An Air Force general who was wrongly accused of launching unauthorized airstrikes against North Vietnam, relieved of command and demoted to a two-star general has been vindicated nearly 40 years later. The White House announced Wednesday that Maj. Gen. John D. Lavelle has been nominated to be posthumously reinstated as a full general.
Lavelle was accused of ordering 28 unauthorized raids against North Vietnam between January and March of 1972 and then falsifying reports in an effort to cover them up. The airstrikes came at time when President Nixon had halted most bombing during peace negotiations, prompting his demotion.
“In 2007, newly released and declassified information resulted in evidence that Lavelle was authorized by President Richard Nixon to conduct the bombing missions,” a Defense Department news release said. “Further, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records found no evidence Lavelle caused, either directly or indirectly, the falsification of records, or that he was even aware of their existence. Once he learned of the reports, Lavelle took action to ensure the practice was discontinued.”
U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., praised Obama’s decision, saying in a news release, “For those of us who care about history, the vindication of General Lavelle’s conduct during the Vietnam War is important news."
Lavelle died in 1979. He told the House Armed Services Committee in 1972 that he ordered the airstrikes to try to stop the North Vietnamese Army’s buildup for what became the Easter Offensive into South Vietnam.
“If I had to do it over, I would do the same thing, but I would check into the reporting procedure better,” Lavelle told lawmakers at the time, according to the Associated Press.
At the time, Seymour Hersh, then a reporter for the New York Times, reported that Lavelle had been given implicit permission to carry out the raids.
“Lavelle's problem was his loyalty to superiors, even dishonest ones,” Hersh said in an e-mail on Wednesday.