Promoted to major general in December 1956, Westmoreland commanded the 101st Airborne Division (1958–1960) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. During 1960–1963, he was superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point. Promoted to lieutenant general, he returned to Fort Campbell to command the XVIII Airborne Corps in 1963. In June 1964 he was named commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), as a full general.
Westmoreland subsequently presided over the steep escalation of the Vietnam War and eventually commanded more than half a million American troops there. He embarked on an effort to seek out and engage communist forces, defeating them in a war of attrition. He had little interest in pacification programs. Westmoreland and planners in Washington never did understand the extent to which Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, North Vietnam) leaders were prepared to sacrifice manpower to inflict American casualties and influence opinion in the United States. Casualty rates heavily unfavorable to the communists, taken as proof by Westmoreland that the war was being won, were nonetheless acceptable to Hanoi.
Westmoreland's overly optimistic predictions regarding the war in late 1967 helped feed public disillusionment in the United States following the heavy casualties of the January 1968 communist Tet Offensive, nonetheless lost by the communist side. Westmoreland interpreted the situation after the offensive as an opportunity and proposed the dispatch of additional troops to Vietnam. President Lyndon B. Johnson, although he sent some emergency reinforcements, denied Westmoreland's request.
In June 1968, Johnson recalled Westmoreland to Washington as chief of staff of the army. Westmoreland held that post until his retirement in July 1972, with much of his energies devoted to planning the transition to an all-volunteer force. Following retirement, he continued to speak out on the Vietnam War, published his memoirs, and ran unsuccessfully for governor of South Carolina. He remained a major and controversial figure in the postwar debate over U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Westmoreland died in Charleston, South Carolina, on 18 July 2005.
James H. Willbanks
Westmoreland, William C. A Soldier Reports. New York: Doubleday, 1976.; Zaffiri, Samuel. Westmoreland: A Biography of General William C. Westmoreland. New York: William Morrow, 1994.