276. Editorial Note

At 11:40 a.m., Secretary of Defense McNamara, Secretary of State Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Marshall Green (William Bundy was on vacation in Massachusetts, where Rusk called him to return to Washington), and the Joint Chiefs of Staff met at the Pentagon. The following entries are taken from the August 28 chronology:

11 :40 AM: Bundy arrives at JCS meeting. McNamara briefs Bundy. McNamara describes the five options listed on page 5 above. McNamara informs the group that he has issued orders to have mines moved from Subic Bay into Da Nang. There is a discussion of retaliatory measures. McNamara and Bundy discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a sharp limited blow such as air strikes and/or the continuing pressure of mining the North Vietnamese coast. McNamara tells LeMay that the JCS should work up recommendations for immediate action, then recommended actions for 24, 48 and 60 hours ahead, with special emphasis on reinforcements, such as the movement of B–57s into South Vietnam and fighter-interceptors into the Philippines.

12:04 PM: McNamara, Rusk, Bundy, Green (State Dept.) and Vance move to McNamara’s office, while the JCS continue meeting in McNamara’s dining room. At this meeting the options are essentially refined to three: [Page 608]

  • “1. Sharp limited strikes against such target as PT boats, PT bases, oil depots, etc.
  • “2. Continuing pressure, i.e., mining the Vietnam coast.
  • “3. A combination of both.

12:20 PM: McNamara, Rusk, Bundy and Green depart for White House. Vance goes into McNamara’s dining room to ask JCS if it would make any difference whether the retaliatory strikes were conducted at first light. JCS tell Vance that the time of attack would make no difference from a military standpoint but that fewer people would be at the PT boat bases and supporting installations at first light.

12:25 PM: Vance departs for the White House. The JCS continue meeting until 1:49 PM. During their meeting, at JCS direction, Burchinal calls McNamara at White House to recommend the sharp limited response option.” Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Gulf of Tonkin Misc. 1964)

Regarding the five options described by Secretary McNamara, see Document 273.

At 12:40 p.m., according to the chronology, McNamara, Rusk, Bundy, and Green arrived at the White House where they joined the National Security Council which was discussing the Cyprus situation. McNamara briefed the NSC and the President on the available details of the attack on the Maddox and the C. Turner Joy. Bromley Smith’s notes of the 537th meeting of the National Security Council read in part as follows:

“Secretary McNamara: North Vietnamese PT boats have attacked the DeSoto Patrol consisting of two U.S. destroyers, the Maddox and the C. Turner Joy, approximately 65 miles off North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Presently we believe 9 or 10 torpedoes were fired at the Patrol. Two of the PT boats were reportedly sunk and three to six were fired on. So far, we have no casualties. Nearby U.S. aircraft carriers are providing continuous air cover.

“Secretary Rusk: Secretary McNamara and I and the Chiefs of Staff are preparing recommendations but these are not yet ready.

“Mac Bundy: In addition to these recommendations we should have an estimate of the reaction to various courses of action we might take.”

Later in the meeting, the discussion again turned to the incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin:

“The President: Turning again to the attack in the Gulf of Tonkin, he asked that nothing be made public for the time being.

“Secretary Dillon: There is a limit on the number of times we can be attacked by the North Vietnamese without hitting their naval bases.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings, Vol. 3, Tab 19, 8/4/64)

Following the NSC meeting, Rusk, McNamara, McCone, Bundy, and Vance joined the President for lunch from 1:04 to 2:50 p.m. The August 28 chronology reads: [Page 609]

“The President agrees that a firm, swift retaliatory strike must be carried out. Here, a general consensus is formed on the approach finally taken in the JCS message to CINCPAC, developed later that afternoon, ordering the strikes into execution against the PT boats located at bases Port Wallut, Hon Gay, Phuc Loi and Quang Khe and Loc Chao estuary and the oil depot at Vinh. (See the 5:19 PM entry below.) The mining option, as well as an attack on Haiphong, is rejected. The President asks how long it would take to execute the strike. McNamara estimates from the advice he has received that a strike could be launched at about 7:00 PM (7:00 AM, Saigon time). The President suggests that McNamara call the JCS to confirm the time, but McNamara says he wants to work it out carefully with the JCS on his return to the Pentagon.”

At 3 p.m. at the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began meeting; they were joined by McNamara and Vance who informed the Chiefs that “the President wants the strikes to take place at 7:00 PM Washington time, if possible, and at the following targets: PT boats and bases at Quang Khe, Phoc Loi, Port Wallut, Hon Gay and Loc Chao, and the oil complex at Vinh. The JCS agree with this proposal.” (August 28 chronology)

The drafting of the strike execute message continued throughout the afternoon of August 4 amid some confusion about the actual course of events in the Gulf of Tonkin. At 1:27 p.m., the Maddox reported that “a review of the action makes many reported contacts and torpedoes fired ‘appear doubtful’. ‘Freak weather effects’ on radar, and ‘over-eager’ sonarmen may have accounted for many reports. ‘No visual sightings’ have been reported by the Maddox, and the Commander suggests that a ‘complete evaluation’ be undertaken before any further action. (NMCC receives this report about 1–1/2 to 2 hours later.)” (August 28 chronology, the report was in message 041727Z; Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)

4:47 PM: McNamara, Vance and the JCS meet to marshal the evidence to overcome lack of a clear and convincing showing that an attack on the destroyers had in fact occurred. They conclude that an attack had taken place. In this regard five factors are considered:

  • “1. The Turner Joy was illuminated when fired on by automatic weapons.
  • “2. One of the destroyers observed cockpit lights.
  • “3. A PGM 142 shot at two U.S. aircraft.
  • “4. A North Vietnamese announcement that two of its boats were ‘sacrificed.’ [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]
  • “5. Sharp’s determination that there was indeed an attack.

“Burchinal, at Wheeler’s request, tells McNamara that the 7:00 PM strike time will not be met because the carriers are operating on a time which makes 8:00 PM Washington time 7:00 AM carrier time.

[Page 610]

“5:19 PM: JCS strike execute message is retransmitted Flash precedence as JCS 7720 to CINCPAC. It states that by 7:00 PM EDT (0700 local time) a one-time maximum effort attack against Port Wallut (later cancelled because of weather), Hon Gay, Phuc Loi, Quang Khe, Loc Chao and Vinh, and an armed reconnaissance against PT boats beyond the three mile limit should be conducted. The message cautions that if the weather precludes meeting the above time of attack, the commander is to ‘proceed soonest’ and to notify the JCS as soon as possible. (CINCPAC receives this message at 5:52 PM (11:52 AM, August 4, CINCPAC time).)” (August 28 chronology)

JCS 7720 to CINCPAC is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Gulf of Tonkin, [less than 1 line of text not declassified].