78. Memorandum for the Record1

SUBJECT

  • The Events of 6–7 February in Vietnam

6 February

At 1505 I received a call from the NMCC giving initial reports of Viet Cong attacks on two compounds in the vicinity of Pleiku Airfield, on the airfield at Tuy Hoa and two villages in the immediate vicinity, and on a village some 15 miles north of Nha Trang. First reports dealt principally with the Pleiku area and indicated that there might be substantial U.S. casualties, both killed and wounded, and damage to U.S. aircraft. I reported the foregoing at 1509 in turn to Secretary McNamara and the President. I then called Mr. William Bundy but failed to reach him. I then called Secretary Ball at about 1515 to report this information and asked him to call Ambassador Taylor in Saigon and to request Taylor’s, General Westmoreland’s, and McGeorge Bundy’s recommendations as to reprisal actions we should undertake. At 1520 I departed for the White House.

[Page 161]

At the White House, I attended a meeting on Arms for Jordan. That meeting adjourned at 1700 and I then gave to the President the latest Vietnamese reports.

The President asked me what actions I thought would be recommended and I told him that I thought Option 1 would be recommended. I then discussed the targets included in Option 1. The President then asked me, General Wheeler, Mr. Ball, and Mr. Bill Bundy if we would agree with such recommendation. Each of us responded affirmatively. The President then inquired whether we had sent a message to Saigon requesting the views of the officials there. Mr. Bundy indicated that such a message had been sent an hour ago.2 The meeting closed with the President asking that we let him know when the Saigon recommendations were received.

At 1830, I returned to the Pentagon and joined General Wheeler. There, we discussed the forces to be alerted, the number of persons to be evacuated, and the possible assets to be used for the evacuation. Additionally, we discussed the targets to be struck if Option 1 were recommended, and those to be struck if both Options 1 and 2 were recommended. I asked for a list of the forces available for use in the strikes and a list of those forces to be alerted—both to be used later in discussion with the President. During this discussion, General Blanchard and Admiral Mustin joined us.

At this time, Secretary McNamara called to say that he felt it desirable to call Saigon on the KY-9 secure phone and obtain Saigon’s recommendations. I then called Ambassador Taylor but could not reach him and talked instead to Alexis Johnson on a normal telephone in his home. Using double talk, I asked if Washington’s cable had been received and found that it had been. I told Johnson that it was urgent that we receive Saigon’s recommendations as soon as possible and asked when this might be. Mr. Johnson replied that this would be within 30 minutes or so and also said that we could probably guess what their recommendations would be. In closing, I stressed again the urgency of early receipt of the recommendations, asking that they be given over a secure telephone.

I reported the foregoing telephone conversation to both the President and Mr. McNamara. The President was pleased and asked when we could expect to hear from Saigon. I estimated that it would be within one and one half hours. At this point the President noted the need to evacuate dependents and asked me what our capability was to do so. I responded that this was being checked now. The President also emphasized that we should alert the strike forces and I told him General Wheeler had done so at 1800. Finally, the President asked about alerting other forces. To this, I [Page 162]responded that we were working on the problem now and that I would call him again when I heard from Saigon.

At 1905 I received a call from McGeorge Bundy in Saigon over an open telephone. He said that all in Saigon unanimously recommend a) that action be taken today; b) that targets 33, 36 and 393 should be hit by Admiral Sharp’s forces; c) that target 324 should be undertaken in a joint effort by local forces; and d) that an announcement concerning the removal of dependents could be made immediately after any action. [Omission in the source text.] for recommendations as to the time-frame for evacuation of dependents, pointing out that the President felt strongly about it. Mr. Bundy replied that the evacuation should be done promptly but in an orderly fashion. Bundy also stressed the need for prompt decision by the highest authority on their recommendations because of the problems associated with the joint effort on target 32.

I immediately called the President, told him that we had received Saigon’s recommendations, and asked when he wished to meet again. The President suggested that we meet at 1945 and asked who should be there beyond the group that had met in the afternoon, plus the Secretary of Defense and the Vice President. I suggested that the CIA should be represented and the President asked me to call General Carter. At this point I called Mr. McNamara, told him of the meeting, and said that my car would pick him up at his home. I asked a member of General Wheeler’s staff to notify General Carter.

Subsequently, I received a second call from McGeorge Bundy, this time over a secure telephone. Bundy said that they wished to make a joint announcement in Saigon after the strike prior to any announcement in Washington and reiterated the great importance of joint participation in the proposed strike action. I noted that this posed timing problems and read to him a proposed cable to Admiral Sharp. Bundy said that the cable as drafted put them in a time bind and asked if it were a decision by the highest authority to proceed as specified in our draft cable. I replied negatively but said that General Wheeler and I would so recommend to the highest authority. Bundy stressed again the need for a rapid decision. I expressed the hope that I could call a decision to him by 2015 and assured him I would call him as soon as a decision was reached. At 1920, General Wheeler and I left again for the White House.

The National Security Council convened at 1935. Those present included the President, Mr. McNamara, Secretary Dillon, Senator Mansfield, Speaker McCormack, Mr. Ball, Mr. Llewellyn Thompson, Mr. William Bundy, [Page 163]Mr. Carl Rowan, General Wheeler, General Carter, Mr. Colby, Mr. Reedy, Mr. Moyers, Mr. Bromley Smith and myself.

At the beginning of the meeting, I reported on the McGeorge Bundy conversation and the recommendations made by Saigon. The President then asked me to describe the targets proposed to be struck, the North Vietnamese forces at these targets, and to estimate North Vietnamese casualties both military and civilian. In turn, he asked General Wheeler to explain the details of the proposed operation and to give his views of anticipated North Vietnamese responses. General Wheeler and I responded to these questions. The President then queried Mr. Ball as to his views on the recommended course of action and the difficulties involved. Subsequently, he asked for the views of everyone around the table as to the desirability of proceeding with the recommended course of action.

After full discussion, the President, on the recommendation of the NSC, authorized the execution of the proposed course of action provided that Vietnamese clearance was obtained.

I then left the meeting to communicate this decision to McGeorge Bundy in Saigon. I further told Mr. Bundy that the decision had been made to evacuate all dependents from Vietnam as rapidly as possible following the strike, and that there could be no reclama of this decision. Bundy said that we already had military clearance; political clearance would be had shortly. I indicated that we would await word of political clearance and stressed the need to have it as soon as possible.

After this conversation I returned to the NSC meeting where a proposed press release for issuance Sunday morning was being discussed. It was agreed that the NSC would reconvene at 0800, 7 February, to discuss actions to be taken on Sunday and the issuance of a public release.

Soon thereafter I received a call from McGeorge Bundy saying that political clearance had been obtained. I relayed this to General Wheeler and directed him to issue the order of execution, which he did. I also reported these actions to the President and those others still present in the NSC meeting. We then reworked the proposed press release to be issued after the NSC meeting on Sunday morning as well as a release to be issued on the evacuation of dependents. General Wheeler and I then left the White House to return to the Pentagon.

At the Pentagon I then cleared a proposed cable with respect to the alerting of additional forces for possible movement.5 I also authorized the use of ten additional aircraft for the strike on target 33. And, finally, I authorized the removal of Farm Gate markings from U.S.-manned aircraft [Page 164]for the strike on target 32 if this could be done without delaying the strike.

General Wheeler and I then talked to Ambassador Taylor and Mr. McNaughton on the telephone. General Taylor asked that we delay the time over target for targets 33, 36, and 39 by one hour, making the new TOT 1600 Vietnam time. General Wheeler and I approved this change dependent upon Admiral Sharp’s agreement. Thereafter, Admiral Sharp said that it was infeasible to make this change and Ambassador Taylor agreed to the original time over target of 1500 H.

At 2330 I met with General Burchinal, his staff, Mr. Lennartson and Colonel Smith. At this time I indicated the nature and content of the charts and maps which would be required for a background press conference on Sunday morning and discussed the necessary back-up materials. I then met with General Burchinal to review the status of our preparations, in particular a requirement for military aircraft for the evacuation of dependents. At this time I authorized General Burchinal to move MATS aircraft as far as Clark Field to be in position to expedite a dependent evacuation. I also asked General Burchinal to prepare another list of additional forces which might be required should the North Vietnamese and/or the ChiComs take escalatory action.

We also discussed the possible ChiCom reactions and the ability of the U.S. to move ground forces into the area if the ChiComs moved on the ground. General Burchinal said that he was satisfied that our plans were in good shape and that we could respond promptly.

7 February

At 0105, I received the first report of aircraft airborne on their mission—eight A1H planes had departed the Ranger on the way to target 36 with a predicted time over target of 0700Z (0200 Washington time).6

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 71 A 6489, Viet 381. Secret. Prepared by Vance.
  2. Not found.
  3. The Dong Hoi Barracks, the Vit Thu Lu Barracks, and the Chap Le Army Barracks, respectively.
  4. The Vu Con Barracks.
  5. Not further identified.
  6. The President’s Daily Diary indicates that he received telephone calls from Vance at 3:40, 4:10, 4:55, and 5:10 a.m. on February 7, apparently reporting on the results of the air strikes. (Johnson Library)