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LBJ Rejects RFK Offer for Service in South Vietnam

June 17, 1964 - Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy has offered to serve in South Vietnam “in any capacity,” but President Johnson has rejected the offer and asked him to stay at his present post.

The question arose when the Government was considering what to do if Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge’s involvement in the Republican Presidential nomination led to his sudden resignation.

At that time, the Attorney General wrote a letter to the President saying that he would go to South Vietnam to do anything the President wanted him to do there.

The President telephoned him immediately and expressed with some feeling his gratitude for the Attorney General’s offer and his loyalty, but said that he was not prepared to act on the suggestion.

There were several reasons for this. First, the President wanted him to remain at the Justice Department during the present critical phase of the civil rights problem. The Administration is concerned about racial conflict this summer and during the election in November.

Second, there has been much speculation that the President was on bad terms with the Attorney General — he denies this — and that he was opposing those who wanted Mr. Kennedy to be the Democratic party’s Vice-Presidential nominee. In the light of this, the President did not want to send the Attorney General to Saigon and be charged, as he believed he would be, with banishing him from the country during the nominating conventions and the campaign.

Third, it is understood that the President thought that the Kennedy family had gone through enough sorrow in the last few years without having to sustain the anxiety of having its eldest surviving son and the Attorney General’s large young family in a critical war zone.

Since the death of his eldest brother, Joseph Jr., in the last war, and the assassination of President Kennedy last November, the Attorney General has been serving as head of the large and close Kennedy family. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, the Attorney General’s father, has had a stroke and is partly paralyzed.

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