U.S. Vietnam-era military chief Westmoreland dies
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Gen. William Westmoreland, who
commanded U.S. military operations in the Vietnam War, died on
Monday night at a retirement home in Charleston, South
Carolina, said Linda Maines, night supervisor at the facility.
Westmoreland, who lived at the Bishop Gadsden retirement
community with his wife, was 91. The cause of death was not
The silver-haired officer, whose name will always be linked
to the Vietnam War, was known for highly publicized and
positive assessments of U.S. military prospects in the
Westmoreland led U.S. troops in Vietnam from 1965 until
1968. Under his command, the number of fighting men rose from
just a few thousand to more than 500,000, but victory remained
out of reach despite the escalating U.S. involvement.
As protest movements against the undeclared war grew at
home, Westmoreland kept pushing for more troops and arms in the
Under his command, search and destroy tactics were used, as
was the defoliant Agent Orange and the liquid fire, napalm. But
efforts to drive the Viet Cong from the countryside were not
Westmoreland tried to win the war by first winning the
“hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people, but the increasing
American involvement in the war proved as unpopular there as it
did at home.
The turning point of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was in
January and February 1968 during Tet, the lunar new year –
previously a traditional cease-fire period.
The Viet Cong launched the Tet offensive against more than
100 cities and military bases, catching U.S. troops off guard.
The Viet Cong held on for weeks with some of the bloodiest and
most violent fighting of the war. The strength and ability of
the communist troops stunned U.S. forces. Casualties were very
Westmoreland requested more troops to widen the war after
the Tet offensive but there was a growing conviction in
Washington that a military victory was no longer possible.
Westmoreland wanted an additional 206,000 U.S. troops. Instead,
President Lyndon Johnson, who also announced his intention not
to run for reelection, ordered restrictions on bombings to the
That year Westmoreland was recalled, spending the four
years until his retirement in 1972 as Army Chief of Staff — a
largely ceremonial post.
After Vietnam, Westmoreland was highly critical of both the
Johnson and Nixon administrations in conducting the war. He
also denounced American television and newspapers for alleged
distortions that turned people against the war.
“A lesson to be learned,” he said, “is that young men
should never be sent into battle unless the country is going to
Westmoreland launched a $120 million lawsuit against CBS
and its 1982 documentary, “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam
Deception.” He claimed the piece defamed him by accusing him of
deceiving President Johnson about the enemy’s strength.
After two years of legal battles and a 65-day trial,
Westmoreland reached a settlement with CBS and withdrew the
suit before a verdict was reached. Both sides claimed victory.
An award-winning West Point graduate in 1936, Westmoreland
moved up quickly to artillery battalion commander, seeing
action in North Africa and Sicily in 1942. After D-Day on June
6, 1944, he was promoted to colonel and soon became chief of
staff for the 9th Infantry Division.
He saw more combat service in Korea with the 187th Airborne
Regimental Combat team and later was deputy assistant chief of
staff for manpower with the Pentagon in Washington.
In 1955, after attending Harvard Business School,
Westmoreland took a job as secretary to the General Staff in
Washington and was soon appointed major general, at 41 the
youngest man to hold that rank in the army.
After a stint as commander of the 101st Airborne Division,
where Westmoreland would “do anything the men would,” he was
appointed at 47 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as
superintendent of West Point.
At the U.S. Military Academy, where he initiated sweeping
curriculum changes, Westmoreland was well-liked by students and
Born William Childs Westmoreland on March 26, 1914, in
Spartanburg County in South Carolina, he is survived by his
wife Katherine. They had three children.
(Additional reporting by Jim Loney in Miami)