This Day In History: Lt. Col. Peter Dewey Is Shot And Killed In Saigon, Making Him The First American Killed In Vietnam
This day in history, September 26, 1945, Lt. Col. Peter Dewey, a U.S. Army officer with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Vietnam, is shot and killed in Saigon.
Dewey was the head of a seven-man team sent to Vietnam to search for missing American pilots and to gather information on the situation in the country after the surrender of the Japanese.
According to the provisions of the Potsdam Conference, the British were assigned the responsibility of disarming Japanese soldiers south of the 16th parallel. However, with the surrender of the Japanese, Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh declared themselves the rightful government of Vietnam.
French colonial officials and the remaining French soldiers who had been disarmed and imprisoned by the Japanese were angered by this. They urged British Maj. Gen. Douglas D. Gracey to help them regain control. Gracey, not fond of the Viet Minh or their cause, rearmed 1,400 French soldiers to help his troops maintain order.
The next day, these forces ousted the Viet Minh from the offices that they had only recently occupied. Dewey’s sympathies were with the Viet Minh, many of whom were nationalists who did not want a return to French colonial rule.
The American officer was an outspoken man who angered Gracey, eventually resulting in the British general ordering him to leave Indochina. On the way to the airport, accompanied by another OSS officer, Capt. Henry Bluechel, Dewey refused to stop at a roadblock manned by three Viet Minh soldiers.
He yelled back at them in French and they shot back at Dewey, killing him instantly. Bluechel was not injured and escaped on foot. It was later determined that the Viet Minh had fired on Dewey thinking he was French. He would prove to be the first of nearly 59,000 Americans killed in Vietnam.