60. Notes of Meeting1


General Wheeler: There is continued fighting in the Cholon section of Saigon. We have intelligence indicating there are two enemy divisions in the Saigon area. At Hue and Danang the situation is most serious. The enemy remains in Hue and the strength of the ARVN battalions is down. Early reports say the ARVN battalions are “running out of gas.”

Bad weather on the coast has affected air activities, including some resupply. A new attack on Danang is expected.

General Westmoreland said he plans to reopen Highway One so he can take supplies in by road rather than by air.

In the Khesanh vicinity there was a heavy attack on a special forces camp 4 miles from Khesanh. For the first time, the attack was supported by 9 Soviet-supplied tanks. Some of the tanks were damaged or destroyed. The camp held out until daylight, but we have just learned that it was necessary to evacuate Lang Vei.2

Khesanh was shelled again last night and there was a probing attack against Hill 861.

U.S. casualties so far are: 670 U.S. dead; 3,565 wounded. There have been 1,294 South Vietnamese KIA and 4,448 South Vietnamese wounded. Enemy dead now stands at 24,199 with 5,007 detainees. We have captured 6,216 enemy weapons.3

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General Westmoreland has established a field headquarters in Danang. It will be entitled “MACV Forward.” General Abrams will command it for the moment.4 General Westmoreland and the Senior South Vietnamese Chief of Staff may move to this headquarters to coordinate the heavy activity in the neutral sections of I Corps.

There are some conclusions:

  • —The attacks have caused fear and confusion in South Vietnam.
  • —The attacks have aroused anger among the South Vietnamese people. The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong had no regard for life and property in these raids. They also violated the Tet holiday.
  • —There is some loss of confidence, because of these attacks, in the government of South Vietnam and in the U.S.

General Loan said that his headquarters was getting many phone calls from private individuals in Saigon giving away locations of the Viet Cong. This is encouraging.

We are concerned about stepped up MIG activity. They have been conducting bombing practices. MIGs may be used for the first time in support of ground action or in an effort to shoot down our B–52’s. They may also attempt to attack an air base, like the one at Danang. I sent a message to all field commanders alerting them to these possibilities.

Secretary Rusk: What about the possibility of the MIG’s attacking a carrier?

General Wheeler: No, I do not think this likely. The carriers do have air caps and are distant from the MIG bases.

The President: Go in and get those MIGs at Phuc Yen.

General Wheeler: We will as soon as the weather permits.

Secretary McNamara: The MIG’s would have negligible military effects but they would have spectacular psychological impact.

We do get the feeling that something big is ahead. We do not exactly know what it is, but our commanders are on alert.

The President: I want all of you to make whatever preparations are necessary. Let’s know where we can get more people if we need to move additional ones in.

General Wheeler: I have a preliminary list on my desk. I am not satisfied with it.

Secretary McNamara: This would include Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine units.

The President: What about the allies?

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General Wheeler: The Australians are incapable of providing more troops. The problems in Korea are such that it will be hard to get the South Koreans to even send the light division they had promised. The Thai troops are in training and to move them in now would be more detrimental than helpful.

The President: So it would be only Americans? Well, I want you to know exactly where you could get them, where they are located now and what we need to do. Get whatever emergency actions ready that will be necessary.

Secretary McNamara: All we would recommend at this time are the three items we had discussed earlier.

There may be some increase in draft calls but this would have no immediate effect.

The President: Do we have adequate hospitals and medical personnel?

General Wheeler: We have ample space, ample supplies, and enough doctors for the present.

Secretary McNamara: There are 6,400 military beds. Of that, 2900 are occupied by U.S. troops and 1100 by Vietnamese civilians. So we have an additional capacity of about 2400.

The President: Look at this situation carefully. If we have another week like this one, you may need more.

Secretary Rusk: How do you interpret their use of tanks?

General Wheeler: They had to bring them all the way from Hanoi. This shows that this plan has been in staging since September. It represents a real logistic feat. They want to create maximum disruption.

Director Marks: Could they do anything at Cam Ranh Bay?

General Wheeler: They could. On this last attack, we caught frogmen in there. They could put rockets in the hills and fire on to the base.

The President: How many of the 25,000 killed were North Vietnamese Regulars?

General Wheeler: Approximately 18,000 were of a mixed variety of South Vietnamese enemy. Approximately 6,000 to 7,000 were North Vietnamese.

The President: How do things look at Khesanh? Would you expect to have to move out of Lang Vei?

General Wheeler: It was not planned that we would hold some of these outposts. We may have to move back that company on Hill 861.

The President: Bob, are you worried?

Secretary McNamara: I am not worried about a true military defeat.

General Wheeler: Mr. President, this is not a situation to take lightly. This is of great military concern to us. I do think that Khesanh is an [Page 144] important position which can and should be defended. It is important to us tactically and it is very important to us psychologically. But the fighting will be very heavy, and the losses may be high.

General Westmoreland will set up the forward field headquarters as quickly as possible. He told me this morning that he has his cables and his communications gear in. He is sending a list of his needs, including light aircraft. We are responding to this request.

The President: Let’s get everybody involved on this as quickly as possible. Everything he wants, let’s get it to him.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Pueblo crisis.]

Mr. Rostow: The New York Times said today that enemy KIAs were more like the number of weapons captured than like the figures which we are reporting.

General Wheeler: That is not true. We have captured many crew-served weapons. In fact we have captured 900 crew-served weapons on which 4 to 5 men operated. Many of these suicide crews have used only grenades and satchel charges. They have been so heavily loaded that they do not carry hand weapons. Experience has shown that the ratios of weapons to men runs 3 to 4 to 1. This ratio confirms our battle figure counts of enemy KIAs.

[Omitted here is additional discussion of the Pueblo.]

Then I went through the whole summary on Vietnam, similar to what General Wheeler gave here today. Most of them are concerned about the political significance of the offensive.

I pointed out that the Government of South Vietnam had not waived or collapsed. There had been no reports of South Vietnamese defections. There have been no reports of a popular uprising. Not a single one of the provinces or district capitals is held by the Viet Cong.

I told them General Westmoreland made it clear that we can expect further attacks.

[Omitted here is discussion of military assistance programs.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room. Those attending were the President, the Vice President, Rusk, Katzenbach, McNamara, Fowler, Helms, Wheeler, Marks, Gaud, Office of Emergency Planning Director Price Daniel, Nitze, Clifford, Rostow, Christian, Tom Johnson, Bromley Smith, and Edward Hamilton. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) Summary notes of this meeting by Smith are ibid., National Security File, NSC Meetings, Vol. 5, Tab 63.
  2. The combined armored/infantry assault by the NVA on Lang Vei, 5 miles southwest of Khe Sanh, began at 0042Z on February 7.
  3. These are total casualties as a result of the Tet offensive up to this point. In telegram MAC 1614 to Wheeler, February 4, Westmoreland estimated the KIAs alone to have been 15,595. (Johnson Library, William C. Westmoreland Papers, #29 History File, l-29 Feb 68 [1]) In telegram MAC 1754 to Wheeler, February 7, Westmoreland wrote: “I too had some doubts about them at first, but as the facts of the general situation and individual actions come in, the KIA figures look reasonable. The enemy committed virtually every VC unit in the country regardless of combat effectiveness and regardless of normal area of operations. They were committed with do-or-die orders, forbidden to retreat, and with no withdrawal or rallying plans. The enemy attacks might be described as a country-wide series of ‘Loc Ninhs.’ The very high casualties are not strange in this light.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 407, Litigation Collection, Westmoreland v. CBS, MACV Backchannel Messages from Westmoreland, 1–12 February 1968 [Folder I])
  4. Abrams officially took over as Commander of MACV Forward on February 13.