kids encyclopedia robot

Melvin Laird facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Melvin Laird
Melvin Laird official photo.JPEG
White House Domestic Affairs Advisor
In office
May 1, 1973 – January 8, 1974
Acting: May 1, 1973 – June 6, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by John Ehrlichman
Succeeded by Kenneth Reese Cole Jr.
10th United States Secretary of Defense
In office
January 22, 1969 – January 29, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Clark Clifford
Succeeded by Elliot Richardson
Chair of the House Republican Conference
In office
January 3, 1965 – January 3, 1969
Leader Gerald Ford
Preceded by Gerald Ford
Succeeded by John B. Anderson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin's 7th district
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 21, 1969
Preceded by Reid F. Murray
Succeeded by Dave Obey
Personal details
Melvin Robert Laird Jr.

(1922-09-01)September 1, 1922
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
Died November 16, 2016(2016-11-16) (aged 94)
Fort Myers, Florida, U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Political party Republican
Barbara Masters
(m. 1942; died 1992)

Carole Fleishman
(m. 1993)
Children 4
Education Carleton College (BA)
Military service
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service 1942–1946
Rank Lieutenant (Junior Grade)
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Purple Heart

Melvin Robert Laird Jr. (September 1, 1922 – November 16, 2016) was an American politician, writer and statesman. He was a U.S. congressman from Wisconsin from 1953 to 1969 before serving as Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973 under President Richard Nixon. Laird was instrumental in forming the administration's policy of withdrawing U.S. soldiers from the Vietnam War; he coined the expression "Vietnamization," referring to the process of transferring more responsibility for combat to the South Vietnamese forces. First elected in 1952, Laird was the last surviving Representative elected to the 83rd Congress at the time of his death.

Early life

Melvin Robert Laird was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Melvin R. Laird Sr., a politician, businessman, and clergyman. He grew up and attended high school in Marshfield, Wisconsin, although in his junior year he attended Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois. He was nicknamed "Bambino" (shortened to "Bom" and pronounced like the word 'bomb') by his mother.

Laird was the grandson of William D. Connor, the Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin from 1907 to 1909, and the great-grandson of Robert Connor, a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly. His niece is Jessica Laird Doyle, wife of former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

He graduated from Carleton College in Minnesota in May 1944, having enlisted in the United States Navy a year earlier. Following his commissioning as an ensign, he served on a destroyer, the USS Maddox, in the Pacific during the end of World War II. A recipient of the Purple Heart and several other decorations, Laird left the Navy in April 1946.

Legislative career

Laird entered the Wisconsin State Senate at age 23, succeeding his deceased father. He represented a legislative district encompassing Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He remained in the Senate until his election in November 1952 to the United States House of Representatives representing Wisconsin's 7th District in central Wisconsin, including the areas of Marshfield, Wausau, Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point. In the 1964 Republican presidential primaries, Laird was an "unannounced" supporter of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, and chaired the Platform Committee at that year's Republican convention, at which Goldwater was nominated.

Laird was re-elected eight consecutive times and he was chairman of the House Republican Conference when Nixon selected him for the cabinet. He was known for his work on both domestic and defense issues, including his service on the Defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. He left Congress reluctantly, making it clear when he became secretary on January 22, 1969, that he intended to serve no more than four years.

As a congressman Laird had supported a strong defense posture and had sometimes been critical of Secretary McNamara. In September 1966, characterizing himself as a member of the loyal opposition, he publicly charged the Johnson administration with deception about Vietnam war costs and for delaying decisions to escalate the ground war until after the 1966 congressional elections. Laird also criticized McNamara's management and decision-making practices. Laird voted in favor of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1968, as well as the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Laird was reportedly the elder statesman chosen by the Republicans to convince Vice President Spiro Agnew to resign his position after Agnew's personal corruption became a public scandal. He also had a prominent role in the selection of Gerald Ford as Agnew's successor as vice president.

Secretary of Defense

After he became Secretary of Defense, Laird and President Nixon appointed a Blue Ribbon Defense Panel that made more than 100 recommendations on DoD's organization and functions in a report on July 1, 1970. The department implemented a number of the panel's proposals while Laird served in the Pentagon.

General Alexander Haig being presented with the Distinguished Service Medal by President Richard Nixon at the White House
Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird with President Richard Nixon and General Alexander Haig and Secretary of State William P. Rogers and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger at The Oval Office in The White House, Washington, D.C. January 4, 1973.

Vietnam War

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird in 1970
Secretary Laird (center) before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1970

During his tenure, Melvin played an important role in forming the administration's policy of withdrawing U.S. soldiers from the Vietnam War. He coined the expression "Vietnamization," which was a policy to expand, equip, and train South Vietnamese forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops. Laird publicized Vietnamization widely, and in his final report as Secretary of Defense in early 1973, he stated that Vietnamization was virtually completed. Laird's word "Vietnamizing" was immediately liked by Nixon.

Laird advocated for bringing home U.S. prisoners of war held under horrible conditions in North Vietnam.

Cold War and nuclear war planning

Laird was concerned about the Soviet Union's nuclear capabilities and advocated that the United States move toward a "first strike" nuclear capability against the Soviet Union. Laird supported the strategic arms talks leading to the SALT I agreements with the Soviet Union in 1972: a five-year moratorium against expansion of strategic nuclear delivery systems, and an antiballistic missile treaty limiting each side to two sites (later cut to one) for deployed ABM systems.

Conscription suspended

Other important Laird goals were ending conscription by June 30, 1973, and the creation of an All Volunteer Force (AVF). Strong opposition to selective service mounted during the Vietnam War and draft calls declined progressively during Laird's years at the Pentagon; from 300,000 in his first year, to 200,000 in the second, 100,000 in the third, and 50,000 in the fourth. On January 27, 1973, after the signing of the Vietnam agreement in Paris, Laird suspended the draft, five months ahead of schedule.

Later career

Laird completed his term of office as secretary of defense on January 29, 1973. Because he had stated repeatedly that he would serve only four years (only Charles Erwin Wilson and Robert McNamara among his predecessors served longer), it came as no surprise when President Nixon on November 28, 1972, nominated Elliot Richardson to succeed him. In his final report in January 1973, Laird listed what he considered to be the major accomplishments of his tenure: Vietnamization; achieving the goal of strategic sufficiency; effective burden-sharing between the United States and its friends and allies; adequate security assistance; maintenance of U.S. technological superiority through development of systems such as the B-1, Trident and cruise missiles; improved procurement; "People Programs" such as ending the draft and creating the AVF; improved National Guard and Reserve forces; enhanced operational readiness; and participatory management. One of Laird's most active initiatives was his persistent effort to secure the release of the American captives held by the enemy in Vietnam.

During his tenure as Defense Secretary, Laird did not share President Nixon's lingering timetable for withdrawal from Vietnam. He publicly contradicted the administrations policy, which upset the White House. Laird wished to return to the political arena, and was said to be planning a run for president in 1976. After Watergate, this proved implausible. There was also talk of a Senate run and perhaps a return to his old House seat in hopes of becoming Speaker.

Melvin Laird, Donald Rumsfeld, Dale VanAtta · DD-SC-07-14896
Laird (left) with one of his successors, Donald Rumsfeld, and biographer Dale Van Atta, 2001

In spite of Vietnam and the unfolding Watergate affair, which threatened to discredit the entire Nixon administration, Laird retired with his reputation intact. Although not a close confidant of the president and not the dominant presence that McNamara was, Laird had been an influential secretary. He achieved a smooth association with the military leadership by restoring some of the responsibilities they had lost during the 1960s. His excellent relations with Congress enabled him to gain approval for many of his programs and budget requests.

After a brief absence, Laird returned to the Nixon administration in June 1973 as counselor to the president for domestic affairs, concerning himself mainly with legislative issues. In February 1974, as the Watergate crisis in the White House deepened, Laird resigned to become senior counselor for national and international affairs for Reader's Digest. Following Richard Nixon's resignation, Laird was reported to be the first choice of successor Gerald Ford to be nominated vice president, a position ultimately filled by Nelson Rockefeller.

In 1974, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Since 1974, he wrote widely for Reader's Digest and other publications on national and international topics.

Laird was quietly opposed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and tried to use his influence together with that of the former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to persuade President George W. Bush not to invade Iraq.

On January 5, 2006, he participated in a meeting at the White House of former Secretaries of Defense and State to discuss United States foreign policy with Bush administration officials. Laird was disappointed by the meeting, which was a photo-op, as neither he nor the others present were allowed much time to speak, with the bulk of the conference consisting of video calls from servicemen in Iraq. In 2007, Laird came close to endorsing the presidential bid of his former intern, Hillary Clinton, saying in an interview that she had been one of his best interns and that he felt certain she would make an excellent president.

In 2008, journalist Dale Van Atta published a biography of Laird entitled With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics, published by University of Wisconsin Press.

Role in health care research

Laird played a key role in advancing medical research, although this part of his biography is often overshadowed by his political achievements. "Laird's position on the House Appropriations subcommittee handling health matters allowed him to play a key congressional role on many medical and health issues. He often teamed up with liberal Democrat John Fogarty of Rhode Island to pass key legislation on education or health matters. Their impact on the National Institutes of Health was pivotal in a vast expansion of health research programs and facilities. They also sponsored the buildup of the National Library of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the National Environmental Center in North Carolina, and the nation's eight National Cancer Centers, later part of the National Institutes of Health. Laird received many awards for his work on health matters, including the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award (1964) and the American Public Health Association award for leadership." This account of his role is noted in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library biography.

Between 1956 and 1967, Laird was appointed a member of the U.S. Delegation to the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, by three U.S. Presidents – Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In fact, President Eisenhower so admired Laird's work in Congress for world health and national security that he described Congressman Laird as "one of the 10 men best qualified to become President of the United States."

Laird's interest in medical research is documented by his co-authoring legislation to finance the construction of the National Library of Medicine, and important centers for medical research on many university campuses (among them the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research and the University of Wisconsin Cancer Center in Madison) and the major institutes of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Laird, Congressman Fogarty and Senator Lister Hill (D-Alabama) also authorized legislation which funded the building of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in Atlanta, GA.

Death and legacy

Following the death of Clarence Clifton Young on April 3, 2016, Laird became the last surviving member of the 83rd Congress, as well as the last surviving member elected in either the 1952 or 1954 elections. Laird died of congestive heart failure in Fort Myers, Florida on November 16, 2016, at the age of 94.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement: "Secretary Laird led the Defense Department through a time of great change in the world and within our department. Through it all, he demonstrated an unfailing commitment to protecting our country, strengthening our military, and making a better world."

"Those of us who fought and those of us held prisoner in Vietnam will always have a special place in our hearts for Sec Melvin Laird," tweeted Senator John McCain, after learning of Laird's death.

The Laird Center for Medical Research (dedicated in 1997), located in Marshfield, Wisconsin is named after him. It is a medical research and education facility on the campus of Marshfield Clinic.

Laird was buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 34) after a service in the Post Chapel.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Melvin Laird para niños

kids search engine
Melvin Laird Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.