Key dates in history of Vietnam and PA training

U.S. helicopter in Vietnam

Training programs for physician assistants began in the 1960s to fill demand for health care in rural, urban and Native American areas and also help Army medics and Naval corpsmen find meaningful careers when their military service in the Vietnam War ended. Here are some key historic dates related to both:

1953 – Report predicts U.S. shortage of 59,000 medical doctors by 1960

1954 – U.S. paying 80 percent of the cost of the war in Indochina (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam), which was occupied by France

1954 – at the Geneva Conference, it is agreed that Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh will control North Vietnam and Bao Dai will control South Vietnam until 1956, when elections will be held and the country will be reunified

1956 – South Vietnam decides to go forward as a separate republic; U.S. provides $1 billion over six years and gives the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) up-to-date weaponry and training

1960 – The National Liberation Front, an internal opposition group in the South calling for communist revolution, is created; its military arm is the Vietnam Cong-san, or Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communists)

1961 – U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) tours Vietnam; U.S. becomes increasingly convinced of domino theory — that a communist revolution in one country will have a ripple effect from the Pacific Ocean to the Red Sea, so it doubles its involvement in Vietnam; U.S. begins spraying defoliants like Agent Orange to destroy tree cover and food supply

1961 – The president of the National Board of Medical Examiners suggests providing “externs” to provide support to physicians, planting the seeds of the physician assistant program

May 1963 – South Vietnamese government begins attacking Buddhist protesters; leads to political suicides by Buddhist monks that sink support for already unpopular government

1963 – U.S. has more the 16,000 “military advisors” in Vietnam

Summer 1964 – Gulf of Tonkin Resolution approved giving LBJ power to take all necessary measures to resist aggression of North Vietnam; from 1964 to 1968, Gen. William Westmoreland leads U.S. troops in Vietnam

March 1965 – President Johnson dispatches the first official U.S. combat troops to Vietnam; uses strategy of “gradual escalation” — continue elevating destruction and death toll until the North’s breaking point is found; U.S. largely fights the war alone, with South Korea acting as America’s strongest ally

October 1965 – Duke University begins the first physician assistant program in the country

1967 – Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam holds rallies in New York and San Francisco that draw more than 250,000 people; that fall, 100,000 people march on the Pentagon to protest the war

January 1968 – The North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front launch the Tet Offensive, taking over major cities in the South and occupying the U.S. Embassy in Saigon; an iconic photo shows a brigadier general executing a Viet Cong insurgent on the street, and the violence helped turn more Americans against the conflict

March 31, 1968 – LBJ announces on national television that he will make one final request for 13,500 more troops, ask for a tax increase, end bombing in North Vietnam, begin peace talks, and not run for reelection

1968 – MEDEX Demonstration Project, a PA program focused on rural areas, begins at the University of Washington

November 1968 – Richard Nixon wins the presidential election with the promise of “peace with honor” in Vietnam

1968–1971 – Nixon cuts American troops by three-quarters; relies on the “madman theory,” a term he coined for unleashing a major bombing campaign to make the North believe he would not hesitate to use extreme military force to win

Spring 1969 – Nixon initiates an undeclared war in Cambodia, with the U.S. Air Force dropping more than 100,000 tons of bombs on the country in an effort to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries

Oct. 15, 1969 – Vietnam Moratorium Day sees the largest antiwar observance in U.S. history

May 1970 – A protest at Kent State University in Ohio results in the National Guard troops killing four students and injuring 10 more; shortly thereafter, an antiwar demonstration at Jackson State College in Mississippi ends with police killing two students

1971 – Lt. William Calley is placed on trial for the massacre of more than 200 innocent civilians in the hamlet of My Lai; members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War begin sharing their stories of other atrocities at the Winter Soldier Hearings in Detroit

June 1971 – The New York Times begins publishing the Pentagon Papers, a series of secret government documents given to them by Daniel Ellsberg showing, among other things, that since 1967, the U.S. government knew the prospects of winning in Vietnam were dim

1972 – The University of North Dakota graduates its first PA class

January 1973 – The Paris Peace Accords are signed; the U.S. agrees to remove all troops within 60 days, and the North Vietnamese are allowed to stay in South Vietnam

1973 – Congress passes the War Powers Act, which limits the president’s ability to wage war; military draft is ended

1975 – North Vietnamese take over all of Vietnam; Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, takes over Cambodia and kills 1.5 million of the country’s population of 8 million

1978 – 42 percent of 4,500 practicing PAs in U.S. have previous military experience

1982 – Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington dedicated to 58,000 Americans killed during conflict

2016 – More than 106,000 PAs practice in U.S.

Sources: research, archives, original reporting


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