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THE PRICE OF WAR Eight million seven hundred forty-four thousand (8,744,000) Americans served in the five branches of the U.S. Military - Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard - during the main period of hostilities, from August 1964 to January 1973. The number of personnel involved in the Vietnam War is second only to the number who served in World War II, with almost twice as many Americans involved. A large percentage of personnel in the service saw duty in Vietnam, because of the constant rotation of US Servicemen on one year tours in Vietnam. The average age of US combat personnel in Vietnam was only 19, and 61% of the men killed were 21 years old or younger, 17,539 men killed were married.

The US military lost 58,184 Americans. There were 313,616 seriously wounded, resulting in severe disabilities for 73,000 and complete disability for 23,214. More than 10,000 servicemen lost at least one limb. Using helicopters for evacuation and the most advanced medical care available, 82% of Americans seriously wounded were saved, compared to 71% in World War II and 74% in the Korean War.

South Vietnam reported 185,528 of its military personnel killed in the war with 499,026 wounded. North Vietnam and the Vietcong reportedly lost 924,048 in combat. Vietnam is estimated to have lost 415,000 civilians in the war, with at least 935,000 wounded.

It is estimated that the war cost the United States $150 billion in direct expenses and another $150 billion in indirect expenses.

There were 7,547,000 "assault sorties" flown by US helicopter pilots. Some 4,565 US helicopters, with an average cost of $250,000 each, and 3,720 aircraft were destroyed. The total tonnage of bombs dropped over North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos came to about 8 million tons, about 4 times the tonnage used in World War II.

The Soviet Union and Communist China are estimated to have provided about $3 billion worth of aid to North Vietnam and the Vietcong.

Each person's experience in Vietnam was unique, but the common thread was the year long tour of duty and the dream to make it out of Vietnam alive to begin the long, lonely journey back to America. As the time approached to return home, the days seemed longer and the anxiety grew. The following illustrates the emotional price paid, as viewed by one veteran: "One year in the Nam... one day at a time, avoiding the silver bullet, building personal superstitions, counting the days when you get short (180 days or less), awaiting your DEROs dates and the lonely flight on the "Freedom Bird" back to "The World" and the human race." (Richard K. Kolb: The Wall Street Journal, 1/23/91)

The Vietnam War defies description. It was certainly America's longest war. The financial commitment lasted from 1945 to 1975. American combat troops were officially involved from 1965 to 1973. It was the first war that many people thought the United States "lost", although, because of superior US firepower and mobility, it won virtually every battle. It was the first war brought into the family living rooms by television with nightly "body counts".

Author Dr. Barry R. Culhane
copyright 1996