Paul D. Harkins

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Paul D. Harkins
Paul D. Harkins2.JPG
Birth name Paul Donal Harkins
Nickname(s) Ramrod
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 career officer in the United States Army and attained the rank of General. He is most notable for having served during World War II as deputy chief of staff for operations in George S. Patton Jr.'s commands, and as the first Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) commander, a post he held from 1962 to 1964.

Early life[edit]

Harkins was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 15, 1904, the second of five children born to newspaper editor Edward Francis Harkins and May E. Kelly.[2][3] He decided early on a military career, and enlisted in the Massachusetts National Guard's 110th Cavalry Regiment in 1922, rising to the rank of sergeant and learning skills including horseback riding and polo.[4] While in the National Guard he took a competitive exam for an appointment to the United States Military Academy, and received the appointment, becoming a cadet in 1925. While at West Point, Harkins continued to play polo, and became captain of the team. He graduated in 1929 and was assigned to the Cavalry branch.[5]


Initial assignments[edit]

Assigned initially to the 7th Cavalry at Ft. Bliss, Harkins continued to hone his horsemanship and play polo. In 1933 he completed the Cavalry School's equitation course at Ft. Riley, after which he remained there for several years as an instructor. Beginning in 1939 he commanded F Troop, 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Ft. Myer, serving under regimental commander George S. Patton, Jr. In 1941 he graduated from the United States Army Command and General Staff College.

World War II[edit]

Third US Army staff, Harkins right rear

During the period immediately prior to U.S. entry into World War II, Harkins participated in large-scale exercises, including the Louisiana and Pine Camp maneuvers. He then served with the 1st Cavalry Brigade at Fort Bliss.

In January 1942, Harkins was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division at Ft. Benning, serving again under Patton, who was the division commander. In August 1942, Harkins became deputy chief of staff of Patton's Western Task Force, which was preparing for the invasion of North Africa. He took part in the assault landing at Fedhala Beach on November 8.

Harkins followed Patton when Patton became commander of the Seventh Army. As deputy chief of staff, Harkins played a major role in planning the invasion of Sicily, and in July of 1943 he took part in the D-Day landings and combat at Gela.

Harkins was then named deputy chief of staff for Third Army, serving under Patton and chief of staff General Hobart R. Gay. While in that capacity Harkins earned the nickname "Ramrod" for his determination to fulfill Patton's desire to always keep Third Army moving during combat in France.[6] 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".[7]

Harkins was present with Patton at the famous command and staff meeting called by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to discuss the Allied response to the German attack in the Ardennes which became known as the Battle of the Bulge, in which Patton promised that Third Army could be ready to disengage his troops from their current eastward attack and move north approximately a hundred miles to counter-attack in three days. This maneuver seemed impossible to those who were present, but was successfully executed once Patton received the go-ahead.[8]

Harkins remained in Germany after the war and took part in the occupation of Bavaria, transferring to Fifteenth Army when Patton was assigned as commander of that unit. Harkins escorted Mrs. Patton back to the United States following Patton's death in December, 1945.

West Point cheating scandal[edit]

From 1946 to 1951 Harkins served as deputy commandant of cadets at West Point and then commandant. On April 2, 1951 he was informed by a first class cadet that a classmate had told him that a group of cadets, mainly among the football team, were involved in an academic cheating ring.[9]

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.[6]

Korean War[edit]

In 1951 Harkins was to head the Plans Division of the Army staff's directorate of Operations and Training (G3), and in 1952 he was promoted to brigadier general. In April 1953, he was assigned chief of staff for Eighth Army in Korea, serving under commander Maxwell Taylor and receiving promotion to major general. In December of 1953 Harkins took command of the 45th Infantry Division. When the 45th returned to the United States Harkins took command of the 24th Infantry Division.

In 1954 Harkins was again assigned to the Army G-3 directorate, this time working in the International Affairs division as direct of Military Assistance Advisory Groups, which included activities and missions in 42 countries. In July, 1956 he was assigned as the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations and training, G-3.

Post-Korean War[edit]

Harkins was promoted to lieutenant general in 1957 and assigned as commander of NATO’s Allied Land Forces, Southeastern Europe with headquarters in Izmir, Turkey. In addition to efforts to modernize NATO communications infrastructure, Harkins also endeavored to improve relations between Turkey and Greece.

In 1960 Harkins went to Hawaii for assignment as deputy commander of US Army, Pacific. In April, 1961, he was selected to command a joint task force deployed initially to Okinawa and then the Philippines in anticipation of deployment into Laos. Events in Laos did not require Harkins' task force to be used, and he resumed his duties at USARPAC.


In January, 1962 Harkins was promoted to general as commander of Military Assistance Command -- Vietnam. He was assigned as the initial U.S. troop build up which esclated into the Vietnam war occurred. 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."[10]


At the beginning of his command of MACV, Harkins and his staff had repeatedly expressed optimism about the course of the war. Members of the U.S. press nicknamed him "General Blimp" (after the cartoon character Colonel Blimp) because of their belief that he inflated the success of U.S and South Vietnam military activities. As violence continued to escalate, many reporters began to perceive 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 Harkins and his staff, and they concluded that Harkins was misinformed by his staff or untruthful.

The battle of Ap Bac in particular seriously affected many of the reporters view of Harkins' credibility. 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".[11] ("Suntans" was the nickname for the Army's khaki-colored tropical uniform.) 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!",[11] 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".[12] 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".[13][14]

Time magazine correspondent Lee Griggs and Mecklin parodied the General in song at one time for saying the war was "well in hand". Sung to the tune of the Christian hymn Jesus Loves Me, the verse went:

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".[15]

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.[16]

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.


Harkins was a recipient of: the Army Distinguished Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters; Legion of Merit; Bronze Star Medal with V for valor and one Oak Leaf Cluster; Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters; World War II European Campaign Medal with eight service stars; and Korean War Service Medal with two service stars. In addition, he received foreign decorations from Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the U.S.S.R., and South Korea.


Harkins retired after returning from Vietnam, and was an advisor for the American Security Council Foundation. His wife and he later resided in Dallas, Texas, where he studied art and became an accomplished painter.

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

Harkins wrote a book on General George S. Patton Jr. and Third Army, 1969's When the Third Cracked Europe: The Story of Patton's Incredible Army. Harkins was also a technical consultant for the 1970 film Patton.

Death and burial[edit]

Harkins died in Dallas on August 21, 1984.[17] He was buried at West Point Cemetery, Section IX, Row A, Grave 053.[18]


In 1933 Harkins married Elizabeth Mae Conner (1904-2000). They were the parents of a daughter, Virginia, who was the wife of West Point graduate Leslie D. Carter, Jr.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ President Lyndon Baines Johnson Remarks Upon Presenting the Distinguished Service Medal to General Harkins.1964-06-24
  2. ^ Tucker, Sepncer C. (2011). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 458. ISBN 978-1-85109-960-3. 
  3. ^ Current Biography Yearbook. New York, NY: H. W. Wilson Co. 1965. p. 179. 
  4. ^ Current Biography Yearbook, Volume 25. New York, NY: H. W. Wilson Co. 1964. p. 20. 
  5. ^ "Paul D. Harkins, 1929". West Point Association of Graduates. 1984. 
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Wallace, Brenton Green Patton and His Third Army Stackpole Books rev ed 2000 ISBN 978-0-8117-2896-6 p. 204
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ USMA Bicentennial History
  10. ^ To Liberate from Oppression Time magazine 1962-05-11 retrieved 2208-01-02
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Moyar, MarkHistory National Review Online 2007-07-05 retrieved 2008-01-03
  13. ^ Moyar, Mark Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 Cambridge University Press (2006) ISBN 978-0-521-86911-9.
  14. ^ The Papers of John Martin Mecklin Dartmouth College retrieved 2008-01-02
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ 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: [1] Accessed July 18, 2009.
  17. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2009). U.S. Leadership in Wartime: Clashes, Controversy, and Compromise, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 814. ISBN 978-1-59884-173-2. 
  18. ^ Paul D. Harkins at Find a Grave

Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Wyatt" defined multiple times with different content

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