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National Archives Opens Groundbreaking Vietnam Exhibit November 10, 2017
Press Release · Thursday, March 30, 2017

Washington, DC

Remembering Vietnam: Twelve Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War

Washington, DC – The National Archives will open a new exhibition, Remembering Vietnam: Twelve Critical Episodes in the Vietnam War November 10, 2017.  The exhibit examines 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War to provide a framework for understanding the decisions that led to war, events and consequences of the war, and its legacy. This 3,000-square-foot exhibit uses more than 80 original records from the National Archives –  including newly declassified documents – to critically reexamine major events and turning points in the war and address three critical questions about the Vietnam War: Why did the United States get involved? Why did the war last so long? Why was it so controversial?

Remembering Vietnam is free and open to the public, and will be on display in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, through January 6, 2019.  Presented in part by the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, AARP, FedEx Corporation, and the National Archives Foundation. Additional support provided by the Maris S. Cuneo Foundation, The Eliasberg Family Foundation, Inc., and HISTORYⓇ.

More than 50 years after the United States committed combat troops to the war in Vietnam, and more than 40 years since the war ended, the complexity of the conflict is still being unraveled. Historians continue to make discoveries in National Archives’ records that provide insight into this critical period.

Remembering Vietnam follows the trajectory of American involvement in Vietnam through six Presidential administrations, and from its World War II origins to the fall of Saigon in 1975.  This groundbreaking exhibit uses original National Archives documents, artifacts, and film footage to explore the policies and decisions that initiated and then escalated American economic and military aid to South Vietnam. Interviews with veterans, journalists, members of the peace movement, Vietnamese civilians, and leading Vietnam War historians provide first-person testimony and analysis of the events.  These interviews and historic film footage will be screened in three mini-theaters within the exhibition.

Creative experiential exhibit highlights include:

  • A Visitor Input Station to share experiences, reactions, and memories of the war
  • An Oval Office Audio Experience: hear Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon discuss the war, with protesters in the background

Visitors will be able to:

  • Listen to the famous “Domino Theory” audio recording from President Eisenhower’s April 7, 1954, press conference
  • See an elephant tusk lamp - a gift to President Eisenhower from Ngo Din Diem
  • Hear audio of a meeting between President Kennedy and his National Security Council on the question of supporting a coup in South Vietnam
  • See the cable reporting the alleged second attack on the USS Maddox that led to the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which empowered the President to greatly escalate the war.
  • View the CIA’s model of the Hanoi Hilton
  • Read transcripts of  radio intercepts of helicopter pilots during the Saigon airlifts
  • See a pair of original baby shoes from one of the Saigon airlifts
  • Examine young architect Maya Lin’s Vietnam memorial drawing submissions

Visit Remembering Vietnam to discover answers to the following:

  • What was the “Salted Peanuts” memo? The “Fork in the Road” memo?  The “X” envelope?
  • Who advised the U.S. government to “bomb the bejeezus out of them [the North Vietnamese]”?
  • What did President Kennedy doodle during a discussion of the conflict?

The National Archives Museum is located on the National Mall on Constitution Ave. at 9th Street, NW. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Related travelling exhibit:  Picturing Nam: U.S. Military Photography of the Vietnam War

Photographs are a powerful part of our collective memory of the Vietnam War. Military photographers stationed in Vietnam took thousands of photographs that covered every aspect of the conflict—photographs that are now part of our National Archives. Their assignments sent them everywhere: the jungles and swamps, forward bases, hospital ships, rivers, and air bases. Unsanitized and uncensored, these indelible images give an intimate and ground up view of the war and those who fought it.

Picturing Nam is divided into three themes:

Landscapes – Most Americans knew almost nothing about Vietnam before the war. Many soldiers, sailors, and airmen seeing Vietnam’s dense jungles, rugged mountains, murky swamps, endless rice paddies, and brown rivers for the first time must have felt very far from home.

Objects – Wars are often summed up and remembered through artifacts. The Vietnam War created its own set of memorable objects, many of which appear in military photographs, including helicopters, M-16 rifles, graffiti-covered helmets, Phantom jets, peace symbol necklaces, and body bags.

Faces – War puts individuals into extraordinary and dangerous situations. Such circumstances fostered determination, anxiety, exhaustion, boredom, compassion, exaltation, and dread–feelings that are seen in the faces of those who were there.

Picturing Nam is organized by the National Archives, and traveled by the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service (NATES). Presented in part by the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, AARP, and the National Archives Foundation.  

In addition, the presidential libraries that chronicle U.S. involvement in Vietnam will offer a series of forums to encourage historical inquiry and public conversations about the war and its aftermath featuring scholars, veterans, journalists, and activists.

Related online resources from the National Archives

Finding Aid to Textual and Electronic Vietnam War Records at the National Archives

Finding Aid to Records about Vietnam War Era American POWs and Missing in Action

Pentagon Papers

Education Lesson Plan:  The War in Vietnam: A Story in Photographs

State-Level Fatal Casualty Lists for the Vietnam War

Vietnam and the Presidency Conference at JFK Presidential Library & Museum, 2006

Vietnam War Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library & Museum, 2016

Vietnam Conflict Exhibit and Resources from the  LBJ Presidential Library & Museum

This page was last reviewed on June 28, 2017.
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