Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty-one years ago today, September 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was briefed by Major General Victor Krulak* of the United States Marine Corps and Joseph Mendenhall** of the U.S. State Department after their return from a four day "fact-finding" mission to South Vietnam.
General Krulak told the President that progress was being made against the Viet Cong and portrayed a positive view of the South Vietnamese government.
Mr. Mendenhall, on the other hand, was extremely critical of the situation in Southeast Asia. He said the government under President Ngo Dinh Diem was near collapse.
After listening to the differing reports, President Kennedy asked...
"Were you two gentlemen in the same country?"
According to a US Information Agency official who went along on the trip, General Krulak and Mr. Mendenall not only did not agree, they didn't get along well with one another.
"On the whole flight they spoke to each other only when it was unavoidable."
The situation in South Vietnam continued to worsen and President Diem was overthrown in a coup in early November 1963.
*General Victor H. Krulak (1913-2008) USMC served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He was born in Denver, Colorado and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1934. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Legion of Merit, and the Purple Heart.
He participated in fighting in the South Pacific during WWII, and Lt. John F. Kennedy's PT109 helped evacuate his force from Choiseul Island. The General promised JFK a bottle of whiskey for his efforts.
The General's son, Charles C. Krulak, became the 31st Commandant of the USMC.
**Joseph Mendenhall was born in 1920. He continued work in Indochina under LBJ and in 1965 became director of the United States Agency for International Development and from 1972-75 was US ambassador to Madagascar.
"Historian Says Viet Nam Was JFK's Greatest Failure," Spartanburg Herald Journal, November 26, 1965.