General William Westmoreland was commander of all American forces in the Vietnam War (1954–75) from 1964 until 1968.
Westmoreland was born on March 26, 1914, near Spartanburg, South Carolina . After attending the Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, for one year, Westmoreland entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, in New York , and graduated at the top of his class in 1936. He joined the U.S. Army as first captain, where he served in field artillery.
Westmoreland served with distinction in World War II (1939–45) and again in the Korean War (1950–53). He then was appointed head of the office of manpower at the Pentagon. In 1960 he accepted a position as superintendent of West Point. He remained in that job for three years before being deployed to Vietnam.
Controversy in Vietnam
Within a few months, Westmoreland was promoted from deputy to the commander general to head of Military Assistance Command and four-star general. He promised the American public that the United States would be victorious, and one strategy he used was to increase the number of American troops. When he took command in 1964, there were approximately 15,000 to 20,000 American soldiers in Vietnam; by 1968, that number increased to a half million.
Reasoning that his men could kill faster than Vietnamese troops could be replaced, he believed victory was inevitable. His plan failed, and it became evident that an increase in troops did not lead to success for America. As the number of American casualties (wounded and dead) increased, Westmoreland lost the support of the American public. Although he was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1965, he was criticized and scorned for his lack of progress. He responded by calling his critics unpatriotic.
In 1968 the general was reassigned as the army's chief of staff. He remained in that position until his retirement in 1972, at which point he moved back to South Carolina. He filled his retirement years with speaking engagements that took him to college campuses across the nation. Often, those engagements were scenes of protest over what many saw as Westmoreland's costly mistakes.
After an unsuccessful bid for the governor's office in 1974, Westmoreland penned his memoirs. In A Soldier Reports, he continued to defend his decisions in Vietnam and insisted that the U.S. Army had not lost the war. A 1982 television documentary alleged Westmoreland changed and repressed intelligence information in the last two years of his command in Vietnam. Westmoreland sued the television station (CBS) for libel; the case was settled out of court. CBS admitted to some errors in the documentary.
Westmoreland died at the age of ninety-one on July 18, 2005.