Photo courtesy of Office of Air Force History
A USAF Boeing B-52 Stratofortress drops its bombs during an Arclight mission over Vietnam. Gen Westmoreland proposed during Operation Niagara to drop a cascade of bombs and shells on the NVA force around Khe Sanh.
der ordered his staff to come up with a plan for the second phase of the operation. Most importantly, Westmoreland placed his deputy for Air, Air Force General William W. "Spike" Momyer in charge.
General Momyer made no secret about his unhappiness with the air arrangements
in Vietnam, especially with Marine aviation. As his nickname implied,
Momyer, who had replaced General Moore as Commanding General, Seventh
Air Force in the summer of 1967, was a strong, opinionated commander
who argued his case forcefully. He bluntly shared his views even with
Marine generals. Momyer told both Major General Louis B. Robertshaw,
the previous commander of the 1st MAW, and Brigadier General John R.
Chais-son, the director of the MACV combat operations center, that he
wanted operational control of Marine air and "didn't think we should
have two air forces supporting the battle in South Vietnam." While Marine
commanders held up the Korean War aviation arrangement as the one precedent
to avoid at all costs, Momyer frankly declared that it was his objective
"to get the air responsibilities straightened out as we had them in
Korea . . . ." He believed that the Marine system of air control failed
to make priorities and, in effect, wasted valuable air assets in attempting
to meet all of the needs of the ground commanders.32*
With the impetus now on Operation Niagara, Momyer used the opportunity to try to alter the air relationships at Khe Sanh. He convinced General
*General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., who was Marine Corps Commandant from
1964 through 1967, recalled that during one visit to Vietnam he had
an "extremely angry exchange [with General Momyer] which culminated
in 'Spike' and his staff following us to the curb on our departure!
Verbal fists flying!" Gen Wallace M. Greene, Jr., Comments on draft,
dtd 11Oct94 (Vietnam Comment File). According to a still unpublished
Air Force history. General Momyer was selected as commander of the Seventh
Air Force because of "his convictions about the best way to employ fighter
aircraft . . . No Army commander was apt to get the best of an argument
with Momyer over air power." Wayne Thompson, "The United States Air
Force in Southeast Asia, From Rolling Thunder to Line Backer, The Air
War over North Vietnam, 1966-1975," ms, Center of Air Force History,
Chapter 1, pp. 21-22.