Thursday, July 2, 2009


Because I've been running the daily "As Seen On TV" feature all year, the first things I look for when a celebrity dies are any historical figures whom they may have played on television.

For Harve Presnell, who died yesterday at the age of 75, that real life figure was General Paul Harkins......

(May 15, 1904 - August 21, 1984)

Paul Donal Harkins was born in Boston and graduated with the West Point class of 1929. He was Deputy Chief of Staff during World War II to George S. Patton Jr. and later became a U.S. Army General and the first Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) commander from 1962 to 1964.

Harve Presnell

"A Bright Shining Lie"

"A Bright Shining Lie" was based on the book by Neil Sheehan and also starred Bill Paxton as John Paul Vann and Kurtwood Smith as General Westmoreland.

Here's what Wikipedia says about General Harkins' involvement in the Viet Nam War:

The initial U.S. build up in the Viet Nam war occurred during his watch. Harkins appeared on the cover of Time magazine, (What it Takes to Win 1962-05-11), where he was described as "look(ing) every inch the professional soldier". The article went on to describe his "demanding" job and the commitment of the US to stay in Viet Nam even if it took a decade, quoting then Attorney General Robert Kennedy from November 1962, "We are going to win in Viet Nam. We will remain until we do."

At the beginning of his command of MACV Harkins and his staff had repeatedly expressed optimism about the course of the war. As the violence escalated however, many reporters began to feel that what they were seeing in the field and being told confidentially by officers such as Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann did not match the information released by MACV.
The battle of Ap Bac in particular seriously affected many of the reporters view of the credibility of the Army and of Harkins in particular. When details of the battle emerged that differed from the Army's official version it became a very serious matter and press reports of it embarrassed the Kennedy administration.

Harkins was described by Neil Sheehan as an "American General with a swagger stick and cigarette holder...who would not deign to soil his suntans and street shoes in a rice paddy to find out what was going on was prattling about having trapped the Viet Cong".

New York Times reporter David Halberstam became so angry with Harkins he refused to shake his hand at a Fourth of July celebration, declaring at one point that "Paul D. Harkins should be court-martialed and shot!"

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