Vietnam Timeline

16th century — After centuries of Chinese rule over the land that would become Vietnam, the French establish Catholic missions and mercantile hubs to exploit resources.

1859-1883 — France annexes Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam as French Indochina.

1940-1945 — Japan occupies Vietnam during World War II, after which the French return.

1950 — President Harry Truman orders aid to help the French resist the growing popularity of Ho Chi Minh, the nationalist Communist leader of Vietnam.

1954 — The Vietnamese defeat the French for a short-lived independence. The Geneva Accords call for elections in 1956. U.S.-backed Ngo Dinh Diem becomes prime minister in the south.

1956 — Diem refuses to hold elections. President Dwight Eisenhower sends advisers to the south and the CIA to fight a secret war in Laos to undermine the north.

1961-62 — President John Kennedy increases the number of advisers and CIA involvement.

1964 — Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorizes President Lyndon Johnson to escalate America’s role in Vietnam.

1965 — Johnson orders 3,500 Marines into Vietnam — the first U.S. ground troops of the war; South Vietnam logs its 10th government transition in 20 months.

Jan. 30-31, 1968 — At the start of Tet — the Lunar New Year holiday — the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong seize hundreds of towns in the south, catching the U.S. military off guard. The U.S. military called the Tet Offensive a victory, but it is considered the turning point in America’s resolve to continue participation in the war.

March 16, 1968 — U.S. soldiers kill hundreds of unarmed civilians in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai, which would become known as the My Lai Massacre.

1969 — President Richard Nixon orders the secret bombing of North Vietnamese supply stations in Cambodia. U.S. combat troops reach a high of 543,400.

February 1970 — Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser, begins secret peace talks with North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho.

April 1972 — Official peace talks resume. U.S. military presence drops to 69,000.

Jan. 27, 1973 — U.S. signs Paris Peace Accords, ending its combat involvement.

April 1975 — Fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese army; American advisers, embassy staff and refugees amass at the embassy for rescue by helicopters.

Late 1970s — Vietnam continues to defend itself against China and U.S.-backed Cambodia. Economic devastation follows through the 1980s.

1994 — President Bill Clinton lifts a 19-year trade embargo against Vietnam.

More than 58,000 Americans were killed during the war, with an estimated 1,600 still unaccounted for. Millions of Vietnamese, military and civilian, were killed, and hundreds of thousands remain unaccounted for.

Sources: World; “Vietnam: Tradition and Change” by Huu Ngoc; “After Sorrow” by Lady Borton; and various historical sources.