Wednesday, October 2, 2013


October 2, 2013


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty years ago today, October 2, 1963, the White House issued a statement following the return of Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor from their special mission to South Vietnam.

The statement began...

"Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported to the President this morning and to the National Security Council this afternoon.

Their report included a number of classified findings and recommendations which will be the subject of further review and action.

Their basic presentation was endorsed by all members of the Security Council..."

               JFK and Bob McNamara
                         June 19, 1962
              Photo by Cecil Stoughton
                    JFK Library Image

The McNamara-Taylor Report included the following  recommendations which were approved by the President:

1. We will adhere to our policy of working with the people and Government of South Vietnam to deny this country to communism.

2. The military program in SV has made progress and is sound in principle.

3. Major US needed only until the insurgency has been suppressed or until the national security forces of the Government of South Vietnam are capable of suppressing it.^

4. The political situation in SV remains deeply serious.

5. It remains the policy of the United support the defeat aggression and to build a peaceful and free society.

^The McNamara-Taylor Report said that 1000 US military advisers "COULD be withdrawn" from South Vietnam by the end of the year 1963, and that "the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by 1965."


The Vietnam War lasted from Nov 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975, nearly 19.5 years. 

At the time of JFK's death there were 16,732 American military advisers stationed in South Vietnam with 118 US servicemen killed.  

There has been considerable discussion about an alleged reversal in the Kennedy policy as stated in NSAM #263 (JFK) issued on Oct 2, 1963 by virtue of NSAM #273 (LBJ) on Nov 26, 1963.  

The primary focus has been on the possible cancellation of JFK's order to withdraw 1000 US military personnel from Vietnam.

Both of these declassified documents are available on the JFK and LBJ Library websites.  NSAM#273 reads as follows...

"It remains the central objective of the United States in South Vietnam to assist the people and government to win (the war)...


"The objectives of the United States...remains as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963."

It is interesting to note that there is no mention of either the withdrawal of the 1000 advisers by the end of 1963 or the conclusion that "the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by 1965."

It could be argued after comparing these memos, therefore, that while LBJ did not "rubber-stamp" JFK's decision to withdraw 1000 advisers by the end of the year, neither did he expressly cancel the order.  

NSAM #263 called for completing US military business in Vietnam by 1965, but at the end of that year there were 200,000 US military personnel in Vietnam and they were no longer advisers, they were combat troops.

By 1968, there were 536,000 Americans in South Vietnam and when the war finally ended in 1975 the total of American dead was 58,220.