11. Memorandum of Conference With President Kennedy 1


  • General Lemnitzer
  • General Decker
  • Admiral Burke
  • General White
  • General Shoup
  • General Clifton

The President asked General Decker if the magazine which prepared the extensive “sell” on the Nike/Zeus was his magazine. There [Page 28] was some confusion because both Missiles and Rockets and Army Magazine had come out within the last week.

General Decker explained to the President Army Magazine and its relation to the Association of the U.S. Army. Then the Chiefs told about the various associations, including the Navy League and the Air Force Association, and the magazines published, both officially and unofficially.

General Lemnitzer briefed the President on his weekend visit with Mr. McNamara, Mr. Gilpatric and two others to SAC Headquarters in Omaha and the SIOP. He said the operation plan goes into effect April 1st, although it was approved on December 1st.2 He gave the President quite a few details on how targets are covered. The President asked them, “if we hit first and some of our forces are diminished, how do you provide for the second strike?” General Lemnitzer said individual commanders duplicate strikes. General White explained to him there were second and third runs laid on all targets, and that if the first run did not take off, the second run would get it. Also, if the first run was successful, there were plans to divert the second run to other targets.

The President asked if there were any limitations on the U.S. operating from Japanese bases against the Soviet Union with atomic weapons. The Joint Chiefs answered those questions. The President asked, if we decided to make the first strike, could we eliminate the Soviet strikeback? The Joint Chiefs answered no, the USSR could strike back and especially in the missile age it is becoming more and more difficult to actually know where the targets are—that is, the Soviet Union capabilities—and we couldn’t possibly get them all. Their estimate was that under any circumstances the Soviet Union could strike back hard.

The President asked if the Department of Defense, in analyzing the last budget that was submitted, had discussed with them what, in the opinion of the Chiefs, were the priorities—the first priorities—of items they would want above the budget that was submitted. General Lemnitzer intercepted this with an explanation of the four task forces in the Department of Defense3 and that on the 10th of February the Chiefs would be examining the results of the task forces analysis of the budget and by the 20th would report to the President which items would be needed in addition to the last budget, or what changes should be made within the limitations of the last budget. (I believe that there was a failure of communication on this point. The President did not get the answer he was seeking, which was what, in the opinion of the Chiefs, should they have had as first priority items above the last budget when it went in, but maybe there was a deliberate lack of communication on this point.) The [Page 29] President indicated that perhaps the Joint Chiefs might want to give him some ideas about this after they see the February 10th paper and before the final Department of Defense paper comes in.

The President mentioned guerrilla activities in Laos, the Congo and Viet-Nam and asked what we are doing in each of the Services on this type of training. He asked especially if the guerrilla activity which we are going to face in the future on an intensified basis by the enemy couldn’t have some effect on our MAAG training efforts. There was a long discussion on this point and the President said, “Maybe you would like to give me a short memorandum on Viet-Nam, especially as far as our guerrilla efforts in that area are concerned.”

The President then requested a memorandum on what the Services are doing on guerrilla activity and training.4 He stated that there are 7,000 to 15,000 Communist guerrillas in South Viet-Nam and yet we have no guerrillas in North Viet-Nam. He asked specifically how many Americans are in guerrilla training. General Decker replied with a discussion of special forces training, and the Joint Chiefs all promised to get him more data on this subject. The President then asked how the special forces in Laos are doing with the tribesmen.

The President also asked if we should do more about bringing more Laotians out of Laos, training them and sending them back in. Are we doing enough in this field?

The President said there is obviously going to be more guerrilla and counter-guerrilla activity in Africa and Asia in the near future. He then asked what plans they had to step up our own training and plans in those two spheres, and asked if they had learned anything from the other nations on this matter. General Lemnitzer responded that we have studied the British experience in Malaya and the French experience in Southeast Asia, and we have been training some CIA people, but, obviously, we are not doing enough.

General Lemnitzer then mentioned the memorandum here on the airlift and sealift readiness posture of Laos and how detailed it is. He said that he would turn it over to me for briefing. The President indicated he wanted to be briefed on this subject and he asked them if the memorandum gave him any information on the relative buildup from North Viet-Nam over the roads that could be accomplished in the same thirty days which he had asked for before. The Chiefs responded that there was nothing like that in this report, and they thought it might not be meaningful [Page 30] because, obviously, they could put a lot more Communists in there than we could get ourselves if they so decided. The President emphasized again that he wanted their best opinion on what the Viet-Namese could do in the same thirty days, and they promised him a reply.

The next item was the B-52G, covered in a separate memorandum, attached.5

The President asked the Chiefs about the reenlistment rate, especially in SAC. All three Chiefs gave the President a rundown on the reenlistment rate and emphasized that his “gold widow” decision was going to be a help.

There then ensued a discussion of the efforts in the Services to hold down the spending of American dollars by the Service people in lieu of having the dependents refused the opportunity to go overseas. The President directed that the Services take every measure possible to indoctrinate our people on the importance of this matter, even though there was no good way of measuring whether the men and their families were saving money or not. General Decker mentioned the U.S. Savings Bond program and the Soldiers Deposits program as good steps to cut down the amount of money. None of the Chiefs had any idea of restricting the amount of funds that a man was paid in American currency. The President reiterated that he hoped that they would take open and strong measures to win the voluntary compliance with the spirit of this order so that he would never again have to consider taking the dependents away from them.

The President asked Admiral Burke about the water supply in Guantanamo. Admiral Burke told him that we had a three-week water supply available by shipping and that we could keep this up with some strain on the logistics supply line.

In conclusion, the President directed that they give some attention to guerrilla activities in relation to their future position in the Congo, especially concerning training of intelligence teams and our advisory groups, if and when they were to go in there.

After the meeting, General Lemnitzer expressed his concern with our having all these papers and the backup material in considerable detail. I assured General Lemnitzer that after I had briefed the President, I would keep the papers around for two weeks and return them to him, and I would not give them wide distribution around the staff because they held so much rather planning type information.


Brig. Gen., U.S. Army
Military Aide to the President
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Chester V. Clifton Series, Conferences with the President, Volume I. Top Secret. Drafted by Clifton.
  2. By President Eisenhower.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. This request eventuated in an undated memorandum from Decker to the President, attached to a note from Lemnitzer to Clifton, February 16. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Department of Defense, Special Warfare Volume I) In a February 18 memorandum to Lemnitzer, Clifton listed the detailed questions on guerrilla training posed by the President after his reading of Decker’s memorandum. (Ibid.)
  5. Not found attached; see Document 12.