On this day in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was coming under increasing criticism for sending American men to fight and die in Vietnam, bestows the Congressional Medal of Honor on Sgt. David Dolby, a member of the Army’s 1st Cavalry.
On May 21, 1966, the 21-year-old Dolby acted to save many of his fellow soldiers’ lives during an intense firefight against North Vietnamese troops. He had previously been awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. While praising Dolby and American troops, Johnson expressed “sorrow” that war was still necessary in the 20th century. He also took the opportunity to respond to criticism of his policy of increasing troop strength in Vietnam since 1964. “No one hates war and killing more than I do,” said the president. He continued, “no sane American can greet the news from Vietnam with enthusiasm” but “we recognize…the hard reality that only military power can bar aggression and can make a political solution possible” in Southeast Asia.
Johnson also pointed out that the U.S. had offered repeatedly to negotiate with the North Vietnamese but had been rebuffed. So until peace talks could be initiated, Johnson believed, the U.S. had no choice but to sustain a military presence in South Vietnam to prevent a communist takeover of the entire nation. Johnson continued to send American troops to Vietnam in an ever more costly and controversial war until 1968, when he announced that he would not run for a second term.
The war dragged on until January 1973, when President Richard Nixon halted the U.S. military offensive in North Vietnam. The last American troops left the country on March 29, 1973, ending the longest war in America’s history.