Jan. 14, 1964 - The United States is apparently preparing to replace General Paul D. Harkins as commander of the U.S. military forces in South Vietnam later this year, reliable sources said today. The sources indicated that the first step in the plan was the announcement tomorrow that Lieutenant General William C. Westmoreland (pictured right in Bonn, Germany in 1961), commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C., would fill a newly created post as deputy to Gen. Harkins. Although the announcement made no reference to the replacement of Gen. Harkins, there was an expectation among well-informed military and civilian circles that Gen. Westmoreland would take over the command in July, when Gen. Harkins will reach the retirement age of 60. Sources said the naming of Gen. Westmoreland as deputy commander would give him time to become acquainted with the war situation before he assumed command.
Gen. Harkins has become a controversial figure because he has repeatedly made optimistic statements on the progress of the war, although the campaign against the Communist Viet Cong guerrillas has deteriorated in the last year. A number of field advisers have said that Gen. Harkins was not heeding warnings about a steady worsening of the war situation in the Mekong Delta, south of Saigon. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was reported during his visit to South Vietnam to have questioned Gen. Harkins closely and critically about his estimates of the war. Some sources described the general as having been “on the defensive” during the two days of briefings for Sec. McNamara.
Gen. Westmoreland, a 1936 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, is regarded as one of the fastest rising U.S. officers. The general, who is 49, is described as a forceful and effective commander. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Gen. Westmoreland has had some of the choicest commands in the Army. Military officials said there was a possibility that General Westmoreland would be promoted to full general when he assumed command in Vietnam.