Who's Who: United States
Dean Acheson was Secretary of State under President harry Truman. Although he developed anti-Communist views early in his political career, Acheson defended State Department employees accused during Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist investigations of the early 1950s. Acheson persuaded Truman to dispatch aid to French forces in Indochina, but years later would counsel President Lyndon Johnson to negotiate for peace with the Vietminh.
As Richard Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew became a lightning rod for pubic opinion when he publicly and angrily denounced critics of U.S. war policy in Vietnam. Agnew resigned from the nation's second-highest office in 1973 after pleading nolo contendere ("no contest") to income tax evasion charges dating back to his tenure as Maryland's governor.
Ellsworth Bunker served as U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam from 1967-73. He had forged a reputation as an accomplished statesman prior to his assignment to South Vietnam. Once in Saigon, he strongly supported the war efforts of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, going so far as to applaud U.S. incursions into Laos and Cambodia. Following the conclusion of the Vietnam War, Bunker headed the U.S. team involved in the drawing-up of the 1978 Panama Canal treaties.
Lieutenant William Calley
Lieutenant William Calley was convicted of murder for his role in the March 1968 My Lai Massacre, which left hundreds of Vietnamese civilians dead. Calley ordered the men of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, Americal Division to shoot everyone in the village. He himself rounded up a group of villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and then mowed them down with machine gun fire. Sentenced to life in prison, Calley was seen as a scapegoat for the Army's failure to instill morale and discipline in its troops. Upon appeal, his sentence was reduced. He was eventually released from prison in 1974. He later found work in the insurance business.
On the day after his inauguration as president, January 21, 1977, Jimmy Carter proclaimed a blanket pardon for nearly all those who had evaded the military draft in order to avoid going to Vietnam. With this controversial move, Carter hoped to close the still-lingering wounds left over from the war.
Clark Clifford replaced Robert McNamara as Lyncon Johnson's secretary of defense in 1968. Soon after entering office, Clifford convinced Johnson to deny General William Westmoreland's request for an additional 206,000 American troops in Vietnam.
Lieutenant Colonel A. Peter Dewey
Apparently mistaken for a Frenchman, Lieutenant Colonel A. Peter Dewey was gunned down by Vietminh troops on September 26, 1945, as he was driving a jeep to the Saigon airport. Dewey was the son of a former Illinois congressman and an agent in the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S., a precursor to the C.I.A.). He became the first American killed in what would come to be called the Vietnam Era.
John Foster Dulles
A hard-nosed and experienced statesman and a virulent anti-Communist, John Foster Dulles served as secretary of state under President Dwight Eisenhower from 1953-59. He advocated support of the French in their war against the Vietminh in Indochina.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
General Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded Allied forces in Western Europe during World War II. Following the war, he served as supreme commander of NATO forces before being elected America's 34th president. He held the nation's highest office from 1953-61, during which time he provided military aid to the French in Indochina, but refused to commit U.S. troops there.
In 1971, Ellsberg precipitated a national uproar when he released the Pentagon Papers, the U.S. military's account of activities in Vietnam, to The New York Times. A Vietnam veteran and a senior research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for International Studies, Ellsberg helped to compile the Pentagon Papers while working in the Defense Department. Initially, he supported the war effort, but later turned against it. His release of the Pentagon Papers succeeded in eroding public support for the war.
Gerald Ford assumed both the vice-presidency and the presidency in the wake of scandal. The former House minority leader was named Richard Nixon's vice-president following the resignation of Spiro Agnew, and stepped into the role of president when Nixon was forced to resign in August, 1974. As president, Ford oversaw the U.S.'s final withdrawal from Vietnam and the evacuation of thousands of Vietnamese citizens. On May 7, 1975, Ford delivered a speech announcing the official end of the Vietnam Era.
A conservative Republican senator from Arizona and 1964 presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater alarmed even some fellow Republicans with his brand of staunch fiscal conservatism and militant anti-Communism. After boldly declaring in 1964 that "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," Goldwater was painted as a dangerous figure by the Johnson administration. Millions of Americans apparently shared that view as Goldwater garnered only thirty-nine percent of the election day vote.
Alexander Haig commanded an infantry division in Vietnam, then returned stateside in 1969 to become a member of Henry Kissinger's national security council staff. Haig helped South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu to negotiate the final cease-fire talks in 1972. Haig would later serve as President Ronald Reagan's secretary of state.
Hubert Humphrey, a five-term U.S. senator from Minnesota, enjoyed a long political career, also serving as Lyndon Johnson's vice president and Democratic nominee for president in 1968. Humphrey's nomination took a back seat to the upheaval at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Forced to defend Johnson's failed policies in Vietnam, Humphrey lost the election, by a narrow margin, to Richard Nixon.
Lyndon B. Johnson
John F. Kennedy's vice president, Johnson assumed the presidency when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Johnson's domestic initiatives pumped money into education, housing, transportation, and the environment. He easily won a second term, but despite campaign promises to the contrary, he steadily increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and his popularity plummeted. On March 31, 1968, Johnson publicly announced that he had reduced bombing campaigns in North Vietnam and that he would not seek reelection.
A senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy was elected president of the U.S. in 1960, becoming the youngest person ever to hold the post. Kennedy tripled the amount of American aid to Vietnam and increased the number of U.S. military advisors there; his administration supported the overthrow of South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem. Three weeks after Diem died in a murderous coup, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
Perhaps one of the most effective diplomats of modern times, Kissinger successfully negotiated U.S. interests with his counterparts in the Soviet Union, the Middle East, and, most notably, China. In Vietnam, he advocated the bombing of Cambodia, but also helped develop Richard Nixon's "Vietnamization" policy, which called for the general removal of U.S. troops and their replacement by the South Vietnamese army. Kissinger was Nixon's national security advisor when he negotiated the Paris peace settlement in 1973; he won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam (who rejected the award), for his efforts. Later, he served as Nixon's secretary of state, and held the position throughout the administration of Nixon's successor, Gerald R. Ford.
Melvin Laird was a Republican congressman from Wisconsin who served as Richard Nixon's secretary of defense from 1969 to 1972. Laird urged Nixon to follow through on a policy of U.S. troop withdrawal from Vietnam. He coined the phrase "Vietnamization," meaning that more of the burden of fighting the war should fall to the South Vietnamese forces.
A U.S. senator from Montana and early supporter of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, Mike Mansfield had a change of heart on the Vietnam issue after a visit to Southeast Asia in 1962. He reported to President John Kennedy that American money given to Diem's government was being squandered and that the U.S. should avoid further involvement in Vietnam. During the Johnson and Nixon administrations, Mansfield became a frequent and vocal critic of the Vietnam war. He retired from the Senate in 1976, and was appointed ambassador to Japan by Jimmy Carter, a role he retained during the Reagan administration. He retired in 1989.
Graham Martin succeeded Ellsworth Bunker as U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam in 1973. He would be the last person to hold that position. Martin, along with the last remaining Americans, was evacuated by helicopter from Saigon as Communist forces overran the city in April, 1975.
In 1960, Robert McNamara resigned as president of the Ford Motor Company to accept a position as John F. Kennedy's secretary of defense. Under Kennedy, and later under Lyndon Johnson, McNamara supported increased U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but began to change his position in about 1966. By 1967, he openly supported a peaceful solution to the conflict. His 1996 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam details the policy decisions behind America's descent into the Vietnam quagmire. His subsequent books include Argument Without End: In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy (1999) and Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century (2001). A 2003 documentary, The Fog of War put McNamara and his views on movie screens and back into headlines across the country. "I think the human race needs to think about killing. How much evil must we do in order to do good?" he asked.
Nixon served as a U.S. senator from California, then as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president. Defeated by John Kennedy in the presidential race of 1960, he came back to win the presidency in 1968 and again in 1972. In his first term, Nixon carried out a policy of "Vietnamization," whereby many U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and replaced by members of the South Vietnamese army. Nonetheless, American troops remained on the ground and the Nixon administration continued to provide supplies and air support for the Vietnamese, and expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia. The last American forces left Vietnam during Nixon's second term. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, Nixon became the first president to resign from office. Following his resignation, he slowly secured a name for himself as an elder statesman in matters of foreign policy. He died in 1994.
As an Air Force pilot, Pete Peterson spent over six years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. He returned to Hanoi in 1997 as the first U.S. ambassador to Communist Vietnam with the goal of advancing American interests and securing an accounting of those still listed as missing in action from the war.
Elected America's 40th president in 1980, Ronald Reagan acted as honorary next-of-kin to the Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam War in ceremonies held at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, 1984. At the service, Reagan pledged his support of efforts aimed at finding people still listed as missing in action from Vietnam.
A consistent war hawk and proponent of military action against the Vietnamese Communists throughout his tenure, Dean Rusk served as secretary of state from 1961-68 under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. His public defense of U.S. actions in Vietnam made him a frequent target of anti-war protests.
General William Westmoreland commanded U.S. military operations in Vietnam from 1964-68. His highly publicized, positive assessments of the American military prospects were shattered by the Tet offensive of 1968, in which Communist forces boldly attacked cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. Westmoreland later served as the Army's chief of staff.