Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TOP STORY > >J’Accuse: Smearing of general

Leader executive editor

Air Force Gen. John D. Lavelle, who died more than 30 years ago, after he was falsely accused of insubordination, is a four-star general again.

President Obama last week restored the two stars that were stripped away from Lavelle in 1972, after the Nixon White House drummed him out of the Air Force for bombing North Vietnamese targets that were supposedly off-limits.

The media had portrayedLavelle as a rogue general who was running his own bombing campaign without approval from the White House and covering up those missions.

The controversy became known as the Lavelle Affair.

When the bombing campaign was exposed in the media, Lavelle was made the fall guy. After congressional hearings, he was demoted two ranks, to major general, and drummed out of the Air Force.

In fact, Nixon himself had ordered the bombings, but when the coverup was exposed, Tricky Dick made Lavelle take the fall.
It was one of the worst military scandals in U.S. history, entirely hatched in the White House, so you know Nixon had a hand in it.

Ever an officer and a gentleman, Lavelle accepted responsibility and took his punishment, although he’d tell reporters who asked that he was doing the White House’s bidding.

With the release of more Nixon tapes and a confession by former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, we now know what really happened: Nixon had ordered the bombing of some 20 North Vietnamese missile batteries even if they posed no danger to our pilots.

Why couldn’t our pilots target the missile sites?

Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his national security chief, had made a deal during peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese to ease up on the bombing campaign, unless our forces felt threatened.

But Nixon secretly sent word to Lavelle, the commander of air operations in Vietnam, that he could bomb anywhere he felt like it, so the general obliged.

Nixon, although devious as ever, felt some guilt about framing Lavelle. That didn’t bother Kissinger, who was probably in on the doublecross.

“I just don’t want him to be made a goat, goddamnit,” Nixon told Kissinger on the once-secret tapes. “It’s just a hell of a damn.

And it’s a bad rap for him, Henry.”

Kissinger, having helped wreck a general’s good name and career, said, “I think this will go away.”

But 35 years later, Laird told two writers for Air Force Magazine that Lavelle had done exactly what he was told: “The new orders permitted hitting anti-aircraft installations and other dangerous targets if spotted on their missions, whether they were activated or not,” Laird told retired Lt. Gen. Aloysius Casey and his son Patrick Casey, who wrote the Air Force Magazine article three years ago.

So even after that finding, it’s taken all these years to right a wrong. Lavelle was too much of a gentleman to fight to get his rank back, but when reporters asked him about Vietnam, he’d tell them he was doing what was expected of him.

Under different circumstances, he could have become Air Force chief of staff and perhaps even chairman of the joint chiefs.

But Nixon, Kissin-ger and Laird made sure that didn’t happen. What’s worse, his enemies in the military who resented his success in three wars didn’t mind seeing him punished for something he didn’t do.

A veteran of the Second World War, as well as the Korea and Vietnam conflicts, Lavelle was a brilliant military strategist who played by the rules set down by his superiors.

Lavelle died in 1979 at the age of 62, a broken man.

His son, John D. Lavelle, Jr. said, “In the end, I think he found comfort in knowing that what he did saved some airmen’s lives, and that was worth more to him than four stars.”

His friends and family stood behind him and helped clear his name and recovered the stars that Nixon and Kissinger took from him.

Like Col. Alfred Dreyfus in France before him, Gen. Lavelle was the victim of a miscarriage of military justice that took years to correct.

Dreyfus, released from Devil’s Island after 12 years of incarceration, saw justice triumph many years after he was falsely accused of spying for the Germans.

Lavelle wasn’t imprisoned, but he didn’t live long enough to see himself exonerated. His 91-year-old widow, Mary Jo, should accept the stars that the cabal in the Nixon White House stole from her husband so long ago.