In a period rife with protests and hostility, millions of young men and women answered the call of duty and served their country during the Vietnam War.
On July 24, 1969, Captain Roe and six others were aboard an unarmed UH-1D (often referred to as a Huey) acting as a command and control ship for a search and destroy mission. Despite being unarmed and in an area known to house a large enemy presence, Captain Roe maneuvered his Huey to get a better view of the area. In doing so, the rotor downdraft triggered a mine resulting in the aircraft’s crash and the deaths of all aboard.
America officially entered the war in March 1964 but had advisors in country since the end of World War II. The first casualty in Vietnam is that of Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr. in 1956. Unfortunately, his family would not be the only ones mourning a loved one. After the final American troops left in March 1973, 58, 220 servicemen and women would be the casualties of a controversial and embarrassing war.
This project is centered around Duke University’s Combat Area Casualties Dataset – Vietnam War which was created by the National Archives and Record Administration. Contained within is the information pertinent to each individual killed both in and out of combat. This includes:
- Country (of death)
- Casualty Type
- Name (last, first, middle)
- Pay Grade
- Date of death
- Date of birth
- Casualty reason
- Air or ground
- Service length
- Marital status
- Citizen (status)
- Posthumously or not posthumously promoted
- Record status
- Body recovered
- Age (at time of death)
- Component (of military)
- Comments (if included)
- Province (of death)
For the purposes of this project, I have chosen to focus on hometown, country of death, race, and rank. I entered this project with the goal of investigating the ratio of white:black deaths, servicewomen deaths, veteran suicides, and if possessing a higher rank protected oneself from combat. After investigating the list, I determined that the few instances of women fatalities compared to their male counterparts was not enough information to create visualizations. The same goes for suicides as they may not have all been accurately recorded and the numbers in relation to the whole data set is small. For those interested, here is the data set for servicewomen deaths and here is the data set for suicides.
The first casualty included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr. A veteran of World War II, Fitzgibbon was serving as an advisor in Vietnam at the time of his death. Though listed as the first casualty of the Vietnam War, he was not killed by enemy fire. While handing out candy to orphaned children, he was confronted by a fellow airman and an argument ensued. The airman pulled out a pistol and shot him.
On the night of August 4, 1964, the USS Maddox and USS Turner Joy returned to the Gulf of Tonkin. Two days prior, the Maddox had been fired upon by North Vietnamese torpedo boats and in an effort to “demonstrate American resolve” both ships entered the Gulf for patrols.
During the Tet Offensive (January 30, 1968 – September 23, 1968) 36 cities as well as countless military installations were subjected to a well coordinated attack by North Vietnamese and Communist forces. The attack occurred on the Vietnamese New Year of Tet. That night, streets were empty as it was believed that the first person you encountered in the New Year would be the harbinger of your fortune for the next twelve months so citizens were careful with who they were around.
On their list of targets was the historical capital of Vietnam: Huế. Over the course of twenty-four days, 250 American marines and soldiers were killed and 1,554 wounded.
The My Lai Massacre became a symbol of antiwar demonstrations across the country. On March 16, 1968, 200 US soldiers were dropped off at the village of Son My. Over the course of four hours, hundreds of civilians – most women, children, and the elderly – were beaten, raped, and executed.
On May 4, 1970, a student protest at Kent State University turned violent when National Guard troops called in by Governor Rhodes fired upon the demonstration.
The final casualty of the Vietnam War is that of PFC Kelton Turner. On May 15, 1975, Turner was one of 31 soldiers conducting an operation to rescue the SS Mayaguez, a merchant ship. Their helicopters came under heavy enemy fire and crashed. 15 were killed in the initial battle and 3 more were missing in action and presumed dead. A third helicopter crashed due to a mechanical failure which resulted in the deaths of another 23.
Clink each state for a list of casualties.
Southeast Asia – Death locations
The five locations encompassed in the Combat Area Casualties data set are Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. As expected, Vietnam contains the most casualties with 56, 744 records. Laos and Cambodia are a distant second and third, respectively, as combat in these countries did not officially begin until later in the war. For the most part, operations there consisted of aerial bombardments or “sorties.” Some ground operations did take place which account for a percentage of the total records. Thailand and China were both surprising to see but make sense based on their shared borders with the combat area countries.
I was unsure exactly what I would see in terms of casualty records for the various races. It is important to acknowledge the race categories that would have been listed during this period may have been much less diverse than in the 21st century. This is true of population censuses as well.
The overwhelmingly majority of the casualties were of soldiers that were listed as Caucasian and African American a distant second. Race had been an interest going into this project because an argument of civil rights activists was that black men should not be fighting a war for democracy abroad when they themselves could not experience full democracy in America. This argument shaped my belief that these figures would be much higher.
Finally, I was surprised to see Mongolian and Malayan listed as two of the races. This brings up further questions of if Asian-Americans were grouped into these groups because they are not listed.
This visualization confirms my hypothesis that higher ranking soldiers were not a large portion of the casualties. However, this is for a few reasons. The first is that it takes further training and specialized skills to become an officer. Since roughly 15,000 of the casualties are of Private First Class soldiers, connections can be made that these men were either fresh in country and had not racked up the experience to deserve promotions and that they were the ones on the front lines.
Some officers are listed as having large casualty records. These seem to be the leaders that would accompany units in the field which would also place them on the front line. The highest rank casualty is Major General, of which there are 6. These men were not leading troops on the ground. Rather, they were killed when their aircraft either crashed or was shot down. This means they would have been in a support role, similar to Captain Roe.
“111111111111111111111111.Jpg (JPEG Image, 215 × 190 Pixels).” Accessed April 30, 2019. https://vva.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/111111111111111111111111.jpg.
Bliss, Linda Morgan. “Sacrifice Recalled Vietnam Sacrifices Recalled Vietnam Sacrifices Recalled.” Boston.Com, June 14, 2012. http://archive.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/06/14/father_and_son_from_weymouth_remembered_for_their_sacrifice_in_vietnam/?page=2.
Bowden, Mark. Huế 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam. First. New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017.
Diplomat, Peter Maguire, The. “Leave No Man Behind: The Truth About the Mayaguez Incident.” The Diplomat. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://thediplomat.com/2018/06/leave-no-man-behind-the-truth-about-the-mayaguez-incident/.
Raviv, Aaron Joel Santos, Shaun. “The Ghosts of My Lai.” Smithsonian. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ghosts-my-lai-180967497/.
“Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund – Founders of The Wall.” Accessed March 26, 2019. http://www.vvmf.org/.
“Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall – The Virtual Wall (TM).” Accessed March 26, 2019. https://www.virtualwall.org/index.html.
Wiener, Jon. “A Forgotten Hero Stopped the My Lai Massacre 50 Years Ago Today.” latimes.com. Accessed April 30, 2019. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-wiener-my-lai-hugh-thompson-20180316-story.html.