4. Memorandum of Conference With President Kennedy 1


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

The President first told the group that General Clifton would be taking over from me the Defense Liaison functions. He expressed appreciation for the help I have been enabled to give him by staying on for a short while. He said he would hope to make use of General Clifton in order to stay in very close touch with the Chiefs. General Lemnitzer confirmed that it has been valuable to have someone here with whom the Chiefs could take up specific items, and whom they could get to take up questions with the President for them. The President said he is extremely anxious to keep in close contact with the Chiefs. He recognized that he [Page 12] would be seeing General Lemnitzer frequently when he comes to NSC meetings, attends meetings with the Secretary of State, etc.

The President cited as an instance of the kind of help he needed the suggestion that the timing of the SAMOS shot and the Baltic reconnaissance flight should be modified so as to remove them from the date of the release of the RB-47 flyers.

[Here follows discussion of Laos (see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XXIV, Document 12), Cuba (see ibid., vol. X, Document 26), and the Congo.]

The President referred to comments made by Mr. Gates at the meeting on January 19th regarding limited war,2 quoting the Chiefs as saying that we could handle requirements in two areas at once, providing they did not, together, exceed the scope of the Korean hostilities. General Shoup observed that the President has the authority to call in the reserve of one million men, but he noted that this could only serve a purpose if we had sea lift ready and the ability to support them. He said we would quickly exceed what could be done with air support. It was his view that we need more air transport than we now have. Admiral Burke noted that we have one division of Marines in the Pacific and one-half division in the Atlantic completely ready to go. General Lemnitzer said that what could be done would be to establish an initial position by air and quickly shift its support to sea traffic.

The President said he would like to have a memorandum bringing out what, if we were to decide to commit American troops in Laos, we could do in the way of a buildup, in 30 days. He asked that it cover how fast the Viet Minh could come into the situation. General Lemnitzer said they could come in fast, but we could cut their supply lines and limit what they could do.

General Lemnitzer said that if we took units out of our ready forces, we would want to replace them quickly with units from the reserves. General Decker said there are three divisions ready to go in STRAC. Also, the 25th Division, less one RCT, is in Hawaii, with the RCT in Okinawa. There are seven national guard divisions that have been designated to be called in to replace any units committed.

The President asked what efforts have been made to prevent the experience we had with our prisoners of war in Korea. General Decker reported that a code of conduct has been prepared and that there are programs of indoctrination. It is recognized that there would be brainwashing, but the men know much better what to do. General Lemnitzer confirmed that training has been intensive—on occasion involving the acting out of what can be done to maintain order and morale in a prison camp. Admiral Burke observed that those who believe in something can [Page 13] and will stand up in such a situation. General Lemnitzer said he thought the situation was infinitely better than in 1950, when the armed forces were at a very low ebb. The units committed in Korea from Japan were at a low state of training and readiness. The President asked what caliber of people are coming into the service. All present said that the caliber is extremely high. General White said it is proving hard to keep people of this degree of competence after they finish their required service, but he said that the personnel of the Air Force are far superior to what they have had before. General Shoup said the same is true of the Marine Corps. General Decker said that the officers and men of the Army are the best ever. General Lemnitzer added that the authority that was granted to the Army to reject drafted personnel has been of tremendous value. Through screening out the unfit, great savings have been made—for example, four of the Army’s five disciplinary barracks have been closed. The President said he would like to have the group think about the problem of how to build up the status of the Army. He said that the other services have advantages which the Army does not seem to have. General Decker said he was delighted to hear this expression by the President and would certainly give it very great attention. Admiral Burke said that in many ways the Navy has the toughest problem, as is reflected now in its rate of reenlistment, which is the lowest in the whole Defense establishment. This arises out of the great amount of time the men must spend at sea. For example, last year the men of a carrier he named (Saratoga?) spent only twenty nights ashore.

The President asked for an expression of opinion regarding the actions that had been taken because of the gold outflow. He noted that this matter is under intensive review. All of the Chiefs said that this has had a very serious impact, extending all the way back into the rate of applications for entrance to the Academies. This has been very rough treatment for personnel, and has created a terrible problem.

The President asked whether the Deputy Director of CIA must be a military man. General Lemnitzer said he thought this was not required but was permissive. General Lemnitzer went on to mention a recent intelligence management study, out of which may soon develop a proposal for a Deputy Director of CIA, making it possible to separate the Director of Central Intelligence from the operating functions.

The President asked as to the status of the Coast Guard, and Admiral Burke told him that it is under the Treasury in peacetime.

The President said he wants to stay very close to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said the American people are very bellicose in their attitudes and objectives with respect to Russia and Cuba, but at the same time, they very strongly do not want to go to war. He said he doubts that they can have this both ways. However, he is sure that, when we are spending [Page 14] $82 billion on our budget, we should be certain we have everything we really need in the military sphere.

As the President concluded the meeting, General Lemnitzer said the Chiefs would welcome very much the chance to continue to meet with the President, and would be very happy if he should visit them in the Pentagon. The President said he would hope to see them frequently, in addition to his meetings with General Lemnitzer. He concluded by saying he had been extremely well impressed with the appearance of the officers in the Inauguration parade. Now he thought it is important to get the non-commissioned officers to feeling that it is highly creditable to be in the service of their country.


Brigadier General, USA
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Chester V. Clifton Series, Conferences with the President Volume I. Top Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster on January 27.
  2. See Document 3.