As President Lyndon Baines Johnson took over the presidency that fateful November weekend in 1963, his administration did not consider Vietnam a priority and were more concerned with his “Great Society” and progressive social programs.
Then on Sunday, November 24, just two days after the assassination of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald was being led through the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters in advance of his transfer to the county jail at 11:21 a.m. when he was shot on live television by Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby.
Later the same day, newly sworn-in President Johnson said,
“We should stop playing cops and robbers and get back to… winning the war… tell the generals in Saigon that Lyndon Johnson intends to stand by our word… win the contest against the externally directed and supported Communist conspiracy.”
President Johnson also said,
“The battle against communism… must be joined… with strength and determination.”
President Johnson’s pledge to expand the war came at a time when the situation in South Vietnam was deteriorating, especially in places like the Mekong Delta, because of the recent coup and assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diệm.
Then on Tuesday, November 26, 1963 President Johnson reversed Kennedy’s disengagement policy from Vietnam of withdrawing 1,000 troops by the end of 1963 (National Security Action Memorandum 263) by issuing his own National Security Action Memorandum 273 that expanded the Vietnam war.
Later Presidential aide Jack Valenti recalled,
“Vietnam at the time was no bigger than a man’s fist on the horizon. We hardly discussed it because it was not worth discussing.”
Many have wondered how our history in Vietnam might have been different if President Kennedy had not been assassinated that Friday in Dallas.
Now WE know em