History Today in Military History

Today in military history: Bloodiest year of Vietnam War comes to an end

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On Dec. 31, 1968, the bloodiest year of the Vietnam War came to an end.

It is estimated that over 181,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were killed during 1968, while 27,915 South Vietnamese, 14,584 Americans, and 979 Australians, New Zealanders, South Koreans, and Thais died.

A number of factors contributed to the high casualty rate, but possibly the most significant was the Tet Offensive, launched in January by the communists, who organized a series of attacks against at least 100 locations in South Vietnam including the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and the city of Hue. 

Before the Tet Offensive, Americans were confident that the end of the war was near. After, it became clear that the enemy they faced was formidable and unpredictable. Morale fell and the anti-war sentiment increased back home, but it would still be years before the United States would finally see an end to the war.

The American experience in Vietnam was a long and painful one for the nation. For those against the war, it appeared to be a meat grinder for draftees, unfairly targeting the poor, the uneducated, and minorities. For those in favor of the war and those who served in the military at the time, the American public and media were (and still are) misled about what happened during the war and so feel betrayed by many at home.

The facts not in dispute by either side are just as harrowing: Over 20 years, more than 58,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam and more than 150,000 wounded, not to mention the emotional toll the war took on American culture. The war ended the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson and left a lasting impression on Richard Nixon’s. It was the backbone to the most tumultuous period in American history since before the Civil War one century prior.

Featured image: ARVN Rangers defend Saigon during the Tet Offensive (DOD Photo)