Bombing Missions of the Vietnam War

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Why We Love It

In a gripping way, this map of US bombings in the Vietnam War represents more than a million data points and makes the information instantly understandable. It gives us insights into the scale of modern warfare. Each mission is plotted as a simple point to show transportation networks and cities that were targets for US bombs. As a storytelling device, the map evokes strong emotions by identifying the hardest hit regions in Vietnam—some that endured more than 50,000 bombing missions. We also see significant and sustained bombing in unexpected places, including secretive campaigns across the border in Cambodia.

Why It Works

This map meets a number of challenges to detail the bombing missions of a controversial war. It works by using three complementary graphics. The main map shows one dot per mission. The proportional hexbin map aggregates that data into a larger spatial pattern. And, the bar chart shows the variation in bombing intensity over time. The use of a single color on muted greys is as bold as it is effective and serves to place the data front and center. The carefully curated text callouts help contextualize and explain key parts of this complex story.

Important Steps

Experiment with selecting the right size cells for the proportional hexbin map. Learn how to create a proportional hexbin map here.

Try the new charting capabilities of ArcGIS Pro to make a time series chart showing total number of missions per month.

Use the World Cities data from the Living Atlas of the World to easily add major cities and their labels to the map.

The subdued hillshading and minimal basemap features (borders, cities) keep the focus on the data while still providing enough spatial context

Leverage feature transparency to allow individual points to recede into the background, while highlighting areas of dense overlap.


Data and Software

Data came from the Theater History of Operations (THOR) Data: Vietnam War. Basemap and reference data is from the Living Atlas of the World. This map was created using ArcGIS Pro.


In the Geoprocessing Pane in ArcGIS Pro, use Summarize Within to calculate the number of missions in each of the hexbin cells. Create those cells using the Generate Tessellation tool.


This map took approximately eight hours to complete. One hour was to research and clean the data, three hours to create the maps and chart, three hours to assemble the layout, and one hour to refine the symbology and typography.

Inset Maps


Don’t expect one map to do all of the work. Use inset maps and charts to round-out the story.

Negative Space


Use the negative space around the data as a natural layout space for titles and text callouts.

Custom Legend


Take advantage of the custom legend options in ArcGIS Pro to show the details you want to highlight.

More Information

Map Author

Cooper Thomas

Cooper Thomas

@InfiniteCoop | LinkedIn

I am a cartographer for Esri Story Maps, a displaced Oregonian, a forager of cultural sustenance, a fair-weather motorcyclist, and a onetime expert on Kyrgyz supermarkets.

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