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UNIVERSITY SOUTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY
MANUSCRIPTS DIVISION 2001
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William Childs Westmoreland Papers
"My pride and confidence in you and the job you are doing was redoubled by my visit to Vietnam. When you told me that no Commander-in-Chief ever commanded a finer armed force, I could not help thinking that no army ever took the field under finer leadership than yours. President Eisenhower feels the same." Thus wrote President Lyndon B. Johnson in a letter of 17 November 1966 to South Carolina native Gen. William Childs Westmoreland, the "soldiers' soldier" and "inevitable general" who by the end of his thirty-six-year military career would come to be considered the outstanding warrior of his generation.
Spanning the twentieth century, this diverse collection of approximately -seventy linear feet of the papers of William C. Westmoreland provides a critical perspective on three wars and other noteworthy events of the "American Century." The various materials document the General's military career, his personal and family life, his libel suit against the CBS television network, and his staunch advocacy of veterans' concerns. The collection is arranged in seven series: military papers, personal papers, speeches, audio/visual materials, clippings, miscellaneous materials, and ephemera.
Born in 1914 to James Ripley "Rip" Westmoreland (1876-1964) and Eugenia Talley Childs Westmoreland (1886-1967), young "Childs" and his sister Margaret grew up in the town of Pacolet Mills. During the summer of his fifteenth year, Westmoreland shipped out for his first foreign tour in the uniform of an Eagle Scout: he attended the 1929 World Boy Scout Jamboree in Birkenhead, England. His itinerary included a tour of England, Scotland, Germany, Belgium, and France. Later recalling the impact of the trip, he wrote Harry D. Thorenson, Jr., on 21 September 1978, "It was my first trip overseas, my first exposure to foreigners, and my first venture as an Eagle Scout. I was proud to wear the uniform of my country in a foreign land. I was eager to do it again. My pride to serve as a boy was fully sustained as a man."
Following graduation from Spartanburg High School in 1931, Westmoreland enrolled at his father's alma mater, The Citadel, where, after the completion of one year, he received from Sen. James F. Byrnes an appointment to attend the United States Military Academy. Here he joined a talented class that produced many outstanding leaders, including three Army Chiefs of Staff; numerous commanders prominent in NATO, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam; the first African-American general; a member of the Manhattan Project; and the originator and first commander of the Green Berets. Even among this august company, cadets and faculty recognized Westmoreland as an exceptional soldier, as his leadership skills earned him promotions to First Captain and Regimental Commander. At graduation ceremonies in 1936, Westmoreland received the Gen. John J. Pershing sword, an honor awarded annually to the cadet who most excelled in all aspects of military training. Although his papers contain relatively few items that pre-date 1940, they include weekly letters written by James "Rip" Westmoreland offering advice and encouragement to his cadet son at West Point.
Following graduation and his commission as a second lieutenant, Westmoreland began his career with successive assignments in Oklahoma, Hawaii, and North Carolina. During World War II he led men in combat in North Africa, Sicily, and Germany. Landing at Utah Beach on 10 June 1944, he fought through France, Belgium, and Germany. In March 1945 he and members of the 47th Infantry Regiment of the 9th U.S. Infantry Division captured and held the bridge at Remagen, the last bridge standing on the Rhine River. Westmoreland and his men defended it for two weeks, despite continuous bombardment. This daring feat allowed time for construction of three Allied bridges across the Rhine. Military historians have cited the taking of the bridge at Remagen as one of the most decisive actions in hastening the end of war in the European theatre.
In 1946 Westmoreland assumed command of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. While in North Carolina, he renewed his acquaintance with Katherine "Kitsy" S. Van Deusen, whom he had known as the "friendly but sassy" young daughter of Col. Edwin R. Van Deusen, the post executive officer at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. By 1946 Kitsy Van Deusen had transferred from Cornell University to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The couple became engaged early that winter and were married in May 1947.
The Westmorelands lived in North Carolina for three years. Then, when Westmoreland entered the Korean War, his wife and toddler daughter relocated to Beppu, Japan. In Korea he led the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, reputedly among the first integrated units to go into combat. Although he made more than 120 parachute jumps during his career, a jump in Korea nearly proved fatal when his chute failed to open. Westmoreland later recalled-"I was finally able to shake out the foul chute when I was approximately 100 feet from the ground but landed safely although I lost my watch in the process."
Westmoreland held various positions and assignments during the 1950s, including a stint on the faculty of the Army War College and completion of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. Following the Korean War, he served as the Army's deputy chief of staff for manpower control at the Pentagon, an assignment that required regular appearances before Congress. During his frequent meetings with congressional committees, Westmoreland made a number of influential friends, including Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald R. Ford, letters from whom appear in the collection.
Upon receipt of his second star in 1956, the forty-two-year-old became the youngest major general in the Army. His career remained on the fast track, which required frequent relocations. Westmoreland relied on his brother-in-law, Columbia attorney N. Heyward Clarkson, Jr., to manage his affairs in the Palmetto State. Clarkson's letters discuss financial concerns, family news, and local and national events, including the outcome of the 1952 presidential election in which Dwight D. Eisenhower failed to carry the state and South Carolina cast her eight electoral votes for Adlai Stevenson, with a scant 50.72% majority. In a letter of 11 December 1952 Clarkson acknowledged his regret-"I was as much disappointed as you were that we could not carry the state for General Ike. However, it was a very, very difficult feat to accomplish under all the existing circumstances and I think the close margin was a most excellent result."
In July 1960 President Eisenhower appointed Westmoreland as Superintendent of West Point. Announcement of the General's return to the Academy prompted a deluge of congratulatory letters, many of which predicted greater achievements in his future. In a letter of 16 May 1960, John W. MacIndoe observed-"Way back in 1945 many of us said that you would be the top man some day and Sundays' Stars and Stripes even stated that many of the top brass considered that you would be the chief of staff some day." During his tenure at the Academy, from 1960 to 1963, Westmoreland doubled the school's enrollment, expanded and improved the physical plant, and modernized the curriculum.
In 1963 Westmoreland received orders from President Johnson to report to Southeast Asia. Arriving in Vietnam on 27 January 1964, he was promoted to Commanding General, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), in August. In this capacity, Westmoreland directed the operations of troops from the United States, South Vietnam, and other Allied nations. When he assumed command in Vietnam, Westmoreland inherited a difficult military situation as well as an unstable political one. Correspondence during his first year in Saigon records his impressions of the country and the task before him. A letter to Gen. Edward P. Smith, 23 February 1964, advises-"This is a fascinating country and we have here a most complex but interesting job. It is everything that I thought it would be and more so. The problems are legion but we are hopefully expecting a trend favorable to our cause." Writing to Capt. S.R. Woods, Jr., 29 March 1964, prior to Woods' arrival in the country, Westmoreland described Vietnam as a "fantastic place" and added-"to say that it is different from any other military situation that we have found ourselves in is an understatement." In a letter of 18 May 1964 to Col. David E. McCuen, Greenville, Westmoreland confided-"I have no idea how long I will be on duty in this critical area. I do know that our country will probably be involved here for many years to come."
Westmoreland's family joined him in February 1964 when Mrs. Westmoreland arrived in Saigon with their three children, Katherine Stevens "Stevie," age 15, James Ripley "Rip," age 9, and Margaret Childs, age 8. Attempting to rear children and maintain a normal family life in Vietnam challenged all the military dependent families. Children attended schools protected by armed guards. Bombs hidden in various recreational facilities curtailed leisure activities and forced the closing of the cinema, the baseball field, and the swimming pool. In August 1964 Mrs. Westmoreland wrote to her parents and in-laws describing a recent bombing-"Margaret was spending the night at a friend's house the night of the last blast. Their house was only a block away and it was a tremendous blast. All the children were herded back to the maid's room and Margaret's eyes are still a little bit bigger than usual. They seem to take it as part of being over here, though, and let it go at that. We have tightened up a great deal, seems the better part of valor."
Mrs. Westmoreland's training as a nurse's aid served her well in Vietnam, where she logged many hours caring for the sick and wounded. Although she had volunteered as a Red Cross "Grey Lady" in hospitals since 1952, Mrs. Westmoreland completed the intensive 260-hour course in 1962 while at West Point. In Vietnam Mrs. Westmoreland worked at a nearby hospital and organized a Vietnamese Red Cross Grey Ladies volunteer program in which she trained more than 200 Vietnamese women in the care of the injured. General Westmoreland credited his wife's charm and finesse with improving relations and smoothing interactions in his dealings with Vietnamese officials-"Mrs. Westmoreland was extremely effective in working with the Vietnamese ladies, and in addition to helping me to establish a rapport with the senior military and political officials, she was principally responsible for getting a voluntary Red Cross program started in Vietnam and getting wide-spread participation by the ladies of the senior officials."
With an escalation of the Allied war effort, President Johnson ordered the eighteen hundred remaining American dependents to evacuate South Vietnam in early 1965. Westmoreland's family left for Hawaii on 16 February 1965 after a year of living dangerously. Mrs. Westmoreland recalled her reluctance at leaving her husband behind in Vietnam-"We were miserable. Those who had been afraid had left long ago. We were willing to take our chances to keep our families together."
At Westmoreland's home, the company around the dinner table regularly included a combination of writers and journalists, congressmen and governors, junior and senior officers, as well as entertainers such as Martha Raye and Bob Hope. The collection includes extensive correspondence from many such visitors to Vietnam, including Hubert H. Humphrey, whose 3 March 1966 letter warmly praised his host-"In two short weeks I traveled a great distance and talked with many people. Nothing I saw or heard impressed me more than your own professional competence, your steady confidence in the success of our efforts and the high morale and evident readiness of our forces under your command. I only wish it were possible for all Americans to have the opportunity I did to talk with you and to see our troops. It would not fail to be for them, as it was for me, an inspiring experience."
Among the more prominent writers to share a meal with Westmoreland in Saigon was John Steinbeck, who, along with his wife, dined there on Christmas night 1966. In a letter dated 26 December 1966, Steinbeck expressed his appreciation for being allowed to cover Westmoreland's "Christmas tour" and included a pre-publication copy of his newspaper column describing his favorable impressions of Vietnam and his support of the work of the Allied forces-"On the plane you said that you welcomed observation of the new and perhaps amateur eye. Perhaps mine is too amateur, but...it reflects a considerable amount of feeling and I think should be said."
Steinbeck requested permission for the use of a firearm, explaining his plans to visit the 25th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta to study the "patrol and ambush business." He explained-"The only way to learn is to sit in with them....Since the V.C. does not observe the Geneva convention and since I meant that about not being a pigeon, I wonder if I could have permission to carry a weapon (borrowed of course)....I'm sure you will understand that at night in the paddys, an unarmed man must feel kind of naked." Westmoreland politely refused, citing rules of the Geneva Convention that forbade the carrying of weapons by non-combatants.
In 1968 members of the Westmoreland family were living in the United States, Hawaii, and the Philippines. Correspondence regarding birthdays or school events sometimes included news of a more serious nature, such as this description of the Tet offensive in a 4 February 1968 letter from Westmoreland, in Saigon, to his son, Rip, in Hawaii-"I've been spending every night at the headquarters, because things are happening every minute. The VC have launched a 'do-or-die attack' but are being defeated everywhere. The battles are not over and will be raging for a number of weeks, but so far we're doing very well. This is the most excitement we've had since the days when your mother, you, Stevie, and Margaret were with me here in Saigon and had to be evacuated because of the heavy fighting and danger in Saigon."
In July 1968 President Johnson shifted Westmoreland from combat command in Vietnam to the most powerful role in the Army, that of Chief of Staff of the Army. Johnson wrote to Mrs. Westmoreland on 23 March 1968 about the return of her husband to the Pentagon-"I have just dictated a letter to Westy, telling him of my great happines that he is coming home to act as Army Chief of Staff and my strong right arm. Mrs. Johnson and I know how eagerly you have awaited this day. I only wish it could have come sooner."
As Chief of Staff of the Army from 1968 to 1972, Westmoreland served as the principal military advisor to the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council. During his tenure in Washington, Westmoreland worked to reform, modernize, and defend the Army. His final year of service included a visit to the troops in Vietnam, prompting a letter of thanks, 21 February 1972, from Australian soldier Lt. Col. Colin Kohn-"As a junior officer in the Australian Army, I would like you to know how much we soldiers who had served in South Vietnam appreciated your visit. You have long been admired by us all as 'our' Commander in Vietnam and we who had heard so much about you sincerely welcomed the opportunity of seeing and meeting you."
Westmoreland retired on 1 July 1972, upon completion of the maximum four-year term set by law for a Service Chief of Staff. The Westmorelands relocated to Charleston but they did not retire from public life. In November 1972 Gov. John C. West appointed Westmoreland chairman of the Governor's Task Force for Economic Development Serving in that capacity until March 1974, he promoted current and potential manufacturing, forestry, and agricultural activities for South Carolina. After returning to Charleston, Westmoreland received encouragement from many quarters to run for governor of South Carolina. He consulted with Strom Thurmond, Gerald Ford, Lee Atwater, and others, including Ronald Reagan, who wrote on 30 January 1974-"I'm aware that you have a decision to make. I know that many people at the dinner were hoping that it would be 'yes.' Having faced a similar decision several years ago, for whatever it's worth, I never regretted the course I took."
Westmoreland ran unsuccessfully on the Republican ticket at a time when the Palmetto State remained a Democratic stronghold. Although unsuccessful, the candidate discussed his thoughts on the state's political culture in his concession speech-"I'm not a politician, but I hope I made some small contribution to help this state have a viable two-party system."
In 1976 Westmoreland published his memoirs, A Soldier Reports. The collection includes essays written by Westmoreland in preparation for the book discussing his involvement in various events and with such persons as Maxwell Taylor, Douglas MacArthur, and his father, James Ripley Westmoreland. Research for the book also included reminiscences contributed by friends and colleagues who recorded their memories of Vietnam. One such letter, 14 January 1974, from a veteran who served on Westmoreland's staff in Saigon from 1965 to 1968, reported on an event that had upset the General. Betty Reid, MSG, U.S. Army, recalled-"I only heard you swear once during those 4 years and that was when you first heard that term 'Body Count'-you were so furious after a briefing that you came out and told Col. Tullman, Mr. Montgomery and me that it just made you sick. To you, you said, those 'bodies' were our men-individuals with faces and names dying out there-not 'just bodies.'"
Since his retirement Westmoreland has maintained a very active schedule of public appearances that has included lectures, dedications of memorials, and attendance at veterans parades and other functions, both large and small. He has spoken in every state and in many foreign countries on behalf of the veterans of Vietnam and other wars.
The collection also documents the large volume of mail that has arrived in Charleston from around the world during the three decades since Westmoreland's retirement. The correspondence includes communications from world leaders, celebrities, expatriate Vietnamese, and others. The General conscientiously answered letters, whether sent by school children, scholars, active-duty military personnel, or his fellow veterans, many of whom read his memoirs and wrote to question, commend, or debate various points. Westmoreland replied to Sam Robinson on 3 June 1992-"The thing that we (WWII and VN Vets) have in common is that all wars have much in common and the differences soldiers like to discuss." No stranger to Vietnam, Admiral Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt, praised Westmoreland in a letter of 9 February 1994 for his untiring assistance to those wanting to learn more about America's longest war-"You are the absolute 'Vatican' for Vietnam research."
Many veterans' letters reveal the continuing admiration and respect felt for the General by his former troops, most particularly for his style of leadership by example. Their letters often include an account of a meeting, sometimes an unexpected one. In a representative letter, dated 18 April 1995, Raymond J. Matus, CW4, US Army (Ret), describes the difficulty he had in repairing radios damaged in a jump in 1959 when he was an SP-4, OJT Field Radio Repairman supporting an operation at Camp Breckenridge, Ky.-"I had a piece of equipment on the bench trying to figure out why it would not key on certain frequencies. In came this guy, dirty and in a T shirt and asked me how things were. Using as much vulgarity as I could muster up, I told him what my problem was. He, patiently, and WITHOUT ONCE SWEARING, proceeded to give me a short class on the crystal controlled RT 68. (I must say here that I did take due note of the stranger's 'Civility'.) WE then opened up the back, replaced the crystals which had become dislodged during the jump, and solved the problem. This guy then put on his fatigue shirt, revealing two BRIGHT SHINING STARS affixed thereon. Dumbfounded, I looked at 'THEM' and him. I remember he smiled, exited the van and left in a jeep before I could register my shock, surprise and terror. I don't remember him saying anything else. Just 'Who was that masked man?' who succeeded in leaving a mark on me some 35 years ago?? God Bless you General."
General Westmoreland's thirty-six years of military service stand as a matchless record of achievement at every level of military command. And together the correspondence, memoirs, photographs, scrapbooks, books, films, and other materials which comprise the William C. Westmoreland papers offer fascinating insights into the people and events of the twentieth century and will provide historians with an invaluable primary source for research.
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