About William Childs Westmoreland
William Childs Westmoreland (March 26, 1914 – July 18, 2005) was a United States Army General, who commanded US military operations in the Vietnam War at its peak (1964–68), during 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.
William Westmoreland was born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, to Eugenia Talley Childs and James Ripley Westmoreland. His upper-middle-class family was involved in the local banking and textile industries. William was an Eagle Scout at Troop 1 boy scouts and became an eagle scout at the age of 15, and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and Silver Buffalo from the Boy Scouts of America as a young adult. After spending a year at The Citadel in 1932 he was appointed to attend the West Point Military Academy. His motive for entering West Point was "to see the world." He was a member of a distinguished West Point class that also included Creighton Abrams and Benjamin O. Davis Jr.. Westmoreland graduated as first captain - the highest graduating rank - and received the Pershing Sword, which is given to the most able cadet at the academy. Westmoreland also served as the Superintendent of the Protestant Sunday School Teachers. Following graduation in 1936, he became an artillery officer and served in several different commands. In World War II he saw combat in Tunisia, Sicily, France and Germany. He reached the temporary wartime rank of colonel, and on October 13, 1944, was appointed the chief of staff of the 9th Infantry Division.
Westmoreland established a balanced reputation as a stern taskmaster 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". After the war he completed a three month management program at Harvard Business School. As Stanley Karnow noted, "Westy was a corporation executive in uniform."
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 the temporary rank of brigadier general. He spent the next five years at the Pentagon. At age 42, in 1956, he became the youngest major general in the Army (younger by 3 years than Douglas MacArthur had been). In 1958 he assumed command of the 101st Airborne Division. He introduced 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 he became commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps.
In June 1964, he became deputy commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), assuming direct control 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 communist 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." 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, and pressed for a full and impartial investigation by Lieutenant General William R. Peers. Westmoreland also made efforts to investigate the Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre.
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. Westmoreland repeatedly rebuffed or suppressed attempts by John Paul Vann and Lew Walt to shift to a "pacification" strategy 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. 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.
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.
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.
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. While 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. 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.
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.
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."
For the remainder 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."
While stationed at Fort Sill, he first met the daughter of the post Executive Officer, Katherine (Kitsy) Stevens Van Deusen, 9 years old at the time. They were married in 1947 and had three children: a daughter, Katherine Stevens; a son, James Ripley II; and another daughter, Margaret Childs.
Just hours after Westmoreland was sworn in as Army Chief of Staff on July 7, 1968, his brother-in-law, LTC Frederick Van Deusen (Commander of 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment), was killed when his helicopter was shot down in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.
Westmoreland died on July 18, 2005, at the age of 91 at the Bishop Gadsden retirement home in Charleston, South Carolina. He had suffered from Alzhiemer's disease during the final years of his life. He was buried on July 23, 2005, at the West Point Cemetery, United States Military Academy.
The General William B. Westmoreland Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, is named in his honor.
In 1996, the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution authorized the General William C. Westmoreland award. The award is given each year in recognition to an outstanding SAR Veterans Volunteer.
Awards and decorations
General William Westmoreland's Timeline