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Dec. 3, 1963 | Troops Return from Vietnam

Dec. 3, 1963 - The reduction of United States forces in South Vietnam began today. Three planeloads of men flew across the Pacific on their way home. The operation is intended to send 1,000 troops home for Christmas. A total of 220 servicemen — many of whom had seen their first combat in South Vietnam’s grinding war against Communist guerrillas — happily climbed aboard three Air Force C-135 jets bound for Hawaii, the first stop on their journey home. They received thanks and farewells from Gen. Paul D. Harkins, commander of the U.S. forces in Vietnam, and Gen. Tran Van Don, Vietnam’s Defense Minister. Although some of these men are being replaced, other jobs are being abolished, and the over-all strength of U.S. forces in Vietnam is being cut from 16,500 to 15,500. U.S. officials emphasized that the cutback did not signal any reduction of the American commitment to the war in Vietnam or indicate that the war situation had improved. Sgt. Matthew I. Wiley, on his way home to Columbus, Ga., today called combat operations in which he had participated “one heck of an experience.” “You actually have to be out with these people [South Vietnamese foot soldiers] to understand them,” he said. “They really surprise you — what they’ve gone through and what they’re still going through and what spirit they have.”

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