The Vietnam War lasted 19 years and 5 months. Out of all wars the United states has been involved in, it is exceeded in length only by the war in Afghanistan, but no modern conflict comes close in terms of sheer loss of life.
Nearly 59,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam. 98,000 were left disabled, 5,000 lost limbs, 800 were taken as prisoners of war, and at least 1,600 still have not been accounted for to this day. Some 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters died in the bloody battles, and according to Britannica, the civilian death toll topped as many as 2 million on both sides of the war.
As US Wings reports, the average age of those killed in Vietnam was just over 23 years old. Of those killed, 61% were younger than 21, and 11,465 were younger than 20.
Among those young men was 15-year-old Dan Bullock, of Brooklyn, New York.
According to an article on the front page of The New York Times in 1969: “Dan Bullock was born Dec. 21, 1953. When he enlisted in the Marines last Sept. 18, he was 14. Pentagon officials said his birth certificate had been adjusted to show the year as 1949 so that he could pass for 18.”
Bullock was killed along with three other Marines when North Vietnamese commandos tossed explosives into their bunker. The following day, President Richard M. Nixon announced, the first deliberate troop drawdowns of the war.
Gold Star families like the Bullocks carry on on the memories of the fallen to this day. For those lucky enough to return home alive, the story was much different.
According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, some 500,000 of the 3 million troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and rates of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction were markedly higher among veterans.
As public sentiment turned against the long-running war and government cover-ups, troops coming home unfortunately suffered as targets of that frustration.
More than 2.5 million U.S. soldiers were also exposed to Agent Orange, the VA reports. This defoliant caused health problems in 3 million Vietnamese, according to the Vietnamese Red Cross, and causes cancer, diabetes, and birth defects in the children of those affected.
The VA is still paying out compensation benefits for Vietnam veterans and families to the tune of $22 billion a year, The Balance reports. Since 1970, the post-war benefits for veterans and families have cost $270 billion.
The Vietnam War left an indelible mark on the world, one of many notations in history revealing the darkness within some human souls, but a lesson we must never forget. 58,880 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice in this war, forever changing the very definition of being an American. As government leaders admitted to mistakes, lies and cover-ups in the war years later, distrust between the American public and those leaders has grown, but a vast majority of Americans still hold Vietnam veterans in high regard.
Vietnam Veterans Day is celebrated on March 29 every year in the U.S., but you can show a Vietnam vet your gratitude any day of the year. Join others in taking the pledge to thank Vietnam Veterans for their sacrifices.
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