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President Kennedy Picks General Harkins to Head Vietnam Command

Feb. 8, 1962 - The U.S. established a new military command in Communist-threatened South Vietnam today and named a four-star general to head it. A primary purpose in creating the command was to manifest the determination of the U.S. to prevent a Communist take-over. The new military headquarters, established with the concurrence of the Government of President Ngo Dinh Diem, is called “United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.” Its commander will be Gen. Paul D. Harkins (pictured center), who was promoted from lieutenant general to four-star rank on the decision of President Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. U.S. forces in South Vietnam are now estimated at 4,000 men. Many of these are taking part in tactical operations in battle areas — including support roles in transport and communications. A Pentagon spokesman said today that these men “are not in combat.” Nevertheless, they have instructions to shoot back if shot at, he added. Given the conditions in South Vietnam, he said, American soldiers are going to be shot at from time to time and “we may lose some people.” One American soldier has already been killed. The South Vietnamese army is being built up to 200,000 men with U.S. aid in money, arms, and supplies. The Communist Viet Cong, which receives aid from North Vietnam, is estimated to number 20,000.

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