Monday, February 9, 2015



Saigon, South Vietnam (JFK+50) Fifty years ago today, February 9, 1965, General William Westmoreland offered a new appraisal of the war.

According to Jack Shulimson and Major Charles M. Johnson, USMC, the General's statement was that the recent Viet Cong attack on the South Vietnamese airbase at Pleiku "marked a new phase of the war" and that "with direct communist attacks on American personnel and facilities..." at least one division of combat troops would be necessary.

General Westmoreland wrote...

"We must face the stark fact that the war has escalated."

Combat Operations in Vietnam
November 1965
United States Army Photo

The communist attack on Pleiku took the lives of eight Americans and wounded 128.  It also had damaged or destroyed 24 aircraft.

National security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, who had served in the same position for JFK, was visiting in South Vietnam at the time of the attack.

Bundy sent the following message to President Lyndon B. Johnson...

"The deteriorating.  Without new U.S. action defeat appears inevitable...within the next year or so.  There is time to turn it around, but not much."

President Johnson then authorized a 3-stage bombing campaign against North Vietnam which was last from March 2 to November 1, 1965.  It is known as Operation Rolling Thunder.

LBJ agreed with his advisers that combat troops were also needed.

The President said...

"I guess we've got no choice, but it scares the death out of me.  I think everybody's going to think, 'we're landing Marines.  We're off to battle.'"

A 3500 man USMC Hawk air defense missile battalion landed at China Beach on March 8, 1965.  These were the first American "combat" troops in Southeast Asia.  

Previously, American military "advisers" were deployed in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  JFK had increased the numbers of those advisers from 700 when he took office to 15,000 at the time of his death.

President Kennedy was reluctant to send combat troops.  General Maxwell Taylor said later that JFK's visit with General Douglas MacArthur had "made a hell of impression."  MacArthur had advised JFK that a US military effort in Southeast would be a disaster.

When he was urged to send combat troops, JFK told his military advisers, "You...convince General MacArthur, then I'll be convinced."


"JFK's Refusal to Send Combat Troops to Vietnam:  McGeorge Bundy's evidence,"

"Lessons In Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam," by Gordon M. Goldstein, Holt.

"U.S. Marines in Vietnam:  The Landing and the Buildup, 1965," by Jack Shulimson and Major Charles M. Johnson, Create Space Independent Publishers Platform, 2013.