Some considered him America’s first line of defense against the Communists. Others hated him as the man who ordered American soldiers to their deaths in Vietnam.
But South Carolina native and U.S. Army Gen. William Westmoreland lived his life without apology, and died secure in his Christian faith.
Westmoreland was born in Spartanburg in 1914, the son of a textile mill manager. He spent a year at The Citadel before a friend of his father’s, U.S. Sen. James Byrnes, nominated him to West Point. He rose through the ranks as an officer in World War II and the Korean War, commanded U.S. forces in the Vietnam War from 1964-68, and served as Army chief of staff from 1968-72. Due to his role in Vietnam, Westmoreland became friends with President Lyndon Johnson.
The general retired to Charleston in 1972, at which point he dabbled in politics – losing in the S.C. Republican gubernatorial primary in 1974. But he never forgot the men he commanded in battle, and often received letters from veterans expressing their continued loyalty to him. He fought a legal battle against CBS in 1982, after the network aired a television documentary alleging Westmoreland had deliberately underestimated enemy troop strength in Vietnam to bolster his own claims of military success. The case was settled out of court.
He died at age 91, survived by his wife of 58 years and their three children.
About this series: The inaugural edition of The State newspaper was published Feb. 18, 1891. In anticipation of the 125th anniversary, the Palmetto section and this section at thestate.com are recounting each day how The State covered newsmakers and events vital to South Carolina’s history.