General William Westmoreland, Vietnam Commander, Dead at 91
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Retired Gen. William Westmoreland, who commanded American troops in Vietnam – the nation’s longest, most divisive conflict and the only war America lost – died Monday night. He was 91. Westmoreland died of natural causes at Bishop Gadsden retirement home where he has lived with his wife for the past several years, his son James Ripley Westmoreland said.
The silver-haired, jut-jawed officer, who rose through the ranks quickly in Europe during World War II and later became superintendent of West Point, contended the United States did not lose the conflict in Southeast Asia. “It’s more accurate to say our country did not fulfill its commitment to South Vietnam,” he said. “By virtue of Vietnam, the U.S. held the line for 10 years and stopped the dominoes from falling.”
As commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968, Westmoreland oversaw the introduction of ground troops in Vietnam and a dramatic increase in the number of U.S. troops there.
He was an Eagle Scout and attended The Citadel for a year before transferring to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1936 and, during his senior year, held the highest command position in the cadet corps.
Westmoreland saw action in North Africa, Sicily, and Europe during World War II. He attained the rank of colonel by the time he was 30. As commander of the 34th Field Artillery Battalion fighting German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, he earned the loyalty and respect of his troops for joining in the thick of battle rather than remaining behind the lines at a command post.
He was promoted to brigadier general during service in the Korean War and later served in the Pentagon under Army Chief of Staff Maxwell Taylor.
Westmoreland became the superintendent of West Point in 1960 and, by 1964, was a three-star general commanding American troops in Vietnam.
After his tour in Vietnam, Westmoreland was promoted to Army chief of staff. He retired from active duty in 1972 but he continued to make lectures and participate in veterans’ activities.
An impressive career, no doubt.
The war with which he was most associated was also the nation’s most controversial, including issues he contributed to like the bizarre “body count” metric for measuring success.
Jeff Quinton has more.