On March 8, 1965, the first U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam as 3500 Marines landed at China Beach to defend the American air base at Da Nang. They joined 23,000 American military advisors already in Vietnam. This marked the start of the ground war in South Vietnam. By year’s end there would be more than 184,000 American troops in South Vietnam--and that was just the beginning.
Thus began the conflict that would consume a generation of Americans. In that time more than 3,000,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen served in the Southeast Asia theater, including 514,300 offshore. The theater included Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, flight crews based in Thailand, and sailors on Yankee station in the South China Sea.
This 50th anniversary of the arrival of combat troops in Vietnam is one milestone in our lives as Vietnam veterans. In the next few years there will be many 50th anniversaries commemorating events in that war and in our lives as Vietnam veterans. Aside from historical events, we will remember entering the military, our training and preparation for war, arriving in Vietnam, and leaving. For some of us it marks a time of some of the most heralding events in our lives. Old men and women looking back on events that shaped our lives and the lives of our families.
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary, the City of Petaluma had a flag raising ceremony replacing the four flags at the bridge crossing at East Washington Street near Petaluma Blvd which had been absent for many years. The new flags were donated by The History Connection and VVA Chapter 563 and were hoisted by local veterans including yours truly. The History Connection and Vietnam Veterans Chapter 563 have committed to replace all the torn flags in the City of Petaluma free of cost.
As an ageing demographic, Vietnam veterans are increasingly reminded of past events. For many veterans of our generation there will be many 50th anniversaries we will observe over the next few years. We must not forget those who gave their lives in that struggle. Their sacrifices will be remembered as they remain in our hearts forever young.