Humanities › History & Culture Vietnam War Timeline 1847-1982 Share Flipboard Email Print Daderot / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain History & Culture The 20th Century People & Events Fads & Fashions Early 20th Century The 20s The 30s The 40s The 50s The 60s The 80s The 90s American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History Women's History View More By Jennifer Rosenberg History Expert B.A., History, University of California at Davis Jennifer Rosenberg is a historian and writer who specializes in 20th-century history. our editorial process Jennifer Rosenberg Updated March 29, 2020 The Vietnam War (also known as the Second Indochina War and the American War in Viet Nam) was an outgrowth of conflicts between the colonizing French forces in Vietnam supported by Bao Dai's Vietnamese National Army (VNA) and the communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh (the Viet Minh) and Vo Nguyen Giap. The Vietnam War itself began in 1954 when the U.S. and other members of the Southeast Asia Treat Organization were drawn into the conflict. It would not end until 20 years later with the fall of Saigon to the Communists in April 1975. Vietnam War Key Takeaways The Vietnam War was one of several conflicts that began with the struggle over Indochina to overthrow the French colonial forces. Known as the Second Indochina War, the Vietnam War officially began when the U.S. got involved in 1954.The first American fatality was in 1956 when an off-duty airman was shot by a colleague for talking to some children.Four U.S. Presidents oversaw the Vietnam War: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.The war ended when Saigon fell to the Communists in April 1975. Background to Conflicts in Vietnam 1847: France sends warships to Vietnam to protect Christians from the ruling emperor, Gia Long. 1858-1884: France invades Vietnam and makes Vietnam a colony. Corbis / Getty Images Early 20th century: Nationalism begins to rise in Vietnam, along with several separate groups with different political systems. October 1930: Ho Chi Minh helps found the Indochinese Communist Party. September 1940: Japan invades Vietnam. May 1941: Ho Chi Minh establishes the Viet Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam). September 2, 1945: Ho Chi Minh declares an independent Vietnam, called the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Fighting begins with French forces and the VNA. December 19, 1946: All-out war breaks out between France and the Viet Minh, signaling the start of the First Indochina War. 1949: Mao Zedong's Communist Party wins the Chinese Civil War. January 1950: The Viet Minh receive military advisors and weapons from China. July 1950: The U.S. pledges $15 million worth of military aid to France to help its troops fight in Vietnam. 1950-1953: Communist takeover in China and the war in Korea creates concern in the West that Southeast Asia would become a dangerous Communist stronghold. The Second Indochina War Begins May 7, 1954: The French suffer a decisive defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. July 21, 1954: The Geneva Accords creates a ceasefire for the peaceful withdrawal of the French from Vietnam and provides a temporary boundary between North and South Vietnam at the 17th parallel. The accords call for free elections in 1956. Cambodia and Laos receive their independence. Carl T. Gossett Jr / Getty Images October 26, 1955: South Vietnam declares itself the Republic of Vietnam, with newly-elected Ngo Dinh Diem as president. 1956: President Diem decides against the elections required in the Geneva Accords because the North would certainly win. June 8, 1956: The first official American fatality is Air Force Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr., murdered by another American airman as he was talking with local children. July 1959: North Vietnam's leaders pass an ordinance calling for continued socialist revolutions in the north and south. July 11, 1959: Two off-duty U.S. military advisors, Major Dale Buis and Master Sergeant Chester Ovnand, are killed when a guerilla strike at Bienhoa struck their mess hall. The 1960s Three Lions / Getty Images December 20, 1960: The insurgents in South Vietnam are formally established as the National Liberation Front (PLF). They are better known to their enemies as the Vietnamese Communists, or Viet Cong for short. January 1961: John F. Kennedy takes office as the President of the United States and begins to escalate American involvement in Vietnam. Two U.S. helicopter units arrive in Saigon. February 1962: A U.S.-backed "strategic hamlet" program in South Vietnam forcibly relocates South Vietnamese peasants to fortified settlements. Keystone / Getty Images June 11, 1963: Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sets himself on fire in front of a pagoda in Saigon to protest Diem's policies. The journalist's photo of the death is published worldwide as "The Ultimate Protest." November 2, 1963: South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem is executed during a coup. November 22, 1963: President Kennedy is assassinated. New President Lyndon Johnson would continue the escalation of the war. National Archives / Getty Images August 2 and 4, 1964: North Vietnamese attack two U.S. destroyers sitting in international waters (the Gulf of Tonkin Incident). August 7, 1964: In response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, U.S. Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. March 2, 1965: A sustained U.S. aerial bombing campaign of North Vietnam begins (Operation Rolling Thunder). March 8, 1965: The first U.S. combat troops arrive in Vietnam. January 30, 1968: The North Vietnamese join forces with the Viet Cong to launch the Tet Offensive, attacking approximately 100 South Vietnamese cities and towns. March 16, 1968: U.S. soldiers killed hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in the town of Mai Lai. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images July 1968: General William Westmoreland, who had been in charge of the U.S. troops in Vietnam, is replaced by General Creighton Abrams. December 1968: The number of U.S. troops in Vietnam reaches 540,000. July 1969: President Nixon orders the first of many U.S. troop withdrawals from Vietnam. September 3, 1969: Communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh dies at age 79. November 13, 1969: The American public learns of the Mai Lai massacre. The 1970s Bettmann Archive / Getty Images April 30, 1970: President Nixon announces that U.S. troops will attack enemy locations in Cambodia. This news sparks nationwide protests, especially on college campuses. May 4, 1970: National Guardsmen fire a barrage of tear gas into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the expansion into Cambodia on the campus of Kent State University. Four students are killed. June 13, 1971: Portions of the "Pentagon Papers" are published in the New York Times. March 1972: The North Vietnamese cross the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the 17th parallel to attack South Vietnam in what became known as the Easter Offensive. January 27, 1973: The Paris Peace Accords are signed and create a ceasefire. March 29, 1973: The last U.S. troops are withdrawn from Vietnam. March 1975: North Vietnam launches a massive assault on South Vietnam. April 30, 1975: Saigon falls and South Vietnam surrenders to the communists. This is the official end of the Second Indochina War/Vietnam War. Win McNamee / Getty Images July 2, 1976: Vietnam is unified as a communist country, named the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. November 13, 1982: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. is dedicated.