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America's war in Vietnam was one of the most controversial foreign policy adventures in our nation's history. While national unity increasingly divided over the course of the conflict between 1961 and 1973, a majority of Alabamians supported U.S. entry in, escalation of, and final withdrawal from the war in Southeast Asia.
In 1966, the Alabama legislature passed what would become a series of resolutions over the years supporting America's involvement in Vietnam. The state's congressional delegation in Washington stood by the nation's presidents throughout the ordeal of war. They also supported the tenuous peace which came in 1973: Alabama's senior Senator Jim Allen pronounced the outcome "peace with honor based on compromise. . . ."
The state's politicians accurately reflected their constituents' views on the war. In each of the three presidential elections from 1964 through 1972, the Alabama electorate overwhelmingly supported the candidate most "hawkish" on the war: in 1964, Barry Goldwater received 69.5%; in 1968, George Wallace received 65.8%; and in 1972, Richard Nixon received 72.4% of Alabama's popular vote.
Alabama's numerous military bases played important roles in the training of personnel who went on to fight in Vietnam. Especially important to this war in which air power and mobility figured so prominently in U.S. military strategy were facilities to train aviators. Maxwell and Gunter Air Force Bases in Montgomery served that branch of the service with distinction. Ft. Rucker in Dale and Coffee Counties in southeast Alabama turned out 400 Army aviators a month by the late 1960s when the installation was the final training stop for the service's helicopter pilots and crews.
The state lost her share of men to the cause in Vietnam. Of the 57,000 Americans who died there, 1,181 were from Alabama.
Still others were captured, some spending years in North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camps. One of the nation's most famous POW's was Mobile's Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr. Shot down while piloting a jet over enemy territory in 1965, Captain Denton was imprisoned for over 7 ½ years. His refusal to speak out against American foreign policy during his tortuous captivity, and his stirring pronouncement of "God Bless America" upon leading the first freed American POW's off the plane onto American soil in 1973 made him a national hero. He parlayed his fame into political success in 1980 when he was chosen to the United States Senatethe first Republican to serve Alabama in that capacity in a century.