September 9, 2017

1968. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's Farewell Ceremony

The End of an Era for the Pentagon
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (left) at the Pentagon seated with his successor Clark Clifford on February 7, 1968 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

February 28, 1968

It was a rare scene in the East Room of the White House this afternoon. The Vice President and all the Cabinet members were there along with Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Ambassador Averell Harriman, as well as the Chief Justice and Mrs. Earl Warren—and more members of the former Kennedy administration than had gathered in the executive mansion than about any time since Lyndon Johnson won the presidency for himself in 1964.

If there was any coolness between the Johnson and Kennedy factions, it was not evident today. For both Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy and their wives were also on hand.

The occasion, of course, was the president's official farewell to one of the most outstanding public servants to hit official Washington in many a year. Tomorrow Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara steps out of the Cabinet after seven long years in the Pentagon of reorganizing and modernizing the United States defense establishment.

There were some generals and admirals present who will be glad to see him go. And McNamara's arch-critic, Congressman Mendel Rivers, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has made no secret of his joy that the secretary is resigning to become head of the World Bank.

But Rivers was there too, as were the generals and admirals, because, like him or hate him, they unanimously agreed that McNamara took on an impossible task and somehow unified the military services and made his system work.

President Johnson personally said all the proper words of tribute and then read the citation on presenting McNamara the nation's highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom.

Also present was Clark Clifford, presidential adviser who will be sworn in tomorrow to take over the Pentagon. Clifford watched the ceremonies with bowed head, looking at his own feet—and McNamara's shoes.

This is Bill Downs in Washington for Information Reports.