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January/February 2021 -   -  

50 Years Ago: 1971

February 1: Washington officials report a new allied operation in northwest South Vietnam, near the Khe Sanh Marine base. Secretary of Labor James Hodgson announces the formation of a national advisory committee for the “Jobs for Veterans” program.

February 2: Cambodian officials report that the Vietcong are moving back into the sanctuaries they left last summer after U.S. and South Vietnamese troops entered Cambodia.

February 3: Laotian Defense Minister Sisouk na Champassak announces that the North Vietnamese have begun a new offensive into his country. Three American servicemen are killed when their convoy is ambushed near Nha Trang. The South Vietnamese government says 10,000 of its troops are engaged in an offensive in Cambodia to clear out new Vietcong sanctuaries. The U.S. is providing air support. Senate leaders of both parties speak out against the news embargo imposed on the fighting near Khe Sanh.

February 4: The U.S. command discloses that American and South Vietnamese troops launched a major offensive on January 30 called Operation Dewey Canyon II into the northwest corner of South Vietnam. The news embargo in the area is lifted. The Cambodian military command says its troops are participating in the new South Vietnamese offensive to wipe out Vietcong sanctuaries there. Laotian Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma announces he will protest the new North Vietnamese incursion launched into his country. In Paris, South Vietnam defends the operations by accusing North Vietnam of threatening its security through aggression in Cambodia and Laos.

February 5: Informed sources say a drive into Laos by South Vietnamese troops is “imminent.”

February 6: Thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers mass a few miles from the border with Laos. A Pathet Lao spokesman tells Kyodo News Agency in Tokyo that South Vietnamese troops, supported by American firepower, are now 20 miles into Laos. U.S. officials refuse to comment. The U.S. command reports one battle death and four deaths from accidents in Operation Dewey Canyon II. A Government Accounting Office report concludes that half the money from AID that is supposed to go for refugee health programs in Laos is being spent on military operations directed by the CIA. 1st Lt. William Calley, Jr., is released from Walter Reed Army Medical Center after undergoing a sanity board hearing.

February 8: South Vietnamese troops cross the Laotian border to strike at the North Vietnamese supply routes on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In a statement, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu calls the move an “act of legitimate self-defense.” The U.S. command says no U.S. troops will enter Laos, but they will provide artillery support from South Vietnam, along with unlimited air support. The State Department defends the action as protecting “the security and safety of American forces in Vietnam,” and contends “this limited operation is not an enlargement of the war.” Laotian Premier Phouma says that although the North violated the neutrality of Laos first, it does not “constitute a justification for the entry of other protagonist troops in Laos.” He demands all foreign troops withdraw immediately. The U.S. command announces troop strength in South Vietnam is down to 335,000. The Harrisburg 6—including Reverends Philip and Daniel Berrigan—charged with conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger and to blow up federal buildings, plead not guilty.

February 9: Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird tells the Senate and House Armed Services Committees that the incursion into Laos will help shorten the war and ensure an American troop withdrawal.

Photo by Christopher Jensen/Getty Images

US Army soldier reads a novel during a stoppage along Route 9 during Operation
Lam Son 719, February 10, 1971.

February 10: The U.S. command changes the code name for Operation Dewey Canyon II to Lam Son 719. Four Americans are reported killed in northern South Vietnam in three shelling attacks. South Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky says his country’s troops will probably stay in Laos until May and may go back in again next year to ensure South Vietnam’s safety. A helicopter carrying four news photographers—Larry Burrows (Life), Henri Huet (AP), Kent Potter (UPI), and Keisaburo Shimamoto (Pan-Asian Newspaper Alliance)—and seven South Vietnamese, is shot down in Laos. Reports say the 58-year-old leader of Cambodia, Gen. Lon Nol, suffered a stroke on February 8. Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) introduces a bill to limit the president’s authority to commit U.S. troops without congressional approval. Secretary of State William Rogers says the U.S. will support “any kind of conference, in any format,” to bring peace to Southeast Asia.

February 11: In Paris, North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Vietcong say ten American battalions are fighting in Laos. American officials call the accusations “all nonsense.” U.S. pilots say antiaircraft fire along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos is among the most intense encountered by them in the war. ABC and NBC News report that American ground troops have taken part in the Laotian incursion, some in South Vietnamese military uniforms. The Pentagon denies the reports.

February 12: Laos declares a state of emergency.

February 13: Lon Nol leaves for a stay at the Tripler U.S. Army Hospital in Hawaii for medical treatment. The South Vietnamese are said to be 14 miles inside Laos.

February 14: North Vietnamese troops penetrate the base area at Long Tieng in Laos. A U.S. Air Force plane accidentally drops its bombs on “a friendly [Laotian] unit” near the Long Tieng base.

February 15: Military sources say South Vietnamese troops in Laos have succeeded in cutting the flow of North Vietnamese men and materiel into the South.

February 16: In South Vietnam, U.S. Air Force Col. Gerald Kehrli is sentenced to three years in prison and a $15,000 fine for seven marijuana offenses. He becomes the highest ranking U.S. officer to be court-martialed in Vietnam. Laird tells Nixon to expect “some tough days ahead” for allied troops battling in Laos. North Vietnamese cadres attack a U.S. encampment, 10 miles northeast of Khe Sanh, killing three. Three more Americans are killed in the same area during an ambush.

February 17: Military sources say that two North Vietnamese regiments have moved into new positions in southern Laos, threatening the advance of South Vietnamese troops on Route 9. Nixon says he will put no limit on the use of U.S. aircraft in Southeast Asia, except for a ban on tactical nuclear weapons. George Latimer, Calley’s chief counsel, tells the jury his defendant did not feel he was killing “humans”—he viewed the South Vietnamese as the “enemy with whom one could not speak or reason.” In Washington, D.C., at a meeting of the Businessmen’s Executive Movement for Peace in Vietnam, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) calls Nixon’s Vietnamization a “policy of violence” that has led to the “invasion of Cambodia [and] the invasion of Laos.”

February 18: In Paris, North Vietnam accuses the U.S. of threatening to extend the war into the North, thereby posing a threat to China. Two doctors testify that Calley lacked the mental ability to premeditate the murders at My Lai.

February 21: A battalion of South Vietnamese Rangers is overrun by North Vietnamese troops on Hill 31 in Laos.

February 22: The Vietcong say that they will retaliate against any U.S. action against the North with attacks in the South. Thieu calls the Laotian campaign successful because it has kept North Vietnamese troops from implementing their plan to seize the five northernmost provinces of South Vietnam. Calley takes the stand and tells how the Army taught him to treat the Vietnamese as potential enemies. He says he came to regard all Vietnamese with suspicion and hatred. Thieu meets with U.S. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker.

February 23: A helicopter crash kills ten in Tay Ninh Province, including Lt. Gen. Do Cao Tri, one of South Vietnam’s most respected military leaders, and Newsweek correspondent Francois Sully. U.S. fighting strength is put at 330,600, the lowest since the fall of 1966. Calley says he shot several civilian prisoners in a ditch at My Lai, but claims he was acting under orders. Senate Democrats call for all U.S. troops out of Vietnam by the end of 1972.

February 24: The defense rests in Calley’s court-martial. Calley asserts he never questioned the legality of the orders given to him by Capt. Ernest Medina, his company commander. Laird says news correspondents will be allowed to report on the U.S.-backed incursion into Laos.

February 25: In his state of the world address, Nixon asks the nation’s adversaries to join in the search for peace, but he warns he will not be hurried in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Southeast Asia or elsewhere. The Soviet Union condemns the U.S.’s Vietnamization program, saying the increased fighting in the area “cannot fail to affect Soviet-American relations.” Two psychiatrists testify that Calley was sane during the My Lai massacre. They comment that he was not suffering any more battle fatigue than the rest of his men. Military officials in South Vietnam announce that news correspondents going into Laos will not be accompanied by American military escorts.

February 26: The Democratic National Committee’s Policy Council says that Nixon’s state of the world address offers the “prospect of an endless war” in Southeast Asia. The Army announces it will court-martial Col. Oran Henderson, the former commander of the 11th Brigade of the Americal Division, on charges that he covered up the murder of civilians at My Lai. North Vietnam calls Nixon’s state of the world message “inflated rhetoric.”

February 27: South Vietnamese troops are said to have regained control of Hill 31 in Laos. The GAO contends the Defense Department spent $500,000 to train Thai soldiers in the U.S. to operate a missile system that isn’t owned by Thailand.

February 28: U.S. tanks and other armored units move to the Laotian border in South Vietnam to halt the possible movement of a North Vietnamese tank force. Sen. J.W. Fulbright (D-Ark.) says he will submit a bill to force the administration to appear before Congress and define its policies because there has been a “total breakdown” of communication concerning the Vietnam War.

March 1: Capt. Ernest Medina states he wants to testify at William Calley’s trial to refute Calley’s claims that he was only following Medina’s orders to kill civilians at My Lai in March 1968. A U.S. helicopter is shot down over Komnong Cham Province, Cambodia, killing the four U.S. crewmen aboard. Vietcong cadres hit Cambodia’s only oil refinery in Kompong Som, with 80 percent estimated damage. A bomb explodes in the Senate wing of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., causing extensive damage. A male caller warning of the bomb says it is “in protest of the Nixon involvement in Laos.”

March 2: Sen. Stuart Symington (D-Mo.) tells the Senate that President Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, has become “Secretary of State in everything but title,” and he has caused Secretary William Rogers to become the laughingstock of the capital. A Laotian military spokesman says North Vietnamese engineers are building a major road in his country. The road is located west of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. One American is killed near the town of Phan Thiet after his convoy is ambushed. An American official says photographers Larry Burrows, Kent Potter, Henri Huet, and Keisaburo Shimamoto, who were aboard a Vietnamese helicopter that crashed on February 10, “must now be presumed dead.”

March 3: The U.S. command reports North Vietnam is firing antiaircraft missiles across the DMZ at U.S. planes flying over South Vietnam. The Nixon administration sends a letter to Congress asking to retain authority to reinstate the draft if the new volunteer program fails. Forty-three representatives introduce a measure to send a 15-member U.S. observer team to oversee South Vietnam’s October presidential election. At Calley’s court-martial, Lt. Col. Frederic Watke testifies that reports of the civilian killings at My Lai were given to high-ranking officers of the Americal Division within hours of the massacre, and he denies that “orders” to kill civilians came down through the chain of command. In response to Sen. Symington’s remarks, the State Department says that Secretary of State Rogers “has played and continues to play a decisive role in foreign-policy decisions.”

March 4: Nixon accuses Symington of throwing “a cheap shot” at Rogers. In a state of the world address, Nixon says the Laos operation has “very seriously damaged” North Vietnam’s military ability, and it ensures the continued withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam. Maj. Charles Calhoun tells the Calley jury that Maj. Samuel Koster, the Americal Division commander during the My Lai massacre, forestalled an on-the-spot investigation into the killings. South Vietnamese and U.S. troops begin a 40-hour truce in western Kontum Province to allow the promised release of 39 wounded South Vietnamese prisoners held by the VC. Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky says that unless his country’s troops in Laos receive more American air support, they will be “in a difficult situation.”

March 5: North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong, in a report to the National Assembly, asks his people to be prepared to “smash any war act” against them and to increase their “support to the South.” Capt. Eugene Kotouc tells the Calley jury he ordered his officers to respect the lives of South Vietnamese civilians.

March 6: One American is reported killed in fighting four miles east of Khe Sanh. Communist guerillas attack Ban Son, a refugee center in northern Laos, killing five. A Gallup poll says that seven of ten Americans believe that Nixon is not telling all he should about the Vietnam War and, for the first time, reports more people (46 percent) disapprove than approve (41 percent) of his handling of the war.

March 7: The U.S. command reports that seven Americans have been killed at the Quang Tri base from two sets of shellings. Seven crewmen from a U.S. helicopter shot down over Laos on March 5 are rescued. American military sources report enemy supply traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos is back to the level it was before the South Vietnamese incursion.

March 8: The Army orders Medina to stand trial for premeditated murder and assault with a dangerous weapon for the My Lai killings. Four lawyers, including Ramsey Clark, agree to defend the Harrisburg 6 on charges of conspiracy to kidnap a government official and to blow up government buildings. The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 vote, rules that young men are not entitled to conscientious-objector status if they object only to the Vietnam War; they must oppose all wars.

March 9: In a rare on-the-record interview, Nixon says the Vietnam War is ending and, he adds, “In fact, I seriously doubt if we will ever have another war. This is probably the very last one.” U.S. officials report that the North Vietnamese lured field commander Lt. Col. Sheldon Burnett’s helicopter into Laos with a false smoke signal and shot it down; he is listed as MIA. South Korean President Chung Hee Park is said to be preparing to withdraw his 50,000 troops from South Vietnam.

March 10: At Calley’s court-martial Medina says he never ordered his men to kill women and children at My Lai, but he admits to covering up the incident.

March 11: American officials report a South Vietnamese resettlement program to move refugees to the southern part of the country will instead relocate them within their native provinces. Col. Oran Henderson, the last witness at Calley’s trial, tells the jury that the brigade commander for the troops involved in My Lai asked for a 60-day extension to train them before they shipped out to Vietnam in December 1967 because he felt they were not ready for combat. Lt. Col. Anthony Herbert charges Maj. Gen. John Barnes and Col. J. Ross Franklin with covering up war crimes in South Vietnam.

March 12: American military sources say U.S. planes have destroyed the only known SAM site in Laos.

March 13: The Far East Economic Review, a Hong Kong weekly, reports a North Vietnamese defector’s claims that his country’s policy for journalists captured in Cambodia—he contends to have seen six of them—is to take them to Hanoi.

March 14: Sen. Edward Kennedy says 25,000 South Vietnamese civilians were killed in 1970, a number not disputed by government officials. An American jet accidentally bombs South Vietnamese troops in Laos, killing ten. A South Vietnamese commanding general says his troops have fulfilled their mission in Laos “according to plans.” Judge Col. Reid Kennedy tells the Calley jury they must convict or acquit the defendant of premeditated murder, murder, or voluntary manslaughter. He rules out a conviction for involuntary manslaughter.

March 15: In Laos, South Vietnamese soldiers abandon Lolo, nine miles southeast of Tchepone, because North Vietnamese fire has kept U.S. helicopters from resupplying the base. Khe Sanh comes under the heaviest fire since the 1968 siege; damage is light.

Photo by Columbus Ledger-Enquirer/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Lt. William Calley flanked by two unidentified officers as he arrives for court,
Fort Benning, Georgia.

March 16: The Calley case goes to the jury. The Pathet Leo orders its cadres to “completely annihilate” South Vietnamese soldiers withdrawing from Laos.

March 17: The New York Times obtains top secret documents from U.S. Military Assistance Command that say the lack of funds for the war has been a crucial determinant in the rate of troop withdrawals from South Vietnam.

March 18: In Laos, U.S. helicopters help evacuate South Vietnamese troops from LZ Brown. The Pentagon reports that Gen. William Westmoreland has recommended a demotion and reprimands for Gen. Samuel Koster and Brig. Gen. George Young, Jr., who were in command of the Army division involved in the My Lai massacre. Four American soldiers are killed in fighting southwest of Khe Sanh. The South Vietnamese Senate defeats a bill to limit the number of presidential candidates in the October election.

March 19: The House Armed Services Committee votes to end draft deferments for divinity students and to extend the required civilian service for conscientious objectors to three years. Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor announces a plan to ensure all off-base housing is “open to all soldiers or open to none.”

March 20: Calley says if he is acquitted he will go on a worldwide tour to speak against all wars. Army Judge Capt. Curtis Smothers says “strict monitoring and the imposition of sanctions” will be required if the Army wants its new anti-discriminatory housing policy to work. Hanoi radio reports the downing of an American B-52 in North Vietnam on March 18. The Defense Department denies it.

March 21: A commanding officer is relieved of duty after two American armored cavalry platoons refuse orders to advance along Route 9 near the Laotian border to secure damaged equipment. The Nixon administration insists that South Vietnamese troops are making an “orderly retreat” from Laos.

March 22: U.S. helicopters retrieve 2,000 South Vietnamese troops from inside Laos. The U.S. command says American planes are attacking SAM and other antiaircraft sites inside North Vietnam in response to attacks on American planes. A commanding general says no disciplinary action will be taken against the 53 American troops who refused orders along Route 9. In an ABC-TV interview, Nixon states that the drive into Laos by South Vietnamese soldiers “has made considerable progress” toward the U.S. troop withdrawal, the reduction of the threat to U.S. forces, and the strengthening of South Vietnam’s military. The House Armed Services Committee votes to extend the draft for two years and to increase military pay and allowances.

March 23: Three Americans are killed after NVA shells and sappers hit Khe Sanh. The Defense Department concedes that South Vietnamese troops in Laos might have stayed longer if the enemy response hadn’t been so strong.

March 24: The South Vietnamese incursion into Laos ends. The U.S. command reports the loss of 89 helicopters in the operation and that 51 U.S. troops were killed, 78 wounded, and 28 remain missing in action.

March 25: The Defense Department warns against a North Vietnamese buildup in the DMZ. Five American helicopters are shot down near Khe Sanh.

March 26: American troops begin to dismantle equipment at Khe Sanh. President Nguyen Van Thieu announces a five-year plan to bolster South Vietnam’s rural economy.

March 27: Three American soldiers are reported killed in four enemy attacks in northwest South Vietnam. In a foreign policy report to Congress, Rogers says that the “national preoccupation with Vietnam has preempted our attention from other areas of concern” in the world.

March 28: Thirty-three U.S. troops are killed after enemy guerrillas partly overrun an artillery base 50 miles south of Danang.

March 29: Calley is found guilty of the premeditated murder of at least 22 South Vietnamese civilians. Enemy mortars hit a South Vietnamese resettlement camp, killing 13 civilians.

March 30: The South Vietnamese command acknowledges there are still troops operating inside Laos. Calley asks for understanding from members of the jury as they prepare to decide his punishment. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee decides to hold hearings on “how to end the war.” Four U.S. planes bomb a North Vietnamese artillery site inside the DMZ. A confidential Army directive orders personnel to intercept and confiscate personal mail containing antiwar and other dissident material sent to soldiers in Vietnam.

March 31: Calley is sentenced to life imprisonment. Thieu says South Vietnamese troops in Laos have attacked a North Vietnamese base on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He also says that the drive into Laos was “the biggest victory ever” for his country’s military. One American soldier is killed in an ambush six miles northeast of Khe Sanh. House Democrats ask for an end to U.S. involvement in Vietnam by the start of 1973. The White House says it has received 5,000 telegrams regarding the Calley verdict with “1 to 100 in favor of clemency.”




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