Letter from Vietnam magazine – August 2010

By Vietnam magazine
7/15/2010 • Richard Nixon, Vietnam Letters

A stormy, stormy spring

When President Richard Nixon took to the airwaves on the evening of April 30, 1970, he told the American people of his bold plan to address what had been a vexing problem in waging war effectively in Vietnam: enemy sanctuaries just across the border in officially neutral Cambodia. As he spoke, a combined force of more than 80,000 U.S. and South Vietnamese troops were attacking North Vietnamese and Viet Cong strongholds across the border. Anticipating an outcry, Nixon called it an “incursion,” not an invasion, and tied the operation’s success to the prospect of bringing 150,000 U.S. troops home by the end of 1970. Unaware that covert bombing of Cambodian border sanctuaries had actually been ongoing for 14 months, a growing segment of the U.S. population, weary of the war and distrustful of Nixon’s intent, reacted strongly against the expansion of the conflict into Cambodia. Days later, after protesting college students were gunned down in Ohio, the nation was plunged into one of the darkest and most divisive periods in its history. While the question of the incursion’s legality and morality—and the unprecedented killing of students protesting it—ignited a potent powder keg of generational conflict on the home front, the fighting in Cambodia was yielding significant military results.

Until April 30, 1970, like Americans at home, Army Captain Michael Christy and the men in his rifle company were completely in the dark about the imminent invasion. In our cover story, Christy recounts Charlie Company’s surprise orders, its action-filled seven-week war inside Cambodia—and the incredible fate that befell it just hours after being the very last American unit to leave.

Five years later, Cambodia again seared itself into American history with the capture of the container ship Mayaguez just days after the fall of South Vietnam and Cambodia and the seeming end of the American war in Vietnam. Phantom pilot Ric Hunter relives the encounter with Khmer Rouge forces that ensued on Koh Tang Island and how the last names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall earned their place there on May 15, 1975.

And finally, in this month’s portfolio, we pay a fitting tribute to perhaps the most unsung veterans of the war, the thousands of dogs, and their handlers, that served, sacrificed and saved the lives of GIs in Vietnam.