April 2, 2019

1964. Defense Secretary McNamara on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident

Bill Downs Reporting Live From the Pentagon


On August 6, 1964, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara held a press conference to discuss the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the US military action that followed. Bill Downs reported live from the Pentagon.
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

August 6, 1964

BILL DOWNS: The ABC Radio network brings you live from Washington, DC a news conference by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara concerning the grave situation in Southeast Asia. This is Bill Downs reporting from the Pentagon.

It has been more than 36 hours since American carrier-based planes struck at Communist torpedo boat installations along the coast of North Vietnam in reprisal for the two Gulf of Tonkin attacks on US warships patrolling international waters there. Since then, there has been no further announcements of military action in the area, and some of the crisis atmosphere has been slacking off here at the Pentagon and also at the White House.

There have been charges and recrimination from the Communist propaganda broadcast stations in the Viet Cong capital of Hanoi and from Radio Beiping in Red China. The Soviet Union also has condemned the US reprisal action but in surprisingly mild manner.

Now here is Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

McNAMARA: I have four brief announcements to make, after which I'll endeavor to answer your questions.

First, there have been no further enemy attacks on our vessels operating in the Gulf of Tonkin since I spoke to you last night.

Secondly, the routine patrol of our destroyers operating in that gulf in the area shows on this map in between Hainan Island and the coast of North Vietnam has been resumed.

Thirdly, the preliminary analysis of the photo‐reconnaissance taken following our strikes yesterday tends to confirm the damage assessment which I reported to you yesterday morning. You recall that at that time I stated our aircraft striking the bases of the patrol boats at Hon Gai, Loc Chao, Phuc Loi, Quang Khe had destroyed or damaged approximately 25 of the torpedo boats.

That in addition our aircraft striking at the petroleum storage dump at Vinh in support of the patrol boats had destroyed 90 percent of that storage dump.

At Vinh is located about 10 percent of the petroleum storage capacity of North Vietnam. The additional information brought out by the photo‐reconnaissance analyses is that in addition we destroyed approximately seven of the antiaircraft installations at Vinh.

Now fourthly I've asked Admiral McDonald to award the Navy Unit Citation to the men of the ships and aircraft participating in the operation both in recognition of their bravery and also in recognition of the effectiveness of their operations.

Admiral McDonald has enthusiastically agreed with that recommendation and is taking steps to put it into effect.

And now I'll be happy to try to answer your questions. Yes?

Q. Mr. Secretary, does our government have any information from the North Vietnamese government through diplomatic channels about the possible prisoner?

A. No, we have not received any such information, but we're taking steps to endeavor to obtain his release, if he has been captured as has been alleged by them.

Q. Mr. Secretary, Radio Hanoi claims that North Vietnam shot down eight attacking US planes Wednesday and damaged three others.

A. I think this is typical of the veracity of their reports. We lost two aircraft, as I reported to you yesterday. One, an A‐4, which is a jet attack aircraft—naval aircraft—and the other an A‐1, which is a propeller driven naval aircraft, both operating off the carriers Ticonderoga and Constellation. In addition, there was minor damage to two other aircraft, both of which have returned safely.

Yes?

Q. Do you have any information over the last four days that would indicate the Chinese Communists made any military effort to assist or respond to assist the North Vietnamese to respond to our attacks?

A. No, I have no information that the Communist Chinese in any way assisted the North Vietnamese in their attacks on our vessels. I think it's probable that the Communist Chinese will introduce some combat aircraft into North Vietnam in support of them. As I told you before, North Vietnam does not possess any combat aircraft of its own.

Q. Mr. Secretary, you say you think it's highly probable. Does that mean that you already have an indication—

A. No. No, I have no indication of it, but I would think that that would be a likely response.

Q. Mr. Secretary, have you had any word one way or another that there has been a third incident of any kind as claimed by Radio Hanoi?

A. No, we have no indication of any third incident. There have been no attacks or hostile actions directed toward our vessels operating in the gulf. I explained to you yesterday that our routine patrol is functioning in this area, moving south.

We have two carriers—the Ticonderoga and the Constellation—in approximately this position. They in turn are escorted by destroyers. There have been no attacks or reported attacks nor attempted attacks at any of the vessels operating in that area.

Yes?

Q. Have there been any incidents that you know of involving the South Vietnamese vessels and the North Vietnamese?

A. No, none that I know of, although I think that I should mention to you the South Vietnamese naval patrol activities that are carried on to prevent in the infiltration of men and materiel from the North into the South.

In the last seven months of 1961, for example, about 1,400 men were infiltrated across the 17th parallel from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. To prevent further infiltrations of that kind, the South Vietnamese with our assistance have set up a naval patrol which is very active in that area which continues to inspect and examine junks and their personnel. In one eight‐month period that I can recall they discovered 140 Viet Cong infiltrators.

Q. Mr. Secretary, there have been reports about considerable troop movements by US aircraft in South Vietnam to the 17th parallel. Could you give us an assessment about those?

A. We have, to the best of my knowledge, moved no South Vietnamese troops nor have we moved US troops into South Vietnam. We have, as I reported to you yesterday, moved interceptor aircraft into South Vietnam to be prepared for whatever eventuality develops.

We have in addition moved certain fighter aircraft into South Vietnam. We've moved certain fighter aircraft into Thailand. We've made reinforcements of our advance bases in the Pacific—reinforcements moved out of the United States for that purpose. We have moved certain fleet units.

I mention the attack carrier group moving from the First Fleet, which is homed in the Pacific waters off the Pacific coast out into the western Pacific.

We've also moved an antisubmarine warfare task group down into the South China Sea—this in order to provide proper protection to our carriers and destroyers operating in these waters, both in the gulf and in the waters south of Hainan Island.

Q. Mr. Secretary.

A. Yes?

Q. Could you tell us why you think that it's highly probable that the Chinese would move planes into North Vietnam?

A. As they have no combat aircraft of their own, I would assume that they would make such a request and that it would be answered.

Q. Mr. Secretary.

A. Yes?

Q. The Nationalist Chinese reported large troop movements in the mainland to the province of Yunnan. Is there any indication that there was a large-scale Communist—

A. We have no indication that there have been any substantial movements of Communist Chinese forces either land or air.

Q. In the months preceding this—

A. I'm speaking now of the recent past, the last few days. I know of no large movements of the kind you suggest for that matter during the past several months.

Q. Mr. Secretary, it has been some 48 hours now since that first attack. In studying the situation further, have you arrived at any answer to the mystery of why this was done?

A. No, I can offer no explanation. We've considered a number of alternative explanations, but it would be sheer speculation on my part to express them to you and I think it would be better not to do so.

Q. Mr. Secretary, you said that the South Vietnamese patrols which were inspecting junks were set up with United States assistance. Could you tell us what form that assistance took?

A. Yes. At the time we began the expanded program of assistance to South Vietnam in December of 1961, at which time we analyzed in some detail the extent of infiltration during the previous six months. It was on that basis that I reported to you the very extensive infiltration that took place then.

We concluded the best form of prevention would be the establishment of a junk patrol. To that end we provided the funds necessary to construct about 500 junks. These formed the four categories: command junks, which are motorized and carry a crew of about 10 men, are armed with automatic weapons, equipped with radios; motorized sailor junks, which are also armed which patrol the coasts; sailing junks which act as picket ships to carry out surveillance of particular areas, and motor junks without sails.

This force of some 500 junks was constructed in the shipyards of South Vietnam, equipped with engines in some cases supplied from this country and generally financed by the military assistance program of this country.

Q. They operate on their own?

A. They operate on their own. They are part of the South Vietnamese Navy, commanded by the South Vietnamese Navy, operating in the coastal waters inspecting suspicious incoming junks, seeking to deter and prevent the infiltration of both men and materiel from North Vietnam into South Vietnam.

Q. Mr. Secretary. Do these junks go north into North Vietnam areas?

A. They have advanced closer and closer to the 17th parallel and in some cases I think have moved beyond that in an effort to stop the infiltration closer to the point of origin.

Q. Do our naval vessels afford any cover for these operations?

A. Our naval vessels afford no cover whatsoever. Our naval personnel do not participate in the junk operations.

Q. Mr. Secretary. If the North Vietnamese are holding an American pilot, does it appear that it is Lieutenant Everett Alvarez?

A. There is some indication that if they hold one of our pilots, it is he.

Q. What are the indications that you have?

A. We believe that he bailed out of his aircraft. There was an indication from the automatic beeper attached to a parachute that he did so.

Q. What sort of status does a man like this have and what steps can be taken?

A. He's a captive of war and we would seek through mutual channels to obtain his release. Whether we're successful in doing so, I don't know, but we're bringing to bear every possible pressure to that end.

I have time for one more question, gentlemen.

Q. Mr. Secretary, you said these destroyer patrols had been resumed in the Gulf of Tonkin, broken off in—

A. It was broken off during the attack upon it in the darkness of the night before last and of course during the action of yesterday it was also broken off, but it has been resumed and will continue until completed some time later this week or early next.

Q. Mr. Secretary—

A. Thank you. One question.

Q. Are the reinforcements semi-permanent—in other words, would another additional incident in a week or two weeks, would these planes start coming down—

A. The reinforcements will stay in position as long as required.

DOWNS: The ABC radio network has brought you a news conference by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara as he answered Washington correspondents' questions concerning the crisis in Vietnam.

This is Bill Downs, ABC, the Pentagon.

March 14, 2019

1944. CBS Correspondents Report on the Normandy Breakthrough

The Allies Flood Forward
"A mortar platoon carrier passes a group of German prisoners being escorted by a military policeman on a motorcycle, Caumont, 30 July 1944" (source)
The reports featured here are from a 1945 collection of CBS broadcasts entitled From D-Day Through Victory in Europe, pp. 89-95 (large PDF).

On July 31, 1944, CBS correspondents Bill Downs, Allan Jackson, Charles Collingwood, and Ned Calmer reported from Europe on the Allied drive through France.

The chapter also includes a small part of Bill Downs' June 14 broadcast, the first live report from Normandy to be heard in the United States. Charles Collingwood had also recorded a report from Utah Beach on D-Day, but due to technical difficulties it was not broadcast until June 8.
BREAK THROUGH

The Allies flood forward, ebbing under counter-attack, slamming back with new advances. Robot planes begin to pound London. On June 27 the United States Seventh Corps took the surrender of Cherbourg. July 9 the British took Caen. Bastille Day saw the United States Army from St. Lo to the sea "on the move." Four days later it had cleared St. Lo. On July 20, Hitler was unfortunately not killed by a bomb. By July 29, the Allies had passed Coutances. Fifty-six days of the fiercest enemy resistance to an irresistible internal combustion from the swollen beachhead brings us to—

July 31

6:00 a.m.

ALLAN JACKSON:

In Normandy, this morning, American troops have entered Avranches, one of the main objectives in their drive down the Cotentin peninsula. Another column pushing down the coast is within three miles of the important port of Granville. All German attempts to break out of the allied trap have been repulsed, and our troops have taken many more Nazi prisoners. The total of German prisoners taken since the beginning of our offensive last Tuesday had risen yesterday to ten thousand men. Some of these were the famous SS German crack troops who threw in the sponge and voluntarily surrendered.

9:05:20 a.m.

DOWNS (from the British sector of the Normandy battlefront):

British tanks this morning have expanded their latest wedge into the German lines another three miles, making a total advance southward from Caumont of six miles since they started this new attack yesterday morning. Infantry and tanks are now fighting in the town of St. Martin, some six miles south of Caumont on one of the main lateral German supply roads, between Avranches and Caen.

This British wedge points southward like a finger, some two miles wide, with German troops on both sides of it.

For the first time in this Normandy fighting . . . infantrymen and machine gunners who usually advance on foot found the going too slow and found that they cluttered up the narrow farm lanes over which the tanks were passing. So the situation was solved by allowing the foot soldiers to climb aboard the tanks and to ride into battle with them. It is by no means a new idea but it has worked very effectively in this difficult battle country.

Several hundred prisoners have already come in and more are arriving. Many of these prisoners say they are members only of outpost German battle groups. They say that their main forces have been drawn back a few miles where a strong defense line is being constructed. . . .

You have no idea just how hard it is to get around in this close country. With men and material, guns and tanks crowding roads to the front, it's like trying to fight a war in the middle of a holiday traffic jam. I spent two hours trying to reach one divisional headquarters this morning and the dust is so thick that it coats everything like a layer of talcum powder. Visibility is sometimes less than three feet along the road. You literally have to use your windshield wiper to clear the dust from the windshield. You come back from these trips looking like an unbeaten rug and when you move you leave a small cloud of dust behind you as if some dusty spirit were following you.

We were held up for more than a half hour on one narrow dusty lane by a huge American-made truck. Tempers are short under such conditions and it didn't do mine any good when after a half hour I found that this truck, stopping us from going forward, was loaded only with hundreds of pick handles. Now, what they want with hundreds of pick handles this close to the front I couldn't and still can't imagine.

9:07:30

COLLINGWOOD (from London):

An American tank column has lunged forward all the way to Avranches, the French town which lies at the hinge where the Normandy peninsula ends and the Brest peninsula begins. This means that any German line to keep us bottled up in the Cherbourg peninsula has already been turned. Ahead of us now lies the whole of France, spreading out in any direction General Montgomery decides to advance.

The American push is proceeding in miniature blitzkrieg style. The armored column that has entered Avranches drove straight down the main road. In its wake, behind and on either flank, it left pockets of German resistance, still fighting hard, still holding on . . . we are still three miles from Granville, a coastal town 15 miles behind Avranches. And heavy fighting continues in the areas of Gavray, Percy, and Tessy-sur-Vire.

This concerted offensive in Normandy plus the stepped-up air bombardment, plus the spectacular, incredible Russian advances, add up to a general attack on Germany at a time when her internal weakness is evident for the whole world to see. That all the world can see it is shown by the present attitude of the wily Turks who have shown themselves to be very astute in keeping their eye on the main chance. . . . There are hints that are practically promises from Ankara that in the next couple of days Turkey is going to break with Germany. . . . At least, Von Papen and his German staff in Turkey have begun to pack up. . . .

11:01:50

CALMER:

We've really broken the bottleneck on the western flank of the beachhead in France. . . . In a fresh forward surge, American columns have covered eighteen miles in a day. They've crossed the See River at Avranches . . . have taken Avranches itself . . . Granville on the Atlantic coast has fallen and Brehal, six miles to the northeast, is also ours. The last of the Germans in this area are being mopped up . . . six enemy divisions have virtually been destroyed . . . two others have been badly mauled. All along the right wing the American First Army is on the move . . . we're moving forward and the enemy is falling steadily back . . . we become free to strike across the Brest peninsula or turn eastward toward Paris—160 miles away. Only below Saint Lo and Caumont is the enemy offering anything that even resembles a fight. . . . They have in fact regained control of Percy and Tessy-Sur-Vire, two towns we had previously taken. . . .

The British are doing more than holding their own around Caumont. And their progress is limited only by the speed with which sappers can clear the densely laid mine-fields. . . . The whole allied offensive in France is fitting into a pattern: while we strike, the British hold, and when the British move forward, we land the diversionary support.

At the other end of the European pincers, the Russians continue to move westward along a thousand mile front. In the past 24 hours, another two thousand populated places have been over-run. And tonight . . . the Russians have already opened a large-scale attack on the eastern suburbs of Warsaw. . . .

In their drive toward East Prussia, the Russian armies have advanced to within 15 miles of the frontier and to within less than sixty miles of Insterburg, one of the vital rail hubs of East Prussia.

In the air war over Europe, a thousand or more of our bombers went after scattered points near Munich and Ludwigshafen today. . . . For the first time, so far as is known, the enemy sent jet-propelled fighters against our ships. . . . While we were hitting Germany from the west, other bombers from bases in Italy picked up the attack over the Balkans. Storage plants near Bucharest and the oil fields at Ploesti were bombed. . . . On the ground in Italy, the Germans are fighting doggedly to hold their lines before Florence . . . if any of us tonight are feeling resentful about war conditions or our own sacrifices, we might think about the Englishwoman who said today: "A doodlebug just hit my house and I'm bombed out—my husband is a prisoner of war—and my sons are fighting at the front—but I've still got my job in the war plant."

March 11, 2019

1942. Bill Downs Prepares for Moscow Trip

CBS Sends Downs to Russia
Bill Downs' Soviet ID: "The People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs certifies that [Bill Downs] registered as a correspondent."
Bill Downs wrote these letters home to his family in Kansas City, Kansas shortly after being hired by Edward R. Murrow to take over for Larry LeSueur as the CBS correspondent in Moscow.
September 28, 1942

Dear Folks,

Well, I'm now with CBS and waiting to do my first broadcast which should come off some time next week. The trip to Russia is all set and I should be ready to leave sometime "before Xmas." I think I'll be traveling by the northern route by way of Murmansk although this is uncertain. The trip to Moscow should not be very dangerous now with winter coming on so there really is nothing to worry about. As I get it I'll be broadcasting about five times a week.

On the whole the job looks pretty good. It's surprising to be out from under the pressure of agency work. You don't have all the deadlines to meet. You actually only work a few minutes a day although it might take a full sixteen hours to gather the material for a broadcast. I have a lot to learn about technique—and hope to get that lined out before I get to Moscow. I also start some Russian lessons here in London next week. It seems a hopeless language to try to learn but they tell me it's really not as difficult as it appears at first.

All in all I'm pretty thrilled about the whole thing. My salary will be deposited in New York for me until I return. I'm buying heavy underwear, fur coats and gloves like mad. CBS pays for all the special kit I need and I'm picking up plenty of it. How I'm going to carry everything I need I don't know—but I'll manage somehow, I guess. The boys in Moscow already are cabling me to bring them such things as extra pipes, socks and neckties. Larry LeSueur, who I'm replacing out there, said he's leaving me a well-trained secretary—whatever that means. I'll probably stay at the Hotel Metropol where all the other correspondents stay. It's not going to be comfortable but it sure should be interesting.

I'm already trying to line up some British newspapers so that I can pick up some extra dough by writing articles for them. I also am negotiating with Newsweek magazine to do a weekly piece for them. I'm lining up an agent in New York to handle whatever articles I can write from there. All in all the assignment is shaping into something big and I am determined to make a success of it.

I'm sure busy and haven't had much time to write. In fact, I'm squeezing this letter in between appointments so I will have to keep it short. Meanwhile drop me a line and give everyone my regards.

Love,

Bill
___________________________


November 25, 1942

(Somewhere on the Atlantic)

Dear Mom, Dad and Bonnie Lee,

I don't know just where this will be mailed from or when you will get it. But I have now been aboard ship for almost three weeks and we're still going strong. It has been a pleasant trip so far with very little rough weather and now that we are getting into the tropics, I am picking up a sunburn that should look very funny if and when I get to Moscow. However, with the developments in North Africa, God knows where the company will send me. There is some possibility that I will be diverted to the North African theater of war—however I still want to get to Russia.

In many ways this has been a funny trip. There are over 200 passengers, all of them going on some kind of governmental and military missions. Consequentially everyone walks around with that knowing air of secrecy common to minor government officials and everyone gossips and guesses about everyone else. Our ship is an old one that should have been retired to the scrap heap shortly after the last war. However she is not too uncomfortable although the accommodations are a little on the Chic Sale side. I am traveling first class which means that I share a cabin with four other fellows—a British journalist, a Free French sailor and a photographic expert. We have gotten along fine so far with only occasional outbursts of "cabin fever."

But the biggest shortage is women. There are about a dozen women aboard of which only about four are worth consideration. You can imagine the time they are having with the extremely large plurality of men. However the boat is so crowded that immorality is next to impossible—but there have been several demonstrations that where there is a will there sure is a way.

The liquor aboard is extremely cheap and extremely good. For example, first class French champagne (impossible to get in London) sells here for about $2.50. And there are still some Rhenish and Moselle wines left such as Liebfraumilch and still some German Hock.

The funniest thing about the whole trip, however, is the way you have to line up for everything. You line up for food, for baths, for drink and it is a grand sight in the morning to see an Earl standing in his place behind a dock-worker waiting for a seat on the toilet. There is something grandiloquent and almost Episcopal about the slow moving of the bowels in the post-breakfast ceremony on the ship's only bathroom.

But the worst thing about the whole trip is the feeling of being completely isolated and cut off from the world. The day we left port the Americans marched into North Africa. I knew something like that was coming off but I didn't expect it so soon. At first the news was easy to pick up and the ship's radio gave us regular news broadcasts which everyone crowded around to hear. However news reception was not always so good and there have been periods of two full days when we have had no hint of what is going on. That's enough to drive a newspaperman nuts.

But the trip has been a grand rest. I have picked up a few pounds in weight and have been sleeping 10 hours a day. I hope to be in Moscow for Christmas but it is very uncertain. If I make good plane connections and the Russians don't get too mixed up in protocol and red tape about letting me pass right into their country, I should just about make it.

I am asking the CBS headquarters in New York to relay news of my movements through KMBC. Or else they will do it direct by telegram. You might get in touch with the manager of KMBC whoever he is—I understand Claude Dorsey is still with them—and make some kind of arrangements with him about the time of my broadcasts etc. I also have a proposition with Newsweek magazine when I get to Russia and you might keep an eye on that sheet for some of my stuff if I can get any printable stuff out. You have to remember that censorship is very stiff in the USSR.

This is about all for the present. I'll drop you another line from Cairo or Teheran and let you know what I've seen and where I've been. Although we've had boat drills every day there has been no occasion for any alarm. About the only thing we've seen was a whale. We should see some sharks soon which is definitely not a pleasant thought in case we have to take a sudden swim. You can expect to hear from me shortly.

Love,

Bill