William Childs Westmoreland
Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1936
Engagements: • World War II (1941 - 1945)• Korean War (1950 - 1953)• Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)
William Childs Westmoreland
William Childs Westmoreland was born on 26 March 1914 in Spartanburg County, SC, to James Ripley and Eugenia Talley Childs Westmoreland. His upper-middle-class family was involved in local banking and textile industries. William was an Eagle Scout at Troop 1 Boy Scouts, and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and Silver Buffalo from the Boy Scouts of America as a young adult.
He enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) in 1932 after attending The Citadel College the previous year. Westmoreland was a member of a distinguished class at West Point; the Class of 1936. His classmates included (future 4-star General) Creighton Abrams who replaced him in 1968 and, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. (the first African-American 4-star General in the U.S. Air Force).Westmoreland graduated as First Captain - the highest graduating rank - and received the Pershing Sword, which was awarded to the most able cadet at West Point. His initial motive for entering the USMA was "to see the world."
Following graduation in June 1936, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Field Artillery and served in several different commands. He was involved in combat operations in Tunisia, Sicily, France and Germany. He reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and, later, Colonel during combat operations in the European Theatre of World War II. Westmoreland always balanced a reputation as a stern taskmaster with that of an officer who cared about his men and took a great interest in their welfare. One called him "the most caring officer, for soldiers, that I have ever known." As a graduate of Harvard Business School, he was a new type of officer; better educated than his predecessors and more managerial in outlook. As Stanley Karnow noted, "Westy was a corporation executive in uniform."
During World War II, his battalion was selected to be the artillery support for the 82nd Airborne Division. By 13 October 1944, he was a (temporary) Colonel serving as Chief of Staff of the 9th Infantry Division.
Regimental and Division Commands
Westmoreland's World War II experience with the 82nd Airborne led to his being asked by General James M. Gavin to join the 82nd as a Regimental Commander after the war, which was the beginning of his professional association with airborne and airmobile troops. He served with the 82nd Airborne for four years and, during the Korean War, he commanded the 187th Regimental Combat Team.
In 1947, Westmoreland married Katherine "Kitsy" Stevens Van Deusen. They had three children: two daughters, Katherine and Margaret; and one son, James Ripley Westmoreland.
In November 1952 Westmoreland was promoted to (temporary) Brigadier General and spent the next five years at the Pentagon. At age 42, in December 1956, he became the youngest Major General (temporary) in the Army. In 1958 he assumed command of the 101st Airborne Division. He started the concept of Recondo training in the Division, later taking the concept elsewhere in the Army. In 1960 he became Superintendent of the USMA and, in 1963, he was Commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. In July 1963, he was promoted to Lieutenant General (permanent).
In June 1964, he became Deputy Commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), when he assumed direct control from General Paul D. Harkins. In August 1964 he was promoted to General (temporary); in August 1965, the rank was made permanent. As the head of MACV, he was known for highly publicized, positive assessments of U.S. military prospects in Vietnam. However, as time went on, the strengthening of communist combat forces in the South led to regular requests for increases in U.S. troop strength; from 16,000 when he arrived, to its peak of 535,000 in 1968 when he was promoted to Army Chief of Staff.
On 28 April 1967, Westmoreland addressed a joint session of Congress. "In evaluating the enemy strategy," he said, "It is evident to me that he believes our Achilles heel is our resolve ... Your continued strong support is vital to the success of our mission ... Backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination and continued support, we will prevail in Vietnam over the Communist aggressor!"
The 29-minute speech was interrupted nineteen times by applause, but Congressional and popular support for the war continued to decline.
Under Westmoreland's leadership, U.S. forces "won every battle." The turning point of the war was the 1968 Tet Offensive, in which communist forces, having staged a diversion at the Battle of Khe Sanh, attacked cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. U.S. and South Vietnamese troops successfully fought off the attacks and the communist forces took heavy losses. But the ferocity of the assault shook public confidence in Westmoreland's previous assurances about the state of the war. Political debate and public opinion led the Johnson administration to limit further increases in U.S. troop numbers in Vietnam. When news of the My Lai Massacre broke, Westmoreland resisted pressure from the Nixon administration for a cover-up and pressed for a full and impartial investigation by Lieutenant General William R. Peers. Westmoreland also made efforts to investigate the Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacres.
Westmoreland was convinced that the Vietnamese communists could be destroyed by fighting a war of attrition that, theoretically, would render the Vietnam People's Army unable to fight. His war strategy was marked by heavy use of artillery and airpower with repeated attempts to engage the communists in large-unit battles; thereby exploiting the anti-communists' vastly superior firepower and technology. However, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF) were able to dictate the pace of attrition to fit their own goals. By continuing to fight a guerrilla war and avoiding large-unit battles, they denied the U.S. the chance to fight the kind of war it was best at. This ensured that attrition would wear down the Americans faster than it would them. Westmoreland repeatedly rebuffed and suppressed attempts by John Paul Vann and Lew Walt to shift to a "pacification" strategy.
Westmoreland had little appreciation of the patience of the U.S. public for his time frame, and was struggling to convince President Lyndon B. Johnson to approve widening the war into Cambodia and Laos in order to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He was unable to use the absolutist stance, "we can't win unless we expand the war" [into Cambodia and Laos]. Instead he focused on "positive indicators" which ultimately turned worthless when the Tet Offensive occurred, since all his pronouncements of "positive indicators" didn't hint at the possibility of such a last gasp dramatic event.
In the minds of the American public, the Tet Offensive outmaneuvered all of Westmoreland's pronouncements on "positive indicators." Although the communists were severely depleted by their heavy defeat at Khe Sanh when their conventional assaults were battered by American firepower, as well as tens of thousands of deaths in the Tet Offensive, American political opinion and the panic engendered by the communist surprise sapped U.S. support for the war. This occurred even though the events of early 1968 put the U.S. and South Vietnam into a much stronger military position.
Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams in June 1968 and the decision was announced shortly after the Tet Offensive. Although the decision had been made in late 1967, it was widely seen in the media as a punishment for being caught off-guard by the communist assault.
Westmoreland served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1972. [Westmoreland's brother-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Van Deusen, was killed in combat in Vietnam on 7 July 1968, just hours after Westmoreland was sworn in as Army Chief of Staff.]
Many military historians have pointed out that he became Chief of Staff at the worst time in history with regard to the Army. Guiding the Army as it transitioned to an all-volunteer force, he issued many directives to try to make Army life better and more palatable for America's youth, e.g. allowing soldiers to wear sideburns and drink beer in the mess hall. However, many hard-liners scorned these moves as too liberal. Westmoreland retired from the Army in 1972.
He was mentioned in a Time magazine article as a potential candidate for the 1968 Republican nomination.
Westmoreland ran unsuccessfully for Governor of South Carolina in 1974. He published his autobiography the following year. Westmoreland later served on a task force to improve educational standards in South Carolina.
In 1976, he published his memoirs, A Soldier Reports.
In 1986, Westmoreland served as Grand Marshall of the Chicago Vietnam Veteran's parade. The parade, attended by 200,000 Vietnam veterans and more than half a million spectators, did much to repair the rift between Vietnam veterans and the American public.
U.S. Military Awards
Distinguished Service Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters;
U.S. Military Badges
Combat Infantryman Badge
Foreign Military Awards
French Legion d'honneur
U.S. Military Unit Awards
Knox Trophy Award, USMA highest military efficiency as a cadet at West Point, 1936.
Foreign Military Unit Awards
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation (187th Regimental Combat Team, 1953)
Republic of Vietnam Parachutist Badge
The Westmoreland Bridge in Charleston, SC, is named in his honor.
Death and Burial
General William Childs Westmoreland died on 18 July 2005 at the Bishop Gadsden retirement home in Charleston, SC. He was 91. He was buried on 23 July 2005 at the United States Military Academy Post Cemetery in West Point, Orange County, NY, in Section 18, Plot 66.
Additional Data Regarding General Westmoreland
Westmoreland v. CBS: The Uncounted Enemy
Mike Wallace interviewed Westmoreland for the CBS special The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception. The documentary, shown on 23 January 1982 and prepared largely by CBS producer George Crile III, alleged that Westmoreland and others had deliberately underestimated Viet Cong troop strength during 1967 in order to maintain U.S. troop morale and domestic support for the war. Westmoreland filed a lawsuit against CBS.
In Westmoreland v. CBS, Westmoreland sued Wallace and CBS for libel, and a lengthy legal process began. After the trial was in progress, Westmoreland suddenly settled with CBS for an apology, no more than CBS had originally offered. Some contend that Judge Leval's instructions to the jury over what constituted "actual malice" to prove libel convinced Westmoreland's lawyers that he was certain to lose. Others point out that the settlement occurred after two of Westmoreland's former intelligence officers, Major General Joseph McChristian and Colonel Gains Hawkins, testified to the accuracy of the substantive allegations of the broadcast, which were that Westmoreland ordered changes in intelligence reports on Viet Cong troop strengths for political reasons. Disagreements persist about the appropriateness of some of the journalistic methods of Mike Wallace in particular.
A deposition by McChristian indicates that his organization developed improved intelligence on the number of irregular Viet Cong combatants shortly before he left Vietnam on a regularly scheduled rotation. The numbers troubled Westmoreland, who feared that the press would not understand them. He did not order them changed, but instead did not include the information in reporting to Washington, which in his view was a decision that the data were not appropriate to report.
Based on later analysis of the information from all sides, it appears clear that Westmoreland could not sustain a libel suit because CBS's principal allegation was that he had caused intelligence officers to suppress facts. Westmoreland's anger was caused by the implication of the broadcast that his intent was fraudulent and that he ordered others to lie.
During the acrimonious trial, Mike Wallace was hospitalized for depression, and despite the legal conflict separating the two, Westmoreland and his wife sent him flowers. Wallace's memoir is generally sympathetic to Westmoreland; although he makes it clear he disagreed with him on issues surrounding the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration's policies in Southeast Asia.
In a 1998 interview for George magazine, Westmoreland criticized the battlefield prowess of his opponent North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap. "Of course, he [Giap] was a formidable adversary," Westmoreland told correspondent W. Thomas Smith, Jr. "Let me also say that Giap was trained in small-unit, guerrilla tactics, but he persisted in waging a big-unit war with terrible losses to his own men. By his own admission, by early 1969, I think, he had lost, what, a half million soldiers? He reported this. Now such a disregard for human life may make a formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius. An American commander losing men like that would hardly have lasted more than a few weeks."
In the 1974 film Hearts and Minds, Westmoreland opined that "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner...We value life and human dignity. They don't care about life and human dignity."
For the remainder of his life, he maintained that the United States did not lose the war in Vietnam; he stated instead that "our country did not fulfill its commitment to South Vietnam. By virtue of Vietnam, the U.S. held the line for 10 years and stopped the dominoes from falling."
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