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Two Stars for Lavelle

Two Stars for Lavelle

Maj. Gen. John Lavelle is set to posthumously get back the two stars taken from him.

—Amy McCullough
Aug. 11, 2010—President Obama in early August posthumously nominated Maj. Gen. John D. Lavelle for advancement on the retired rolls to the rank of full general. This move would return the two stars stripped from Lavelle for alleged—and now debunked—misconduct during the Vietnam War.

"Jack was a good man, a good husband, a good father, and a good officer. I wish he was alive to hear this news," said his 91-year-old widow, Mary Jo Lavelle, in a statement.

Lavelle was demoted for allegedly ordering unauthorized “protective reaction” bombing missions into North Vietnam, and falsifying reports to conceal them. He died in 1979.

Lavelle’s family fought for more than three decades to correct the record and restore his reputation. Favorable Senate action would restore Lavelle to his highest active duty rank, when he was removed from command of 7th Air Force in Saigon in April 1972.

The nomination was awaiting Senate approval as Congress adjourned for its August recess. However, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee released a joint statement Aug. 5 saying the committee would act "expeditiously on the matter."

"After their decades-long fight to restore General Lavelle's honor, his wife Mary Josephine and her family deserve prompt action," wrote Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz).

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), a Vietnam veteran who helped move the case forward, also praised the decision. "For those of us who care about history, the vindication of General Lavelle's conduct during the Vietnam War is important news," said Webb in a statement.

Obama's nomination followed an Air Force Board of Correction of Military Records (BCMR) decision and recommendations from the Secretary of Defense and Air Force Secretary. His case was reviewed after information declassified and released showed that President Nixon had authorized Lavelle to conduct the bombings.

Two articles in Air Force Magazine contributed to the reevaluation of Lavelle’s case.

The first, “Lavelle,” by John T. Correll in November 2006, highlighted Lavelle’s insistence, until his death, that he had authorization for the strikes.

The second, “Lavelle, Nixon, and the White House Tapes,” by Aloysius Casey and Patrick Casey in February 2007, revealed the declassified Nixon recordings that proved Lavelle’s innocence. Nixon was privately troubled by the fact that Lavelle was being made a scapegoat, but the President nonetheless decided to publicly blame the general for unauthorized air strikes.

The BCMR "found no evidence that Lavelle had caused, either directly or indirectly, the falsification of records, or that he was even aware of their existence," according to a Defense Department release.

While Lavelle retired as a two-star general, his retirement pay was based on his last active duty rank—a full general. Accordingly, Air Force officials said there would be no retroactive pay for his family.

(Initial Daily Report coverage of nomination: Lavelle to Get His Stars Back and Lavelle Family 'Profoundly Grateful')

  • On the Record


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