Westmoreland, William C. 1914-2005

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WESTMORELAND, William C. 1914-2005

(William Childs Westmoreland)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born March 26, 1914, in Spartanburg County, SC; died July 18, 2005, in Charleston, SC. Military leader and author. Westmoreland was a World War II hero and former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam during the 1960s. Coming from a military family who strongly supported his ambitions to join the army, he attended West Point, where he was named captain of the cadets and graduated in 1936. As a lieutenant, and then captain serving stateside, he missed the attack on Pearl Harbor but subsequently served in North Africa with the 34th Artillery Battalion that earned a presidential unit citation for fending off the advances of Germany's General Rommel. Westmoreland then served with distinction in Sicily, earning a Legion of Merit before being promoted to chief of staff of the Army's 9th Division in Europe. His leadership during Germany's final push to win back the Rhine River earned him another medal, the Bronze Star. With Germany defeated, Westmoreland remained in Europe for a time as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, then returned home to teach at the Army Command General Staff School and the Army War College. Toward the end of the Korean War, he commanded the 187th Regimental Combat Team from 1952 to 1953. He was then made assistant to the Army's chief of staff in Washington, DC, making valuable political connections with two congressmen who would become future presidents, John F. Kennedy and Gerald R. Ford. Achieving the rank of major general, Westmoreland was next put in charge of the 101st Airborne, and in 1960 he was named superintendent of West Point. After two years leading the military academy, he was promoted again, to lieutenant general, and given command of the 13th Airborne Corps. After Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson tapped Westmoreland to be chief of military operations in Vietnam. It was an unenviable job: For the next four years, Westmoreland tried to fend off the guerilla attacks of the North Vietnamese using conventional strategies that failed to shake the enemy's resolve despite killing tens of thousands of Vietcong. Increasing war protests at home and flagging political will in the White House also worked against the general, and in 1968, after the infamous Tet offensive by the Vietnamese brought home horrible images of burning cities and thousands of U.S. causalities, Westmoreland was relieved of his duties in Vietnam and made Army chief of staff. On the surface, this was a promotion, but Westmoreland understood it to be the result of the president's lack of confidence in him. Four years later and frustrated by President Nixon's gradual withdrawal of troops, he retired a full general. Westmoreland faded into obscurity for a time, until a 1982 CBS television documentary was broadcast portraying him as a conspirator who tried to mislead Americans into believing the war was being won. Westmoreland strenuously objected to the accusations and sued the broadcast company in a case that was later settled, with CBS issuing a statement that the general was not guilty of any wrongdoing. Westmoreland spent his remaining years in retirement in South Carolina, admired by some who saw him as a courageous soldier, while vilified by others who felt he was a warmonger. Much of his time was spent traveling the country and visiting veterans groups. Despite some controversy about his Vietnam days, his years of loyal service to his country cannot be denied. Westmoreland presented his recollections of his high-profile life in A Soldier Reports (1976).



Westmoreland, William C., A Soldier Reports, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.


Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2005, section 1, pp. 1, 14.

Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2005, pp. A1, A6.

New York Times, July 20, 2005, p. A20.

Times (London, England), July 20, 2005, p. 54.

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Westmoreland, William C. 1914-2005

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