This is rather long, but it certainly goes to the heart of the matter with regard to this thread:
>> Our boss was ADM McDonald.
>> We all thought of him as a 4.0 guy, always up to date on all things
>> under Air Warfare.
>>> Date: 1/4/2008 12:07:58 PM
>>> Subject: Cheers and Tears
>>> The following is the INTRODUCTION to the book, “Cheers and Tears”
>> Gen. Charles Cooper, USMC (Ret.). This chapter was provided by Lt.
>>> for posting on MILINET.
>>> The Day It Became the Longest War
>>> The President will see you at two o’clock.
>>> It was a beautiful fall day in November of 1965, early in the
>>> Vietnam War
>>> too beautiful a day to be what many of us, anticipating it, had
>> calling the day of reckoning. We didn’t know how accurate that
>> label would be.
>>> The Pentagon is a busy place. Its workday starts early -
>> asthe expression goes, there’s a war on. By seven o’clock, the
>> staff of
>>> Admiral David L. McDonald, the Navy’s senior admiral and Chief of
>>> Naval Operations, had started to work. Shortly after seven,
>>> McDonald arrived and began making final preparations for a meeting
>>> with President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
>>> The Vietnam War was in its first year, and its uncertain direction
>> troubled Admiral McDonald and the other service chiefs. They’d had
>>number of disagreements with Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara
>>about strategy,and had finally requested a private meeting with the
>>Commander in Chief - a perfectly legitimate procedure. Now, after
>>many delays, the Joint Chiefs were finally to have that meeting.
>>They hoped it would determine whether the US military would continue
>>its seemingly directionless buildup to fight a protracted ground
>>or take bold measures that would bring the war to an early and
>>victorious end. The bold measures they would propose were to apply
>>massive air power to the head of the enemy, Hanoi, and to close
>>North Vietnam’s harbors by mining them.
>> The situation was not a simple one, and for several reasons. The
>>most important reason was that North Vietnam’s neighbor to the north
>>was communist China. Only 12 years had passed since the Korean War
>>had ended in stalemate. The aggressors in that war had been the
>> the North Koreans’ defeat had appeared to be inevitable, communist
>>China had sent hundreds of thousands of its Peoples’ Liberation Army
>>volunteers to the rescue.
>> Now, in this new war, the North Vietnamese aggressor had the
>> support of the Soviet Union and, more to the point, of neighboring
>> communist China. Although we had the air and naval forces with
>> to paralyze North Vietnam, we had to consider the possible reactions
>> of the Chinese and the Russians.
>> Both China and the Soviet Union had pledged to support North Vietnam
>> in the war of national liberation it was fighting to reunite the
>> divided country, and both had the wherewithal to cause major
>> problems. An important unknown was what the Russians would do if
>> prevented from delivering goods to their communist protege in Hanoi.
>> A more important question concerned communist China, next-door
>> neighbor to North Vietnam. How would the Chinese react to a massive
>> pummeling of their ally? More specifically, would they enter the
>> as they had done in North Korea? Or would they let the Vietnamese,
>> for centuries a traditional enemy, fend for themselves? The service
>> chiefs had considered these and similar questions, and had also
>> the Central Intelligence Agency for answers and estimates.
>> The CIA was of little help, though it produced reams of text,
>> executive summaries of the texts, and briefs of the executive
>> summaries-all top secret, all extremely sensitive, and all of little
>> use. The principal conclusion was that it was impossible to predict
>> with any accuracy what the Chinese or Russians might do.
>> Despite the lack of a clear-cut intelligence estimate, Admiral
>> McDonald and the other Joint Chiefs did what they were paid to do
>> reached a conclusion. They decided unanimously that the risk of the
>> Chinese or Soviets reacting to massive US measures taken in North
>> Vietnam was acceptably low, but only if we acted without delay.
>> Unfortunately, the Secretary of Defense and his coterie of civilian
>> whiz kids did not agree with the Joint Chiefs, and McNamara and his
>> people were the ones who were actually steering military strategy.
>> In the view of the Joint Chiefs, the United States was piling on
>> forces in Vietnam without understanding the consequences. In the
>> view of McNamara and his civilian team, we were doing the right
>> thing. This was the fundamental dispute that had caused the
> Chiefs to request the seldom-used private audience with the Commander
>> Chief in order to present their military recommendations directly to
>> McNamara had finally granted their request.
>>> The 1965 Joint Chiefs of Staff had ample combat experience. Each
>>> was serving in his third war. The Chairman was General Earle
>>> Wheeler, US
>> Army, highly regarded by the other members.
>>> General Harold Johnson was the Army Chief of Staff. A World War II
>> prisoner of the Japanese, he was a soft-spoken, even-tempered,
>> religious man.
>> General John P. McConnell, Air Force Chief of Staff, was a native of
>> Arkansas and a 1932 graduate of West Point.
>> The Commandant of the Marine Corps was General Wallace M. Greene,
>> Jr., a slim, short, all-business Marine. General Greene was a Naval
>> Academy graduate and a zealous protector of the Marine Corps concept
>> of controlling its own air resources as part of an integrated
>> air-ground team.
>>Last and by no means least was Admiral McDonald, a Georgia minister’s
>>son, also a Naval Academy graduate, and a naval aviator. While
>>Admiral McDonald was a most capable leader, he was also a reluctant
>>warrior. He did not like what he saw emerging as a national
>>commitment. He did not really want the US to get involved with land
>>warfare, believing as he did that the Navy could apply sea power
>>against North Vietnam very effectively by mining, blockading, and
>>assisting in a bombing campaign, and in this way help to bring the
>>war to a swift and satisfactory conclusion.
>> The Joint Chiefs intended that the prime topics of the meeting with
>> the President would be naval matters-the mining and blockading of
>> port of Haiphong and naval support of a bombing campaign aimed at
>> Hanoi. For that reason, the Navy was to furnish a briefing map, and
>> that became my responsibility. We mounted a suitable map on a large
>> piece of plywood, then coated it with clear acetate so that the
>> chiefs could mark on it with grease pencils during the discussion.
>> The whole thing weighed about 30 pounds.
>> The Military Office at the White House agreed to set up an easel in
>> the Oval Office to hold the map. I would accompany Admiral McDonald
>> to the White House with the map, put the map in place when the
>> meeting started, then get out. There would be no strap-hangers at
>> the military summit meeting with Lyndon Johnson.
>> The map and I joined Admiral McDonald in his staff car for the short
>> drive to the White House, a drive that was memorable only because of
>> the silence.
>> My admiral was totally preoccupied.
>> The chiefs’ appointment with the President was for two o’clock, and
>> Admiral McDonald and I arrived about 20 minutes early. The chiefs
>> were ushered into a fairly large room across the hall from the Oval
>> Office. I propped the map board on the arms of a fancy chair where
>> all could view it, left two of the grease pencils in the tray
>> attached to the bottom of the board, and stepped out into the
>> corridor. One of the chiefs shut the door, and they conferred in
>> private until someone on the White House staff interrupted them
>> fifteen minutes later. As they came out, I retrieved the map, then
>> joined them in the corridor outside the President’s office.
>>> Precisely at two o’clock President Johnson emerged from the Oval
>>> greeted the chiefs. He was all charm. He was also big: at three
>>> or more inches over six feet tall and something on the order of 250
>>> pounds, he was bigger than any of the chiefs. He personally
>>> them into his
>>> all the while delivering gracious and solicitous comments with a
>>> Texas accent far more pronounced than the one that came through
>>> he spoke on television. Holding the map board as the chiefs
>>> entered, I peered between them, trying to find the easel. There
>>> none. The President looked at me, grasped the situation at once,
>>> and invited me in, adding, You can
>>> right over here. I had become an easel-one with eyes and ears.
>>> To the right of the door, not far inside the office, large windows
>>> framed evergreen bushes growing in a nearby garden. The
>>> desk and several chairs were farther in, diagonally across the room
>>> from the
>>> The President positioned me near the windows, then arranged the
>>> chiefs in
>>> semicircle in front of the map and its human easel. He did not
>>> offer them
>>> seats: they stood, with those who were to speak - Wheeler,
>>> McDonald, and McConnell-standing nearest the President.
>>> Paradoxically, the two whose services were most affected by a
>>> continuation of the ground buildup in Vietnam - Generals Johnson
>>> Greene - stood farthest from the President.
>>> President Johnson stood nearest the door, about five feet from the
>>> In retrospect, the setup - the failure to have an easel in place,
>>> the positioning of the chiefs on the outer fringe of the office,
>>> lack of seating - did not augur well. The chiefs had expected the
>>> meeting to be a short one, and it met that expectation. They also
>>> expected it to be of momentous import, and it met that expectation,
>>> too. Unfortunately, it
>>> proved to be a meeting that was critical to the proper pursuit of
>>> what was to become the longest, most divisive, and least conclusive
>>> war in our nation’s history - a war that almost tore the nation
>>> As General Wheeler started talking, President Johnson peered at the
>>> five minutes or so, the general summarized our entry into Vietnam,
>>> the current status of forces, and the purpose of the meeting. Then
>>> he thanked the President for having given his senior military
>>> advisers the
>>> to present their opinions and recommendations. Finally, he noted
>>> that although Secretary McNamara did not subscribe to their views,
>>> he did agree that a presidential-level decision was required.
>>> President Johnson, arms crossed, seemed to be listening carefully.
>>> The essence of General Wheeler’s presentation was that we had come
>>> to an early moment of truth in our ever-increasing Vietnam
>>> involvement. We had
>>> start using our principal strengths - air and naval power -to
>>> the North Vietnamese, or we would risk becoming involved in another
>>> protracted Asian ground war with no prospects of a satisfactory
>>> solution. Speaking
>>> the chiefs, General Wheeler offered a bold course of action that
>>> protracted land warfare. He proposed that we isolate the major
>>> of Haiphong through naval mining, blockade the rest of the North
>>> Vietnamese coastline, and simultaneously start bombing Hanoi with
>>> General Wheeler then asked Admiral McDonald to describe how the
>>> Force would combine forces to mine the waters off Haiphong and
>>> establish a naval blockade. When Admiral McDonald finished,
>>> McConnell added that speed of execution would be essential, and
>>> we would have to make the North Vietnamese believe that we would
>>> increase the level of
>>> if they did not sue for peace.
>>> Normally, time dims our memories - but it hasn’t dimmed this one.
>>> of Lyndon Johnson on that day remains crystal clear. While General
>>> Admiral McDonald, and General McConnell spoke, he seemed to be
>>> listening closely, communicating only with an occasional nod. When
>>> finished, General Wheeler asked the President if he had any
>>> Johnson waited a moment or so, then turned to Generals Johnson and
>>> Greene, who had remained silent during the briefing, and asked, Do
>>> you fully support these ideas? He followed with the thought that
>>> it was they who were providing the ground troops, in effect
>>> acknowledging that the Army
>>> the Marines were the services that had most to gain or lose as a
>>> result of this discussion. Both generals indicated their agreement
>>> with the
>>> Seemingly deep in thought, President Johnson turned his back on
>>> for a minute or so, then suddenly discarding the calm, patient
>>> demeanor he had maintained throughout the meeting, whirled to face
>>> them and exploded.
>>> I almost dropped the map. He screamed obscenities, he cursed them
>>> personally, he ridiculed them for coming to his office with their
>>> advice. Noting that it was he who was carrying the weight of the
>>> free world on his shoulders, he called them filthy names-shitheads,
>>> dumb shits, pompous assholes-and used the F-word as an adjective
>>> more freely than a Marine in boot camp would use it. He then
>>> accused them of trying to pass the buck for World War III to him.
>>> It was unnerving, degrading.
>>> After the tantrum, he resumed the calm, relaxed manner he had
>>> displayed earlier and again folded his arms. It was as though he
>>> had punished them, cowed them, and would now control them. Using
>>> soft-spoken profanities, he said something to the effect that they
>>> all knew now that he did not care about their military advice.
>>> After disparaging their abilities, he added that he did expect
>>> He suggested that each one of them change places with him and
>>> that five incompetents had just made these military
>>> recommendations. He told them that he was going to let them go
>>> through what he had to go through
>>> idiots gave him stupid advice, adding that he had the whole damn
>>> world to worry about, and it was time to see what kind of guts you
>>> have. He paused, as if to let it sink in. The silence was like a
>>> palpable solid,
>>> tension like that in a drumhead. After thirty or forty seconds of
>>> turned to General Wheeler and demanded that Wheeler say what he
>>> would do
>>> he were the President of the United States.
>>> General Wheeler took a deep breath before answering. He was not an
>>> to shake: his calm response set the tone for the others. He had
>>> known coming in, as had the others, that Lyndon Johnson was an
>>> exceptionally strong personality, and a venal and vindictive man as
>>> well. He had known that the stakes were high, and now realized
>>> McNamara had prepared Johnson carefully for this meeting, which had
>>> been a charade.
>>> Looking President Johnson squarely in the eye, General Wheeler told
>>> he understood the tremendous pressure and sense of responsibility
>>> Johnson felt. He added that probably no other President in history
>>> had had to
>>> a decision of this importance, and further cushioned his remarks by
>>> saying that no matter how much about the presidency he did
>>> understand, there were many things about it that only one human
>>> being could ever understand.
>>> General Wheeler closed his remarks by saying something very close
>>> You, Mr. President, are that one human being. I cannot take your
>>> place, think your thoughts, know all you know, and tell you what I
>>> would do if I were you. I can’t do it, Mr. President. No man can
>>> honestly do it.
>>> Respectfully, sir, it is your decision and yours alone.
>>> Apparently unmoved, Johnson asked each of the other Chiefs the same
>>> question. One at a time, they supported General Wheeler and his
>>> By now, my arms felt as though they were about to break. The map
>>> weigh a ton, but the end appeared to be near. General Greene was
>>> the last to speak.
>>> When General Greene finished, President Johnson, who was nothing if
>>> not a skilled actor, looked sad for a moment, then suddenly erupted
>>> and cursing, again using language that even a Marine seldom hears.
>>> them he was disgusted with their naive approach, and that he was
>>> going to let some military idiots talk him into World War III. He
>>> ended the conference by shouting, Get the hell out of my office!
>>> The Joint Chiefs of Staff had done their duty. They knew that the
>>> nation was making a strategic military error, and despite the
>>> rebuffs of their civilian masters in the Pentagon, they had
>>> on presenting the problem as they saw it to the highest authority
>>> and recommending
>>> They had done so, and they had been rebuffed. That authority had
>>> not only rejected their solutions, but had also insulted and
>>> demeaned them. As Admiral McDonald and I drove back to the
>>> Pentagon, he turned to me and
>>> that he had known tough days in his life, and sad ones as well, but
>>> this has got to have been the worst experience I could ever
>>> The US involvement in Vietnam lasted another ten years. The irony
>>> is that it began to end only when President Richard Nixon, after
>>> some backstage maneuvering on the international scene, did
>>> what the Joint
>>> of Staff had recommended to President Johnson in 1965. Why had
>>> only dismissed their recommendations, but also ridiculed them? It
>>> been that Johnson had lacked something. Maybe it was foresight or
>>> Maybe it was the sophistication and understanding it took to deal
>>> with complex international issues. Or, since he was clearly a
>>> bully, maybe
>>> he lacked was courage. We will never know. But had General
>>> others received a fair hearing, and had their recommendations
>>> received serious study, the United States may well have saved the
>>> lives of most of its more than 55,000 sons who died in a war that
>>> its major architect,
>>> Strange McNamara, now considers to have been a tragic mistake.
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Thanks for your service and this post!
This doesn’t really surprise me and confirms my suspicions of LBJ from the time he became president, I was overjoyed when he announced he would not not seek reelection. It is also telling that his SECDEF was McNamara, I believe they came from similar molds.