By spring 1965, large swaths of the South Vietnamese countryside had fallen under Vietcong control. Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, a man who prided himself on his analytical skills, wrote in a memorandum dated March 24, 1965, that “The situation in general is bad and deteriorating. The VC have the initiative. Defeatism is gaining among the rural population, somewhat in the cities, and even among the soldiers – especially those with relatives in rural areas. The Hop Tac [pacification] area around Saigon is making little progress; the Delta stays bad; the country has been severed in the north. GVN control is shrinking to the enclaves, some burdened with refugees.” [Herring, Pentagon Papers, 116] McNaughton’s reference to the demoralization of ARVN troops with relatives in rural areas is instructive. The morale of the ARVN began to plummet because South Vietnamese troops found it increasingly difficult to visit family members in the many hamlets that had recently been lost to the Vietcong. Continue Reading »
In 1964, at age 50, William C. Westmoreland possessed the look of a professional soldier. He stood ramrod straight at five feet ten inches tall, carried his frame with a confident, light gait, and weighed a healthy 180 pounds, which was only ten pounds more than what he weighed as a cadet at West Point thirty years earlier. He maintained a flat stomach at a time in life when most men his age had developed a paunch from decades of bad food and too much time behind a desk.
To stay fit, Westy, as his confidants knew him, did push-ups immediately after rising from bed in the morning. Even though he spent much of his day in an office in Saigon, or sitting in helicopters, jeeps, and airplanes, he still found time to swim and play tennis at the French Circle Sportif. He particularly enjoyed tennis. When Maxwell Taylor (who had been Westy’s mentor in the military) served as ambassador to South Vietnam, Westy and Max occasionally caught a game together. Westmoreland never displayed unpredictable or reckless behavior. He didn’t smoke, rarely drank alcohol, and did not curse. The most foul words in his vocabulary were apparently “darn” and “dang.” Continue Reading »