I had been home from my 13-month combat tour in Vietnam with Bravo Co. 3rd Recon Bn., 3rd Marine Division for four years already when then President Richard M. Nixon came on television to the nation on January 23, 1973, to make this announcement about the ceasefire that would bring the American participation in the war in Vietnam to an end. The war had gone on for 10 long years, and the nation was divided and exhausted, and this news came as a relief to many and as a kind of defeat to those of us who had fought so hard and lost so many of our friends over those years of war.
It was over for us. And the hope was that the Paris Peace accords signed by the United States and the governments of both North and South Vietnam earlier in the month would bring an end to the war and would guarantee the people of South Vietnam the right to continue to govern their own destiny. Among the guarantees brokered between the U.S. Sec. of State, Henry Kissinger, and the representative of the Peoples Republic of Vietnam, i.e. North Vietnam, Le Duc To, included a ceasefire, to take place at 7:00 p.m. on January 27, 1973.
The U.S. also negotiated, along with the ceasefire, the following conditions, which were agreed to and signed by Le Duc To, the representative of North Vietnam: During the next 60 days, all POWs held by the North would be released, and an accounting of MIAs would be begun. It was also agreed that all American forces would be withdrawn from South Vietnam within those 60 days. As for the people of South Vietnam, it was agreed that their right to exist and to govern in their own interests as a free and sovereign nation would be guaranteed. The United States also promised to support the South Vietnamese in their efforts to insure their sovereignty.
Those of us old enough to have lived this time period in history may remember how we felt about this at the time. Those who protested the war may have felt a sense of relief and even victory in their cause. Many who were on the fence may have felt just that sense of relief that it was all over. Many of us who had fought in Vietnam had conflicting feelings about it, but, in general, there was a kind of national exhale. The long and bloody war was over. We would no longer have to endure the nightly news reports of how many American deaths occurred over the last week. There was relief in the sense that it would bring an end to the vast material costs of paying for the necessities of warfighting. The nation was exhausted by the internal divisions caused by the war, and there were many other social, economic, and political issues that were demanding attention as well.
For many of us who had served in Vietnam, this announcement brought with it a more complex range of emotions. There was relief in us too, in the sense that no more of us would be dying. But many of us also felt a deep sense of betrayal and rejection by the society we came home to and a sense of having been used and used up by our government. We entered a kind of state of limbo. Our service and our sacrifices were not thought of in the way that our fathers’ service and sacrifices were thought of and treated on their return home from war. Indeed, we were often painted as villains rather than heroes.
As for the South Vietnamese people, their “guarantees” for continued sovereignty were soon reneged upon by the North Vietnamese government. Their long war continued. The North began a campaign to take the South even before the ink had dried on the Paris Peace Accord documents. Sadly, the United States would renege on its promises of material and military support to the South Vietnamese government. For all of its own problems with corruption and bad governance, the entity formally known as the Republic of Vietnam would come to a violent end in April of 1975 with the fall of Saigon. And this fact was partially the result of the United States Congress’ abandonment of the commitment of support that was supposedly guaranteed by the Paris Peace Accords.
The ceasefire that brought an end to the American involvement in the Vietnam War on January 27, 1973, is now almost half a century in the past. For many alive in our nation today, this date has no meaning at all. Most of those (but not all) who fought in Vietnam have lived long enough to have come to terms with our wartime experiences and had enough luck to find meaningful work after a time, to marry and raise families, and to contribute to society in many productive ways. Some of our brothers and sisters still suffer the lingering physical and/or psychological effects of that service and still need our support like that that the Veterans Site provides. May that support continue, and may it have the positive effects that are needed.
The anniversary of the ceasefire and the signing of the Paris Peace accords comes on January 27, 2023. Whatever one thinks about the Vietnam War, we must remember our duty to honor those who fought in Vietnam. We must never forget their service and the sacrifices made by those who answered the call and who served with courage, self-sacrifice and distinction. When they signed their enlistment papers, they, like their fathers before them, signed a blank check to the nation agreeing to pay up to the sacrifice of their lives…and more than 58,000 of them honored that blank check. We must honor our end of the bargain as well by thanking them and all those who served for their good and noble service in our name.Whizzco