By Edward J. Marolda
Admiral Thomas H. Moorer commanded or directed U.S. military forces during much of the Vietnam War. The gruff, straight-talking son of Alabama, a combat veteran of World War II, first exerted influence on U.S. actions in Southeast Asia during the period from October 1962 to March 1965, when he served as Commander Seventh Fleet and then Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Moorer was a strong advocate of using naval and air power to dissuade North Vietnam from its support of insurgency in South Vietnam and Laos. In 1964, his aircraft carriers sent reconnaissance and escort planes over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos as part of the Yankee Team Operation.
The admiral also called for extension of the Desoto Patrol maritime reconnaissance program to the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam and use of the resulting intelligence in support of Washington's covert Operation 34 Alpha. On 2 August 1964, when North Vietnamese torpedo boats unsuccessfully attacked Maddox (DD 731), a Desoto Patrol destroyer, Moorer responded by immediately ordering Maddox and another destroyer, Turner Joy (DD 950), to resume the operation along North Vietnam's coastline. Convinced that Communist naval vessels carried out a second attack, later discounted, on the night of 4 August, the admiral helped persuade Washington to launch retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnam the following day.
Before departing the theater for another command in March 1965, Moorer strongly endorsed the use of American warships to stop Communist seaborne infiltration, the deployment of U.S. Marines to Danang, and the start of systematic bombing operations in Laos and North Vietnam. The Pacific Fleet commander was an early critic of Secretary of Defense McNamara's efforts to micromanage the Navy-Air Force bombing campaign from Washington.
Moorer began to exert influence over the direction of the Vietnam War once again in August 1967, when President Johnson appointed him Chief of Naval Operations. Between July 1970 and July 1974, the admiral took on even greater responsibility as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The admiral did not persuade Nixon to slow the pace of the U.S. military withdrawal from Southeast Asia, but he did convince the president to resume bombing and to mine the ports of North Vietnam in the spring of 1972. As a result of these actions, in January 1973 Hanoi agreed to cease hostilities in Southeast Asia.
Marolda, Edward J. By Sea, Air, and Land: An Illustrated History of the U.S. Navy and the War in Southeast Asia. Washington: Naval Historical Center, 1994.
Marolda, Edward J. and Fitzgerald, Oscar P. From Military Assistance to Combat, 1959-1965,Vol. II in series The United States Navy and the Vietnam Conflict. Washington: Naval Historical Center, 1986.
Schreadley, Richard L. From the Rivers to the Sea: The U.S. Navy in Vietnam. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1992.
Reproduced with permission from: Tucker, Spencer C., ed. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998.