Vietnam War and Deaths

Published: 1972
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President Richard Nixon congratulates Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the White House on October 16, 1973, after it was announced that Kissinger and North Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho had shared the Nobel Peace Prize jointly for their work in bringing about a negotiated end to the Vietnam War. (UPI Photo/Files)

Unknown Speaker: "The Democratic Republic of Vietnam side agreed with the U.S. side that the agreement will be formally signed in Paris on October the 31st."

Ed Karrins: The Hanoi Radio announcement October the 26th that a ceasefire plan had been accepted by the United States and North Vietnam surprised most of the world. It was nearly a day later before the White House geared up for one of Henry Kissinger's rare on-the-record news conferences. Kissinger said North Vietnam was wrong about the date for signing, but otherwise generally correct.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: "We believe what remains to be done can be settled in one more negotiating session with a North Vietnamese negotiators, lasting, I would think, no more than three or four days. So we are not talking of a delay of a very long period of time."

Ed Karrins: Kissinger, too, was wrong about that and had to go back to Paris more than once.

Americans voted without knowing whether this was the real thing or just another one of those lights at the end of the tunnel. For all the talk of peace, Correspondent Allen Dawson reports the images that those in Vietnam hold of 1972 are images of war, and mostly bitter.

Allen Dawson: "The year began with a general in the Central Highlands, later fired for incompetence, predicting an offensive, but saying it would last no more than two weeks, to get nowhere and be quickly defeated. Hundreds of tanks swept across the demilitarized zone into the Central Highlands, opened the siege at An Loc, another of those names now inscribed on the map of Vietnam in 1972 by the fiercest siege since Leningrad.

"It was the image of Vietnamese General Vu von Yi kicking his soldiers in the rear end to stop a retreat from the DMZ; within three weeks Yi was in jail for deserting his troops in combat and losing the whole of Quang Ngai Province, and five months later dirty, decimated South Vietnamese marines recaptured what used to be Quang Ngai city, where even the walls of the citadel were partially destroyed by American smart bombs and an American officer could not find where he used to live so great was the destruction. American troop strength fell by 130,000, but in a now-you-don't-see-them-now-you-do maneuver 75,000 were added to ships offshore and bases in Thailand and Guam for direct participation in the war.

"The greatest and yet hardest to imagine image is the dead in 1972. American deaths were only about 300. South Vietnamese troops suffered by their own official count more than 25,000 deaths. Communists killed total 140,000. Civilian dead is, of course, unknown.

"Then in the last two months came the peace rumors, only rumors at first, followed by a Radio Hanoi broadcast saying that peace was at hand, but the United States was refusing to sign the treaty, followed by opposition by President Nguyen van Thieu in Saigon to the terms of the American written treaty. Charges and countercharges quickly became the order of the day, and images of good guys/bad guys blurred in a sea of yellow and red as Saigon was draped with millions of flags that supposedly said that every house, car, bus and bicycle was loyal to two. In the view villages they controlled the Vietcong did the same and proved to someone that they controlled the Vietnamese loyalties.

"And the image of a Vietnamese peasant refugee, his total world belongings in a sandbag. As North Vietnamese burned his village, crooked South Vietnamese officials had put sand in his rice to flush out what they had stolen from the bag. 'Go away,' said the peasant. 'Go away and just let me live my own life.' His was the unheard voice of 1972. This is Allan Dawson in Saigon."

Ed Karrins: Air Force General John Lavelle conducted unauthorized air raids on North Vietnam in 1972. He ordered bombing missions on an offensive basis when only protective reaction strikes were authorized, then covered up with false reports on Communist antiaircraft activity. That became just one of the many Vietnam issues on Capitol Hill. Lavelle was stripped of command, retired and probed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by John Stennis.

Senator John Stennis: "Allowing all consideration for the circumstances, General Lavelle still had not obeyed the orders that had been transmitted, in that he went beyond the rules with reference to these preplanned strikes over North Vietnam."

Ed Karrins: Some Committee members believed Lavelle's actions had at a minimum then condoned higher up. Because of this, General Creighton Abrams' nomination as Army Chief of Staff was stalled during the probe, but was approved when it ended.

Throughout the year, dubbish members of Congress pushed antiwar legislation. Late in the session, Gene Gibbons reported one typical case--typical, that is, except for the fact that only 90 minutes was spent on debate.

Gene Gibbons: "The vote was against an amendment sponsored by Wisconsin Democrat William Proxmire which would have cut off funds for the controversial U.S. air war in Indo-China. Upon enactment of a $74.6 billion Pentagon budget bill, defeat of the amendment was the second setback in a week for Senate war critics, who failed earlier to win approval of an amendment which would have cut off funds for all U.S. military operations in Southeast Asia in four months if the Communists freed U.S. war prisoners; and it was the second boss of the day for Proxmire, who tried unsuccessfully to cut funds for civilian KPs from the defense money bill. Gene Gibbons, Capitol Hill."

Ed Karrins: Much of what antiwar action there was seemed sparked by the President's midyear decision to move against the Communist Offensive by stepping up the bombing and by mining North Vietnamese harbors. One apparently misdirected strike hit the French legation at Hanoi, and Diplomat Pierre Sesenni was mortally wounded.

In 1972, death also claimed Senator Allen Ellender. Congressmen Hale Boggs and Nick Begich were lost with their plane in Alaska. J. Edgar Hoover succumbed. The controversial G-man was the FBI's only boss from its revitalization until his death. Others laid to rest in the year gone by: the King of Denmark and the Duke of Windsor; Jackie Robinson and Gil Hodges; Maurice Chevalier and Mahalia Jackson; Dame Margaret Rutherford and Louella Parsons; John Paul Vann; patriarch Ethanegorus; Joseph Fielding.

Also in 1972, the brothers Berrigan were freed on parole; charges against Leslie Bacon were dropped; and the Pentagon Papers' case moved toward a trial.