Today marks the 45th anniversary of America's withdrawal of combat troops from Vietnam. The withdrawal came two months after the Paris Peace Accords were signed, mandating that the United States cease military aggression in Vietnam and asserting that South Vietnam be able to hold free democratic elections.
In response, North Vietnam released 591 prisoners of war in a gesture that came to be called Operation Homecoming. A coterie of roughly 7,000 U.S. Department of Defense operatives remained in Saigon to aid South Vietnam in its ongoing conflict with North Vietnam.
On April 30, 1975, the People's Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam captured Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. The two countries are unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, signaling the hard end of the Vietnam War.
The War resulted in massive casualties on all sides. Estimates of Vietnamese dead range from 966,000 to 3.1 million. Between 240,000 and 300,000 Cambodians lost their lives, as well as 20,000-62,000 Laotians. A total of 58,220 American service members were killed, with an additional 1,626 listed as missing in action.
The Vietnam War was a major turning point in American politics and culture, marking (at least a temporary) sharp declines in national pride, faith in elected officials and optimism about the good intentions of American foreign affairs. An emboldened Left would eventually come to abandon its large-scale reform ambitions in the materialism of the eighties.
Vietnam remains one of the core matters of contention in American history, an issue still fought over with tooth, nail and blood. It is regarded by many on the Right as a noble enterprise scuttled by the monkeywrenching of a traitorous Left, and by the Left as a doomed, imperialist campaign that resulted in avoidable mass death and humiliated the nation on the global stage.