The tide finally was turning in Vietnam. After 11 wrenching years, peace seemed within grasp in 1972 as more and more U.S. units stood down and troops returned home at unprecedented levels.

America’s longest war, America’s only undeclared war, was about to become history. By midyear, 48,000 U.S. troops were based in Vietnam, the lowest number since April 1965, and thousands more were exiting the combat zone every month.

On Aug. 11, the Army’s U.S. Command announced the pullout from field duty of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, last of the 112 maneuver battalions in South Vietnam. At the conflict’s peak, more than 542,000 uniformed Americans served their country.

Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird proclaimed no more than 50,000 men would be drafted in 1972, half as many as in 1971 and the lowest figure since before the Korean War. President Richard M. Nixon trumped that news in August by announcing the draft would end altogether on July 1, 1973….

Nixon also ordered troop strength in Vietnam reduced to 39,000 by Sept. 1. On Oct. 26, Nixon’s assistant for national security affairs Henry Kissinger announced “peace is at hand.” By late November, 31,000 U.S. troops remained in Vietnam….

American casualties for 1972, according to the National Archives and Records Administration, totaled 641, the lowest toll since 1964 when 206 troops perished. Delaware had a single loss, Air Force Maj. Gerald Francis Ayres of New Castle on June 18. He was 33….

In Vietnam, Delawareans’ enthusiasm for leaving the combat zone was palpable.

“I’m finally on my way home. And is it ever a great feeling,” wrote Army Spc. Lawrence B. Buchert of Seaford on Feb. 29. “It’s somewhat like a dream come true. I’ve only spent eleven months here, but that’s far too many. I received a 30-day drop and, hopefully, if I ever finish cleaning today, I’ll be going to the replacement station tomorrow. Gosh, it seems like everyone’s going home and everywhere I go there’s a line to wait in. But being I’m coming home, I really don’t mind.”

A Voice from the War

While the troops would soon be on their way home, their still was plenty of work to be done. This letter from Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Phil Jornlin of Wilmington was published in the Mailbag on March 24.

Dear Nancy,

Just dropping a line from the Gulf of Tonkin, where lately we’ve been real busy. We were pulled out of Hong Kong early in order to make Charlie’s New Year’s celebration otherwise known as Tet.
We were still able to contribute greatly to Hong Kong’s economy in the five days we did stay and most, but not all, are returning with some booty to show for their expenditures.
The flight deck of the Constellation has been a hectic place the last few months. Our planes are flying around 100 sorties a day and our workday runs 14-16 hours. Don’t know what I’d do with a normal 8-hour day anymore, but I expect I’d make good use of the time.
I guess the papers have covered pretty much of what we’ve been doing so there’s no need to go into that.
Currently we will be involved over here in Nam until the 23rd or 24th of March and then we’ll start on our voyage back to stateside with arrival in San Diego scheduled for April 17, barring an extension over here.
I’ve received the State flag and the dependable SOS has come through again. Really hard to express my feelings toward those people other than to say thanks – it is appreciated.
Better sign off for now, another busy day arrives tomorrow and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Thanks again,
Phil Jornlin



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