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William Childs Westmoreland
March 26, 1914(1914-03-26) – July 18, 2005 (aged 91)
Gen William C Westmoreland.jpg
Nickname Westy
Place of birth Saxon, South Carolina
Place of death Charleston, South Carolina
Place of burial West Point Cemetery
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1936 - 1972
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg General
Commands held 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
187th Regimental Combat Team

Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy
XVIII Airborne Corps
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Chief of Staff of the United States Army

Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Awards Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Legion of Merit (3)
Bronze Star (2)
Air Medal (10)

William Childs Westmoreland (March 26, 1914 – July 18, 2005) was an American General who commanded American military operations in the Vietnam War at its peak from 1964 to 1968, with the Tet Offensive. He adopted a strategy of attrition against the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese Army. He later served as U.S. Army Chief of Staff from 1968 to 1972. In 1976, he published his memoirs, A Soldier Reports.

Contents

Early life

William Childs Westmoreland was born in Saxon, South Carolina, to Eugenia Talley Childs and James Ripley Westmoreland. His upper-middle-class family was involved in local banking and textile industries. William was an Eagle Scout at Troop 1 boy scouts, and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and Silver Buffalo from the Boy Scouts of America as a young adult. He enrolled at the West Point Military Academy in 1932, after attending The Citadel College for the previous year. Westmoreland was a member of a distinguished class at West Point in which his classmates included Creighton Abrams who replaced him in 1968, and Benjamin O. Davis Jr.; he graduated as first captain - the highest graduating rank - and received the Pershing Sword, given to the most able cadet at West Point.[1][2] His initial motive for entering was "to see the world." Following graduation in 1936, he became an artillery officer and served in several different commands. He was involved in combat operations in Tunisia, Sicily, France and Germany, and reached the ranks of lieutenant colonel and subsequently colonel during combat operations in the European Theatre of World War II. Westmoreland always balanced a reputation as a stern taskmaster with that of an officer who cared about his men and took a great interest in their welfare. One called him "the most caring officer, for soldiers, that I have ever known". He was also a graduate of Harvard Business School. Westmoreland was a new type of officer, better educated than his predecessors and more managerial in outlook. As Stanley Karnow noted, "Westy was a corporation executive in uniform." [3]

During World War II, his battalion was selected to be the artillery support for the 82nd Airborne Division. By May 1945, he was serving as the chief of staff of the 9th Infantry Division.

Regimental and divisional commands

Westmoreland's World War II experience with the 82nd Airborne led to his being asked by General James M. Gavin to join the 82nd as a regimental commander after the war, which was the beginning of his professional association with airborne and airmobile troops. He served with the 82nd Airborne for four years and during the Korean War he commanded the 187th Regimental Combat Team.

In late 1953 Westmoreland was promoted to brigadier general and spent the next five years at the Pentagon. At age 42, in 1956, he became the youngest major-general in the Army. In 1958 he assumed command of the 101st Airborne Division. He started the concept of Recondo training in the division, later bringing the concept elsewhere in the Army. In 1960 he became superintendent of West Point, and in 1963 became commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps.

Vietnam

Herbert Elmer Abrams' portrait of General Westmoreland

In June 1964, he became deputy commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), assuming command from General Paul D. Harkins. As the head of the MACV he was known for highly publicized, positive assessments of US military prospects in Vietnam. However, as time went on, the strengthening of Vietnamese combat forces in the South led to regular requests for increases in US troop strength, from 16,000 when he arrived to its peak of 535,000 in 1968 when he was promoted to Army Chief of Staff.

On April 28, 1967, Westmoreland addressed a joint session of Congress. "In evaluating the enemy strategy," he said, "It is evident to me that he believes our Achilles heel is our resolve ... Your continued strong support is vital to the success of our mission ... Backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination and continued support, we will prevail in Vietnam over the Communist aggressor!"

The 29-minute speech was interrupted nineteen times by applause, but Congressional and popular support for the war thereafter continued to decline.

Under Westmoreland's leadership, United States forces "won every battle."[4] The turning point of the war was the 1968 Tet Offensive, in which communist forces, having staged a diversion at the Battle of Khe Sanh, attacked cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. US and South Vietnamese troops successfully fought off the attacks, and the communist forces took heavy losses, but the ferocity of the assault shook public confidence in Westmoreland's previous assurances about the state of the war. Political debate and public opinion led the Johnson administration to limit further increases in US troop numbers in Vietnam. When news of the My Lai Massacre broke, Westmoreland resisted pressure from the Nixon administration for a cover-up,[citation needed] and pressed for a full and impartial investigation by William R. Peers.

Westmoreland was convinced that the Vietnamese communists could be destroyed by fighting a war of attrition that, theoretically, would render the Vietnam People's Army unable to fight. His war strategy was marked by heavy use of artillery and airpower and repeated attempts to engage the communists in large-unit battles, and thereby exploit the anti-communists' vastly superior firepower and technology. However, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF) were able to dictate the pace of attrition to fit their own goals: by continuing to fight a guerrilla war and avoiding large-unit battles, they denied the Americans the chance to fight the kind of war they were best at, and they ensured that attrition would wear down the Americans faster than them.[citation needed] Westmoreland repeatedly rebuffed or suppressed attempts by John Paul Vann and Lew Walt to shift to a "pacification" strategy[4] Westmoreland had little appreciation of the patience of the US public for his time frame, and was struggling to convince President Lyndon B. Johnson to approve widening the war into Cambodia and Laos in order to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He was unable to use the absolutist stance, "we can't win unless we expand the war" [into Cambodia and Laos]. Instead he focused on "positive indicators" which ultimately turned worthless when the Tet Offensive occurred, since all his pronouncements of "positive indicators" didn't hint at the possibility of such a last gasp dramatic event. Tet outmaneuvered all of Westmoreland's pronouncements on "positive indicators" in the minds of the American public.[citation needed] Although the communists were severely depleted by their heavy defeat at Khe Sanh when their conventional assaults were battered by American firepower, as well as tens of thousands of deaths in the Tet Offensive, American political opinion and the panic engendered by the communist surprise sapped US support for the war, even though the events of early 1968 put the US and South Vietnam into a much stronger military position.

Post-Vietnam

Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams in June 1968, the decision being announced shortly after the Tet Offensive. Although the decision had been made in late 1967, it was widely seen in the media as a punishment for being caught off-guard by the communist assault. Westmoreland served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1968 to 1972, then retired from the Army. Many military historians have pointed out that Westmoreland became Chief of Staff at the worst time in history with regard to the Army. Guiding the Army as it transitioned to an all-volunteer force, he issued many directives to try to make Army life better and more palatable for America's youth, e.g. allowing soldiers to wear sideburns and drink beer in the mess hall. However, many hard-liners scorned these as too liberal. Westmoreland ran unsuccessfully for Governor of South Carolina in 1974. He published his autobiography the following year. Westmoreland later served on a task force to improve educational standards in the state of South Carolina. He was mentioned in a Time magazine article as a potential candidate for the 1968 Republican nomination.[5]

In 1986, Westmoreland served as Grand Marshall of the Chicago Vietnam Veteran's parade. The parade, attended by 200,000 Vietnam veterans and more than half a million spectators, did much to repair the rift between Vietnam veterans and the American public.[6][7]

Westmoreland v. CBS: The Uncounted Enemy

Mike Wallace interviewed Westmoreland for the CBS special The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception. The documentary, shown on January 23, 1982 and prepared largely by CBS producer George Crile III, alleged that Westmoreland and others had deliberately underestimated Viet Cong troop strength during 1967 in order to maintain US troop morale and domestic support for the war. Westmoreland filed a lawsuit against CBS.

In Westmoreland v. CBS, Westmoreland sued Wallace and CBS for libel, and a lengthy legal process began. After the trial was in progress, Westmoreland suddenly settled with CBS for an apology, no more than CBS had originally offered. Some contend that Judge Leval's instructions to the jury over what constituted "actual malice" to prove libel convinced Westmoreland's lawyers that he was certain to lose.[8][9] Others point out that the settlement occurred after two of Westmoreland's former intelligence officers, Major General Joseph McChristian and Colonel Gains Hawkins, testified to the accuracy of the substantive allegations of the broadcast, which were that Westmoreland ordered changes in intelligence reports on Viet Cong troop strengths for political reasons. Disagreements persist about the appropriateness of some of the journalistic methods of Mike Wallace in particular.[10]

A deposition by McChristian indicates that his organization developed improved intelligence on the number of irregular Viet Cong combatants shortly before he left Vietnam on a regularly scheduled rotation. The numbers troubled Westmoreland, who feared that the press would not understand them. He did not order them changed, but instead did not include the information in reporting to Washington, which in his view was a decision that the data were not appropriate to report.

Based on later analysis of the information from all sides, it appears clear that Westmoreland could not sustain a libel suit because CBS's principal allegation was that he had caused intelligence officers to suppress facts. Westmoreland's anger was caused by the implication of the broadcast that his intent was fraudulent and that he ordered others to lie.

During the acrimonious trial, Mike Wallace was hospitalized for depression, and despite the legal conflict separating the two, Westmoreland and his wife sent him flowers. Wallace's memoir is generally sympathetic to Westmoreland, although he makes it clear he disagreed with him on issues surrounding the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration's policies in Southeast Asia.

Views

In a 1998 interview for George magazine, Westmoreland criticized the battlefield prowess of his opponent North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap. "Of course, he [Giap] was a formidable adversary," Westmoreland told correspondent W. Thomas Smith, Jr. "Let me also say that Giap was trained in small-unit, guerrilla tactics, but he persisted in waging a big-unit war with terrible losses to his own men. By his own admission, by early 1969, I think, he had lost, what, a half million soldiers? He reported this. Now such a disregard for human life may make a formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius. An American commander losing men like that would hardly have lasted more than a few weeks."

In the 1974 film Hearts and Minds, Westmoreland opined that "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner...We value life and human dignity. They don't care about life and human dignity."

Through the end of his life, he maintained that the United States did not lose the war in Vietnam; he stated instead that "our country did not fulfill its commitment to South Vietnam. By virtue of Vietnam, the U.S. held the line for 10 years and stopped the dominoes from falling."

Personal life

In 1947, he married Katherine (Kitsy) Stevens Van Deusen. They had three children: two daughters Katherine Westmoreland, and Margaret Westmoreland; and one son named James Ripley Westmoreland. William Westmoreland died on July 18, 2005 at the age of 91 at the Bishop Gadsden retirement home in Charleston, South Carolina.

Westmoreland's brother-in-law, Lt. Col. Frederick Van Deusen, was killed in combat in Vietnam on July 7, 1968, just hours after Westmoreland was sworn in as Army Chief of Staff.[11]

On July 23, 2005, he was buried at the West Point Cemetery, United States Military Academy.

Dates of rank

Awards and decorations

General Westmoreland earned the following U.S. and foreign decorations and awards:

U.S. personal military decorations

U.S. military badges, tabs and patches

Foreign decorations and awards

U.S. military unit awards

Foreign unit awards

Foreign badges, decorations and patches

See also

References

  • Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York, NY, Penguin, 1991)
  • Tom Mascaro, The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception (Chicago, IL, The Museum of Broadcast Communications)
  • W. Thomas Smith Jr., An old soldier sounds off: General Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam until 1968, talks of war and General Giap (New York, N.Y., George, November 1998)
  • General William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1976)
  • Mike Wallace with Gary Paul Gates, Between You and Me (N.Y., Hyperion, 2005)
  • Vietnam Gear.com

External links

General:

News of his death:

Military offices
Preceded by
Garrison Holt Davidson
Superintendents of the United States Military Academy
1960–1963
Succeeded by
James Benjamin Lampert
Preceded by
Paul D. Harkins
Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
1964–1968
Succeeded by
Creighton Abrams
Preceded by
Harold K. Johnson
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
1968–1972
Succeeded by
Bruce Palmer, Jr.
(Acting)
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Lyndon Johnson
Time's Man of the Year
1965
Succeeded by
The Generation Twenty-Five and Under







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