151. Editorial Note

In telegram WH 80711 to General Westmoreland, March 23, 1968, President Johnson informed him that he would be relieved as the Commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam and reassigned as Army Chief of Staff. The President’s message read:

“General William C. Westmoreland—Your appointment as Army Chief of Staff gives me great personal pleasure. I have never had higher regard or greater respect for any military colleague. It will be a source of uncommon strength to have you close beside me as we continue to press the struggle for peace and freedom in Vietnam. The prospect for success is so much brighter because of all your leadership has achieved. In a period of rapid expansion of American forces, you have lifted the quality of combat effectiveness and marshalled a unique system of logistics support. Our [Page 452] South Vietnamese and Free World allies have shared in the benefits of your great abilities. For four years, you have thwarted the savage efforts of aggression to cut a nation in half. You have carried the fight to the enemy, routing his forces at every turn and raising the cost of his ambitions. For all these reasons, this nation will be proud to welcome you home as the hero you are. I will be first in line to shake your hand and welcome you to new responsibilities. Lyndon Baines Johnson.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 4, Tabs LL–ZZ and a-k)

In a March 23 letter to Westmoreland, the President wrote: “I wish to give you directly the background to your appointment as Chief of Staff of the Army. On January 19 this year Bob McNamara recommended to me that you be elevated to this post. He felt, quite simply, that you were the best man to lead the Army and that, after your protracted period in field command, you deserved a tour in Washington where you were at least equally needed. I did not wish to make the decision until Clark Clifford was in his post and had a chance to make an independent assessment. Clark came to me with an equally firm recommendation that you take command of the Army. I cannot find language strong enough to express the confidence we feel in you; our gratitude for the unique service you have rendered your nation and the cause of freedom in Vietnam; and our satisfaction that you will be joining the team in Washington, where you will be my strong right arm.” (Ibid., William C. Westmoreland Papers, #30 History File, 1–31 Mar 68, [II]) That morning, the President discussed Westmoreland’s departure with JCS Chairman General Wheeler. (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Wheeler, March 23, 1968, 10:01 a.m., Tape F6803.02, PNO 12)

In a reply transmitted in telegram MAC 4091 to the President, March 25, Westmoreland wrote: “Your message of 23 March is deeply appreciated as is the nomination to serve you as army chief of staff. While confessing a soldier’s reluctance to leave the battlefield before the battle is over, I look forward to the challenges and responsibilities of this new assignment. With highest respect, W. C. Westmoreland.” (Ibid., National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 4, Tabs LL–ZZ and a-k) In a March 27 letter to Westmoreland, former Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge wrote: “To me your accomplishments are tremendous. The building of the huge base in Viet-Nam, the deployment of so many U.S. troops and the good relations with the Vietnamese are solid achievements which have laid the foundations for the success which will surely come if we are steadfast. They are unique accomplishments in the career of one man. What you have wrought in a few years most men do not achieve in a lifetime. But to us, there is something more which tells us not about your accomplishments, but about your behavior—about the kind of a man you are. I refer to your never-failing courage and willingness to sacrifice yourself, [Page 453] your high sense of honor, your consideration of others, and your refusal ever to stoop to the scheming so common today. I think also of your constancy in spite of prolonged and innumerable strains and harassments. All these qualities of yours show true greatness of soul and explain why you have so many friends who feel themselves so closely bound to you.” (Ibid., William C. Westmoreland Papers, #30 History File, 1–31 Mar 68, [II]) Clifford also sent Westmoreland a congratulatory letter on March 29. (Ibid.)