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272. Editorial Note

At 7:40 a.m. EDT (7:40 p.m., Saigon time), August 4, the destroyer Maddox, on patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin, reported that an attack from unidentified vessels appeared imminent. The National Military Communications Center in the Department of Defense received the report at 9:30 a.m. in message 041240Z. (Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 72 D 219, DeSoto Patrols August) The following entries are taken from a Top Secret chronology of the events of August 4–5 prepared on August 28 and submitted by McGeorge Bundy to President Johnson on September 4:

“8:13 AM: First word of a possible attack on the Maddox is received at the Pentagon by the DIA Indications Center over the phone [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. While on the phone, a copy of the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] field unit message arrives and copies are delivered sometime about 9:00 a.m. to the Secretary of Defense McNamara, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Wheeler. The message states that there are ‘imminent plans of DRV naval action possibly against DeSoto mission’ gathered from [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].

“8:36 AM (8:36 PM, August 4, Saigon time): The Maddox establishes its first radar contacts with two unidentified surface vessels and three unidentified aircraft. U.S. fighter aircraft are then launched from the USS Ticonderoga to provide the Maddox and the Turner Joy with protection against possible attacks from the unidentified vessels and aircraft, in accordance with the President’s previously issued directives. At this time, the Ticonderoga is located approximately 100 nautical miles East North East of Da Nang. (NMCC receives this report at about 10:30 AM.)

“9:08 AM (9:08 PM, August 4, Saigon time): The Maddox reports that the unidentified aircraft have disappeared from its radar screen but that the surface vessels are still remaining at a distance. U.S. aircraft from the Ticonderoga arrive and commence defensive patrol over the Maddox and the C. Turner Joy. (NMCC receives this report at 11:04 AM.)

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“9:12 AM: McNamara calls the President and tells him about the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]/DIA intelligence warning he has just received that the Maddox is on the alert again, with the presence of hostile ships reported.” Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Gulf of Tonkin Misc. 1964)

The message received in the National Military Communications Center at 10:30 a.m. is 041336Z. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S) The message received at 11:04 a.m. is 041408Z. (Ibid., Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 72 D 719, DeSoto Patrols August) The 9:12 a.m. telephone call from McNamara to the President is described in Johnson, Vantage Point, page 114.