January 1962: Vietnam

Thursday, January 11

In his State of the Union speech, President John F. Kennedy says:
We support the independence of those newer or weaker states whose history, geography, economy or lack of power impels them to remain outside "entangling alliances" -- as we did ourselves for so many years. For the independence of nations is a bar to the communists' "grand design" -- it is the basis of our own.
In the past year, for example, we have urged a neutral and independent Laos -- regained there a common policy with our major allies -- and insisted that a cease-fire precede negotiations. While a workable formula for supervising its independence is still to be achieved, both the spread of war and a communist occupation thus far have been prevented.
A satisfactory settlement in Laos would also help to achieve and safeguard the peace in Viet Nam -- where the foe is increasing his tactics of terror -- where our own efforts have been stepped up -- and where the local government has initiated new programs and reforms to broaden the base of resistance.
The systematic aggression now bleeding that country is not a "war of liberation" -- for Viet Nam is already free. It is a war of attempted subjugation -- and it will be resisted.

* Text of speech (from American Presidency Project): @

Friday, January 12

From pbs.org:
In Operation Chopper (part of Operation Farm Gate), helicopters flown by U.S. Army pilots ferry 1,000 South Vietnamese soldiers to sweep a NLF (National Liberation Front) stronghold near Saigon. It marks America's first combat missions against the Viet Cong.

1962 photo from Life.com, precise date and location uncertain; caption reads, "Vietnamese troops waiting to be picked up."

* "Operation Farm Gate" (from "The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War"): @
* More about H-21 Shawnee helicopters (from www.globalsecurity.org): @

Saturday, January 13
Operation Ranch Hand -- an effort to flush out North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops by destroying ground cover through the aerial spraying of herbicides -- formally gets under way.

* Earlier post on Operation Ranch Hand (August 10, 1961): @
* "Operation Ranch Hand: Herbicides in Southeast Asia" (by William A. Buckingham Jr., who also wrote a longer history for the Office of Air Force History, linked to in earlier post): @

Monday, January 15

From a news conference held by President Kennedy:
Q: Mr. President, are American troops now in combat in Vietnam?
A: No.

From "Vietnam War Almanac": This is technically correct, but U.S. are serving as combat advisers with the South Vietnamese army, and U.S. pilots are flying missions with the South Vietnamese air force.

Transcript of news conference (from JFK Library): @

Saturday, January 27

From "Vietnam War Almanac":
Secretary of Defense McNamara forwards a memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to President Kennedy that urges the deployment of "suitable" U.S. forces to Vietnam, saying that it is clear that the South Vietnamese cannot handle the insurgency alone. The Joint Chiefs of Staff asserts that failure to deploy forces at this time "will merely extend the date when such action must be taken and will make our ultimate task proportionally more difficult."

From the memorandum, titled "The Strategic Importance of the Southeast Asia Mainland" (dated January 13):
The military objective, therefore, must be to take expeditiously all actions necessary to defeat communist aggression in South Vietnam. The immediate strategic importance of Southeast Asia lies in the political value that can accrue to the Free World through a successful stand in that area. Of equal importance is the psychological impact that a firm position by the United States will have on the countries of the world -- both free and communist. On the negative side, a United States political and/or military withdrawal from the Southeast Asian area would have an adverse psychological impact of even greater proportion, and one from which recovery would be both difficult and costly. It must be recognized that the fall of South Vietnam to communist control would mean the eventual communist domination of all of the Southeast Asian mainland.

Note: McNamara does not agree with the assessment. He adds this comment to the report in passing it to Kennedy: "The memorandum requires no action by you at this time. I am not prepared to endorse the views of the Chiefs until we have had more experience with our present program in South Vietnam."

* Text of memorandum: @

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