October-November 1961: More American aid sent to South Vietnam

In October 1961, top Kennedy aides General Maxwell Taylor and Walt Rostow visited South Vietnam to assess the deteriorating military situation there. “If Vietnam goes, it will be exceedingly difficult to hold Southeast Asia,” Taylor reported, advising Kennedy to expand the number of US military advisors and to send 8,000 combat soldiers.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff instead recommended a massive show of force by sending six divisions (200,000 men) to Vietnam. However, the President decided against sending any combat troops.[1]

On 24 October 1961, on the sixth anniversary of the formation of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), President Kennedy sent a letter to President Ngô Đình Diệm pledging renewed support from America:

“In accordance with that declaration, and in response to your request, we are prepared to help the Republic of Viet-Nam to protect its people and to preserve its independence. We shall promptly increase our assistance to your defense effort as well as help relieve the destruction of the floods which you describe. I have already given the orders to get these programs underway.”

President Kennedy letter to President Diem, 14 December 1961, The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 805-806

President Kennedy then sent additional military advisors along with American helicopter units to transport and direct Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) troops in battle, thus involving Americans in combat operations. Kennedy justified the expanding US military role as a means “…to prevent a Communist takeover of Vietnam which is in accordance with a policy our government has followed since 1954.” The number of military advisors sent by Kennedy eventually surpassed 16,000 men.


[1] Source: Department of State, S/S Files: Lot 66 D 219. Secret. Also printed in Declassified Documents, 1981, 591A. A copy of the report was transmitted to McGeorge Bundy on July 11 with a note that the programs and momentum generated by the Task Force would be continued by a new Working Group on Vietnam under the newly created Task Force on Southeast Asia. https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v02/d233[2] President Kennedy letter to President Diem, 14 December 1961, The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 805-806.

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