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Interview with William C. (William Childs) Westmoreland, 1981

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Summary
General William C. Westmoreland directed the American military presence on the ground in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968. Here he discusses the situation in Vietnam in 1964 and various events during the War, including the Marine landing at Da Nang in 1965, Operation Rolling Thunder, and the Tet Offensive. He describes the successes and failures of American military efforts in Vietnam and the strengths of various units. Finally, he reflects on the Johnson Administration’s 1968 decision not to pursue a war-winning strategy.
Topics
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, United States--History--1945-, United States--History, Military--20th century, Vietnam--History--1945-1975, Military missions, Military ethics, Military assistance, American, United States. Marine Corps, Escalation (Military science), Military art and science, Logistics, Bombing, Aerial--Vietnam, United States. President (1963-1969 : Johnson), United States--Armed Forces--Officers, United States--Politics and government, Vietnam--Politics and government
Tags (2)
Operation Rolling Thunder, 1965-1968, Westy's offensive strategy
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Transcript

The political and military situation in 1964

Vietnam, T-885, SR #2607, Gen. Westmoreland. Okay. This is SR 42607. Vietnam T-885. An. Today’s April 27, 1981. We’re on Camera Roll 614. 24 Francs. Tone at minus 0. Slate goes on. Clap sticks.
Interviewer:
General Westmoreland, in the, in March of 1964 Secretary McNamara was in Saigon and South Vietnam barnstorming around with, with General Khanh, what did you think of that?
Westmoreland:
The thing that we needed most in Vietnam at that time was political stability. Khanh had taken over by ah virtually a bloodless coup from the junta that followed the overthrow of President Diem, and ah, the administration in Washington and Mr. McNamara was there to represent Mr. Johnson and his administration, was doing everything he could to build up the prestige of General Khanh and make it known to General Khanh and to the people of South Vietnam that America was behind Vietnam, and in particular, behind General Khanh who had taken over as ah president.
Interviewer:
Did, what effect do you think that had on the stability of the Khanh government?
Westmoreland:
Well, I don’t think it was necessarily ah a wasted effort. I think ah for a short period of time that it had an impact. Particularly, among Khanh’s colleagues, his fellow officers. It indicated to them that ah America was going to support General Khanh and was not going to support any other faction to displace him. So, I think, in the short range, it ah it had a positive effect.
Interviewer:
Your predecessor, General Harkins was generally regarded as being over overly optimistic. What did he say in his leave taking dinner at the Caravelle?
Westmoreland:
Genera...Har...Har...General Harkins, Paul Harkins, ah, of course, had served under General Patton during WWII. He was his deputy chief of staff. At the farewell dinner that was held for him at the Caravelle Hotel, he did say that he was ah a very optimistic person and had been optimistic ah while he was in command and he continued to be optimistic. My contacts with General Harkins...ah bore that out. His contacts with Mr. McNamara were ah ah excessively, in my opinion, optimistic, but certainly, General Harkins was a very honorable man, an experienced soldier and he passed his judgments in good faith.
Interviewer:
You wrote that during the McNamara visit to Saigon and Honolulu in June of ’64 thinking in Washington on increasing troop commitments was more advanced than anything you were considering in Saigon. What were they thinking at that time, and how did you feel about it? This is June ’64.
Westmoreland:
They were grasping for straws. They realized that a commitment had been made to the South Vietnamese people. Ah. There was political instability which was ah rampant. It was realized that we had to build up the South Vietnamese forces and programs were projected ah in order to in, increase their military strength. On the other hand, intelligence indicated that that ah the enemy was getting more active and North Vietnamese troops were beginning to move down through Laos.
There was a feeling at the time that bombing might ah be able to do the trick and pass a message to the leaders in Hanoi that America had great military power and that they should be ah more careful or that power would be used against them.
But ah (sigh) this message was of small magnitude with respect to bombing and the message, of course, was never transmitted ah during that time frame, and matter of fact, ah, a very small degree thereafter, because the bombing was on and off.
Interviewer:
But, at, at at that time, were, w...were you thinking, recommending bombing? Ah. You were trying to get the government together, sort of a revolving door government and so on. Did, did...?
Westmoreland:
When the bombing program started I was in, that was the strategy that the Johnson ah Administration wanted to pursue. I realized that the airfields, and we had three jet capable airfields, were extremely vulnerable.
If that strategy ah was to be a viable one, we had to protect those airfields. I feared that the Vietnamese ah did not have the capability of protecting ah the American aircraft on those airfields and, therefore, my first request for troops were ah associated with the essentiality of protecting the airfields.

American reactions to North Vietnamese attacks in late '64

Interviewer:
Well, we’ll look into the troops a little later. I’ve got a couple of specific questions, and then I want to get into the bombing in some detail. The ahm ah you wrote that nobody would have thought less of us if we had made a graceful exit in early ’65 during the political chaos. Did you feel that way at the time?
Westmoreland:
No. That’s basically a retrospective judgment. Those of us in Vietnam were people that had a mission given by our government and ah we were doing our utmost to carry it out and we had expectations that we could carry it out.
Interviewer:
Tell us what your retrospective judgment was.
Westmoreland:
Politically, Saigon was in a state of dis, disarray. Ah. Characterized by political chaos. It was like ah trying to push a piece of spaghetti. We not, we were not quite sure who was running the country and the ah province chiefs ah in the various provinces weren’t, were not sure themselves.
Therefore, they were reluctant to make decisions. So, ah, the government was pretty much at a standstill and actions throughout the countryside were ah ah were pretty well ah at a standstill by virtue of, of a very cautious approach ah by the Vietnamese ah in the, in the provinces.
In retrospect, of course, because of this political chaos which ah prevailed for well ah approximately two years, I think it could have been justified that ah we renege on our commitment and withdraw and it would ah have been far better to have done it at that time than to do it when we did after the commitment of considerable resources and the loss of many lives, but to the best of my knowledge that was not considered by the administration, although it may have been in Washington.
I, wa...am aware of no messages from Washington to Saigon to the ambassador asking for our advice in that regard. However, the, the, the ambassador at that time ah would ah know better than I in that connection.
Interviewer:
The ah—at the end of ’64, early ’65, there was what I gather a particularly important battle at Binh Gia. What was the significance of that?
Westmoreland:
That occurred in late ’63. It occurred in the Delta region, the IV Corps area...
Interviewer:
That was late ’64. December 28, ’64?
Westmoreland:
Oh, oh in Binh Gia, I’m sorry. Yes, yes. At Binh Gia, yes. That was a, a, a, an action by main forces of the basically ah North Vietnamese. Ah, eh, there were some local forces involved, but it was basically a, a North Vietnamese battalion that attacked the hamlet and ah overran it and ah some of the reinforcements were ambushed and a battalion was virtually destroyed, but during that time frame, there were a number of battalions destroyed, ah being destroyed ah at about one a week.
It appeared that ah the communists were moving into phase three of Mao Tse Tung’s doctrine for insurgency warfare. The ah third phase being to move into conventional warfare.
Now, I didn’t feel that there was going to be an abrupt move in that direction but this was ah the use of battalion-sized units, reinforced battalion sized units, by the enemy, and the successful use that I feared would ah, would spread and was perhaps a beginning of a gradual movement toward a major effort, using not guerrillas, not small units, but ah large units.
Interviewer:
Let’s talk about the beginning of the bombing for a minute. There were calls for reprisal bombing after the Bien Hoa attack on November 1, ’64. Did you recommend reprisal bombing then?
Westmoreland:
I refer to it as (clears throat) tit for tat. If they carried out ah a major piece of sabotage ah by bombing a hotel or ah mortaring ah an air base, that we would immediately respond ah by hitting a target that would ah be harmful to them. But, it had to be done immediately in order to have the enemy relate their actions in the South to our reprisal in the North. But, it would be done in a very discriminating way.
Interviewer:
But...
Westmoreland:
I, I, I was for that program. I was not for any general bombing at that time for the simple reason that I did not want to prov—provoke a reaction and the only reaction that they were capable of taking was to move more troops to the South and we were not prepared to handle more enemy troops at that time.
Interviewer:
But, the Bien Hoa attack you were, what was your reaction? Just want to repeat it, because my question interrupted you.
Westmoreland:
The Bien Hoa attack, yes, I, I thought they should be a, a, a reprisal, another that wou...that would be immediate, and as a reaction to.
Interviewer:
We're out of film.
Camera Roll 615 starts up. Speak
Interviewer:
Did you recommend reprisal bombing after the Bien Hoa attack in November 1st?
Westmoreland:
Yes, I did based on the tit-for-tat concept. They commit an action against and we retaliate with an action immediately that will be related by the enemy to their initiative in the South.
Interviewer:
Now, what about after the Brinks Hotel bombing in Christmas of ’64.
Westmoreland:
Ah. I, I was in favor of hitting a selected target following that, yes.
Interviewer:
Ah. But, curiously at this time LBJ rejected it and said he ra...he was interested in troops wasn’t he? Didn’t he wire you, wire you and said...?
Westmoreland:
Well, the tit-for-tat program didn’t work because there was so much discussion as to the targets where Washington got involved in a lot of detail that time went by and ah the relationship between the enemy’s action in the South and our retaliatory action was lost. So, the entire effect of the tit-for-tat bombing ah ah fell by the wayside.
Interviewer:
But...
Westmoreland:
But, but, but during that time frame, ah, Mr. Johnson did make it known that he ah didn’t think the bombing would do the job and he felt that ah ground action in the South ah or some reinforcement on the ground in the South ah would be a more prudent and more effective policy. And, his initiative in that regard was the first associated with his subsequent, subsequent commitment ah of ah American ground forces.
Interviewer:
Good. As I remember it, after the Brinks bombing, you, you asked for reprisal bombing and, and he said he’d entertain request for troops. Was that a surprise?
Westmoreland:
Yes, it was. It was a surprise. However, ah it was not something that I hadn’t considered and ah we had been ah thinking in terms of troops and where we would put them and ah the number that we would be able to support logistically. I had asked for a ah logistic organization and for an engineer brigade so that we would be prepared to logistically support troops, if and when, they were required and authorized. So, ah, yes, his initiative came as a surprise, but ah I don’t want to give you the impression that we had not considered that. We had considered all options.
Interviewer:
Now, ah after Pleiku did you recommend a reprisal tit for tat bombing?
Westmoreland:
After Pleiku, yes. Ah. I, I, I was very much in favor of a, of a, of a, of a reprisal effort. I felt it should be rather discriminating though. I did not think it should be ah, the beginning of a more general bombing campaign.
I was not enthusiastic about trying to accomplish our mission in the South through the use of bombing, and I felt there was considerable danger in bombing nor...the North to the point where the North Vietnamese authorities felt that they would have to retaliate and the only way they could retaliate was to move massive ground troops down to the South.
And, I was in no position to accommodate that type of action by them. Later on, when I had enough troops to take care of ourselves and protect our installations and ah defeat any massive movement of troops to the South, I was very much in favor of a substantial bombing program.

Westmoreland on Operation Rolling Thunder

Interviewer:
But, when Rolling Thunder began in, in March of 1965, it was really sort of an arm-twisting, a graduated response. Did you think that would work?
Westmoreland:
Ah. I did not. I did not, and I was very lukewarm about it. Ahh. Ap...I became very strongly in support of 19—early 1966, at which time I had the beginnings of a list of...logistical structure. I had enough troops to take care of any retaliatory action on the ground ah by the Hanoi regime. But, initially, before early 1967, I was not enthusiastic about the bombing program.
Now, the bombing program in the North was not under me. Ah. It was under the Commander in Chief Pacific. Now, there is a school of thought that ah massive bombing at that time ah may have dissuaded the Hanoi regime ah to change their strategy. Ah, that would have re...required ah rather substantial bombing effort to give it any prospect of success.
I saw no disposition by the Johnson Administration at that time to engage in any extensive and massive ah bombing campaign. But...
We should cut.
Speed. Mark it. One more time.
Second.
Interviewer:
General Westmoreland, the bombing strategy was a graduated response, sort of an arm-twisting. How did you feel about that?
Westmoreland:
Something had to be done to bolster the South Vietnamese government and give them more confidence. Ah. It was felt in Washington that ah the gradual bombing campaign that could be ah increased over a period of time and expanded ah would serve that purpose.
My interest, however, was more than bringing about a, a, a stable and strong regime in the South, which was at that time very fragile, and my feeling was that we should get well established in the South, build up ah the Vietnamese army, give the people confidence in ah defeating the, the enemy troops on their soil before we proceeded to take the war to the North.
So, I was lukewarm about the ah so called Rolling Thunder campaign during 1965, but at the beginning of 1936 with General Thieu and ah and ah, Air Marshall Ky having taken over the leadership of the country.
Interviewer:
You said 1936. You mean 1966?
Westmoreland:
19...1966. 1966. I, I, I felt that we were in sufficiently stable position in the South. We were not dealing with a fragile government. That the bombing campaign was important and at that time I was in full support of the bombing campaign, but I wanted to use the shock action, as opposed to creeping escalation, as, as, if you will.
Interviewer:
You would have been in favor of more massive action like the kind Nixon took later on?
Westmoreland:
After 1966, but not before.
Interviewer:
But after, I don’t want to lose my question. You have to say what you were in favor of? What kind of bombing action we...were you in favor of after 1966?
Westmoreland:
To hit those targets associated with a military effort, that include military targets, bases, marshalling areas of, of petroleum farms, port facilities, ah, and anything associated with their ability to wage war.
Interviewer:
What kind of control did you have over, over bombing targets?
Westmoreland:
I had no control over the targets in North Vietnam except in the extended battle area that area just north of the demilitarized zone and in, in Laos. The bombing campaign to the north was under the command of the Commander in Chief Pacific who carried it out through his navy and air components.
They both had aircraft, the navy aboard carriers and the air force based in Vietnam and, subsequently, in Thailand, and with B-52’s later from Guam. Those targets were selected ah by Admiral Sharp but had to be approved by Washington. I was not associated with that, but I was aware of the targets and I was in a position to recommend targets, if I thought they were important.
Interviewer:
But, did you feel your hands were tied a little bit. I mean it’s a long, circuitous route and you’re the commander on the scene?
Westmoreland:
Well, I was commander of the ah ground forces in Vietnam, but I was not commander of the air forces. Ah. See, the unified command was in Honolulu and headed by Admiral Sharp. The chain of command and the general military organization during the Vietnam is another subject ah, ah, in my opinion. It was not a strong organizational arrangement, in order to prosecute a war.

Marines land at Da Nang

Interviewer:
Ah. We’ll get to that later. When the troops came in to defend Da Nang were you the one that, that, that um...who first asked for the troops to come in to the Da Nang Air Base?
Westmoreland:
I did. I wanted to protect the Da Nang Air Base, which was essential to prosecution of the air war.
Interviewer:
Were you there to greet them?
Westmoreland:
I was not, no.
Interviewer:
Tell us about that.
Westmoreland:
Well, the troops moved in from the sea and the chain of command was from the Commander in Chief Pacific to his navy component commander to the seventh fleet and down to the amphibious force. And, under the military and naval doctrine those troops are under, under command of the Admiral at Sea until they are ah established ashore. And, therefore, I was not associated with ah the details of their moving ashore.
I, I, I wasn’t aware that they were going to necessarily move ashore in battle formation. It was not essential that they do so. Ah. The exercise was to get them ashore and get them deployed around the air base in order to secure that air base, in view of the fact that our plans were based on air action. And, the Da Nang Air Base was a very important one.
Interviewer:
Did, didn’t it ah.
We got ten feet.
Interviewer:
Did you think they were... What do you feel about the manner of their arriving?
Westmoreland:
Well, it, it didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me. I, I, I think it bothered ah ah perhaps some members of the embassy, but ah it didn’t bother me ah if they go on to make a, a training exercise out of a landing on the beach, and it was an excellent beach. Ah. They got a plus from, by military standpoint of the training, as well as their moving ashore, but ah [coughing in background]...
End of SR #2607.
Vietnam, T-885, SR #2608, Gen. Westmoreland. This is Sound Roll 2608. T-885. We have 616. Camera Roll. April 27, 1981, 24 frames.
I suppose they justified it. Tone.
Interviewer:
General, when the Marines first landed what did it remind you of? The WWII reference that you used in your book and I wanted you to tell us about it. They stormed the shores as if they were taking Iwo Jima. Do you feel comfortable giving that...?
Westmoreland:
Well, ah, ah, of course, the Marines and the army troops made innumerable amphibious landings during the course of WWII, particularly in the South Pacific, and ah, this was ah, it was a re-enactment of ah the assault on the beach, and it played a training role in that regard.
I mean, normally, that’s the way Marines come ashore. It wasn’t necessary, for my purposes, that they come ashore in battle formation. They could have been landed at a dock, but the training value was of significance to the Marines and ah so they did make a practice assault landing.

Troop build-up as a consequence of fears of North Vietnam

Interviewer:
Ah. Did you see the, the Marines landing at Da Nang or, or the Marines coming in to defend the air base as, as the beginning of a troop buildup or at the time was it sort of the tag end of the, of the bombing? A logical consequence of the bombing decisions?
Westmoreland:
It was associated with the bombing decisions because of the importance of the Da Nang Air Field. Of course, needless to say, I hoped that ah, that that measure, that next step would suffice, but ah I was realistic, I didn’t think it would. And, I certainly did not rule out additional troops and we were preparing plans to stop there or to bring in additional troops, if we deemed it necessary to carry out the mission of our government.
And, Mc...Mr. McNamara advised me on that occasion and on innumerable occasions during his visits to Saigon that I should ask for whatever troops, whatever military forces that I thought were needed in order to carry out ah our national objective.
Interviewer:
What were the factors that, that made you ask for additional troops? Wha...what happened after the Marines came to, that made you say I want more troops?
Westmoreland:
Primarily, our intelligence that the North Vietnamese were moving more and more troops down through Laos. They were building up their military forces in the South at a rather rapid pace.
Far more rapid than we could build up the South Vietnamese forces, and in order to assure that there would be no setback, if the South Vietnamese could not cope with it and we could not build them up at the pace that the ah the enemy troops were being built up, the only answer was to supplement ah the Vietnamese with more American troops.
Interviewer:
Did the ah, were there some key battles in in the spring of ’65 that, that really made it necessary to, to, to bring in more Americans, I mean...?
Westmoreland:
Yes. There were a number of setbacks, ah, involving ah major or, or conventional type formations, battalions and even regimental ah ah formations by the enemy. And ah during that time frame, ah there were South Vietnamese battalions being lost and depleted at a more rapid rate than ah Vietnamese forces could be ah recruited and constituted into fighting units to replace them. So, in effect, we were losing ground, and ah the only answer was to, to supplement the South Vietnamese with American forces.
Interviewer:
What was your fear at that time? Were, were you...were you worried about the, the North Vietnamese were coming in your intelligence said, but wha...what did you think their objective was? What were you trying to prevent?
Westmoreland:
Well, the, the objective of Hanoi from the very beginning was to take over the South and unify Vietnam, which they, of course, they subsequently did after we had pulled out. Ah. They, they, their plans were very clear, their objective was very clear that they were going to take over the South through subversion and invasion.
Interviewer:
We, they were going to cut South Vietnam in half?
Westmoreland:
Yes. Ah. We’re getting into ah what I perceived is tactical plans during the ’65 period ah evidence in intelligence suggested that they wanted to cut Vietnam in half between Pleiku and Kon Tum and, and the coast. And, ah, that meant that ah we had to give consideration to the Highlands area because the Highlands area adjacent to the route down through Laos and then into Cambodia, and that was a, a matter of ah concern and that required troops with some mobility. Now, the American troops had that abi...mobility.
The Vietnamese troops, except for the, the airborne troops which ah consisted of only one brigade, ah, and subsequently expanded to a division, but in ah later years expanded to a division. Ah. They had had mobility but other than that ah the Vietnamese did not have that mobility to, to fight far away from their bases. Ah.
And, their logistic organization was very marginal to do that. This encouraged me to develop (a) a logistic base that would allow us to fight anywhere in Vietnam as, as required, and as a reaction to the enemy initiatives. Ah. It also motivated me to ask for American troops that had that capability.
Interviewer:
Did you um...I want to get you to say that you felt at some point we had to put our finger in the dike. That’s...
Westmoreland:
Yes.
Interviewer:
But you have to say it.
Westmoreland:
Well, ah, during that time things were becoming unraveled and I did use the expression at that time ah we’ve got to put our finger in the dike and that meant that we had to supplement the Vietnamese who were losing ground with American forces.
Interviewer:
Ah. What was the significance of the, of the battle of Dong Xoai or Binh Gia?
Westmoreland:
Well, that was just north of ah Saigon. We’re getting rather close to Saigon in a highly populated area. It was an outpost, however, I mean the immediate area was not highly populated, but it was adjacent to a highly populated area and there was ah a ranger battalion there and ah quite an intensive fight, ah, which was won by the ah Vietnamese rangers, but ah because of our advisers and special forces. So, that was another example of the...a gradual movement to phase three, the use of the enemy of regular formations, regular tactical formations, battalions and higher units, as opposed to being just a guerrilla war.
Interviewer:
But, I mean, faced with all that you’re, you’re regular battalions, it’s no longer guerrilla war, you’re the commander in the field, wh—how did you feel? What did you ask for? What did you think you needed in order to stem the tide?
Westmoreland:
Well, I wanted to pro—I wanted to ah have the capability of moving American troops into the Highlands. I wanted to protect Vung Cao [sic] and the air place, air base at Bien Hoa. These air bases were important to us. And, my initial, my initial request for troops ah following a Marines ah that came into Da Nang ah was ah, an airborne brigade ah ah to move into the Bien Hoa and to the Vung Tao area ah to, to give us a stronger posture and to ah have a, a, a, a military force that was capable of, of reacting to further initiatives.
My fear was that, with all the troops that the North Vietnamese were beginning to move down to what we called the Ho Chi Minh Trail through to Laos, that ah their buildup was more rapid than the buildup of the Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese were being ah defeated ah on a piece meal basis. They were losing forces more rapidly than they could be recruited and retrained, and I was very concerned that we would find ourselves at the point of no return. Ah. That did not happen, primarily, because we did bring in reinforcements.
Interviewer:
Ah. You...

Westmoreland's strategy of offensive troop deployments

Westmoreland:
I can’t get animated, unless you say...
Speed. Tone.
Interviewer:
General, in the spring of ’65 Ambassador Taylor was interested in troop deployment in enclaves and you favored an offensive strategy. What was wrong with the enclave?
Westmoreland:
Well, the enclave was, was an essential interim step and ah certainly until we could get some logistic bases organized and ah we could get our troops ashore ah enclaves ah were an essential ah step, but, the idea of staying in enclaves where you’d be on the defensive and where the enemy would have full reign of the countryside to include the Highlands, he, we would just be setting up ah the enemy to cut us in two, cut the country in half. Ah.
And, the enemy would always have ah the initiative on our troops who would be basically fixed in a defensive position. You, you don’t win wars that way. I don’t think there was any particular disagreement between ah, ah, ah General Taylor and myself. Ah. General Taylor was very, very loath to be a party to committing ground forces in the first instance and so was I, but, from a military standpoint, there was no choice. Ah.
On the other hand, ah to be more specific ah as to ah some disagreement as to troop deployments, ah, when the 1st Cavalry moved in ah it was the feeling...
Camera Roll 617 coming up. 617. Take six. Speed. Clap sticks.
Interviewer:
Ah. You want to com—?
Westmoreland:
Ya. When the 1st Cavalry moved in, they had great mobility and there was a feeling in some quarters that I should deploy the 1st Cavalry along the coast. I did not want to do that. I wanted to move them inland where they would be in a position to fight, yes, along the coast, but they would be in a position to fight in the Highlands and along the Cambodian border, because of the tremendous mobility that they had.
So, initially, they went in about halfway between the Highlands and the coast, at a place called An Khe but they were not there ah they were very long. I moved them to the Highlands where they had their first big fight with the North Vietnamese ah regular troops.
Interviewer:
That was the battle of the Ia Drang?
Westmoreland:
That is correct, and following the seizure of Plei Me.
Interviewer:
What ah ah did you win the battle of the Ia Drang Valley?
Westmoreland:
Ya. Without any question. The ah, the enemy took a tremendous beating there. Tremendous losses. Matter of fact ah a statement was made that ah they learned lessons that were so valuable that they accepted the losses as essential to learn lessons on how to fight American troops. It was the first time they had encountered American troops, and I think they were quite shocked by it, and they were badly hurt by it.

Westmoreland's impressions of specific American divisions

Interviewer:
Was the 1st Air Cav a good outfit?
Westmoreland:
Ya. Excellent. Superb.
Interviewer:
How, how did you feel about your boys at that point, at the end of sixty...?
Westmoreland:
Well, we, we, at that time we had first class ah fighting forces, first class troops. I would say until the ahh early ’68, I don’t think the American army or the American military has ever put ah a better-qualified, more professional force in the field than we had during that time frame.
Interviewer:
The um, when the troops first started coming in, the 173rd Airborne and ah the 101st Airborne and the Koreans and the first infantry division, did, did you, you know back in the, in the spring, in the early summer, how did you feel about them? Were you you, were you pleased with the quality of the troops?
Westmoreland:
Well, I was. There a few commanders that didn’t measure up but ah we had to make some ahhh adjustments with respect to commanders, but I was very pleased with the troops. Ah. They adjusted themselves well, they ah were well disciplined and they were led by officers and noncommissioned officers.
Interviewer:
Is the 173rd airborne a good outfit? Tell us about...please...?
Westmoreland:
Well, the 173rd was stationed at that time ah in Okinawa and they only had two battalions, and they moved in, but subsequently, were reinforced by a third battalion. I deployed them initially in ah along the coast, a place called Vung Tao and then at Bien Hoa.
Interviewer:
Were they a good outfit?
Westmoreland:
They were excellent. And, they, they fought in many parts of the country during the subsequent yea...years.
Interviewer:
How about the 101st?
Westmoreland:
101st...ah...1st battalion moved in initially and they were also a top flight organization with ah superb officers and ah non commissioned officers. A first brigade of the 101st initially came into the Can Ranh bay area because I wanted to secure that area and that put them in a cen...central location ah where they could move in most any direction.
Now, subsequently, the entire 101st Airborne Division arrived. They were programmed to arrive in ’68. When I received intelligence on the, what subsequently resulted in the Tet Offensive ah intelligence that the enemy was building up, I asked that the deployment of the 101st be accelerated and they came in December of ’67.
Interviewer:
What about the Koreans? Were, were you pleased when they arrived?
Westmoreland:
I was. Of course, I was in the Korean War. I, I knew the Korean soldier and I knew a, a number of their officers. Ah. They came in first with the, the capital division ah then, subsequently, ah they were reinforced by a second division. I employed them along the coast to protect ah the lines of communication north and south, in the II Corps region.
They were well-disciplined soldiers. They ah, of course, did not have the mobility ah because of a lack of helicopters that, that my troops had. But, we reinforced them with American helicopters from time to time.

Long-term effect of the changing U.S. strategy in 1965

Interviewer:
In June of ’65 you asked for ah B-52’s for tactical support. Why did you do that?
Westmoreland:
I wanted to use fire power rather than manpower in taking the fight to the enemy. Ah. Men’s lives on the battlefield ah are, are, are very, very precious and every commander gives every consideration to getting his military job done at minimum cost. And, in the main, the way to do that is to use firepower in a discriminating way. Extraordinary steps were taken to avoid civilian casualties. Unhappily, some did evolve, as in all wars.
Ah, the enemy took cover in the jungles and ah Vietnam has more than their share of ah jungle terrain.We were able to pick up intelligence as to the general location of the enemy units ah where they had their training camps, and their ah, their so called bivouac areas, ah staging areas. And, when we could acquire that intelligence ah you couldn’t see it from overhead, but ah if you knew the general area by using a B-52’s could strike an area target. And, those B-52’s were an innovation and ah during the course of the Vietnam War and ah it destroyed and disrupted a lot of the enemy actions ah I, I call them spoiling attacks.
You can have the spoiling attack with a B-52 raid, or you can have a, a, a, spoiling attack by hitting an enemy unit by ground action while they’re getting prepared for ah an offensive action themselves. Of course, one of the problems was, if they moved across into Lao—Laos or Cambodia they ah they had a sanctuary ah which gave the enemy considerable advantage and which was the bane of my existence as a military man to have those sanctuaries nearby.
But, the B-52 was ah, a, a no...a, a, an innovation, an extremely effective, greatly feared by the enemy, and ah, those B-52 strikes were great, a great asset to every military ca—commander and ah much sought after.
Interviewer:
They couldn’t hear them, could they?
Westmoreland:
They couldn’t hear them until they ah exploded, no.

Logistical problems of fighting in Vietnam

Interviewer:
Um. At the end of ’65 there were pretty massive American troop involvement. Did you, what effect did you think this was going to have on, on the morale of, of ARVN? Did you think that we were taking over the war indiscriminately?
Westmoreland:
Well, there, there was always a danger that the deployment of American troops would be used as a crutch for ARVN, and we, we were very cognizant of that. I was very sensitive to it and I talked to my counterpart, General Vien , who was a, a splendid officer on, on many occasions about that. We did not want to put us in the position where we would do most of the fighting.
On the other hand, American troops were better prepared to fight ah in the, in the hinterland. Ah, and the Vietnamese troops ah I felt were more adept at fighting among their own people ah near the populated areas. And, we were a...not able to draw a distinctive line in that regard and I did not want to do that, but at the a, same time we had a capability of, of, of fighting away from our bases that they they did not possess ah in [incomprehensible]. Their ah airborne formations being an exception.
Wha...inevitably, however, as we displayed ah more American forces ah, ah, there was an attitude ah that tended to pervade the Vietnamese ranks that we were taking over the war. And, we did everything we could to avoid that, and for that reason, I had long talks with Thieu and Vien and, subsequently, we, I made the point to them that we were not going to be there forever and ah the time would come when we would start progressively thinning our troops, as they were capable of taking over the fight themselves.
They welcomed that. They’re proud people. They did not want us to take over ah command of their forces ah as the French did, and we did everything we could not to cast ourselves in the eyes of the Vietnamese in the role of their French masters ah which situation prevailed for about 100 years.
Interviewer:
Excuse me...
We're going to need a new battery...
Take 730. Tone.
Interviewer:
By the end of ’65, you had succeeded in your objective of, of trying to prevent South Vietnam from being cut in half. Did, did the strategy change after that?
Westmoreland:
The latter part of 1965 there was a very serious threat to cut the ah country in two by the North Vietnamese and ah, of course, that was, ah was, frustrated by our initiatives. In 1966 we had a logistic base that was ah on the verge of completion and for the first time, adequate to support ah operations ah in most parts of the country, not all parts of the country, and we had sufficient forces, really, to change our strategy from one of defense, but with ah sporadic offensive actions ah to one of ah that would emphasize the offense.
Of course, ah, there were certain key areas, logistic areas, bases and so forth that ah and communication centers that had to be secured, but we were in the position at that time with the troops and the mobility and the logistics in order to start taking the fight to the enemy in South Vietnam. Now, this was not a linear war like WWI and WWII or Korea.
This was an area war. Ah. Somewhat like the, the Civil War. We did not have enough troops to occupy all the country. We did not have enough troops to defend ah the demilitarized zone and the Cambo...Cambodian Lao borders. Ah. So, when ah the enemy ah ah raised his head well, ah, our intelligence ah hopefully, would be aware of his presence and we could react by fire maneuver against him.
Interviewer:
We’re going to have to...
End of SR #2608.
Vietnam, Y-885, SR #2609, Gen. Westmoreland. This is Sound Roll #2609. Vietnam T-885. 7½ IPS. 60. 24 frames. Camera roll 618. Today is the 27th of April, 1981. This is take eight.
Interviewer:
General, you often said we could conquer territory, but not hold it. How can you win a war like that?
Westmoreland:
Well, we had no choice, uh frankly. Uh, our purpose was to defeat the enemy and pacify the country. And the country couldn’t be pacified until the enemy was defeated...Uh, when the enemy, uh...was detected, well uh...we went after him with firepower or with maneuver. I tried to do it with firepower, but uh...firepower has its limitations.
Course, the whole matter was complicated by the Laos and Cambodia sanctuaries and North Vietnam, which is also a sanctuary for...for our ground forces. I felt that that was a temporary situation. And I prepared my plans and my troop lists and my logistics to so that we could, ah, move into the sanctuaries at a later time. With a new administration, um, moving into power...of our change in the, um, the...strategy of the Johnson Administration.
Uh, the character of the war was...uh, not like WWII or Korea... or WWI, which were linear wars. This was an area war, something like the Civil War.
If we had, ah, tried to fight a linear war, it would’ve taken, ah...I would say three or four full, ah...the troops that we had on the ground. It would, ah...it would instead of having, ah, say ultimately...roughly half a million troops, it would probably have taken two million troops to fight a linear war.
Interviewer:
I have two more questions on the ’65 period. When you first went in, did you think it was going to be a long haul, and did you tell the President it would be a long haul?
Westmoreland:
Well, my first private session with McNamara, this was the spring of 1964, I, I told Mr. McNamara I thought it was going to be a long, drawn out affair. That, uh, the task in front of us was formidable...
It was going to take time, and I was afraid that, uh, it was going try the patience of the American people. I then suggested that the Administration might want to consider a people-to-people program to get the American people involved. I could see no other way of keeping them interested and involved, which, uh...I felt was necessary, particularly...the strategy that had been enunciated at that time...that uh, American people would get tired of a long, drawn out war.
And, uh, a people-to-people program could've gotten a, uh...American people, uh...emotionally involved. But, apparently that, according to Mr. McNamara had been ruled out.
Interviewer:
What about in June or July of ’65 when he was over in Saigon just before the major troop build up, did you stress then that this was going to be a long haul?
Westmoreland:
Well, ah...I, I, I can’t say that I, I did...ah, it was something that was on my mind, and he and I had many discussions. I, I did, ah, during that general time frame, and, and later...talked to him about the fact that...I, I was interested in having only those forces deployed in Vietnam that we could sustain on an indefinite basis. And I, frankly, I had some communications with, ah, General Johnson, Chief Staff of the Army, trying to determine what could be sustained on an indefinite basis...
But, ah...a matter...I don’t want to oversimplify the matter, because the bombing campaign was a very important item in this regard. Because the strategy of the Administration was to hurt the enemy until he...ah, was encouraged to come to the bargaining table...and, ah, the strategy was to use, ah, all of our bombing and our efforts in the South to try to convince the leaders in Hanoi that they could not win, and ah, get them to the bargaining table and then bargain from a position of strength and come to, ah, some agreement at the conference table. That was the strategy.
But that meant that we had to...make that strategy credible...by convincing the enemy by our actions that we had the capability of hurting them more than we were, and we were prepared to do that, and that’s what brought about the escalation in the ground forces; and that is what brought the escalation in the bombing campaign. The bombing campaign, however, was not affected because it was off and on depending upon public reactions at home.
And, as you well recall...on the ’66, ’67, ’68 time frame every time a bombing campaign was started there would be marches on the Pentagon and demonstrations, and the politicians were inclined to back off. Also, during that time frame, ah, there were cease-fires called for, ah...Tet. New Year’s, and ah...um, Christmas, etc., etc., all of which I objected to.
One occasion, ah, President Johnson, ah, went to see the Pope. The Pope made a special request for a cease fire, which the President honored...and this weakened, ah...ah, this perception that we were trying to impose on the enemy that, ah, we had the power to, ah, to hurt him, ah, to hurt him progressively more if he did not come to his senses and come to the conference table.

Westmoreland's speech to the National Press Club, November 1967

Interviewer:
Let’s move ahead a little bit to the end of 1967. You gave an optimistic speech at the Press Club in Washington. Did you feel comfortable making it? Were you under any pressure...?
Westmoreland:
No, I was under no pressure at all. Um, I, I, I wanted...
Interviewer:
Could you start that again?
Westmoreland:
I was in no...apropos of a speech that I had made in...ah, November of ’67 to the National Press Club, um, ah, I, I wrote the speech. It was, uh, upon my initiative I was not asked to make, ah, a speech of any particular type. I wanted to make...make it known that, ah, it was, ah, not our plan to stay in Vietnam indefinitely. That we wanted to pass the war to the Vietnamese as fast as practical. I wanted the Vietnamese to get that, ah...message also.
When I returned to, ah, to Saigon, uh, uh, President Thieu thanked me. He said, “We...we are complimented by this, and we now have a more precise objective to move toward.” Now, I made no particular prediction when we would be able to turn the war over to them. I, I felt that, uh...perhaps in a period of two years or less, uh...we...the enemy could be hurt to the point...and weakened to the point, and the Vietnamese could be built up, ah, to the point where a token amount of troops might be withdrawn.
But the withdrawal of the troops, would be contingent upon the ability of the Vietnamese to take over the role from us...and to the extent that the enemy had been weakened.

The Tet Offensive

Interviewer:
As far as, let’s get on to Tet. Did you have any intelligence indicating that there might be an offensive the time of Tet?
Westmoreland:
We started picking up information the latter part of 1967 that the enemy was building up for some, ah, initiatives we thought might be...might be of major nature. And there was certain fighting along, ah, the Cambodian and Laos borders, ah, that suggested that, ah, there were tremendous reinforcements moving to the South. That was corroborated by other intelligence.
I, therefore, asked that the 101st Airborne Division, that already had one brigade deployed in Vietnam, but I asked for the rest of the division to be deployed, uh, in the latter part of ’67. They had been programmed to come in in ’68. So, their deployment was moved up at my request, based on this intelligence...
Of course, ah, in ah, January of 1968 we picked up considerable intelligence on build up... Ah, we had defectors that came in and gave us information. It became very clear that the enemy was preparing for ah...ah, a rather major offensive.
Interviewer:
Did you take any precautions?
Westmoreland:
Oh, ah many, many...ah, I, ah, I, I, had, ah, any number of, ah...of operations that I had...had planned...um...and uh I cancelled those operations in view of this intelligence. Ah, I moved the 101st Airborne Division, that I said before, came in, ah, latter part of 1967 into the III Corps area, the populated area.
I had some, ah...operations planned along the Cambodia border, which I, I cancelled and repositioned the troops along the approaches to Saigon... Ah, as ah...as the...as Tet approached it became very evident that although the enemy had, ah...ah said that they were going to have a cease-fire for seven days...and we were under great pressure from ah, Washington politically to have a cease fire ourselves. And, of course, the Vietnamese had traditionally, ah, had, ah, a cease-fire because of Tet and the celebrations that go on there. I was able to get that squeezed down...uh, with the cooperation of the ambassador...and ah, ah, accepted by President Thieu to thirty-six hours.
Ah, as it became very clear that, ah, it was going to be a major offensive action, ah...either on Tet or before or immediately before or after, all of my troops were put on 100 percent alert. All passes were cancelled...I was able to get General Vien, who was my counterpart, who was head of the Vietnamese forces, ah, to ah, to keep 50 percent of his people there, and keep them on full alert. He felt for purposes of morale that, ah, he had to let some go for Tet, ah, magnitude of 50 percent...ah, certain...redisposition of forces, ah, were made at the last minute, based on intelligence that we acquired...
In addition to that, ah, as ah, intelligence built up, and we were able to better refine our estimates on the timing of the attack...I got Thieu to agree to canceling all leaves and putting all forces, ah, and stopping all...men that were leaving, their units for Tet, in the I Corps area.
Interviewer:
We gotta change...
Take nine coming up. Speed. Tone.
Westmoreland:
With respect to the northern part of the country, the I Corps area...we were able to get the Vietnamese to stop all leaves, and have ah...100 percent of their forces on alert. This was, ah, before the offensive took place. Meanwhile, there was a high degree of alert at Khe Sanh. Several weeks before that we had, ah, received intelligence from a defector that, ah, that there was going to be a major attack on Khe Sanh. I moved in some, ah, reconnaissance units...had the Marines reinforce the area.
We then set up an air plan to...make air strikes using tactical bombers and B-52’s in the vicinity of Khe Sanh whether it was...ah, relatively no population. In addition to that, our sensors were shifted from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, that we called in Laos...ah, to the environs of the Khe Sanh which could pick up any movement. Ah, these efforts proved to be extremely effective.
I never thought that Khe Sanh was going to be another Bien Dien Phu [sic] but I did feel it was, ah...ah, a target that the enemy was very much interested in, that he would want to seize it. And I wanted to fight him in the hinterland rather than allow him to get down among the people, which would have been very costly in casualties...ah, by...my forces, and the Vietnamese forces, ah...and also there would have been many, many civilian casualties and civilian property destroyed if we had allowed those two divisions to move down into the lowlands.
Interviewer:
You never thought that the garrison there would be overrun?
Westmoreland:
Not in the least. Ah, not in the least. I felt very secure about it. And we were all very well prepared to...ah, land supplies initially on the air strip there, which we’d upgraded, ah, in order to allow 130’s to land. Then when the enemy brought in artillery, we were able to supply, ah, that particular garrison, which consisted of four Marine battalions and one Vietnamese ranger battalion, and a few Special Forces.We were able to reinforce them...ah, by air drop of logistics...not by the landing of aircraft.
But, I felt very secure about this. But Washington became very, very nervous about it. And I tried to calm them down, because I had perfect confidence that, ah, we could, ah, hold Khe Sanh and the enemy was going to be severely hurt. But it was given so much visibility by the media, the President became very nervous.
Interviewer:
Did the President, was the President worried that it might be another Dien Bien Phu?
Westmoreland:
Ah, there were indications of that, yes. He had a special War Room set up, run by, ah, General Taylor. And he was trying to follow in the White House the developments...step by step and in great detail.
Interviewer:
The attack on the Embassy got a lot of visibility, and so on, in the American media, but how did you evaluate this in terms of the overall military picture at the time?
Westmoreland:
Well, I think it was relatively insignificant.
Interviewer:
Could you start and say... “The attack on the embassy...”
Westmoreland:
The attack on the Embassy was a very dramatic, ah, development and given a lot of visibility by the media—a lot of gloom and doom statements. The attack was launched by, ah, ...ah, a handful of sappers...all they had on was shorts, they blasted a hole in the wall surrounding the Embassy yard, and they crawled through this particular hole in the wall...and, ah, by mid morning they were all killed.
I, personally, ah, went through the Embassy from top to bottom, and nobody got in the Embassy. Ah, there was a pane glass window that was broken and uh,...in the process of the fight that went on, uh, which was conducted by the Marine guards and by a...MP company that we had designated to reinforce anywhere in Saigon, if required. But basically, the security of the Embassy was the responsibility of the, of the Vietnamese.
This was, ah...politically, ah...very dramatic incident. It was terribly overplayed, ah, militarily it has very little significance—but politically, it did have great significance. Because it gave the impression...that we were not able to defend even our own embassy. And, of course...any embassy in any capitol of the world could, could, could be attacked by stealth operations of that type, in any big city.
Interviewer:
What do you think the communists were trying to accomplish in the Tet Offensive? What do you think their objectives were?
Westmoreland:
Well...I felt at the time, and I think subsequent information has confirmed that they honestly thought that if they put on a big offensive, and North Vietnamese troops were moved to the South...and they gained the initiative by surprise attack, that the people of South Vietnam were going to rise up against the, ah...the ah, Thieu regime the people of South Vietnam would rise up up against the Saigon regime. And that didn’t happen.
There wasn’t one single case of a public uprising. And this was, ah, quite a blow and quite a surprise to the authorities, ah...in, ah, in Hanoi. Of course, as it turned out...a great visibility was given to this. The media displayed great gloom and doom for the first several days, and gave the impression that we were being defeated. Yes, there were some setbacks, but they were very temporary.
Ah, the force was defeated, and the Viet Cong were virtually depleted. And the...Hanoi troops were very badly hurt, to the point it took them about two years to recover. Ah...this, this point was obscured by the initial reaction of the American public, that ah, it was ah, the Americans and the South Vietnamese that were being defeated.
Interviewer:
Militarily, how would you evaluate it from Hanoi’s point of view?
Westmoreland:
Well, during the period of 1967 we made tremendous progress. We had the, the troops to do it, and we were constantly on the move, opening roads and expanding the area under government control. The enemy didn’t win a single, ah, battle of...skirmish of any consequence. Ah, Hanoi decided that they had to do something spectacular. To train, change, ah, its losing battlefield fortunes, which is typical of any battle.
Ah, in effect, we saw the Germans do this in, ah, WWII, when von Rundstedt made the attack, ah, ah,...into the Ardennes. And uh, the allied troops were tremendously set back. But, uh, the Germans were defeated, and it was downhill the rest of the way. Uh, it was the same psychology which is typical in any war, where in ’67 the Vietnamese were losing, and they launched ah, ah...an attack, they hoped a surprise attack, which it wasn’t.
Although, we didn’t know everything he was going to attack, ah, we knew that the attack was coming, and we knew the general time frame of it... He tacked on a much broader front than I had anticipated, ah; there were some setbacks, but they were very temporary. But he hoped by this initiative that he could gain the initiative himself and that, ah his losing fortunes would be changed.
But the unhappy thing was that by virtue of the impression that the American public received from the gloom and doom of the early days of the Tet Offensive...ah, the enemy was begged to come to the conference table. And there they sat for four years and decided only one thing, the shape of the conference table.
They finally came to an agreement that was very one sided. They did not live up to their agreement. Neither side totally did, to include the South Vietnamese in some respects, and the agreement totally collapsed, and so did South Vietnam after we had withdrawn our troops.

Request for more troops in 1968

Interviewer:
It was widely regarded that you asked for 206,000 additional troops in ’68. Did you? Was that the case?
Westmoreland:
No. Ah (chuckle). This has been tremendously distorted... At the time of the Tet Offensive, I asked for only those troops that, ah, were...were on the way to me anyway, that, ah had been promised, and had been organized. And, ah, I asked that they be accelerated. Mr. Johnson then sent a message, “If you need further reinforcements, please call for them.”
Ah, I, ah, took no steps in that regard, ah, till General Wheeler came over. He was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And Wheeler told me that, ah, it was a good prospect that the Reserves would be mobilized, that the strategy would be changed.
And if Reserves are mobilized and our strategy was changed, the...an offensive strategy was changed, the...an offensive strategy that would break down some of the geographical barriers of Laos and Cambodia, and allow us to take the war to the enemy in a more effective way through the bombing campaign—what would I want to bring the war to an end? Um, it was in the context, then, of a contingency plan based on an assumption of a decision. And it was not a request per se.
Ah, it was decided that, ah...that we would eventually withdraw, and we would not escalate uh further...and that request was denied. But, I did say, in order to facilitate my gaining the initiative on the energy on the, on the Hanoi Regime, the enemy troops, facilitate my regaining that initiative...ah, I asked that...ah, I be given moderate reinforcements.
Interviewer:
We're gonna have to...

Non-pursual of a war-winning strategy

Vietnam. SR #2610. T-885. Gen. Westmoreland. This is Sound Roll #2610. Vietnam T-885. Roll #620. April 27, 1981. IPS 60 cycles, 24 frames. Here’s a tone at minus 8. We have Take Ten coming up. Tone.
Interviewer:
General, how did you feel about Secretary Clifford’s refusal to grant all the troops that you wanted, putting ceiling on the amount of troop build up in '68?
Westmoreland:
Well, let me, let me put this in perspective, ah...General Wheeler came over to see me. We talked about a war winning strategy of mobilizing the reserves, and assuming a more aggressive policy...try to take the war to the enemy and force them to the conference table where we’d be in a position to negotiate from a position of strength. And ah, my, the so called 206,000 was on the assumption that a new strategy would be adopted. It would be a war-winning strategy.
Mr. Johnson, after, ah...ah, Wheeler returned from Saigon, turned the matter over to Mr. Clifford, who was the new Secretary of Defense. And he studied the matter, he didn’t ever talk to me, ah...Mr. McNamara, every time I made a troop request to Mr. McNamara, and I discussed it. But I was never asked to come to Washington, and nobody came to...ah, Saigon—Mr. Clifford or his representative to discuss it with me following the visit by General Wheeler. And it was decided that we would not pursue a war-winning strategy...
uh, and I, of course, accepted that as a, a, a political decision from the Administration. However, since it was decided that we would not pursue a war-winning strategy, and uh, the 206,000 was in the context of such a new strategy...uh, which General Wheeler told me was to be considered. I did ask for relatively modest reinforcements to facilitate my gaining, ah, more rapidly...the initiative on the enemy...uh, and that...that, ah, in essence, is, is, was the result of the...ah Clifford study.
Interviewer:
How do you feel, in general, about not pursuing a war winning strategy? I mean, you’re trained to fight, and here you have your hand behind your back. How do you feel about that—not necessarily in '68...
Westmoreland:
Well, it was a frustrating experience, I think, by all military men, because they are trained to, ah, to win wars. And when they are frustrated in that attempt, it’s ah, ah...frustrating matter.
However,...the Vietnam conflict was a most unusual one. We had for the first time, I guess, in our history in any substantial degree, ah...ah, a group of dissenters...or a significant portion of our population who were violently opposed to the war and who were waving the flag of the enemy...which was a very disconcerting thing to all of us in Vietnam, that there were young men and women and professors on campuses who were actually cheering the enemy on and waving the flag of our enemy.
The country became tremendously divided, and in the final analysis, this is why Mr. Johnson backed off from, ah, pursuing a war-winning policy. The military, of course, is subject to the control of the Commander in Chief, and...we accepted it. However, it was my hope and my feeling that with a new administration coming into power there would be some reconsideration of this. Uh, so I hadn’t given up all hope.

Westmoreland's reassignment

Interviewer:
How’d you feel when, when, when you became Chief of Staff, when you were relieved of the command?
Westmoreland:
Well, uh...I was over in Vietnam four and half years. Uh, I was told in 19 uh 60, 67, when I visited Washington in the fall, by Gen. Wheeler, that uh, that after four years, uh I would be given another assignment. Uh, that the decision would be made after they had decided what would happen to General Johnson, the Chief of Staff of the army after he had finished his four year tour.
Marker. Tone.
Interviewer:
General, what if you just complete that.
Westmoreland:
Yes. General Johnson was the Chief of Staff of the army at the time. Uh, General Wheeler told me in ‘67 that uh a decision would be made on what would happen to General Jo, Johnson after he finished his four year tour as Chief of Staff of the army at which time I would be given another assignment which would mean that I would, would’ve been in Vietnam for four and a half years.
Now, in anticipation of my being given another assignment, uh based on what was planned in 1967, General Abrams was sent over to be my deputy, which he was for well over a year. So, he was well prepared to move into the command slot and when uh General Johnson uh finished his four year tour which was inevitable by law and it was decided that he would uh retire uh President Johnson appointed me to replace uh General Johnson as Chief of Staff of the army.
But this was, was planned back in ’67 but the decision as to what would happen to General Johnson was the only missing link. Uh, General Wheeler asked me what assignment I wanted and uh, I, I was noncommittal.
Interviewer:
Uh...what was your assessment of the enemy, what kind of people were you fighting? Did you have respect for ‘em?
Westmoreland:
Very well disciplined, uh, highly motivated. They spent more time on political indoctrination than they did on military training. Uh, of course, uh it was highly autocratic regime and...as they moved down uh south the Ho Chi Minh Trail, well uh, if they, if they didn’t behave uh there was somebody behind ‘em to shoot ‘em in the back.
But there were some desertions... Uh, the manpower problem became rather acute, er, er and uh this acuteness was evidence during the Tet Offensive where we would pick up uh soldiers sixteen, seventeen years old. But they were highly disciplined uh, highly motivated soldiers.
Interviewer:
The uh, just one follow up question on the Tet Offensive. Essentially, you won the Tet Offensive, didn’t you, I mean...the, the...
Westmoreland:
Well, uh statistics would suggest that. Uh, I believe...
Interviewer:
But the NLF was, was it an affective force after that?
Westmoreland:
Uh, eh, they were, they were virtually decimated...uh, they were not totally wiped out uh, but uh, they were crippled to the point that they were a nuisance thereafter and, and uh not a big nuisance at that.
Interviewer:
Uh...the...we had a vast American uh, uh...build up and a tremendous power and here were these guys that you were fighting with....you know, rode down the trail on bicycles in the beginning, anyway. What, uh, uh...why didn’t this power make a difference?
Westmoreland:
Well, it, it coulda made a difference if uh we had uh stuck with the plan and we had had a war winning strategy. Uh, the North Vietnamese troops were far better equipped than you suggest, they weren’t a bunch of guerrillas, they had Russian weapons, and uh, rather good ones. Eh, they were well trained, as I said before, highly motivated. They had infiltrated eh a considerable part of the country where they had political cadres and guerrilla units uh...political cadres were not wiped out during the Tet Offensive but a lot of the guerrillas as I said before, were.
But uh, we had to open roads, we had to build logistics, we had to get prepared uh not only to uh fight the guerrillas, but to fight the North Vietnamese forces which virtually came uh down in, in strength uh...uh course at the time of the Tet Offensive and had infiltrated down starting in 1964. Also, as we prepared our troop build up we had to be prepared to cope with Chinese that they came in...and uh Mr. Johnson was somewhat paranoid about ‘n some of the people in the State Department, that uh the Chinese uh might eventually uh come into the fray.
Of course, as a military commander I had to be cognizant of that. I frankly didn’t think they would come in, but ‘t the same time a commander in the field has to be prepared to deal with the worst, worst case... Uh, why didn’t we succeed?
Uh, well, uh, uh very simply the country became divided to the point where they uh did not uh choose uh, politicians did not choose to pursue the war long enough in order to bring the enmy, enemy to the conference table and uh to negotiate from a position of strength. A war winning strategy was not adopted, a strategy of withdrawal was adopted.
It did get the enemy to the conference table in Paris, but we negotiated from a position of weakness, particularly political weakness as uh Hanoi observed the domestic scene where the country was divided and young men were cheering on and waving the enemy flag. And I think a lesson to be learned is that uh young men should not be sent to the battlefield unless the country is gonna support them.

Further impressions of specific American divisions

Interviewer:
Can you describe for us, the, the, some of the com, complex logistical problems you faced in 1965?
Westmoreland:
Uh, Vietnam was uh roughly half way around the world...uh, very remote to the United States, even remote to Hawaii... Uh...Vietnam uh was really an undeveloped country, they had one deep water port uh, there were three jet, jet capable airfields. We did not have a logistic organization. My requests started back after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in ’64.
Uh, for the, the, the foundation of a log, logistic organization and for an engineering brigade were, were turned down and when troops were deployed we had virtually no logistics. They had, they had to be built up, and they were built up in a amazingly short time and what I’m, what am I talking about? Airfields, ports, uh, supply depots, maintenance facilities, uh communication networks, uh and, and matters of this type.
This is that part of the military iceberg that is below the water, that very few people are acquainted with and...I, I think quite a spectacular job was done in preparing those logistics to the point where we could fight in any part of the country and we could uh have gone into Laos, we could’ve gone into uh, into Cambodia, we could’ve uh moved north of the demilitarized zone if national policy had permitted it.
Interviewer:
But, 't, I wanted us just to have the tapes going so... The uh...give us an indication of of of, of the kinds of, of things that are behind, be, below the tip of the iceberg. I mean, do you worry about, bout sewage systems ‘n repairing...
Westmoreland:
Well...I wouldn’t say sewage systems uh, sewage is a very simple thing to handle on the battlefield, you just uh dig a hole. But uh, uh we are talking about certain base areas uh we’re talking about uh commissaries, we’re uh, we’re uh, in Vietnam we had a very unique uh problem, that uh, uh Vietnam would’ve been plagued with runaway inflation if we had not had some post exchanges there for the uh, for the... troops to spend their dollars.
Uh, if we’d not, had not had an offshore uh recreation program, would allow troops during one time of their tour go to uh Hong Kong uh or Bangkok , to Manila or in uh, later on even to uh Australia to spend their dollars offshore.
Uh, if they’d spent their dollars in the local market uh, uh, the entrepreneurs the Chinese and Vietna—namese, would’ve profited from it whereas when they spent it in the post exchange, the soldiers themselves profited, profited because uh this was run uh as a fund for the benefit of the military and, but it took the pressure off the local economy, without that eh the uh inflationary pressures would’ve been intolerable and this would have added very much of an adverse political effect.
So, all of these factors go in to uh, the development of a military force but you also have to anticipate ah forces that might be needed in an emergency such as uh...during the siege of Khe Sanh I felt secure because we had a heavy drop capability where we could drop supplies by parachute and we did that and uh we knew it would work because we’d had much experience in doing ‘at.
Interviewer:
Uh...just wanta take one more minute. Give me a sense of of uh...oh I was thinking of using you as a voiceovers from the film of the, of the first troops that came in, that why I was asking you about the the, you know, the 173rd.
Westmoreland:
Yes.
Interviewer:
A little indication of what, of what their battle record was, or or how good they were. I wanta, I wanted to build up a sense of sort of pride in these outfits...in your parted. But, hundred, hundred and seventy third, the the hundred and first airborne uh...
Westmoreland:
Uh, the third marine division?
Interviewer:
Yeah.
Westmoreland:
Yes. Yes. Well, the troops that were deployed in Vietnam uh during the build up were well established military units with uh, with uh magnificent records uh, uh during the Korean War uh, during uh WWII and in some cases, during WWI. ‘Eh, they were, they were manned by top grade officers and non commissioned officers. They had excellent equipment.
Uh, they were uh uh elite, very competent and very effective troops, that America could be proud of. And, this situation prevailed, frankly until uh...I would say thirty, uh '69, '70 where uh the army ran out non-coms. Uh, they had to lower the standards for officers because a lot of the officer material was on the campuses uh where they uh did not have to, to serve, they were uh given an exemption by going onto the campuses of the country.
Interviewer:
Who were the Screaming Eagles?
Westmoreland:
The 101st Airborne Divsion. They distinguished themselves uh during WWII. Uh, the 82nd Airborne, they had a brigade there, they have a magnificent record. The first safety division has had a record uh in uh, eh...every war since WWI eh...distinguished record uh during the course of World War, WWI, WWII. Uh, the uh...3rd Marine Division, magnificent record during the war in the, in the Pacific, during uh WWII. The 1st Marine Division, ah, a magnificent record. The, these were...
Interviewer:
Who was the big, red one?
Westmoreland:
The big, red one was the 1st Division. Uh, but the ninth division, likewise, uh, uh, wonderful record uh, in a World War...uh II, because ‘am I, I know this personally because that was my, my division in WWII. Uh, but the 4th Division uh, was uh 1st Cavalry Division, all of these division had uh splendid records in other conflicts and uh when they were initially introduced they were in first class shape with excellent leadership and excellent equipment, and tremendous morale. High degree of discipline.
But as the war draw, drove...drug on and on...uh...it uh, it...the leadership...uh...had to be...uh, uh watered down by, by virtue of particularly the noncoms and the junior officers. By virtue of the educational deferment policy, by virtue of the uh attrition on the non commissioned officers, by virtue of the fact that uh, uh uh a considerable percentage of the army and the Marine Corps were over, overseas and uh not training at home.
And all these factors uh put tremendous stresses and strains on the military particularly the army over a long period of time, the longest war in history. A career lasted three years. Uh, Vietnam uh required substantial sacrifice by any number of military people over a period of seven years. Uh...’s uh strain on the families by family separation. Uh...uh and of course uh a major factor were those that killed and wounded. Uh...the ranks were attrited on the battlefield.
Interviewer:
I think we better...
Westmoreland:
Did you say something to me?
Interviewer:
No, no.
Oh. Okay. This is the end of this roll.
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