Paul D. Harkins

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Paul Harkins)
Jump to: navigation, search
Paul D. Harkins
Paul D. Harkins2.JPG
Birth name Paul Donal Harkins
Nickname(s) Ramrod Harkins
Born (1904-05-15)May 15, 1904
Boston, Massachusetts
Died August 21, 1984(1984-08-21) (aged 80)
Dallas, Texas
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Army seal United States Army
Years of service 1929–1964
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg General
Unit Third Army
Commands held Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Cold War
Vietnam War
Awards Army Distinguished Service Medal (3)[1]

Paul Donal Harkins (May 15, 1904 – August 21, 1984) was Deputy Chief of Staff during World War II to George S. Patton Jr. and later became a U.S. Army General and the first Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) commander from 1962 to 1964.

Early life[edit]

Harkins was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was a West Point graduate, class of 1929.


World War II[edit]

Third US Army staff, Harkins right rear

Harkins was deputy Chief of Staff, Third Army, under General Hobart R. Gay. While in that capacity he earned the nickname "Ramrod" for his determination to fulfill Patton's desire to always keep moving.[2] When asked by a fellow officer who asked him "how the devil our G.I.s can remain so cheerful at the front under these frightful conditions?" Harkins is said to have replied, "Well the Old Man knows that as long as they are winning and moving forward they will remain happy and their morale will be high".[3]

Harkins, in his capacity as deputy of operations, for the Third Army, was present with Patton at the famous staff meeting called by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to discuss the Allied response to the German attack in the Ardennes, in which Patton promised Eisenhower that Third Army would be ready to disengage his troops from their current eastward attack and move north approximately a hundred miles to counter-attack in three days, something which seemed impossible at the time.[4]

West Point cheating scandal[edit]

On April 2, 1951 Harkins, commandant of cadets and head of the tactical department at West Point, was informed by a first class cadet that a classmate had told him that there was a group of cadets, mainly among the football team, who were involved in a cheating ring.[5]

Harkins had made it plain that he felt that the nationally ranked football team was not in line with his vision of the USMA. In a controversial decision, he asked cadets to gather information about the cheating; eventually a formal inquiry was held and ninety cadets were dismissed from the academy, some of those had not participated in the cheating but knew of it and had not reported it, which was considered a breach of the Cadet Honor Code (A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do).

The head coach for Army at that time, Earl "Red" Blaik, felt that Harkins was "a black and white man with no shades of gray" and accused him of bias. Blaik's son was one of the cadets who knew of the cheating but had not acted.[2]


The initial U.S. build up in the Vietnam war occurred during his watch. Harkins appeared on the cover of Time magazine, (What it Takes to Win May 11, 1962), where he was described as "look(ing) every inch the professional soldier". The article went on to the commitment of the US to stay in Vietnam even if it took a decade, quoting then Attorney General Robert Kennedy from November 1962, "We are going to win in Vietnam. We will remain until we do."[6]


At the beginning of his command of MACV Harkins and his staff had repeatedly expressed optimism about the course of the war. He was nicknamed "General Blimp" by the U.S. press due to his inflation of ARVN success. As the violence escalated however, many reporters began to feel that what they were seeing in the field and being told confidentially by officers such as Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann did not match the information released by MACV.

The battle of Ap Bac in particular seriously affected many of the reporters view of the credibility of the Army and of Harkins in particular. When details of the battle emerged that differed from the Army's official version it became a very serious matter and press reports of it embarrassed the Kennedy administration.

Harkins was described by Neil Sheehan as an "American General with a swagger stick and cigarette holder...who would not deign to soil his suntans and street shoes in a rice paddy to find out what was going on was prattling about having trapped the Viet Cong".[7] New York Times Vietnam correspondent David Halberstam became so angry with Harkins he refused to shake his hand at a Fourth of July celebration, hosted at the US Embassy, Saigon. When the hosts called for a toast to Harkins, Halberstam shouted "Paul D. Harkins should be court-martialed and shot!",[7] in contrast to his compatriots, who complied with the toast for Harkins.

Mark Moyar, an associate professor at the U.S. Marine Corps University feels that Halberstam and Sheehan along with other reporters "horribly tarnished the reputations of some very fine Americans, including General Harkins".[8] Moyar writes that others, such as John Mecklin (then on leave from Time as Public Affairs officer for the US embassy) observed Harkins living a "Spartan" life in Saigon and traveling "daily" by small plane around the country to gather and evaluate information from South Vietnamese and American troops. Moyar observes that while Harkins was not a " creative or brilliant strategist" he was a "superb motivational and technical coach, which was what the situation most demanded".[9][10]

Time magazine correspondent Lee Griggs and Mecklin parodied the General in song at one time for saying the war was "well in hand".

We are winning, this I know, General Harkins tells me so.
In the mountains, things are rough,
In the Delta, mighty tough,
But the V.C. will soon go, General Harkins tells me so.

Griggs recalls the General overheard this and "did not smile".[11]

Harkins' comment to his replacement, General Westmoreland[edit]

As interviewed later by historian Michael MacLear, the incoming commander General William Westmoreland replacing Harkins in 1964, recalled later that he got varying readings from the outgoing Harkins, whose favorite poet was Kipling, and when veering from optimism to pessimism would, according to Westmoreland, “constantly” quote a version of Kipling for him:

The end of the fight is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased.
And the epitaph drear, a fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East.

Said Westmoreland: “I’m very fond of Kipling because he’s a soldier’s poet,” but he confessed: “I didn’t take it quite to heart.” The reason given by MacLear being that neither Kipling nor even MacArthur – no one in the history of war – had ever known the mobility and firepower that Westmoreland had been promised by Secretary of Defense McNamara, and was shortly to command.[12]

When Harkins left in June, 1964 there were between 11,200 and 16,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. His successor Westmoreland raised the levels to 500,000 men by 1968.


Book cover When the Third Cracked Europe: The Story of Patton's Incredible Army

Harkins wrote a book in 1969 on General George S. Patton Jr. and Third Army titled When the Third Cracked Europe: The Story of Patton's Incredible Army.

Harkins also is credited as a technical consultant for the 1970 film Patton.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] President Lyndon Baines Johnson Remarks Upon Presenting the Distinguished Service Medal to General Harkins.1964-06-24
  2. ^ a b Maraniss, David When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi Simon and Schuster 2000 ISBN 0-684-87290-0 p. 120-124
  3. ^ Wallace, Brenton Green Patton and His Third Army Stackpole Books rev ed 2000 ISBN 978-0-8117-2896-6 p. 204
  4. ^ Lande, D.A. I Was with Patton: First-Person Accounts of WWII in George S. Patton's Command Zenith Imprint 2002 ISBN 0-7603-1071-8 p. 203-204
  5. ^ USMA Bicentennial History
  6. ^ To Liberate from Oppression Time magazine 1962-05-11 retrieved 2208-01-02
  7. ^ a b Wyatt, Clarence Paper Soldiers:The American Press and the Vietnam War University of Chicago Press 1995 ISBN 0-226-91795-9 p.100-110
  8. ^ Moyar, MarkHistory National Review Online 2007-07-05 retrieved 2008-01-03
  9. ^ Moyar, Mark Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 Cambridge University Press 2006-08-26 ISBN 978-0521869119 165
  10. ^ The Papers of John Martin Mecklin Dartmouth College retrieved 2008-01-02
  11. ^ Memories of a Fallen City Time magazine 1975-05-12 retrieved 2008-01-02 nb The article refers to the parody as being to the tune of Rock of Ages but is actually Jesus Loves Me
  12. ^ Chapter 10 (Westy’s War) pp 155-6. Ten Thousand Day War: Vietnam : 1945-1975 (Hardback) by Michael MacLear. St. Martin's Press (January 1, 1981). ISBN 0-312-84590-1 ISBN 978-0312845902 Online: [2] Accessed July 18, 2009.

Further reading[edit]

  • Harkins, Paul When the Third Cracked Europe;: The Story of Patton's Incredible Army Stackpole Books 1969 ISBN 978-0-8117-1164-7

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Command created
Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Succeeded by
William Westmoreland