid the Communists and cutting off supplies to Phnom Penh.
None of those June 16 events singularly defined the Vietnam War. Instead, the day seemed to be a magnet for elements that became big parts of a bigger picture.