Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image U.S. soldiers and helicopters during the Vietnam war.

March 29, 2023
Growing up during a war

Trying to figure out just when the Vietnam war started proved to be an interesting task.

Pinning down a definitive date was probably difficult because U.S. involvement in the war escalated during the 1950s prior to the official  sending of full combat troops to Vietnam in 1965.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has an online fact sheet that lists the Vietnam War as running from 1964 to 1975.

Most histories of the Vietnam War mark the official beginning of the war as occurring in 1954. That’s the year communist insurgents won a major victory and chased the French colonialists out of Vietnam. A peace agreement divided the county in half with the communists backed government on the north and the democratic supported government on the south.  

A national election scheduled for 1956 to reunify the country never occurred.

Some historians start the U.S. war in Vietnam in 1955. That’s when the Military Assistance Advisory Group – Vietnam was organized. 

One history site on the internet said the first death of a U.S. soldier in Vietnam was in 1959.

Well, let’s agree for the sake of this column the Vietnam War started in 1954. 

While the last U.S. combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam on March 29, 1973. The end of the war happened more like on April 30, 1975 with the fall of Saigon and the last evacuations — remember the photos of people being airlifted by a helicopter from the roof of a Saigon building?

The course of the Vietnam War ran from 1954, three years before I was born, to April 30, 1975, approximately one month before I turned 18 and graduated from high school.

I grew up with the Vietnam War. Although I did not comprehend what was going on for many of my early years, the war seemed to be on the television, on the radio, in the newspaper headlines and the topic of discussion for my entire formative years.

Prior to my 18th birthday, I did not know life without war, life without a draft, or life without protests.

War was just part of life as I grew up. No wonder a graduating high school class when I was in junior high chose “Let There be Peace on Earth” as their graduation theme song.

I refer to the Vietnam War as the war I was lucky to miss. 

Nixon announced that draftees would no longer be sent to Vietnam in 1972. In 1973 the draft ended. By 1975, when I turned 18, I did not have to register for the draft.

My brother, who is four years older than me, also escaped being drafted. He registered for the draft when he turned 18 in 1971. His birthday drew a high number on the draft lottery and he was never called up as the deployments to Vietnam started to be scaled back.

I have two uncles that served in Vietnam. One was wounded, awarded a purple heart and went back for a second tour of duty in Vietnam.

Fortunately, they both came back alive.

My parents were not supporters of the war. My father and step-mother were both politically active and supported anti-war candidates. 

Despite their anti-war leanings, my parents taught me in word and by example to respect our soldiers that served our country. Their anti-war efforts were directed at the politicians that supported the war or continued to fund the war.

All I knew about the war was that we feared the “domino effect,” the idea that if one country in southwest Asia fell to communist rule, they all would follow.

You have to remember that the Vietnam War was accompanied by the Cold War. There were fall out shelters in public buildings and air raid drills in schools. Some night the communists were going to drop bombs and annihilate all of us.

I can’t remember everything that ran through my mind. It was 50 years ago.

I know that as an adult, even before Vietnam War Veterans Day was established, when I met a Vietnam War veteran, I thanked them for their service. I thanked them for their service that I benefited from in a war that I feared I might have had to serve in, but from which I was reprieved.


Tim Gillie

Editor at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Tim has been writing for the Transcript Bulletin since October 2017. In February 2019 he was named as editor. In addition to being editor, Tim continues to write about Tooele County government, education, business, real estate, housing, politics and the state Legislature.A native of Washington state and a graduate of Central Washington University, Tim became a journalist after a 20 year career with the Boy Scouts of America.

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