Monday, March 21, 2011

Frequently Mentioned Persons: Brigadier General William Eugene DePuy, U.S. Army, MACV J-3

One of the most influential and contentious figures in the MACV headquarters, and in Clark's diary, was Brigadier General William Eugene DePuy, the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations (J-3). 

Brigadier General William E. DePuy, U.S. Army, left.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Army.)

DePuy was born in 1919 in Jamestown, North Dakota.  He was an ROTC graduate of South Dakota State University and the Army commissioned him a second lieutenant in 1941.  He served with the 20th Infantry Regiment and the 90th Infantry Division during World War II, from the D-Day invasion through the Battle of the Bulge.  DePuy rose from the rank of second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel in less than three years. 

After the war, DePuy commanded the 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division, and the 1st Battle Group, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, in occupied West Germany.  In 1948, he attended the Defense Language Institute to learn Russian, followed by a year's assignment as Assistant Military Attache and the acting Military Attache with the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, Hungary.   During the Korean War, the Army detailed DePuy to serve with the Central Intelligence Agency.   He served in a series of U.S. Army staff and command positions throughout the 1950s.  In 1961, he attended the British Imperial Defense College. 

In 1964, the Army assigned DePuy to MACV as Westmoreland's J-3.  According to several sources, Westmoreland and DePuy enjoyed a close personal and professional relationship. 

DePuy described himself during his tenure as J-3 as "impatient," a man "trying to make things happen, usually unsuccessfully, not wanting to be told things aren't working well."[1] 

One of Clark's fellow staff officers in the MACV headquarters in 1965 described DePuy in this manner:  "He was a ball of fire, he was dynamite, he exuded energy, he bounced around, he didn't walk around.  He had an opinion on everything, he was always there, if he wasn't there, he was on his way there." [2]

The staff officer related an experience when he briefed DePuy and a visiting congressman at MACV I headquarters:

"I was the J-2 briefer and I was up on the briefing platform pointing at the maps that we had and talking about the enemy situation and so forth as I did for each of these VIP kinds of briefings. 

"And as I finished, you get to the Q & A part and you try and phrase it so that they don't want to ask you any questions because you want to get off of that stage because this is a very dangerous time for you. 

"So he, this is DePuy, was escorting the congressman, so he was the senior officer in the briefing theater at the time, then the congressman and some staff people. 

"At the end, I got to, 'Well sir, are there any questions?'  The congressman I guess simply to show his interest, that he had been awake and listening, he said, 'Yes, I'd like to ask you a question.' 

"And he asked the question, something about intelligence, and I can't remember what it was, but it was some specific about intelligence and I knew that we had no position on that because we did not have definitive information, we didn't have two sources; so we did not have a position on that.  And I told him, 'Sir, we do not have a position on that for a variety of reasons,' and so forth. 

"And then he stepped right in it and said, 'Well, I don't care about that; I want to know your opinion.  You're in the J-2, what's your opinion of this?'  And I was stunned.  What do you do?  I mean, this is the congressman, he's got a general with him and he's saying, 'I want your opinion.' 

"And so I once again said, 'Well sir, you know, I'm a major, we have no position.'  And he insisted, 'What do you think?'  And so by prefacing it, 'This is my personal opinion, in the little time that I've been here in my shallow background, I think thus and so and thus and so.' 

"And General DePuy jumped up and hollered 'Horseshit!'  And leaped up onto the briefing platform, turned around, and took over the briefing in which he presented his view of this intelligence material that we didn't know anything about.  I got off there and then I had to go back [to J-2] and say that, 'Well in essence, General DePuy is up there now, he's giving his position,' and so forth and so on, so my shop would know that things had gotten a little out of hand." [3]

Clark confided to his diary that he and DePuy had a similarly adversarial and stormy professional relationship.  In practice, DePuy told Clark what he wanted moved and when he wanted it moved.  If Clark contradicted him, DePuy interrupted Clark with a curt, "that's wrong."  As the staff officer recounted in the quote above, and as Clark wrote in his diary, DePuy promoted a culture of authoritarianism within the MACV staff headquarters.  He was quick to threaten subordinates, especially during periods of stress.  DePuy thought he was exhibiting strong, secure leadership; junior officers like Clark and the staff officer percieved the opposite; to them, only weak and insecure leaders routinely used threats and poor commanders resorted to threats when they did not know what to do.  This threatening environment persisted in the mid-1960s because DePuy was insecure.  His insecurity derived from several factors.

The editor has italicized the fact that DePuy rose from second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel in three years.  The editor believes this fact explains DePuy's professional character and behavior in Vietnam as J-3 and later as the commander of the 1st Infantry Division. 

The U.S. Army expanded from about 190,000 troops to 8.2 million soldiers during World War II, when DePuy had just become an officer, and the expansion caused major changes in the Army officer corps culture.  The Army promoted DePuy to command and staff positions in which he confronted challenges and responsibilities far beyond his level of maturity and experience.  He had never really been a platoon leader, and he had never been a company commander, yet he commanded a battalion fifteen years before he should have been qualified to do so.  He was anxious about his ability to cope and he relied on subordinates who were relative amateurs, both of which exacerbated his anxieties.  DePuy coped and succeeded in the Army by adopting an authoritarian behavior pattern.  He was uncritically submissive to superior officers, insistent on unquestioning obedience from subordinate officers, solicitous of his own prerogatives, punitive toward his subordinates, and alleviated his anxiety by instilling fear in his subordinates.

By the time the Army commissioned Clark in 1950, authoritarianism was an norm within the Army officer corps culture.  Although the Army's regulations had not changed, its advice to junior officers emphasized that military orders must be obeyed and that the leader must obtain compliance. 

During the fifteen years of Clark's career, the Army officer corps emphasized looking good rather than being professionally competent.  For a time during the 1950s, the Army's motto was "zero defects."   When the Eisenhower Administration downsized the Army by thirty percent in three years,  senior officers like DePuy became insecure.  They refused to exercise any initiative or take any chances that led to career-ending mistakes or errors.  As a result, these colonels and generals compensated for their insecurities by inducing anxiety in their subordinates.  They demanded too much from junior officers, induced too much fear in their subordinates, dodged as much responsibility as they could, and covered up their mistakes.

As we can see in Clark's diary and in the staff officer's vignette, the authoritarian command climate was pervasive in Saigon in 1965.  DePuy in particular insisted on unquestioning obedience.  For him, punishment of "wrong" thinking or behavior was the only way he knew to ensure the order and efficiency of his operations.  He did not communicate with, nor respect, junior officers. 

DePuy proved just as willing to assert control over transportation, part of Crowley's domain as J-4, as he did over the briefing platform at MACV headquarters.  He explained how his operational philosophy impacted the movement control system in South Vietnam:  "Generally speaking, though, during the time that I was there [1965-1966], we were a little thin on the logistics side.  The best example of that came from a meeting I used to chair every morning in Saigon.  The first report I always got was on the backlog of our tactical intra-theater airlift, C-130s and C-123s.  That backlog would go up, and up, and up, whenever we ran an operation.  Then, we would work that backlog back down by stopping all major operations.  After doing that, we again would be able to move the 173d or the 101st, or the Vietnamese, and support another operation during which the logistic backlog once again would grow." [4]

Crowley's predecessor as J-4, Brigadier General Frank A. Osmanski, complained that DePuy rarely asked logistical officers for advice when he planned operations, which resulted "in the plans being imposed from the top."   Another MACV J-4, Major General Raymond Conroy, similarly criticized DePuy's methods:  "You don't call your J-4 in three days before an operation and ask him if he can support you and you've had your staff working on it for five months.  You get him in the game early and that is the only way." [5]

Perhaps a more experienced or principled J-4 than Crowley might have challenged DePuy on Clark's behald and preserved the integrity of the movements system.  But, as Clark noted in his diary, Crowley was "poorly qualified in transportation," and ignored the magnitude of cargo that backlogged at the aerial port at Tan Son Nhut and the seaport at Saigon. [6]
[1]  William E. DePuy, “Remarks to the Army Museum Conference,”  16 April 1974, Historical Office, US Army TRADOC, Fort Monroe, Virginia.
[2]  Interview with Dr. I. Thomas Sheppard, conducted by Laura M. Calkins, PhD, 3,18,20, and 25 October 2005; 3 and 17 November 2005; 13 December 2005; and 24 and 31 January 2006.  The Vietnam Archive Oral History Project, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie L. Brownlee and Lieutenant Colonel William J. Mullen III, “Changing An Army:  An Oral History of General William E. DePuy, USA Retired”, (United States Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, PA: 1986), 135.
[5]  Interview, Brigadier General Frank A. Osmanski, MACV J-4, 4 February 1965, MACV Military Historical Branch; Interview, Major General Raymond Conroy, General Officer Oral Histories, Biggs Library and Information Center, U.S. Army Transportation School, Fort Eustis, VA.
[6] RPC Diary, 5 September 1965.

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