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AARP The Magazine

The War That Changed Everything

Fifty years ago, the first combat troops arrived in Vietnam. Ten years later, Saigon fell. For those who were there, the memories of those bitterly divisive years live on.

Vietnam illustration

— From left: Christian Simonpietri/Sygma/Corbis; Corbis; Courtesy Everett Collection via Newscom; Philip Jones Griffiths/Magnum Photos; Eddie Adams/AP Photo; Dick Darrell/Toronto Star via Getty Images


“We were all the way north to Cambodia.
  I didn’t say that. No Cambodia.
I can say we took off our patches, and
painted over the stars and bars on the trucks."

199th Infantry Brigade in Cambodia

— AP

"I married up with the 76th Infantry Detachment Combat Tracker Team. They wore boonie caps and whatever the hell else they wanted. Everyone had two canteens of water, one for each person and one for the dog. Gotta keep the dog going. He was a mean, nasty black Labrador named Rigger. He hated me. But he loved Charlie.

“Once we went into a village and found bandages and a blood trail. Rigger went berserk. He followed a game trail to a hospital complex, with tea brewing and rice in the pot. It was still hot. Talk about pucker factor. The guys figured they were 20 minutes ahead of us. We never made contact; they knew we were coming.”

— U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Fred-Otto Egeler was with the 199th Infantry Brigade, which was covertly deployed to Cambodia in the spring of 1970.

Daniel Ellsberg

— Bettmann/CORBIS

"I hope that we will put this war behind us ... in such a way that the history of the next 20 years will read nothing like the last 20 years.”


Daniel Ellsberg, 10 days after the publication of the “Pentagon Papers”.



"The first view I got of Hanoi being bombed
was quite startling. This is odd to say,
but it was a remarkably beautiful sight."

Strategic Air Command B-52 bomber during Vietnam war Christmas bombings of Hanoi

— The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images


“From probably 60 or 80 miles out, you could see the red glow on the horizon, from all the planes ahead of us that had dropped their bombs, and the fires around the Bach Mai Airfield. It was quite a show. ”

U.S. Air Force Captain Michael J. Connors served as the pilot of a B-52 bomber during Operation Linebacker II in December 1972.

Hear More: Listen as Michael J. Connors recalls a harrowing experience in the skies above Vietnam.

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