Military Wiki
William Westmoreland
Birth name William Childs Westmoreland
Nickname Westy
Born (1914-03-26)March 26, 1914
Died July 18, 2005(2005-07-18) (aged 91)
Place of birth Saxon, South Carolina
Place of death Charleston, South Carolina
Place of burial West Point Cemetery
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1936 - 1972
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg General
Commands held

504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
187th Regimental Combat Team
101st Airborne Division
Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy
XVIII Airborne Corps
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam

Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Awards Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Medal (3)
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit (3)
Bronze Star ribbon.svg Bronze Star (2)
Air Medal ribbon.svg Air Medal (10)

William Childs Westmoreland (March 26, 1914 – July 18, 2005) was a United States Army general, who commanded U.S. military operations in the Vietnam War at its peak (1964–68), including during the Tet Offensive. He adopted a strategy of attrition against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army. He later served as U.S. Army chief of staff from 1968 to 1972.

Early life

William Westmoreland was born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, to Eugenia Talley Childs and James Ripley Westmoreland. His upper-middle-class family was involved in the local banking and textile industries. William was an Eagle Scout at Troop 1 Boy Scouts and became an Eagle Scout at the age of 15, and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and Silver Buffalo from the Boy Scouts of America as a young adult. After spending a year at The Citadel in 1932 he was appointed to attend the United States Military Academy. His motive for entering West Point was "to see the world". He was a member of a distinguished West Point class that also included Creighton Abrams and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Westmoreland graduated as first captain—the highest graduating rank—and received the Pershing Sword, which is given to the most able cadet at the academy.[1][2] Westmoreland also served as the superintendent of the Protestant Sunday School Teachers.[3] Following graduation in 1936, he became an artillery officer and served in several different commands. In World War II he saw combat in Tunisia, Sicily, France, and Germany. He reached the temporary wartime rank of colonel, and on October 13, 1944, was appointed the chief of staff of the 9th Infantry Division.[4]

Westmoreland established a balanced reputation as a stern taskmaster who cared about his men and took a great interest in their welfare. One called him "the most caring officer, for soldiers, that I have ever known".[citation needed] After the war he completed a three-month management program at Harvard Business School. As Stanley Karnow noted, "Westy was a corporation executive in uniform."[5]

In 1962 Westmoreland was admitted as an honorary member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.


General Westmoreland, President Lyndon B. Johnson and president of South Vietnam Nguyen Van Thieu in October 1966.

General Westmoreland with Lyndon B. Johnson decorating a soldier in Vietnam, October 1966.

General Westmoreland with Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House, November 1967.

Press conference outside the White House in April 1968.

In June 1964, he became deputy commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), assuming direct control from General Paul D. Harkins. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told President Lyndon B. Johnson in April that Westmoreland was "the best we have, without question".[6] As the head of the MACV he was known for highly publicized, positive assessments of U.S. military prospects in Vietnam. However, as time went on, the strengthening of communist combat forces in the South led to regular requests for increases in U.S. troop strength, from 16,000 when he arrived to its peak of 535,000 in 1968 when he was promoted to Army chief of staff.

On April 28, 1967, Westmoreland addressed a joint session of Congress. "In evaluating the enemy strategy," he said, "it is evident to me that he believes our Achilles heel is our resolve. . . . Your continued strong support is vital to the success of our mission. . . . Backed at home by resolve, confidence, patience, determination, and continued support, we will prevail in Vietnam over the communist aggressor!"

The 29-minute speech was interrupted 19 times by applause, but congressional and popular support for the war thereafter continued to decline.

Westmoreland claimed that under his leadership, United States forces "won every battle".[7] The turning point of the war was the 1968 Tet Offensive, in which communist forces, having staged a diversion at the Battle of Khe Sanh, attacked cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. U.S. and South Vietnamese troops successfully fought off the attacks, and the communist forces took heavy losses, but the ferocity of the assault shook public confidence in Westmoreland's previous assurances about the state of the war. Political debate and public opinion led the Johnson administration to limit further increases in U.S. troop numbers in Vietnam. Nine months afterward, when the My Lai Massacre reports started to break, Westmoreland resisted pressure from the incoming Nixon administration for a cover-up,[citation needed] and pressed for a full and impartial investigation by Lieutenant General William R. Peers. However, a few days after the tragedy, he had praised the same involved unit on the "outstanding job", for the "U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists [sic] in a bloody day-long battle". Post 1969 Westmoreland also made efforts to investigate the Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre a year after the event occurred.[8]

Westmoreland was convinced that the Vietnamese communists could be destroyed by fighting a war of attrition that, theoretically, would render the Vietnam People's Army unable to fight. His war strategy was marked by heavy use of artillery and airpower and repeated attempts to engage the communists in large-unit battles, and thereby exploit the anti-communists' vastly superior firepower and technology. However, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF) were able to dictate the pace of attrition to fit their own goals: by continuing to fight a guerrilla war and avoiding large-unit battles, they denied the Americans the chance to fight the kind of war they were best at, and they ensured that attrition would wear down the American public's support for the war faster than they.[citation needed] Westmoreland repeatedly rebuffed or suppressed attempts by John Paul Vann and Lew Walt to shift to a "pacification" strategy[7] Westmoreland had little appreciation of the patience of the American public for his time frame, and was struggling to persuade President Johnson to approve widening the war into Cambodia and Laos in order to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He was unable to use the absolutist stance, "we can't win unless we expand the war" [into Cambodia and Laos]. Instead, he focused on "positive indicators," which ultimately turned worthless when the Tet Offensive occurred, since all his pronouncements of "positive indicators" didn't hint at the possibility of such a last-gasp dramatic event. Tet outmaneuvered all of Westmoreland's pronouncements on "positive indicators" in the minds of the American public.[citation needed] Although the communists were severely depleted by the heavy fighting at Khe Sanh when their conventional assaults were battered by American firepower, as well as tens of thousands of deaths in the Tet Offensive, American political opinion and the panic engendered by the communist surprise sapped U.S. support for the war, even though the events of early 1968 put the United States and South Vietnam into a much stronger military position.


Westmoreland was replaced by General Creighton Abrams in June 1968, the decision being announced shortly after the Tet Offensive. Although the decision had been made in late 1967, it was widely seen in the media as a punishment for being caught off guard by the communist assault. Westmoreland served as chief of staff of the United States Army from 1968 to 1972, then retired from the Army. Many military historians have pointed out that Westmoreland became chief of staff at the worst time in history with regard to the Army. Guiding the Army as it transitioned to an all-volunteer force, he issued many directives to try to make Army life better and more palatable for America's youth—e.g., allowing soldiers to wear sideburns and to drink beer in the mess hall. However, many hard-liners scorned these as too liberal. Westmoreland ran unsuccessfully for governor of South Carolina in 1974. He published his autobiography the following year. Westmoreland later served on a task force to improve educational standards in the state of South Carolina. He was mentioned in a Time magazine article as a potential candidate for the 1968 Republican nomination.[9]

In 1986, Westmoreland served as grand marshal of the Chicago Vietnam Veterans parade. The parade, attended by 200,000 Vietnam veterans and more than half a million spectators, did much to repair the rift between Vietnam veterans and the American public.[10][11]

Westmoreland versus CBS: The Uncounted Enemy

Mike Wallace interviewed Westmoreland for the CBS special The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception. The documentary, shown on January 23, 1982, and prepared largely by CBS producer George Crile III, alleged that Westmoreland and others had deliberately underestimated Viet Cong troop strength during 1967 in order to maintain U.S. troop morale and domestic support for the war. Westmoreland filed a lawsuit against CBS.

In Westmoreland v. CBS, Westmoreland sued Wallace and CBS for libel, and a lengthy legal process began. While the trial was in progress, Westmoreland suddenly settled with CBS for an apology, no more than CBS had originally offered. Some contend that Judge Leval's instructions to the jury over what constituted "actual malice" to prove libel convinced Westmoreland's lawyers that he was certain to lose.[12][13] Others point out that the settlement occurred after two of Westmoreland's former intelligence officers, Major General Joseph McChristian and Colonel Gains Hawkins, testified to the accuracy of the substantive allegations of the broadcast, which were that Westmoreland ordered changes in intelligence reports on Viet Cong troop strengths for political reasons. Disagreements persist about the appropriateness of some of the methods of CBS's editors.[14]

A deposition by McChristian indicates that his organization developed improved intelligence on the number of irregular Viet Cong combatants shortly before he left Vietnam on a regularly scheduled rotation. The numbers troubled Westmoreland, who feared that the press would not understand them. He did not order them changed, but instead did not include the information in reporting to Washington, which in his view was a decision that the data was not appropriate to report.

Based on later analysis of the information from all sides, it appears clear that Westmoreland could not sustain a libel suit because CBS's principal allegation was that he had caused intelligence officers to suppress facts. Westmoreland's anger was caused by the implication of the broadcast that his intent was fraudulent and that he ordered others to lie.

During the acrimonious trial, Mike Wallace was hospitalized for depression, and despite the legal conflict separating the two, Westmoreland and his wife sent him flowers. Wallace's memoir is generally sympathetic to Westmoreland, although he makes it clear he disagreed with him on issues surrounding the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration's policies in Southeast Asia.


Herbert Elmer Abrams' portrait of General Westmoreland

In a 1998 interview for George magazine, Westmoreland criticized the battlefield prowess of his direct opponent, North Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap. "Of course, he [Giap] was a formidable adversary," Westmoreland told correspondent W. Thomas Smith Jr. "Let me also say that Giap was trained in small-unit, guerrilla 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." In the 1974 film Hearts and Minds, Westmoreland opined that "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. ... We value life and human dignity. They don't care about life and human dignity."

Westmoreland's view was heavily criticized by Nick Turse, the author of the book "Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam." Nick argued that actually many killed Vietnamese people were actually innocent civillians, and the Vietnamese casualties were not just caused by military cross-fire but were directs result of the U.S. policy and tactics, for example the policy "kill everything that moves" which enable the U. S. soldiers to shot civillians which have "suspicious behavior". Nick concluded that, after "spoken to survivors of massacres by United States forces at Phi Phu, Trieu Ai, My Luoc and so many other hamlets, I can say with certainty that Westmoreland’s assessment was false". And Westmoreland himself was the one who concealed the evidence of atrocities from the American public when he was the Army Chief of Staff.[15]

In more than a decade of analyzing long-classified military criminal investigation files, court-martial transcripts, Congressional studies, contemporaneous journalism and the testimony of United States soldiers and Vietnamese civilians, I found that Gen. William C. Westmoreland, his subordinates, superiors and successors also engaged in a profligate disregard for human life.

—Nick Turse, [15]

Historian Derek Frisby also criticized Westmorland's view during the interview with Deutsche Welle:

General William Westmoreland, who commanded US military operations in the Vietnam War, unhesitatingly believed Giap was a butcher for relentlessly sacrificing his soldiers in unwinnable battles. Yet, that assessment in itself is key to understanding the West's failure to defeat him. Giap understood that protracted warfare would cost many lives but that did not always translate into winning or losing the war. In the final analysis, Giap won the war despite losing many battles, and as long as the army survived to fight another day, the idea of Vietnam lived in the hearts of the people who would support it, and that is the essence of "revolutionary war.

—Derek Frisby, [16]

For the remainder of his life, he maintained that the United States did not lose the war in Vietnam; he stated instead that "our country did not fulfill its commitment to South Vietnam. By virtue of Vietnam, the U.S. held the line for 10 years and stopped the dominoes from falling."

Personal life

Westmoreland initially met his future wife, Katherine (Kitsy) Stevens Van Deusen, while stationed at Fort Sill; she was nine years old at the time and was the daughter of the post executive officer, Col. Edwin R. Van Deusen. Westmoreland met her again in North Carolina when she was nineteen and a student at UNC Greensboro. The couple married in May 1947 and later had three children: a daughter, Katherine Stevens; a son, James Ripley II, and another daughter, Margaret Childs.[17] [18] [19]

Just hours after Westmoreland was sworn in as Army chief of staff on July 7, 1968, his brother-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Van Deusen (commander of 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment), was killed when his helicopter was shot down in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.[20]

Westmoreland died on July 18, 2005, at the age of 91 at the Bishop Gadsden retirement home in Charleston, South Carolina. He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease during the final years of his life. He was buried on July 23, 2005, at the West Point Cemetery, United States Military Academy.[21]

The General William C. Westmoreland Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, is named in his honor.[22]

In 1996, the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution authorized the General William C. Westmoreland award. The award is given each year in recognition to an outstanding SAR veterans volunteer.[23]

Dates of rank

U.S. Military Academy COA.png United States Military Academy class of 1936

Second Lieutenant
(Regular Army)
First Lieutenant
(Regular Army)
(Army of the United States)
Lieutenant Colonel
(Army of the United States)
(Army of the United States)
O-1 O-2 O-4 O-5 O-6
Army-USA-OF-01b.svg Army-USA-OF-01a.svg Army-USA-OF-03.svg Army-USA-OF-04.svg Army-USA-OF-05.svg
12 June 1936 12 June 1939 1 February 1942
25 September 1942
28 July 1944

(Regular Army)
(Regular Army)
Brigadier General
(Regular Army)
Lieutenant Colonel
(Regular Army)
Major General
(Regular Army)
O-3 O-4 O-7 O-5 O-8
Army-USA-OF-02.svg Army-USA-OF-03.svg Army-USA-OF-06.svg Army-USA-OF-04.svg Army-USA-OF-07.svg
12 June 1946 15 July 1948 7 November 1952
7 July 1953 December 1956

(Regular Army)
Brigadier General
(Regular Army)
Lieutenant General
(Regular Army)
(Regular Army)
(Regular Army)
O-6 O-7 O-9 O-10 O-10
Army-USA-OF-05.svg Army-USA-OF-06.svg Army-USA-OF-08.svg Army-USA-OF-09.svg Army-USA-OF-09.svg
June 1961 February 1963 July 1963 August 1964
August 1965

Retired from active service in July 1972.[24]

Awards and decorations

General Westmoreland earned the following U.S. and foreign decorations and awards:

U.S. military decorations
Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg  Distinguished Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters[25]
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg  Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters
Bronze Star ribbon.svg  Bronze Star, with one Oak Leaf Cluster
Air Medal ribbon.svg  Air Medal, with nine Oak Leaf Clusters
American Defense Service ribbon.svg  American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg  American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon.svg  EAME Campaign Medal with seven campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg  World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation ribbon.svg  Army of Occupation Medal with Germany clasp
National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg  National Defense Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster
KSMRib.svg  Korean Service Medal with two campaign stars
Vietnam Service Ribbon.svg  Vietnam Service Medal with seven service stars
Presidential Unit Citation ribbon.svg Presidential Unit Citation (34th Field Artillery Battalion, Tunisia, 1943)
Foreign decorations and awards
Legion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg Légion d'honneur (France)
Croix de guerre 1939-1945 with palm.jpg Croix de guerre with Palm (France)
Taeguk Cordon Medal.png Order of Military Merit Taeguk (Korea)
Tong-il Security Medel Ribbon.png Order of National Security, First Class with Gold Star (Korea)
Gugseon Security Medal Ribbon.png Gugseon Medal (Korea)
PHL Order of Sikatuna - Commander BAR.png Order of Sikatuna, rank of Lankan (Commander) (Philippines)
Noribbon.png Chuong My Medal (Vietnam)
Noribbon.png Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Holy Trinity (post-nominal: GCHT) (Ethiopia)[26]
File:Ribbon bar Grand Cross National Order of Vietnam.gif National Order of Vietnam, First Class (Vietnam)
Vietnam gallantry cross-w-palm-3d.svg Gallantry Cross (Vietnam)
ArmyDSMribbon.png Distinguished Service Order First Class (Army) (Vietnam)
Vietnam Air Force Distinguished Service Order, First Class ribbon.png Distinguished Service Order First Class (Air Force) (Vietnam)
Vietnam Navy Distinguished Service Order, First Class ribbon.png Distinguished Service Order First Class (Navy) (Vietnam)
Vietnam Armed Forces Honor Medal Ribbon.png Armed Forces Honor Medal, First Class (Vietnam)
VCAM Class 1.png Vietnam Civil Actions Medal, First Class
Order of the White Elephant - 1st Class (Thailand) ribbon.png Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, Knight Grand Cross (First Class) (Thailand)
Noribbon.png Ordem do Mérito Militar (Order of Military Merit, degree of Great Officer) (Brazil)
Noribbon.png Guerrillero José Miguel Lanza Gran Official (Bolivia)
United Nations Service Medal for Korea Ribbon.svg United Nations Korea Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal Ribbon.png Vietnam Campaign Medal
Korean Presidential Unit Citation.png Presidential Unit Citation (187th Regimental Combat Team, 1953) (Korea)
Civil Action Unit Citation.png Civil Actions Medal, First Class (Vietnam)
Noribbon.png Gallantry Cross Fourragère (Korea)


Badges, tabs, and patches
Combat Infantry Badge.svg Combat Infantryman Badge
ArmyAvnBadge.gif Army Aviator Badge
US Army Airborne master parachutist badge.gif Master Parachutist Badge
USAAF - Glider Pilot 4.png Glider Badge
GeneralStaffID.gif Army Staff Identification Badge
ViPaBa.jpg Republic of Vietnam Parachutist Badge
Other honors
File:The Knox Trophy.jpg Knox Trophy Award, USMA highest military efficiency as a cadet at West Point, 1936.

See also


  1. "Papers of Gen. William Westmoreland (USCS Autumn 1999)". Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  2. "Obituary: General William Westmoreland". The Independent. Retrieved 2008-02-01. [dead link]
  3. 1936 Howitzer Yearbook.
  4. Headquarters Morning Report, 13 Oct 1944, Division Headquarters, 9th Infantry Division. Available on microfilm at National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO. (Entry reads: "O-20223 Westmoreland, William C Col, Reld fr asdg HQ 9 Inf Div Arty & asgd to Div Hq 9 Inf Div per par 1, SO 241 HQ 9 Inf Div dtd 12 Oct 44. Joined 12 Oct 44. Detailed in G.S.C. per par 2, GO 87 Hq 9 Inf Div dtd 12 Oct 44. Primary Duty: Chief of Staff".)
  5. Stanley Karnow. Vietnam: A History. p. 361.
  6. "The Best in the Army". Presidential Recordings Program. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Sheehan, Neil "A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann And America in Vietnam" 1988.
  8. Kim Chang-seok (2000-11-15). ""한국군도 많이 당했다" 채명신 전 주월한국군총사령관 인터뷰… 남베트남군 사령관 만나 사과한 적도". Retrieved 2011-02-06. 
  9. "The Temper of the Times". Time Magazine. 1967-04-14.,9171,836932-9,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  10. "Vietnam Veterans In Chicago Parade Cheered By Crowds". The New York Times. June 14, 1986. 
  11. At peace, at last after 11 years and an emotional parade, Vietnam vets finally feel welcome. Chicago Tribune. August 17, 1986.
  12. "Westmorland v. CBS - further readings". Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  13. The Tet Offensive: Intelligence failure in war. Cornell University Press. 1994. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  14. "Mike Wallace". Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Nick Turse, For America, Life Was Cheap in Vietnam New York Times, October 9, 2013
  16. Gabriel Domínguez Vo Nguyen Giap - 'A master of revolutionary war' Deutsche Welle, 07.10.2013
  17. Whitney, Craig R.; Pace, Eric (2005-07-20). "William C. Westmoreland Is Dead at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  18. McLendon, Winzola (1967-05-01). "While the General's at War His Lady Does Hospital Work". The Milwaukee Sentinel.,29382&dq=kitsy+westmoreland&hl=en. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  19. "Gen. William Childs Westmoreland Papers, ca. 1900-2000 (Gifts to Manuscripts Division 2001, South Caroliniana Library)". University of South Carolina. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  20. "Westy In-law Dies in Viet". 6807PSS.AVN, 68070399.KIA. Pacific Stars and Stripes. 1968-07-07. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  21. "General William Westmoreland, Friend of ASA, Dies". American Sportscasters Online. 1991-05-31. Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  22. "South Carolina General Assembly 109th Session, 1991-1992, Bill 918". South Carolina Senate. 1991-05-31. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  23. "General William C. Westmoreland Award". National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. 2009-10-14. Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  24. General Westmoreland dates of rank
  25. Military Times Hall of Valor
  26. The Crown Council of Ethiopia
  27. Westmoreland rack


External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Garrison Holt Davidson
Superintendents of the United States Military Academy
Succeeded by
James Benjamin Lampert
Preceded by
Paul D. Harkins
Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Succeeded by
Creighton Abrams
Preceded by
Harold K. Johnson
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Succeeded by
Bruce Palmer, Jr.
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Lyndon Johnson
Time's Man of the Year
Succeeded by
The Generation Twenty-Five and Under

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