William Westmoreland

From Academic Kids

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General William Westmoreland

William Childs Westmoreland (born March 26, 1914, Spartanburg County, South Carolina) is a retired U.S. Army General who commanded American military operations in the Vietnam War from 1964-68 and served as US Army Chief of Staff from 1968 to 1972.


2 References

Early Careers

Westmoreland entered West Point in 1932 after one year at the Citadel. His initial motive for entering was to "see the world". Following graduation in 1936 he became an artillery officer and served in several different commands, reaching the ranks of lieutenant colonel and subsequently colonel during combat operations in the European theater during World War II.

During World War II, in 1943 while in Sicily, his battalion was selected to be the artillery support for the 82nd Airborne Division.

Regimental and Division Command

Westmoreland's WW II experience with the 82nd Airborne led to his being asked by General James M. Gavin to join the 82nd as a regimental commander after the war, which was the beginning of his professional association with airborne and airmobile troops. He served with the 82nd Airborne for four years.

During the Korean War he commanded the 187th Regimental Combat Team.

In late 1953 Westmoreland was promoted brigadier general and spent the next 5 years in the Pentagon. In 1958 he assumed command of the 101st Airborne Division. In 1960 he became Superintendent of West Point, in 1963 became commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Later that year he became deputy commander of MACV, assuming command of MACV from General Paul Harkins in 1964.

Vietnam Era

Missing image
Herbert Elmer Abrams' portrait of General Westmoreland

As the head of the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam he was known for highly publicized, positive assessments of US military prospects in Vietnam. However, as time went on the strengthening of North Vietnamese combat forces in the South led to regular requests for increases in US troop strength, from less than 100,000 when he arrived to over 500,000 in 1968.

The most notable campaign was the 1968 Tet Offensive, in which Communist forces attacked cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. Westmoreland successfully fought off the Offensive, but the ferocity of the assault shook public confidence in his previous assurances about the state of the war. Political debate and public opinion led the Johnson administration to limit further increases in troops.

Post Vietnam

Westmoreland served as US Army Chief of Staff from 1968 to 1972, then retired from the Army. Westmoreland ran unsuccessfully for Governor of South Carolina in 1974. He published his autobiography A Soldier Reports the following year. Westmoreland later served on a task force to improve educational standards in the state of South Carolina.

In 1982, Mike Wallace interviewed Westmoreland for the CBS special The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception. The documentary alleged that Westmoreland and others had deliberately underestimated Vietcong troop strength in order to maintain morale and popular support for the war. The result was the disastrous Tet Offensive.

In Westmoreland v. CBS, Westmoreland sued Wallace and CBS for libel, and a long and arduous trial process began. Westmoreland surprisingly settled with CBS for an apology, about as much as they had originally offered. Research after the trial uncovered the reason: while CBS' internal investigation revealed that they had used shoddy journalistic practices, Judge Leval's instructions to the jury over what constituted "actual malice" to prove libel were so weighted in favour of the defense that Westmoreland's lawyers knew he would lose.

In a 1998 interview for George magazine, Westmoreland dismissed the battlefield prowess of his opponent North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap. "Of course, he [Giap] was a formidable adversary," Westmoreland told George correspondent W. Thomas Smith, Jr. "Let me also say that Giap was trained in small-unit, guerilla tactics, but he persisted in waging a big-unit war with terrible losses to his own men. By his own admission, by early 1969, I think, he had lost, what, a half million soldiers? He reported this. Now such a disregard for human life may make a formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius. An American commander losing men like that would hardly have lasted more than a few weeks."

Personal Data

In 1947, he married Katherine (Kitsy) S. Van Deusen. They had three children: Katherine, Margaret, and James Ripley.


Template:Wikiquote “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner.”


  • Tom Mascaro, The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception (Chicago, IL, The Museum of Broadcast Communications)
  • W. Thomas Smith Jr., An old soldier sounds off: General Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam until 1968, talks of war and General Giap (New York, N.Y., George, Nov. 1998)
  • General William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1976)

Preceded by:
Harold K. Johnson
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Succeeded by:
Bruce Palmer, Jr.

Template:End boxsv:William Westmoreland


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