Westmoreland, William C.

views updated May 29 2018

William C. Westmoreland

Born March 26, 1914
Spartanburg, South Carolina

U.S. Army general and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; commander of the American troops in Vietnam, 1964–68

General William C. Westmoreland served as the commander of the U.S. military forces in Vietnam during the first four years of direct American involvement, from 1964 to 1968. In this position he helped determine American military strategy and presided over a steady increase in U.S. troop levels. As more American people turned against the war in the late 1960s, Westmoreland spoke out in defense of both the U.S. mission and his own performance. Relieved of his command following the Tet Offensive in 1968, he served as a military advisor to the president with the Joint Chiefs of Staff until his retirement.

A born military leader

William Childs Westmoreland was born on March 26, 1914, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. His father was a successful businessman. From the early years of his life, Westmoreland demonstrated strong leadership qualities, becoming an Eagle Scout and serving as president of his high school class. Upon graduating in 1931, he attended the Citadel military school in Charleston, South Carolina. The following year he transferred to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Westmoreland continued to show leadership abilities as a West Point cadet. He became captain of his class during his senior year, and he won the prestigious Pershing Award for leadership.

After graduating from West Point in 1936, Westmoreland received the rank of second lieutenant in the artillery. At the beginning of World War II (1939–45), he was promoted to major and sent into battle in North Africa and Sicily. In 1944 he fought bravely during the invasion of Normandy, when the United States and its allies pushed the German army out of France. Westmoreland continued rising through the military ranks after World War II, earning promotions to colonel and then division commander. In 1947 he married Katherine Stevens Van Dusen, the daughter of one of his commanding officers. They eventually had three children together.

In 1952 Westmoreland took command of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in the Korean War. The following year he was assigned the position of secretary to U.S. Army Chief of Staff Maxwell D. Taylor (see entry). In 1956 Westmoreland was promoted again and became the youngest major general in the U.S. Army. A short time later he took command of the 101st Airborne Division, a group of paratroopers sometimes known as the Screaming Eagles. On one training jump, five of his men were killed when their parachutes were caught in high winds. After that incident, Westmoreland always jumped before his men in order to test the wind conditions.

In 1960 Westmoreland became superintendent of West Point. This job gave him an opportunity to train future military officers. In 1963 he returned to the military and was promoted to lieutenant general. By this time Westmoreland was widely considered to be one of the most promising young officers in the American armed forces. He had taken on a variety of challenges and succeeded in meeting each one. In 1964 he was asked to take on what became the greatest challenge of his career. President Lyndon Johnson (see entry) placed Westmoreland in charge of the growing U.S. military presence in Vietnam.

Takes charge of U.S. forces in Vietnam

The Vietnam War was a conflict between the Communist nation of North Vietnam and the U.S.-supported nation of South Vietnam. North Vietnam wanted to overthrow the South Vietnamese government and reunite the two countries under one Communist government. But U.S. government officials felt that a Communist government in Vietnam would increase the power of the Soviet Union and threaten the security of the United States. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the U.S. government sent money, weapons, and military advisors to help the South Vietnamese Army fight the Communists.

North Vietnam's main weapon during this phase of the Vietnam War was a guerrilla army known as the Viet Cong that operated in the South Vietnamese countryside. The Viet Cong mingled with the villagers and tried to convince them to support the Communist efforts to overthrow the government. At the time Westmoreland became head of the U.S. Military Assistance Command in South Vietnam, there were 15,000 American military advisors stationed in Vietnam. Despite the U.S. assistance, however, the South Vietnamese Army was losing ground to the Viet Cong. Westmoreland immediately began pressuring Johnson to send U.S. combat troops to Vietnam in order to prevent a Communist takeover.

Once the president committed the first American combat troops to Vietnam in 1965, Westmoreland became one of the guiding forces behind the U.S. military strategy. Like some other prominent officials, he viewed the Vietnam War as a war of attrition. "As a military strategy, attrition meant wearing down or grinding down the enemy until the enemy lost its will to fight or the capacity to sustain its military effort," Larry Berman explained in Lyndon Johnson's War. Westmoreland planned to increase the number of American troops steadily, and then use them to conduct "search and destroy" missions against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong bases. In the meantime, the U.S. planes would also launch bombing raids against the Communists. Westmoreland believed that, over time, the superior U.S. weapons and equipment would wear down the enemy and force them to negotiate a settlement.

Over the next few years, the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam increased to over 500,000. On the occasions when they faced the Communist forces in battle, they usually came out on top. But the North Vietnamese Army and their Viet Cong allies rarely engaged the American troops directly. Instead, they used tactics of guerrilla warfare—such as sneak attacks and booby traps—in order to reduce the American advantages in resources and firepower. The North Vietnamese seemed willing to engage the United States in a war of attrition. In fact, they appeared determined to continue fighting until the Americans withdrew. "The enemy is relying on his greater staying power," Westmoreland admitted in a report to Johnson. "It is only his will and resolve that are sustaining him now, and his faith that his will is stronger than ours."

Strategy comes under criticism at home

Despite the steady increase in U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, the war soon turned into a bloody stalemate. As a result, some people began to question Westmoreland's strategy. But the general believed that the problem was not his strategy, but the U.S. government's lack of commitment to it. "A major problem in those early days," he wrote in his memoir A Soldier Reports, "as through the entire war, was that Washington policy decisions forced us to fight with but one hand."

One major problem, in Westmoreland's view, was that Johnson would not allow U.S. troops or bombers to operate in the neighboring countries of Cambodia or Laos. Westmoreland argued that the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong guerrillas maintained bases in these countries. He noted that the enemy forces used these bases to launch their guerrilla attacks against the U.S. troops. But the president worried that this action would be considered an escalation of the war and would increase public opposition to his policies. In addition, he thought that attacking Cambodia or Laos might provoke China into joining the fight on the side of the Communists.

As the war dragged on, the American people became bitterly divided over the government's policies. Antiwar demonstrations took place across the country. In November 1967 Johnson called Westmoreland home to reassure the U.S. Congress and the American people about his progress against the Communists. In a series of speeches the general said that his strategy was working. He also asked for continued support. "We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view," he told the National Press Club. "Backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination, and continued support, we will prevail in Vietnam over the communist aggressor."

Privately, however, Westmoreland continued pressing Johnson to increase the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam. In his memoir he recalled telling the president that "Unless the will of the enemy was broken or unless there was unraveling of the VC [Viet Cong] structure, the war could go on for five years."

Removed from command after the Tet Offensive

In January 1968—just two months after Westmoreland said that the end of the war was in sight—the Communist forces launched a major attack on the cities of South Vietnam. This attack, which took place during Vietnam's Tet holiday, became known as the Tet Offensive. The attack took Westmoreland and other U.S. military leaders by surprise. But the American forces recovered quickly and turned back the offensive. In fact, they did a great deal of damage to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in the process.

Afterward, Westmoreland proclaimed that Tet had resulted in a major defeat for the enemy. However, he admitted that the Communists still showed few signs of backing down. "Enemy losses have been heavy; he has failed to achieve his prime objectives of mass uprisings and capture of a large number of the capital cities and towns. Morale in enemy units which were badly mauled or where the men were oversold the idea of a decisive victory at Tet probably has suffered severely," Westmoreland wrote in an official report. "However, with replacements, his [the Communists'] indoctrination [training] system would seem capable of maintaining morale at a generally adequate level. His determination appears to be unshaken."

Even though the Communists failed to achieve their military goals in the Tet Offensive, they did succeed in turning public opinion in the United States against the war. The large-scale, coordinated attack shocked many U.S. government officials and the American public. After all, Westmoreland had just assured them that the U.S. forces were close to victory. The media became highly critical of the general afterward, and several of his main supporters within the government began to doubt him as well. In March Johnson refused to grant Westmoreland's request for an additional 200,000 U.S. combat troops. Instead, the president opened peace negotiations with North Vietnam. In June 1968 Johnson sent General Creighton W. Abrams to replace Westmoreland as head of the American forces in Vietnam.

Remains a central figure in debate over the war

Upon returning to the United States, Westmoreland became a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This group of military leaders—which includes the head of each branch of the U.S. armed forces—advises the president on military matters. In this position Westmoreland oversaw the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Vietnam, which was completed in 1973. He also took steps to restore the morale of the American armed forces and prepare them to fight in future conflicts.

In June 1972 Westmoreland retired from the military. Two years later, he made an unsuccessful run for governor of South Carolina. In 1975 North Vietnamese troops captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon to end the Vietnam War. The following year, Westmoreland published a book about his experiences in Vietnam, A Soldier Reports. In this controversial book he argued that the U.S. government, rather than the military, was responsible for the Communist victory in Vietnam.

"It is perplexing to me that one often reads that the American military lost the war in Vietnam when it is a fact that: the American military did not lose a battle of consequence; the Nixon administration withdrew our ground forces and they were out of the country by early 1973; . . . and it was two years after our withdrawal that the North Vietnamese Army came down en masse [as a whole] and seized the South," Westmoreland told Sanford Wexler in The Vietnam War: An Eyewitness History. "In short we abandoned the South Vietnamese government. The American military was not defeated in Vietnam."

In the years since the Communist victory, Westmoreland has remained a central figure in the debate over American involvement in the Vietnam War. Military historians continue to question the appropriateness of his strategy. "Whether Westmoreland's strategy could ever have won the war will never be known," K. E. Hamburger wrote in Encyclopedia of theVietnam War. "Certainly victory would probably have required many things he did not have—more troops, more time, more political will, and reform of the [South Vietnamese Army], to name a few."

In 1982 Westmoreland's performance in Vietnam became the topic of news once again. A television documentary shown on the CBS network, called The Uncounted Enemy, charged that the general had lied about the level of enemy troops in South Vietnam in order to make his policies seem more effective. The report was based on enemy documents uncovered by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which indicated that there were twice as many enemy forces as Westmoreland had claimed. Westmoreland denied the accusations and sued CBS for libel (intentionally making false statements about him). In 1984 Westmoreland agreed to drop the lawsuit when CBS admitted that the documentary had contained factual errors.


Berman, Larry. Lyndon Johnson's War. New York: Norton, 1989.

Furguson, Ernest B. Westmoreland: The Inevitable General. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968.

A North Vietnamese General Explains Why the U.S. Strategy Failed

The man in charge of the North Vietnamese Army during the early years of the Vietnam War was Vo Nguyen Giap (see entry). In the following statement, which was published in the New York Times on June 24, 1990, Giap tells reporter Stanley Karnow why he believes that the U.S. military strategy failed to defeat his forces:

Westmoreland was wrong to expect that his superior firepower would grind us down. If we had focused on the balance of forces, we would have been defeated in two hours. We were waging a people's war. . . . America's sophisticated arms, electronic devices and all the rest were to no avail in the end. In war there are two factors—human beings and weapons. Ultimately, though, human beings are the decisive factor.

Creighton W. Abrams (1914–1974)

General Creighton Abrams replaced William Westmoreland as the commander of U.S. military forces in Vietnam in 1968. Creighton Williams Abrams was born on September 15, 1914, in Springfield, Massachusetts. After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1940, he took command of the 37th Tank Battalion during World War II. Abrams proved to be a brave and daring fighter in numerous battles across Europe. In fact, he wore out seven tanks, won several medals for distinguished service, and earned the praise of his commanding officer, General George S. Patton.

After World War II ended, Abrams continued moving up through the military ranks. In 1962, he was asked to handle an extremely tense situation within the United States. At this time in American history, there were laws that segregated (separated) people by race. These laws—which required white people and "colored" people to use different restrooms, schools, and restaurants—discriminated against blacks and placed them in an inferior position in society. When the Supreme Court ruled that such laws were unconstitutional (not allowed under the U.S. Constitution), violent protests took place in some areas of the South. Abrams led the U.S. troops that calmed the protests and enforced the Supreme Court's ruling in Mississippi and Alabama. He was widely praised for his sensitive handling of the situation.

In 1964, Abrams was promoted to full general in the U.S. Army. Three years later, he went to Vietnam, where he became deputy commander of the U.S. forces under William Westmoreland. In this position, Abrams was responsible for training and preparing the South Vietnamese Army. During the Tet Offensive of 1968, when North Vietnam launched surprise attacks against several major cities, Abrams led the recapture of Hue. The South Vietnamese forces he had trained fought well during this time.

In June 1968, Abrams replaced Westmoreland as head of the U.S. military forces in Vietnam. Beginning the following year, he oversaw the implementation of President Richard Nixon's "Vietnamization" policy, which involved withdrawing American troops gradually while also strengthening the South Vietnamese forces. As U.S. involvement wound down, Abrams also established programs to help the South Vietnamese people. By improving education, medical care, transportation, and farming methods, these programs were designed to keep the people loyal to the South Vietnamese government rather than the Communists. Abrams received praise from international observers for his efforts to reduce the suffering and improve the lives of the South Vietnamese people.

In 1972, Abrams returned to the United States and became a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a group of military leaders that acts as advisors to the president. In this position, he worked to correct some of the problems that had developed in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War, such as low morale, drug use, and poor race relations. Once the military draft ended, he also oversaw the transition to a volunteer-based army.

Abrams died of cancer on September 4, 1974. Throughout his long career, he gained the respect of many soldiers and government officials with his bravery, integrity, analytical ability, and sensitivity. Although he took command of U.S. forces in Vietnam when the war was extremely unpopular among the American people, Abrams always maintained a good relationship with the media. In fact, one admiring reporter called him "a general who deserves a better war." After his death, the U.S. Army named a new, turbine-powered tank the M-1 Abrams in his honor.

Westmoreland, William C.

views updated May 23 2018

William C. Westmoreland

Born William Childs Westmoreland, March 26, 1914, in Spartanburg, SC; died July 18, 2005, in Charleston, SC. Military general. William C. Westmoreland was a four-star general who led American troops during a significant portion of the Vietnam War. While the general's leadership in Vietnam was controversial, he had a long, distinguished career in the U.S. Army. Years after the war's end, he filed a high-profile lawsuit against CBS for a documentary which claimed Westmoreland had manipulated intelligence reports during the Vietnam War.

Westmoreland was born in 1914 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The military was part of his life from the time he was a teenager. He went to school at the Citadel for one year before entering West Point. By the time he graduated in 1936, he was the top student in his class and earned the Pershing Sword as the most militarily proficient cadet. West-moreland then joined the U.S. Army, serving in field artillery at the rank of first captain.

During World War II, Westmoreland served with distinction. First, he was a battalion commander in North Africa and Sicily. The unit Westmoreland commanded was awarded a presidential citation for their heroic actions when they came under fire in Tunisia. He later led troops in conflicts in France, Germany, and Belgium. Westmoreland faced particularly brutal times when his division was able to capture and hold the last standing bridge on the Rhine River, the bridge at Remagen. Westmoreland and his men had to defend the bridge from enemy troops for two weeks; this gave the Allies time to build their own bridge. Their actions helped end World War II in Europe.

After serving as a paratrooper commander during the Korean War, Westmoreland's career took a different direction. While still serving in the Army, he went to the Harvard Business School in a management program. After completing the course, West-moreland worked in the Pentagon as the head of the office of manpower. From 1955 to 1958, he served under Chief of Staff Maxwell Taylor as the secretary to the Army General Staff. Westmoreland then spent two years as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division. In 1960, he was named the superintendent of West Point. Three years later, West-moreland, by then a lieutenant general, was ordered to go to Vietnam.

After a few months of serving as a deputy to U.S. Commander General Paul Harksins, Westmoreland was put in charge of U.S. troops in South Vietnam as the head of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. He was also promoted to four-star general. Westmoreland assured the American public that the United States would win the war. One way he hoped to accomplish this goal was by increasing the number of American troops in the country. When Westmoreland took over in 1964, there were about 15,000 to 20,000 American "military advisors" in Vietnam; by 1968, there were about a half million American soldiers in Vietnam. Westmoreland measured success in Vietnam by the number of enemy troops killed by the massive number of American troops. The general believed that if the enemy was killed at a rate that would be faster than they could be replaced, the so-called "war of attrition," victory would be imminent.

Westmoreland's strategies lost support over his tenure in Vietnam. The increase in troops did not translate into success for the Americans in Vietnam, and led to the scorn of the American public as more and more American soldiers lost their lives. Despite being named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1965, Westmoreland became the object of many Americans' discontent about the lack of progress in the war. He had a controversial appearance in front of Congress in 1967 in which Westmoreland was to defend the war, but instead labeled critics of the war unpatriotic. His troubles continued in 1968 when the Tet Offensive by the North Vietnamese caught the Americans and South Vietnamese off guard and resulted in a significant loss of territory. Though the land was eventually regained, it came at great cost and led to more American discontent over the war.

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson had always limited what Westmoreland could do in the war. West-moreland was not in charge of the South Vietnamese Army nor the bombing raids of North Vietnam. Late in his tenure, Westmoreland pushed for more troops and expansion of the war into Cambodia and Laos. In 1968, Westmoreland asked for 200,000 more troops, but instead was recalled to Washington and reassigned. He was named the Army's chief of staff, but was rarely consulted on matters related to the war by U.S. President Richard M. Nixon. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1972, and moved back to his home state of South Carolina.

Westmoreland turned to public speaking, including many stops on college campuses which were often scenes of protest. In 1974, he tried to launch a political career, running for the Republican nomination for the governor's office in South Carolina. This bid was unsuccessful. Westmoreland published his memoir in 1976, A Soldier Reports, in which he continued to defend his decisions in Vietnam. Westmoreland insisted that the U.S. Army had not lost the war, only the South Vietnamese, because the United States dropped out.

In 1982, Westmoreland re-emerged in the news because of a controversial documentary on CBS entitled The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception. The documentary claimed that Westmoreland personally changed and repressed intelligence information on the North Vietnamese and their troop numbers in the last two years that he was in charge in Vietnam. The documentary also claimed that West-moreland's goal was to hoodwink the American public into thinking the war could be won. West-moreland sued CBS for libel to the tune of $120 million. The case was settled out of court four months after it went to trial in 1984. CBS also admitted there were errors in the documentary.

Westmoreland died at the age of 91 on July 18, 2005, in Charleston, South Carolina, at a retirement home. He is survived by his wife, Katherine Stevens Van Deusen; his son, James Ripley; two daughters, and six grandchildren.Sources: Economist, July 30, 2005, p. 79; Independent (London), July 20, 2005, p. 34; New York Times, July 20, 2005, p. A20; Washington Post, July 19, 2005, p. A1.


William Childs Westmoreland

views updated May 14 2018

William Childs Westmoreland

William Childs Westmoreland (born 1914) was commander of all American forces in the Vietnam War from 1964 until 1968, when he became chief of staff of the U.S. Army.

By the time the political and military situation in South Vietnam had become almost chaotic West-moreland had risen to the rank of general. He had acquired a reputation for efficiency and was a protegé of General Maxwell D. Taylor, a leading proponent of the "Flexible Response" and the popular counterinsurgency strategies of the Kennedy administration.

In early 1964 President Lyndon Johnson sent West-moreland to Saigon as deputy commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. Within a few months, at the rank of full general, he succeeded to command American forces assisting the Republic of Vietnam in its war against the Communist Viet Cong insurgents. Westmoreland's assumption of command coincided with a decisive change in the nature of the conflict. The Viet Cong began shifting from small-scale guerrilla warfare to larger, more conventional attacks. Beginning early in 1965, regular North Vietnamese army units came south down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to reinforce the insurgents. In the same period the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson further escalated the conflict, first with a limited bombing campaign against North Vietnam and then by introducing U.S. combat forces into South Vietnam.

Westmoreland did not determine overall American strategy and had no control over most of the air war against North Vietnam. He did direct American operations within South Vietnam. He attempted to carry out a balanced campaign of attacks on enemy regular units and their bases on the one hand, and assistance to the South Vietnamese in pacification and population security on the other. Many observers, however, criticized him for emphasizing the first part of the strategy at the expense of the second. His name became associated with tactics of "search and destroy." In February 1968 the Viet Cong launched their Tet offensive. Although Westmoreland, with considerable reason, regarded the outcome as an allied victory, this display of enemy strength convinced much of the American public that the war was a failure. President Johnson then turned toward de-escalation and negotiation. In the aftermath of Tet in July 1968, Westmoreland returned to Washington to become chief of staff of the army.

As chief of staff, Westmoreland faced a difficult task. He had to extricate the army from Vietnam, reorient it toward the future, and make the transition from the draft to an all-volunteer service, all in a period of virulent anti-military sentiment. Although hampered by his own identification with an unpopular war, Westmoreland contributed much toward the post-Vietnam rebuilding of the army. He also championed his service's cause by extensive public speaking, despite antiwar and anti-military heckling and abuse.

Westmoreland retired as chief of staff on June 30, 1972. After that he made his home in South Carolina and continued an active public career. In 1974 he sought the Republican nomination for governor but was decisively defeated in the primary election. The controversies of the Vietnam War continued to follow him. In a January 1982 television documentary, "The Uncounted Enemy, " the Columbia Broadcasting System accused Westmoreland of manipulating figures on enemy strength to deceive President Johnson concerning progress in the war. In response, Westmoreland sued CBS for libel. The case ended in February 1985 in an out-of-court settlement which left the factual issues unresolved and both sides claiming victory.

Further Reading

The earliest full-length biography of Westmoreland is the highly favorable one by Ernest B. Furgerson, Westmoreland: The Inevitable General (1968). Westmoreland tells the story of his command in Vietnam in A Soldier Reports (1976). His strategy is sharply criticized by David Halberstam in The Best and the Brightest (1972). Gen. Bruce Palmer, Jr., in The Twenty-Five Year War: America's Military Role in Vietnam (1984) also analyzes and is critical of Westmoreland's conduct of operations. Don Kowet in A Matter of Honor (1984) tells the story of the CBS controversy, as does Renata Adler in Reckless Disregard: Westmoreland v. CBS et al.; Sharon v. TIME (1986). The crucial Tet offensive is recounted in Don Oberdorfer's Tet! (1971).

In 1994, Vietnam veteran Samuel Zaffiri published a biography, Westmoreland: A Biography of General William C. Westmoreland. A book reviewer stated that the book offered "a fair hearing for a man who has been alternately overlooked and maligned by history." Articles of interest can be found in the New York Times (January 25, 1991; September 30, 1990; and November 28, 1988) and the Los Angeles Times (April 22, 1991 and March 25, 1991). □

Westmoreland, William C.

views updated Jun 27 2018

Westmoreland, William C. (1914–2005), U.S. general.One of the most controversial figures in American military history, William Westmoreland, by his own appraisal, was “the most vilified man in America” during the 1970s. A military leader of the U.S. buildup in the Republic of South Vietnam from 1964 until 1968, the general exuded confidence, only to undergo a devastating Communist attack during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Critics cited this attack as reason to withdraw U.S. forces and proof that Westmoreland had followed a failed strategy.

Born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, and graduated from West Point in 1936, Westmoreland held Field Artillery assignments until World War II. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, he participated in the North Africa Campaign in 1942, landed in Sicily in 1943, and landed on the Normandy coast in 1944. Westmoreland gained a reputation for superb staff work and sound battle leadership during the war.

After the war, Westmoreland joined the infantry, became a paratrooper in 1946, and commanded the only U.S. airborne infantry regiment to participate in the Korean War. After attending an advanced management program at Harvard University, he commanded the 101st Airborne, (1958–60) and served as Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy (1960–63), after which he took command of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Westmoreland's era of high notoriety began when, as a full general, he was assigned to head the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) in 1964, an ad visory and support effort to the South Vietnamese Army. He saw that the infusion of increasing numbers of North Vietnamese troop units into the small Southeast Asian country was transforming a guerrilla war into a stand‐up contest between conventionally organized regulars. Convinced that U.S. forces would have to enter the war as offensive units, Secretary of Defense Robert S. MacNamara and President Lyndon B. Johnson received a proposal from Westmoreland that would have the new U.S. Army airmobile force, the 1st Cavalry Division, cut the Communist line of communications by establishing mobile bases in the Laotian Panhandle. Rebuffed and faced with the task of defending all of South Vietnam, Westmoreland devised a scheme of “search and destroy” offensive missions by U.S. forces to locate, engage, and defeat Communist forces in South Vietnam. Following the surprise Tet Offensive (1968) by the Communists and the erosion of American support, despite its defeat, Westmoreland was succeeded in Vietnam by Gen. Creighton Abrams.

Returning to the United States in 1968, Westmoreland became chief of staff of the army and retired in 1972. After an unsuccessful run for the governorship of South Carolina in 1974, he became embroiled in a failed 1985 suit against CBS for portraying himself and his staff as falsifying enemy strength and casualty reports during the Vietnam War.
[See also Westmoreland v. CBS.]


William C. Westmoreland , A Soldier Reports, 1976.
Samuel Zaffiri , Westmoreland: A Biography of General William C. Westmoreland, 1994.

Rod Paschall

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