Melvin Laird, a former Defense Secretary who led the military through the midst of the Vietnam War, died Nov. 16 at a hospital in Florida. He was 94. Laird became President Richard Nixon’s Defense Secretary in January 1969. During his four-year tenure as the top military leader, Laird oversaw the drawdown of US forces in Vietnam from 540,000 to about 69,000. The Paris Peace Accords, which ended the war, were signed two days before Laird left office. A Navy veteran who served in the Pacific during World War II, Laird also oversaw the end of the draft. “He was always particularly proud that he oversaw the successful transition to an all-volunteer force,” current Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement. “Through it all, he demonstrated an unfailing commitment to protecting our country, strengthening our military, and making a better world.” The F-15, F-16, A-10, and the Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine all were developed during Laird’s time at the Pentagon. “Additionally, through an agreement to significantly cut conventional forces, Laird made new strategic weapons systems possible: the B-1 bomber, the Trident nuclear submarine, and cruise missiles,” according to DOD. A nine-term Congressman, Laird served as Chairman of the Republican House Minority and was a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.