Palmer., Bruce, Jr., GEN

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Last Rank
Last Primary MOS
00GC-Commanding General
Last MOS Group
General Officer
Primary Unit
1973-1974, 00GC, US Readiness Command
Service Years
1936 - 1974

Six Overseas Service Bars

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This Military Service Page was created/owned by MAJ Mark E Cooper to remember Palmer., Bruce, Jr., GEN USA(Ret).

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Last Address
Fort Belvoir, VA

Date of Passing
Oct 10, 2000
Location of Interment
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 Official Badges 

Presidential Service Badge Army Staff Identification Meritorious Unit Commendation 1944-1961

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Bruce Palmer Jr., 87; Led Forces in Vietnam

 By David Stout, , October 18, 2000

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17--Bruce Palmer Jr., deputy commanding general of American troops in South Vietnam, later Army vice chief of staff and then the author of a book analyzing the military failure of the United States in Southeast Asia, died on Oct. 10 at a hospital in Alexandria, Va. He was 87.

General Palmer, who earned his fourth star as vice chief of staff in 1968 and retired several years later, died of a stroke, his family said. He lived in a retirement community at Fort Belvoir, Va.

Born April 13, 1913, in Austin, Tex., Bruce Palmer Jr. seemed destined to be a soldier. His father was an Army brigadier general, and a grandfather received the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Civil War.

There were 276 graduates in the West Point class of 1936. William C. Westmoreland ranked 112th, and Creighton W. Abrams was 185th. The sixth-ranking graduate was Bruce Palmer Jr., a short and slightly built man known for his aggressive polo playing and devotion to physical conditioning.

Three decades later, General Palmer would be subordinate to Generals Westmoreland and Abrams, both of whom became commanders of all United States forces in South Vietnam as well as Army chiefs of staff.

Early in 1968, General Palmer was rumored to be in line to succeed General Westmoreland as commander, having earlier won the deep respect of Ellsworth Bunker, the United States Ambassador to South Vietnam. Mr. Bunker and General Palmer had worked together in the Dominican Republic in 1965, when the general commanded American troops sent to that country to quell civil war and Mr. Bunker headed diplomatic efforts to end the violence.

As it turned out, President Lyndon B. Johnson tapped General Abrams to replace General Westmoreland in Vietnam. And General Palmer made his biggest imprint on the Vietnam era in retirement, with pen instead of sword.

In 1984, his book, "The 25-Year War: America's Military Role in Vietnam," was published by the University of Kentucky Press. It attracted so much attention from students of the war that it was republished a year later by Simon & Schuster.

General Palmer rejected the notion, widely held in and out of the military, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had a strategy for winning the war but were hobbled by political interference. On the contrary, he argued; the Joint Chiefs never really decided why American forces were in South Vietnam, and so could not design a winning strategy acceptable to the White House.

In the future, he wrote, the United States would have to adopt new fighting techniques for new kinds of wars. Nor had it been surprising, in his view, that American bombers failed to subdue the North Vietnamese. He noted that North Vietnam got much of its materiel from the Soviet Union or China, and that many military historians believed that heavy bombing had only limited effect even against modern, industrialized countries in World War II.

"Like other so-called `sciences,' the employment of military force - in peace, cold war, or actual conflict - is an art, not an exact science," he wrote.

As a young officer in World War II, he served in Tunisia in 1943 and, a year later, in New Guinea and the Philippines. He was deputy commandant of the Army War College from 1959 to 1961 and held various stateside posts before becoming General Westmoreland's deputy in 1967.

General Palmer, whose decorations included the Silver Star and Bronze Star, was known for a quietly confident leadership style. Officers who served with him said he lost his temper only when he encountered what he thought to be sheer stupidity.

After retiring from the military, he served two years as executive director of the Defense Manpower Commission, which studied the transition to an all-volunteer force.

He was a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute from the mid-1970's to the mid-1980's. He wrote another book, "Intervention in the Caribbean: The Dominican Crisis of 1965" (University of Kentucky Press, 1989).

His wife of 60 years, Kathryn, died in 1996. A daughter, Maurene, died in 1950.

The general is survived by a son, Bruce 3d, of Valrico, Fla.; a daughter, Robin Sessler of Kettering, Ohio; eight grandchildren and a great- granddaughter.

In the closing words of his book on Vietnam, General Palmer wrote: "How deep Vietnam has stamped its imprint on American history has yet to determined. In any event, I am optimistic enough to believe that we Americans can and will learn and profit from our experience."


Other Comments:
Bruce Palmer, Jr., (April 13, 1913–October 10, 2000) was a noted United States Army General and acting Chief of Staff of the United States Army from July to October 1972.

Career Summary

Palmer was born in Austin, Texas. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1936 and was commissioned a second lieutenant and served with the 8th Cavalry at Fort Bliss, Texas, 1936–1939. Palmer was promoted to first lieutenant, June 1939, and served as regimental adjutant, June–September 1939.

He graduated from the Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kansas, 1940; was a troop and squadron commander of the 6th Cavalry (Mechanized), 1940–1942; and was promoted to temporary ranks of captain, October 1940, and major, February 1942.

He served in the Operations Division of the War Department General Staff, 1942–1943; was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel, February 1943; and was chief of staff of the 6th Infantry Division in Southwest Pacific operations in World War II, 1944–1945.

He was promoted to temporary colonel, January 1945, and permanent captain, June 1946, and major, July 1948; commanded the 63d Infantry in the Korean occupation, 1945–1946; was chief of plans and operations of the First United States Army, 1947–1949; was instructor of tactics and then director of instruction at the Infantry School, Fort Benning, 1949–1951; concurrently completed the basic airborne course; and graduated from the Army War College, 1952.

He was secretary of the general staff and chief of the Plans Division, United States Army, Europe, 1952–1954; was promoted to permanent lieutenant colonel, July 1953; was commander of the 16th Infantry, 1954–1955; served on the faculty of the Army War College, 1955–1957; and was deputy secretary of the General Staff and White House liaison officer, Office of the Chief of Staff, 1957–1959.

He was promoted to temporary brigadier general, August 1959; was deputy commandant of the Army War College, 1959–1961; and was assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, 1961–1962.

He was promoted to permanent colonel, June 1961, and temporary major general, May 1962; was chief of staff of the Eighth United States Army, Korea, 1962–1963; was assistant deputy chief of staff for plans and operations, 1963–1964, and deputy chief of staff for military operations, 1964–1965; was promoted to permanent brigadier general, February 1963, and temporary lieutenant general, July 1964.

He was commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, 1965–1967, and concurrently commander of Task Force 120 and United States Land Forces, Dominican Republic, May 1965, and commander of United States Forces and Army Forces and deputy commander of the Inter-American Peace Force in operations in the Dominican Republic, May 1965–January 1966.

He was commander of the II Field Force, Vietnam, and deputy commander of the United States Army, Vietnam, 1967–1968; was promoted to temporary general, August 1968, and served as vice chief of staff of the United States Army, 1 August 1968–30 June 1972; was acting Chief of Staff of the United States Army 1 July–11 October 1972; provided managerial continuity at the top of the Army during the Westmoreland-Abrams interregnum, supervised the continuing drawdown of Army forces from Vietnam and related Army-wide readjustments, and prepared major revisions in Army organizational structure; resumed duties as vice chief of staff; was commander in chief of the United States Readiness Command, 1973–1974; and retired from the Army, September 1974, coincidentally on the day his close associate General Creighton W. Abrams died.

Personal data

He married Kay Sibert in 1936. She died in 1996. They had a son, Bruce III, and two daughters, Maureen and Robin. General Palmer died on October 10, 2000. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

He wrote two books in his retirement, The 25 Year War: America's Military Role in Vietnam and Intervention in the Caribbean: The Dominican Crisis of 1965.

His father was an Army brigadier general and a grandfather received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.

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 Unit Assignments/ Advancement Schools
8th US Cavalry U.S. ArmyDepartment of the Army (DA)6th Infantry Division
First Army (1st Army)Infantry Center and School (Staff) Fort Benning, GAArmy War College (Staff)US Army Europe (USAREUR)
1st Battalion, 16th Infantry White House Military Office, Office of Secretary of Defense (SECDEF)82nd Airborne Division8th Army
XVIII Airborne Corps (18th Corps)2nd Field Force Vietnam (II Field Force)Office of the Chief of Staff of the ArmyUS Readiness Command
  1936-1939, 1620, 8th US Cavalry
  1940-1942, 1204, 6th US Cavalry
  1942-1943, 2162, Department of the Army (DA)
  1944-1945, 6th Infantry Division
  1945-1946, 1542, 1st Battalion, 263rd Infantry
  1946-1949, 2162, First Army (1st Army)
  1949-1951, 2500, Infantry Center and School (Staff) Fort Benning, GA
  1951-1952, Army War College (Staff)
  1952-1954, 2011, US Army Europe (USAREUR)
  1954-1955, 1542, HHC, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry
  1955-1957, 2728, Army War College (Staff)
  1957-1959, 2015, White House Military Office, Office of Secretary of Defense (SECDEF)
  1959-1961, 00GD, Army War College (Staff)
  1961-1962, 00GD, HHC, 82nd Airborne Division
  1962-1963, 2010, 8th Army
  1965-1967, 00GC, XVIII Airborne Corps (18th Corps)
  1967-1968, 00GC, 2nd Field Force Vietnam (II Field Force)
  1968-1972, 00GD, Office of the Army Vice Chief of Staff
  1972-1972, 00GC, Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army
  1973-1974, 00GC, US Readiness Command
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1945-1945 WWII - Asiatic-Pacific Theater/Luzon Campaign (1944-45)
  1945-1945 WWII - Asiatic-Pacific Theater/Western Pacific Campaign (1944-45)
  1968-1968 Vietnam War/Tet Counteroffensive Campaign (1968)
 Colleges Attended 
United States Military Academy
  1932-1936, United States Military Academy
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