On January 27, 1973, representatives from the United States, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam signed the documents known as the Paris Peace Accords, which spelled out the U.S.’s exit from South Vietnam to end the war.
By that time, the U.S. had been involved in Vietnam for 18 years, beginning with military advisers in 1955. The first two American military casualties died there in 1959. The war escalated into full American involvement in the 1960s and into the 1970s, becoming a bitterly divisive one that spurred social unrest and rioting at home as opposition to it grew.
The Paris Peace Accords orchestrated a ceasefire. The U.S promised it would extract all of its military forces and dismantle all bases while the North Vietnamese would release all of the prisoners of war – Americans and other nationalities—both to occur within 60 days. The North Vietnamese were allowed to keep 150,000 troops in South Vietnam, with the reunification of Vietnam being the goal, to be worked out peacefully between those two nations. The U.S. promised to help contribute “to healing the wounds of war” and to the rebuilding of North Vietnam and other parts of Indochina.
The U.S. did, indeed, begin pulling troops out of South Vietnam. However, the ceasefire didn’t last long; the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army resumed their push to take South Vietnam by force. They swarmed into Saigon in April 1975 as Marines evacuated Americans and other personnel by helicopter from the rooftop of the American Embassy (as described in a CalVet Connect post in April 2021).
The war came at an extreme cost to the U.S. with more than 58,000 American casualties. Their names grace memorials including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C., the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Sacramento’s Capitol Park (more than 5,700 Californians are etched onto the black granite panels), and so many others across the nation. Nearly 1,600 Americans remain unaccounted for.
The war was also costly in financial terms: America spent nearly $170 billion (nearly $1 trillion in today’s dollars) fighting it. That doesn’t include the costs of caring for the Vietnam-era veterans who now number nearly 6 million nationwide, with nearly 500,000 living in California, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ population projection models.
Those who came home did so to a torn nation. It’s taken decades for them to receive the recognition and appreciation they deserved then and do now.
It might have ended on paper with the Paris Peace Accords 49 years ago, but the Vietnam War will forever remain etched into America’s collective heart and soul.