17. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Westmoreland) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1

MAC 3240. Ref: A. JCS 2331-65 230144Z. B. MACJOO 070335Z.2

Per your request in reference I have following views. Some items are based on studies; others are not.
By way of introduction, the premise behind whatever further actions we may undertake, either in SVN or DRV, must be that we are in for the long pull. The struggle has become a war of attrition. Short of decision to introduce nuclear weapons against sources and channels of enemy power, I see no likelihood of achieving a quick, favorable end to the war. The fabric of GVN civil functions and services has been rendered so ineffective and listless by successive coups and changes, and the military arm is in such need of revitalization that we can come to no other conclusion. In this context the following is submitted for your consideration.
I am becoming more convinced every day that US forces in appropriate numbers must be deployed to permit the Vietnamese with our help to carry the war to the enemy. Objectives would be to neutralize enemy power, give heart to the war weary ARVN and provide adequate maneuverable fire power to attack the enemy formations wherever they can be found and fixed. With regard to your comment that some in Washington consider that more than a 10,000 man US combat force will invoke visions of the French, I can only comment that force of that number will not give us a chance of winning or assure avoidance of defeat. Although the hazard exists, there is absolutely no logical reason to conclude that we will be cast in the role of the French. It's up to the US leadership in SVN to insure that we do not fall into such a role, by means of indoctrination, discipline, morale, positioning the masses of US combat forces away from population centers and administrative controls, all of which we now stress. I am confident that this one is manageable.
As a refinement and supplement to the forces which may be required as set forth in paragraph 10B, Ref B, I believe the following will also be required, sooner or later.
A minimum of 7 more army helicopter companies than presently deployed or approved, and two more USMC helo squadrons in I Corps. Ratio is 2 companies (sqdns) per separate US brigade, 1 company per 3d country brigade.
The 101st Abn Div Brigade and 173d Abn Brigade retained in country and both positioned in Bien Hoa area under a task force HQ to provide the heavy mobile punch to gain the initiative.
Possibly at least another US infantry or airborne division to provide an offensive punch and get ARVN troops in the III Corps area on the offensive. VC order of battle in III Corps area, plus other mobile VC units nearby, are approaching the potential for sustained if not successful attack on communication centers.
The foregoing are big orders. However, believe it is time all concerned face up to fact that we must be prepared for a long war which will probably involve increasing numbers of US troops. If the Communists have the determination to make it such, they certainly have the capabilities [Page 43]and we have no choice but to match them, with an increment left over in our favor.
Actions which we may take against the DRV include several which I think will increase pressure on Hanoi and support our effort in SVN, but which do not involve unacceptable risk of provoking an escalation to the extent of ChiCom involvement.
Use B-52's on isolated military targets remote from civilian populations. Several ammo and supply depots fit this description. A study could turn up more. B-52's could put massive fire power on such area targets with much more effectiveness and less risk than the equivalent in fighter bombers.
Interdict the trans Nanning-Hanoi-Kunming Railroad. There are 5 key bridges whose destruction would be devastating. 10 percent of total import tonnages use this railroad to Hanoi; but we suspect the tonnages have a much higher qualitative value.
Interdict Haiphong Harbor with repetitive mining.
Accelerate leaflet operations targeted on the DRV population centers.
Continue our air interdiction programs of LOC's. It takes a long time for cumulative results to produce a telling effect on primitive DRVLOC system. This is another aspect of the war of attrition which we must be prepared to prosecute in full measure despite mounting costs.
To conclude, I will emphasize some general thoughts which seem pertinent.
It is difficult, if not impossible for me to imagine how we can commit and sustain US forces, air, surface and naval, without backing them up for the long pull by mobilization of manpower, industrial and training resources at least to a limited degree. I face the very practical problem of maintaining morale of people on their second combat tours, with many, many more to come, I suspect, when all the forces we require are committed. I understand almost the entire complement of aviators in the 1st Cav will be on their 2d tour by the time it gets here, while the average US citizen enjoys his butter at no inconvenience.
It would seem that we should prepare US and world opinion for the rigors ahead by airing an objective, complete analysis of the problem we face and what we must do about it. The news couldn't be worse overall than it is now made out to be in piece-meal fashion by irresponsible or uninformed reporting and editorializing today. This could well be the most salutary thing we might do. The government would then be in a position to counterattack, in good faith, the distorted reporting of the crepe hangers.
  1. Source: Center of Military History, Westmoreland Papers,COMUSMACV Message Files. Top Secret. Also sent to Admiral Sharp.
  2. Reference A is Document 13. Reference B is telegram MACJOO 19118; vol. II, Document 337.