Richard Nixon and William F. “Billy” Graham Jr. on 7 April 1971


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Patrick J. Garrity, Erin R. Mahan, and Kieran K. Matthews

Rev. William F. "Billy" Graham Jr. praises President Nixon’s televised address on Vietnam and tells him that he will blame the war on President John Kennedy in an upcoming op-ed for the New York Times.[note 1] Billy Graham, “On Calley: Perhaps From My Lai May Emerge Justice, Love, Mercy, Peace,” New York Times, 9 April 1971.

White House Operator

Reverend [William F.] Billy Graham [Jr.] on the line, sir.[note 2] Rev. William F. "Billy" Graham Jr. was a Baptist minister and evangelist, and friend of the Nixon family.

President Nixon

Who?

White House Operator

Reverend Billy Graham.

President Nixon

Hello?

White House Operator

There you are.

William F. “Billy” Graham Jr.

Hello?

President Nixon

Hello.

Graham

Mr. President?

President Nixon

Who’s this? Billy?

Graham

This is Billy Graham.

President Nixon

How are you?

Graham

I wanted to tell you that that’s by far the best anybody has done on Vietnam. And the—you had me in tears. I really feel that—

President Nixon

Well, I was in tears myself, you know. Every time I think of that little Kevin, and he saluted, it just broke me up.[note 3] At the conclusion of his 7 April 1971 television address on Vietnam, Nixon set aside his written copy of the speech and delivered a seemingly ad-libbed conclusion that he had, in fact, spent hours writing and rehearsing. He told of how a little boy, Kevin Taylor, saluted the President at a White House ceremony posthumously awarding the boy’s father the Congressional Medal of Honor. “Address to the Nation on the Situation in Southeast Asia,” 7 April 1971, in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard M. Nixon, 1971 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office [hereafter GPO], 1972), doc. 135.

Graham

Well, that—I think you even threw old Dan Rather off balance.[note 4] Daniel I. "Dan" Rather Jr. was a television news journalist and White House correspondent for CBS News during the Kennedy and Nixon administrations. [Chuckles.]

President Nixon

Yeah.

Graham

I thought it was just tremendous. And I just wanted to tell you that I—

President Nixon

Are you in Knoxville?

Graham

What’s—no, I’m still in Vero Beach, Florida.

President Nixon

Oh, yeah, yeah.

Graham

I’ve been down here about five weeks.

President Nixon

When are you going for your crusade in Kentucky?

Graham

Yes, that starts in about two weeks.

President Nixon

Oh, yeah. I see.

Graham

We have to go to California to deliver a couple speeches first.

President Nixon

That’s right. But you felt it was the right thing. Of course, we’re fighting a very tough battle here, you know. Everybody wants to pull out. But I have to fight against the tide. I got to do the right thing.[note 5] Secretly, the President had decided to withdraw the last American troops from South Vietnam sometime between July 1972 and January 1973, even if it would be unable to survive following the American withdrawal. He chose those dates to ensure that Saigon would not fall until after Election Day 1972. See Conversation 456-005, 23 February 1971, 10:05–11:30 a.m., Oval Office; Conversation 465-008, 10 March 1971, 10:42 a.m.–1:15 p.m., Oval Office; Conversation 466-012, 11 March 1971, 4:00–4:55 p.m., Oval Office; Conversation 471-002, 19 March 1971, 7:03–7:27 p.m., Oval Office; Conversation 476-007, 9 April 1971, 8:52–9:58 a.m., Oval Office.

Graham

I think you defused a lot of it tonight, though. I don’t see how—what in the world they can say after tonight. I think that you’ve given some of—people like me—you’ve given me something to hold onto and to really say. And I’ve got a[n] editorial in the New York Times on Friday, which I wrote this morning. They—

President Nixon

Good for you.

Graham

—asked for it yesterday.

President Nixon

Good.

Graham

And I’m putting all the blame for this whole thing on [John F.] Kennedy.[note 6] John F. Kennedy was president of the United States from January 1961 to November 1963.

President Nixon

That’s right! He started the damn thing!

Graham

Well, I—

President Nixon

He killed [Ngô Đinh] Diệm—[note 7] In October 1963, South Vietnamese General Duong Van Minh sought assurances from the Kennedy administration that U.S. aid to Saigon would continue if he and other South Vietnamese generals overthrew President Ngô Đinh Diệm. When “Big” Minh sought those assurances, he informed the United States that one of the plans the generals were considering involved killing two of Diệm’s brothers while keeping Diệm himself in office. “Telegram from the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency,” 5 October 1963, in Foreign Relations of the United States (hereafter FRUS), 1961–1963: Vietnam, August–December 1963, ed. Edward C. Keefer (Washington, DC: GPO, 1991), 4: doc. 177. President John F. Kennedy personally oversaw the drafting of, and approved, the cable giving General Minh assurances that U.S. aid would continue under the new South Vietnamese regime. Tape 114/ A50, 8 October 1963, 5:30–6:15 p.m., Oval Office, John F. Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Presidential Recordings Collection; “Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge),” 9 October 1963, in FRUS, 1961–1963, 4: doc. 192. The CIA agent who acted as liaison between the U.S. government and the coup plotters, Lucien E. Conein, testified, “I have it on very good authority of very many people that Big Minh gave the order” to murder Diệm. See Conein’s 20 June 1975 testimony in executive session before the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (SSCIA), Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) Record Number 157-10014-10094, p. 61.

Graham

Right.

President Nixon

—and he sent the first 16,000 combat people there himself![note 8] Kennedy refused to send combat troops to Vietnam, but he did expand the number of American military advisers in South Vietnam from about 700 that had been sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to about 16,000 at the time of his assassination in November 1963. Some of these soldiers did overstep their advisory role and engage in combat, but the only combat activity Kennedy approved was allowing American helicopter pilots to fire on Communist guerrillas before the guerrillas fired on them.

Graham

Well, I’m saying that the first time I ever heard of our involvement was four days before he was inaugurated, playing golf with him. He said, “We”—I quote—“We cannot allow Laos and South Vietnam to fall to the Communists.” And then I [unclear]

President Nixon

[Laughs.] Good, good.

Graham

I said, “When President [Lyndon] Johnson took over, we had 16,000 troops there.”[note 9] Lyndon Johnson was vice president of the United States from January 1961 to November 1963, and president of the United States from November 1963 to January 1969.

President Nixon

That’s right.

Graham

And I said, “The political climate in the United States—”

President Nixon

Well, and Diệm had been murdered. [speaking over Graham] See, you see, Billy, the key thing here was Kennedy’s and, I must say, our friend [Henry Cabot] Lodge [Jr.]’s agreement to the murder of Diệm.[note 10] Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. was the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1960; U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam from August 1963 to June 1964 and August 1965 to April 1967; and U.S. ambassador to West Germany from May 1968 to January 1969. Lodge was ambassador to South Vietnam at the time of the coup that overthrew Diệm. Diệm—that’s what killed the whole—that opened the whole thing.

Graham

The whole thing. And I said this sentence: I said, “Many of the present doves in the Senate were not then so dovish, even Senator [J. William] Fulbright [D–Arkansas], who introduced the now-famous Tonkin resolution.”[note 11] J. William Fulbright was a U.S. senator [D–Arkansas] from January 1945 to December 1974, and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from January 1959 to December 1974. And I got all that in there, and they’ve taken it. They’re going [President Nixon acknowledges] to print it Friday morning.

President Nixon

Good. Well, anyway, I appreciate—

Graham

But I thought it [President Nixon acknowledges throughout] [was] great. Your sincerity and your manner of presentation was just excellent. Gosh, it was just wonderful. I was [unclear]

President Nixon

One thing, incidentally, I—you know, I threw away the text at the last and talked about this little boy that came there. That little Kevin, you know, when he saluted me, I damn near broke up.

Graham

I’m sure you did.

President Nixon

[Chuckles.] But you know how it is.

Graham

I sure do.

President Nixon

It’s awful tough, isn’t it?

Graham

Well, God bless. You’ve got a lot of people praying for you and pulling for you.

President Nixon

Well, believe me, Billy, it means an awful lot. And you keep the faith, huh?

Graham

You betcha.

President Nixon

Keep the faith.

Graham

Yes, sir. Bye.

President Nixon

Our folks, we’re going to win.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and William F. ‘Billy’ Graham Jr. on 7 April 1971,” Conversation 001-014, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4001630