'THEINEVITABLE GENERAL'- WILLIAM C. WESTMORELAND REMAINS PROUD OF HIS SOLDIERS.
Let all of us pay Tribute and remember William C. Westmoreland in our Prayers! "He was an Honorable Man who lived
Honor, Duty, and Country in every way!"
'A lot of people in the media thought they were smarter than everybody else. But they were in an environment that they
At the dawn of the Vietnam War, William C. Westmoreland was on top of the world. A respected superintendent of the U.S.
Military Academy, "Westy" had already distinguished himself in two wars. The ramrod straight, silver-haired southern
gentleman was by all accounts a great soldier, dubbed "the inevitable general" by his West Point classmates. Comparisons
to Robert E. Lee were natural. He was an obvious choice for President Lyndon Johnson to appoint commander of Military Assistance
Command, Vietnam. In 1965, Westmoreland was the toast of the town when Time named him "Man of the Year." Yet, just
two years later, he was buried in effigy on college campuses across America. And like Lee, he also was denied the final victory
he so desperately wanted.
At 89, some memories have dimmed for the retired general, but the military feistiness remains. Aware that many historians
and journalists have criticized his Vietnam leadership, Westmoreland told The American Legion Magazine in 2002, "I don't
give a da**. When you're in a position of authority, you do the best you can. Lives were at stake." Critics contend that
Westmoreland was deceptively light in estimates of enemy troop strength that he reported to his superiors in Washington. The
general vehemently denies the charge. In a 1984 libel suit he filed against CBS, Westmoreland testified that the numbers he
used were "people we wanted to destroy in a military way." The higher numbers he is accused of ignoring were not
an offensive force, Westmoreland says, but women, children and old men. Westmoreland later withdrew the lawsuit, but the absence
of media presence in his daily life has not made his heart grow fonder. "A lot of people in the media thought they were
smarter than everybody else," Westmoreland says of those who covered Vietnam. "But they were in an environment that
they didn't understand." He points to the Tet Offensive as a specific instance where the media got it wrong. "It
was a great victory for Americans, but they were told otherwise." Today, Westmoreland and his wife of 56 years, Kitsy,
divide their time between a retirement home near Charleston, S.C., and their mountain cabin in Cashiers, N.C. Although decades
ago Westmoreland was a lightning rod for those dissatisfied with the war's progress and for others who felt America should
not be in Vietnam at all, to many Americans Westmoreland remains a hero. His place in history is as conflicted as it is misunderstood.
"The American people don't know who I am and don't give a da** who I am. They don't know about war. They don't understand
war." "Now Westy," Kitsy says, "we can never to to a filling station or anyplace without someone coming
up to you and paying respects." He admits this is true and quickly gives in. His criticisms of the media, war protesters
and his old boss, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, are more matter-of-fact and less bitter than they once were. Of McNamara's
1995 memoir, which contained an apology for U.S. policy in Vietnam, Westmoreland charitably says, "I admired him for
it. It took a lot of courage."
"You were mad as hops at him," Kitsy gently reminds him. "When that book came out, you didn't like it."
A brief pause follows. "McNamara was a bright man, but not as bright as he thought he was," Westmoreland adds. "Particularly
on military matters." The Westmorelands' devotion for each other might be expected from a couple still together nearly
70 years after first meeting. But that devotion also faced great tests. Commanding troops in a war wasn't just a job to Westmoreland;
it was how he was to be defined by history. And, during the time, it was how his family was to be defined. In 1965, after
a series of attacks by Viet Cong terrorists, President Johnson ordered the evacuation of all U.S. military dependents from
Vietnam. Kitsy and the three Westmoreland children moved to Hawaii, where Kitsy faced verbal attacks by antiwar activists,
vandalization of the family's home and an erroneous radio report of her husband's assassination. The atmosphere grew so intense
that Kitsy and the children moved to the Philippines, while her husband, a decorated veteran of two previous American wars,
served in Vietnam. All war commanders bear the burdens that come with the loss of life. But Westmoreland was touched personally
by it as well. Kitsy's brother, Lt. Col. Frederick F. Van Deusen, died when his helicopter was shot down over the Mekong River.
Westmoreland learned the news just hours before he was promoted to Army chief of staff in Washington. He did not tell Kitsy
until after the ceremony. Despite their close friendship, Westmoreland and Johnson often had tactical disagreements. Westmoreland
wanted more troops and strikes against Cambodia and Laos, hotbeds for enemy activity. Johnson would not listen. "He had
many advisers - McNamara was one of them," Westmoreland recalls. "They were afraid China would enter the war."
Despite their disagreements, the public perception that the president and the commander were close friends was an accurate
one, he says. "I got to know LBJ pretty well. He had good personal instincts and, early on, thought I was after his job.
Once I assured him that I wasn't, we got along fine." Assuring others, however, was not so easy.
In 1967, the South Carolina General Assembly passed a resolution "to prevail upon" Westmoreland to enter the
presidential race. But Westmoreland was a soldier and strongly believed soldiers should loyally follow the orders of their
civilian leaders. The Constitution demanded it, and Johnson demanded it. "I hope you don't pull a MacArthur on me,"
Johnson told Westmoreland early in the Vietnam War, clearly referring to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's challenge of Truman's Korean
War policies. It was Westmoreland's loyalty to Johnson, an increasingly unpopular president leading an unpopular war, that
diminshed Westmoreland's own standing among many Americans. "I guess the people did not see the relevance of that war
to our national interest," he says. "Unlike World War II, our security was not threatened." The outcome of
that war, Westmoreland believes, could have been different if Congress had been willing to enforce the provisions of the Paris
cease-fire agreement. Instead, as a weakened President Nixon attempted to survive the Watergate scandal, lawmakers banned
all forms of U.S. military assistance to Vietnam. When Saigon fell, Westmoreland was hospitalized for previously undisclosed
reasons. The general and Kitsy now admit it was a stress-induced heart attack. "Anger and sorrow" is how he describes
his emotions at the time. The Vietnam War, Westmoreland believes, was not a failure of America's soldiers. "they did
a heck of a good job," he says. Kitsy wants history to similarly remember her husband. "He was an honorable man
who lived honor, duty, country in every way." During the war, Westmoreland kept a written quote on his desk to remind
him why America was in Vietnam. Ironically, it came from a man who many in the antiwar movement also respected. "Let
every nation know," President John F. Kennedy said, "whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price,
bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.