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General William Westmoreland

Kwame Holman remembers Gen. William Westmoreland, the military chief who commanded U.S. troops during the early phases of the Vietnam war.

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  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Westmoreland always maintained that the U.S. military did not lose in Vietnam, the most controversial American conflict since the Civil War. He arrived in Saigon to command a few thousand American troops, mostly advisors, in 1964.

    When he left four years later, there would be more than a half-million Americans on the ground waging a war of attrition against North Vietnamese forces hardened to sustain massive troop losses. Nevertheless, in November 1967, Westmoreland maintained a positive tone.

  • GEN. WILLIAM WESTMORELAND:

    I've never been more encouraged during my entire, almost four years in this country. Everybody is very optimistic that I know of who is intimately associated with our effort there.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    That outward optimism was dealt a severe blow just more than two months later.

  • GEN. WILLIAM WESTMORELAND:

    The enemy, very deceitfully, has taken advantage of the Tet truce in order to create maximum consternation within South Vietnam, particularly in the populated areas.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The 1968 Tet Offensive, though a military disaster for the Communists, helped shift American public opinion against the war. Westmoreland was recalled to Washington as army chief of staff. He retired in 1972.

    A decade after his retirement, Westmoreland would fight one last battle over Vietnam. In 1982, he filed a $120 million libel suit against CBS after their documentary accused him of willfully deceiving the civilian leadership during his command of forces in Vietnam. CBS and Westmoreland settled the case before it was sent to a jury; both sides claimed victory.

    In a NewsHour interview, Westmoreland discussed the toll the war had taken on him.

  • GEN. WILLIAM WESTMORELAND:

    Vietnam has, by virtue of the fact that I've been in the center of the controversy — it has been an albatross around my neck for years and years and years. I have conducted myself in accordance to my best conscience, and now I would like to close the books and fade away.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Gen. William Westmoreland was 91 years old.