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South Viet Nam: Satisfied Visitor

2 minute read

Though things were falling apart in Laos, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Mc Namara, clad in suntans and heavy-soled combat boots, took a firsthand look at the Vietnamese war and came away with guarded optimism.

As McNamara flew north from Saigon toward forested Binh Duong province, largely controlled by the Communist Viet Cong guerrillas, gunners in the escorting H21 helicopters stood at open ports, scanning the terrain below over the barrels of .30-caliber machine guns. McNamara landed inside the defenses of a “strategic hamlet” called Ben Tuong, the pilot project of the U.S.-backed Operation Sunrise that was set up two months ago to isolate the population and to deny the Communists shelter and supplies.

Next day he was off again by plane, helicopter and Jeep. Along the way, he filled his notebook with facts and figures in his small, meticulous, left-handed script. At Luong Son, a strategic hamlet that has already withstood seven Viet Cong attacks, McNamara asked how soon the nearest military post could be alerted, learned that because Luong Son lacks a radio transmitter, it takes four hours to summon aid by runners. Said he curtly: “Let’s get radios in this area.” At the resort town of Dalat, McNamara changed to black tie to dine with South Viet Nam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem.

Throughout McNamara’s two-day tour, the stealthy war raged on. The Viet Cong stormed into a village near the Cambodian border, killed 19 soldiers and carried off the brand-new U.S. rifles they had just been issued. In turn, the Vietnamese army reported 20 Viet Cong slain in the central lowlands. Before leaving for home, McNamara heard that Australia’s Prime Minister Robert Menzies has agreed to send a few crack Australian jungle troops to South Viet Nam to support the U.S. in checking the advance of Communism.

Without going into details, McNamara summed up: “I am tremendously encouraged by what I saw.”

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