United States Mission to the Republic of Vietnam

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Once the Republic of Vietnam was formed, the United States resident leadership was called the United States Mission to the Republic of Vietnam. Legally, although not always in political reality, it was headed by the Ambassador. The senior U.S. military officer, however, sometimes had comparable power.

The Central Intelligence Agency station chief also was extremely influential. At a somewhat lower level of power, but still important, were the public affairs and nonmilitary aid chiefs, respectively, from the United States Information Agency and Agency for International Development.

Some individuals, with varying titles and authority, had unusual amounts of power, such as Robert Komer, officially Deputy Ambassador with responsibility for Revolutionary Development, but who also insisted on having the status of a full general.


William Colby, Station Chief from 1959 to 1962, described a common United States Mission friction, not limited to Saigon.

In various places a foreign leader might think that he could be dealing with CIA and have kind of a direct shot into the policy levels in Washington rather than going into the kind of more bureaucratic concept of the Department of State and the Foreign Service and all that. And [they thought] they would receive more of an understanding transmission of their ideas than might occur through the diplomatic channel. Now this can become a problem. It can either become a problem or it

can be very useful, depending upon the attitude of the ambassador and the local chief of station and the head of CIA and whoever's the Secretary of State. Because in some situations, if those four people have enough confidence in each other that they're going to play the same game, then the foreigner can be given the impression that he's getting this direct shot so that he's going to be perhaps more revealing of his ideas. And nobody will be out of sympathy, because everybody will be consulted and there'll be no feeling that something's going on behind his back. On the

other hand, if the ambassador gets persnickety about his privileges, or if the chief of station begins to think he's the ambassador, then you've got trouble and it doesn't work.[1]


There were various ambassadors while Vietnam was a French proto-state, but the first true Ambassador at a national level was G. Frederick Reinhardt, accredited when the RVN became a nation. He was succeeded by Elbridge Durbrow and Frederick Nolting Jr.. During their terms, Ngo Dinh Diem was President of South Vietnam.

Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. was ambassador during the Buddhist crisis and military coup of 1963, which ended with the overthrow and killing of Diem, followed by a series of military governments. Maxwell Taylor replaced him, but Lodge returned when Taylor became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lodge and Taylor were the chiefs of mission during the major U.S. ground combat phase. Ellsworth Bunker presided over Vietnamization.

Graham Martin left just before the fall of the RVN.

U.S. Ambassadors to the Republic of Vietnam
Name Arrival Departure Comment
G. Frederick Reinhardt First after RVN declared
Elbridge Durbrow
Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.
Maxwell Taylor Became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Second term
Ellsworth Bunker
Graham Martin Left at the fall

Notable Deputy Ambassadors

  • Robert Komer

Military Commanders

Before the commitment of U.S. combat trops, the senior officer was the commander of the Military Assistance Advisory Group.

Military Assistance Advisory Group
Name Arrival Departure Comment
Samuel T. Williams 1954
Lionel C. McGarr
Charles Timmes Became deputy to Paul Harkins

Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MAC-V), directed active combat operations. While most of its direction came from Washington, in principle, it was subordinate to United States Pacific Command.

Commanding generals, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
Name Dates
Paul Harkins 1962 to 1964
William Westmoreland 1964-1968
Creighton Abrams 1968-1972
Fred Weyand 1972-1973

CIA station chiefs

Officially, the Station Chief's identity was classified, and under diplomatic cover. The press corps was usually well aware of it. Still, public exposure, as with John Richardson, often led to replacement.

CIA Station Chiefs
Name Arrival Departure Comment
William Colby 1959 1962 Later Chief, Far Eastern Division, Directorate of Operations; Executive Director; Director of Cetral Intelligence
John Richardson 1962 1963 Left after identity compromised by Ngo Dinh Nhu
Peer da Silva 1968
Ted Shackley 1968 1972 Later Chief, Far Eastern Division, Directorate of Operations
Thomas Polgar 1972 1975 Left at the fall

In 1962-1963, the station was under John Richardson. Richardson had developed an ability few had: communicating with Ngo Dinh Nhu. Lodge insisted Richardson be replaced, according to Neil Sheehan, not because he performed badly but to signal the U.S. rejection of Ngo. [2]


  1. William Colby (March 1, 1982), Oral History interview by Ted Gittinger, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, pp. I-4 to I-5
  2. Pace, Eric (June 14, 1998), "John H. Richardson, 84, C.I.A. Station Chief in Saigon in Early '60s", New York Times