Westmoreland: Debating a soldier and his war

jwilkinson@thestate.comApril 7, 2013 

Gen. William Westmoreland, then-army chief of staff, meets in the Oval Office with President Lyndon B. Johnson in this photo from about 1968. The photo is part of USC's collection of Westmoreland's papers, a sampling of which are on display at the Hollings Library through Nov. 15.

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA — South Carolina Political Collections/

The late Gen. William Westmoreland, viewed by many as the architect of defeat in Vietnam, had a broad view of the war that went beyond his military role, according to Col. Gregory Daddis.

“I believe he understood the war much more than he is given credit for,” said Daddis, one of three speakers who will discuss Westmoreland, a South Carolina native, on Tuesday at USC.

Daddis insists Westmoreland knew then what the prevailing understanding is now – that success or failure depended on a political solution as well as a military one, most importantly a stable government in South Vietnam that never materialized.

“You couldn’t divorce one from the other,” he said. “Commanders like Westmoreland understood that problem.”

Daddis, who is on the staff of the U.S. Military Academy, will participate Tuesday in the University of South Carolina Libraries’ presentation of “Remembering William Childs Westmoreland: A Study in Leadership.”

The event also will feature two military officers who knew and worked with Westmoreland: retired Col. Paul Miles, who served on Westmoreland’s staff, and retired Gen. Volney F. Warner, a former Westmoreland aide. They will join Westmoreland family members at the event at USC’s Hollings Library.

“The three speakers will be able to shed new light on the Vietnam War and Westmoreland’s role in it,” said Kathy Dowell, communications associate for USC Libraries.

Daddis has written a book about the Vietnam War and is currently writing one about Westmoreland entitled “No Sure Victory: Westmoreland’s War.” He’s planning to review the general’s papers while in Columbia.

Westmoreland was a Spartanburg native who fought in three wars, answered to four presidents and rose to the rank of four-star general. But the military leader who died in 2005 is best remembered, and sometimes vilified, for the four years from 1964-68 when he commanded U.S. combat forces in Vietnam, and is inevitably linked with America’s defeat there.

Westmoreland had a long and decorated military career. He was the commanding general during the Vietnam War and was appointed chief of staff of the Army by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. In 1972, after 36 years and three wars, he and his family retired to South Carolina.

Westmoreland donated his papers to USC’s South Caroliniana Library. The collection includes 70-plus boxes and scrapbooks, totaling more than 150,000 documents covering almost all of Westmoreland’s 91 years of life. It has been called one of the most important collections from 20th century America, given the impact the Vietnam War had on the country.

“Part of the materials were housed at West Point and came here at the family’s request,” said Henry Fulmer, director of the South Caroliniana Library. “It was a coup to process the collection and have control over what is there. It is regularly used by scholarly researchers from across the country.”

Among the items in the collection:

•  A photograph of cadet graduate Westmoreland shaking the hand of Gen. John J. Pershing

•  Letters from four presidents

•  Books on Westmoreland’s three wars (World War II, Korea and Vietnam)

A rough draft of “Westy’s” autobiography, “A Soldier’s Report”

•  Reminiscences of combat soldiers sent to their former commander

•  The papers from Westmoreland’s libel suit against CBS, filed in reaction to his portrayal on “60 Minutes.” Those legal documents alone fill 40 boxes.

Many of those and other items are on display through Wednesday in the Hollings Library in a companion exhibit to Tuesday’s event. It is called “A Life in Service: Selections from the Papers of General William Childs Westmoreland (1914-2005).”

Tuesday’s event is free and open to the public.

If You Go

What: “Remembering William Childs Westmoreland: A Study in Leadership”

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: USC’s Hollings Library, adjacent to Thomas Cooper Library

Cost: Free, but reservations required

For more information: Call (803) 576-6016 or libdev@mailbox.sc.edu.

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