The Vietnam War was a military conflict fought primarily in Southern Vietnam in the years between 1959 and 1975. It was the source of many conflicting political and social opinions, especially in the years leading up to its conclusion. Militarily speaking, the war was the result of North Vietnam and the Vietcong attempting to overthrow the South Vietnamese government.
The conflict was a continuation of the first Indochina war, which was fought when the Vietnamese sought independence from France after World War II. The country was split into two parts — northern and southern — in the Geneva Accords in 1954. In the Vietnam War, The Democratic Republic of North Vietnam and its allies, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, fought against South Vietnam, whose allies would include the United States, Australia, South Korea, and New Zealand.
The United States' involvement in Vietnam began on 1 November 1955, when President Eisenhower deployed the Military Assistance Advisory Group to South Vietnam to help train the Southern Vietnamese army. In 1956, when elections that were to be held in Vietnam in accordance with the Geneva Conference failed to occur, the tension mounted considerably. December 1958 marked North Vietnam’s first invasion into Laos. Though there were already Americans present in the Vietnam conflict, it was not until 1962 when President Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1962, which granted military aid to countries that were "on the rim of the Communist world and under direct attack."
The Vietcong had their first victory of the Vietnam War at the battle of Ap Bac in January 1963, which was followed by the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem and an increasingly less stable South Vietnam. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson appointed William Westmoreland as commander of the US Army in Vietnam. Military troops rose in strength from approximately 16,000 to over 21,000 and were anticipated to climb to over 500,000 in number. The increased number of troops was considered to be a direct response to a reported attack on US ships by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin.
By the end of 1965, US troops had reached 184,000 in number, and the first major ground battle involving the US military had occurred under Operation Starlite. As anticipated, by the end of 1966, troop numbers were approaching 0.5 million in number, which would climb slightly higher before the war’s end. The number of lives claimed by the war exceeded 1 million and is believed to be as high as 4 million. The conflict came to an official end after the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, when the South Vietnam capital was captured by the Vietnam People’s Army. Today, 30 April is a public holiday observed in Vietnam as Reunification Day.