December 1961: Vietnam

Friday, December 8

In 1961 President Kennedy sent a team to Vietnam on conditions in South Vietnam and to assess future American aid requirements. The report, now known as the "December 1961 White Paper," argued for an increase in military, technical and economic aid, and the introduction of large-scale American advisers to help stabilize Diem's government and crush the NLF. As Kennedy weighed the merits of these recommendations, some of his other advisers urged the president to withdraw from Vietnam altogether, claiming that it was a "dead-end alley."

The report concludes: Viet-Nam is not an isolated problem. The tactics used there have been used before. They will be used again, particularly if they prove successful. A government or a people who now think that "Viet-Nam is so far away from us" may well discover that they are the South Vietnamese of tomorrow. Then they may wish they had done more now. But then it will be late, very late, perhaps too late!

* Full text of "A Threat to the Peace: North Viet-Nam's Effort to Conquer South Viet-Nam" (from The Vietnam Center and Archive): @

Monday, December 11
The USNS Core arrives in Saigon, carrying 33 Army helicopters and 400 troops. This is considered the beginning of U.S. combat operations in Vietnam.

From The New York Times:

SAIGON, Vietnam, Dec. 11 -- Two United States Army helicopter companies arrived here today. The helicopters, to be flown and serviced by United States troops, are the first direct military support by the United States for South Vietnam's war against Communist guerrilla forces.
The craft will be assigned to the South Vietnamese Army in the field, but they will remain under United States Army control and operation.
At least thirty-three H-21C twin-rotor helicopters, their pilots and ground crews, an estimated total of 400 men, arrived aboard the Military Sea Transportation Service aircraft ferry Core.
South Vietnamese and United States official circles kept the entire operation under strict security wraps despite the fact that the Core, towering high above the surrounding rice paddies and with her unmistakable deck cargo visible for miles, had to travel upstream through countryside said to be alive with Communist agents and sympathizers.
Even without an announcement of the vessel's arrival, thousands of persons linked both banks of the narrow, muddy Saigon River to watch the former World War II auxiliary aircraft carrier tie up at a pier in front of the Majestic Hotel. The gray-painted ship, dozens of khaki-colored helicopters and hundreds of grinning, waving service men appeared as dramatic evidence of the United States' intention to bolster its assistance to South Vietnam in the face of the increasing threat from the Communists.
In addition to the helicopters the Core was carrying six or eight T-28 single-engine, propeller-driven training planes to be turned over to South Vietnam under the regular United States military assistance program.
Although the United States has made about twenty helicopters available to the Laotian Government in its fight against pro-Communist guerrillas, those machines are operated by civilian pilots of Air America, a subsidiary of Civil Air Transport of Taiwan.
The aircraft and men aboard the Core were here as the first fruits of Gen. Maxell D. Taylor's recent mission for President Kennedy and also of the lengthy series of conversations just concluded by President Ngo Dinh Diem and the United States Ambassador, Frederick E. Nolting Jr.
The South Vietnamese leader had given helicopters the highest priority in his listing of essential military assistance.
The vessel and her cargo were already in the South China sea only a few hundred miles off the Vietnamese coast last week when the State Department issued a White Paper on the crisis in South Vietnam. The document charged Communist North Vietnam with a wide ranger of overt and covert acts in violation of he 1954 treaty that ended the French-Indochinese war.
Neither the United States nor South Vietnam was a signatory of the treaty that ended the French empire in Southeast Asia and established the independent states of Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam and South Vietnam. But the United States made it known at the time that it would not stand idly by if aggression occurred against any of the three non-Communist nations -- Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam.
It was widely presumed here today that the arrival of the United States helicopters and crews foreshadowed much more United States aid, but there was no confirmation of this by either South Vietnamese or United States official sources.
Today's shipment alone could make a great difference in South Vietnam's ability to prosecute the war against the Vietnamese Communist forces. It nearly trebles the number of helicopters available to the South Vietnamese Army.
In the anti-guerrilla operations in the mountains, heavy jungles and rice paddies, the ability of the helicopters to cruise, hover and land almost anywhere makes them invaluable.
According to normal United States Army usage, H-21C helicopters can carry a pilot, co-pilot and twelve combat-ready soldiers or 2,500 pounds of cargo. It may be possible to load fifteen or even eighteen smaller, lightly armed South Vietnamese solders into each of the aircraft.
The units that arrived today were the Fifty-seventh Helicopter Company of Fort Lewis, Wash., commanded by Maj. Robert J. Dillard, and the Eighth Helicopter Company of Fort Bragg, commanded by Maj. Charles N. Hardesty.
Both officers refused to say how many aircraft and men they had. The standard complement for a helicopter company is twenty machines and 200 men.

* More photos: @
* Excerpt from "Vietnam Choppers: Helicopters in Battle, 1950-1975" (book by Simon Dunstan): @
Thursday, December 14

From entry in history.com:

In a public exchange of letters with South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, President John F. Kennedy formally announces that the United States will increase aid to South Vietnam, which would include the expansion of the U.S. troop commitment.

* Text of letters (from the book "Vietnam and America: A Documented History" by Marvin E. Gettleman): @

Friday, December 22
U.S. Army Specialist 4 James T. Davis is killed after being ambushed by the Viet Cong. While not the first American to die in Vietnam, his death is the first U.S. combat fatality during what is now considered a time of war.

* Summary (from nsa.gov): @
* Tribute page (from National Army Security Agency Association): @

Sunday, December 24
U.S. Army Specialist 4 George F. Fryett Jr. is the first American taken prisoner of war. He would be released six months later. (Note: "Honor Bound" says Fryett was captured the day after Christmas. Most other accounts say it was Dec. 24.)

* Account from www.pownetwork.org: @
* Associated Press article, 1971: @
* Account from "Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973" (book by Stuart I. Rochester, Frederick T. Kiley): @

Sunday, December 31

From the book "Vietnam War Almanac" by James H. Willbanks:

The total number of U.S. military personnel in Vietnam reaches 3,200. South Vietnamese military strength remains at 243,000. Total insurgent forces are estimated at 26,700. Fourteen Americans have been killed or wounded in combat. Two army helicopter units are flying combat missions in support of the AVRN; U.S. Air Force personnel are instructing VNAF and flying combat missions; U.S. Navy Mine Division 73 (a tender and five sweepers) is patrolling from Danang south along the coastline; U.S. aircraft from Thailand and Seventh Fleet carrers are flying surveillance and reconnaissance missions over Vietnam; and six C-123 aircraft equipped for support of defoliant operations have received "diplomatic clearance" to enter South Vietnam. In 1961, $65 million of U.S. military equipment and $136 million in economic aid have been delivered to South Vietnam.

* Earlier post on National Security Action Memorandum 52 (May 11, 1961): @
* Earlier post on use of herbicides in Vietnam (August 10, 1961): @
* "The Lovely Land That May Blow Up" (Life magazine, October 27, 1961): @

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