Edward Geary Lansdale – Major General, United States Air Force


Retired November 1, 1963.  Died February 23, 1987.

Major General Edward G. Lansdale was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1908, the second of the four sons of Sarah Frances Philips of California and Henry Lansdale of Virginia. After schooling in Michigan, New York and California, he attended the University of California at Los Angeles where he earned his way largely by writing for newspapers and magazines. He soon found his way into the better paying field of advertising in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In World War II, he served with the Office of Strategic Services and later was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1943, serving in various military intelligence assignments throughout the war. After several wartime promotions, he was transferred to Headquarters Air Forces Western Pacific as a major in 1945, where he became chief of the Intelligence Division.

He extended his tour to remain in the Philippines at AFWESPAC, and later PHILRYCOM, until 1948. During this period, he helped the Philippine Army rebuild its intelligence services, was responsible for the disposition of unresolved cases of large numbers of prisoners of war involving many nationalities, conducted numerous studies to assist the U.S. and Philippines Governments in learning the effects of World War II on the Philippines, and later served as public information officer for PHILRYCOM.

He was commissioned a Captain in the regular U.S. Air Force in 1947, with the temporary rank of major. After leaving the Philippines in 1948, he served as an instructor at the Strategic Intelligence School, Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado, where he received a temporary promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 1949. In 1950, at the personal request of President Elpidio Quirino, he was transferred to Joint United States Military Assistance Group, Philippines, to advise the intelligence services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines which were then meeting a serious threat to national security by the Communist Huks. Ramon Magsaysay had just been appointed secretary of national defense and Lansdale was made liaison officer to Secretary Magsaysay for JUSMAG. The two became intimate friends, frequently visiting the combat areas together. Lansdale helped the Philippine Armed Forces develop psychological operations, civic actions, and the rehabilitation of Huk prisoners in projects such as EDCOR. He was given a temporary promotion to Colonel in 1951.

In 1953 he was a member of General J.W. “Iron Mike” O'Daniell's mission to the French forces in Indo-China, acting as an advisor on special counter-guerrilla operations. After return to further duties in the Philippines, he was later transferred in 1954 to Saigon, where he served with MAAG-Vietnam until the end of 1956. During this period, he helped advise the Vietnamese Armed Forces and the Vietnamese Government on many internal security problems, including the pacification campaigns of 1954-55, as well as psychological operations, intelligence the integration of sect armies, civic action, and the refugee program. He as privileged to have the close friendship of President Ngo Dinh Diem and many other Vietnamese leaders.

In 1957 after brief staff duty with Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, he was transferred in June 1957 to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, with duties as Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Special Operations. In 1959, he served on the staff of the President's Committee on Military Assistance (the Draper Committee). He was given a temporary promotion to Brigadier General in April 1960. On February 24, 1961, he was appointed assistant to the secretary of defense, where his primary duties involve attention to special operations of an extremely sensitive nature.

Among his decorations are the Distinguished Service Medal awarded by the Air Force for his work in Indo-China during the period 1954 to 1956, the National Security Medal awarded by the National Security Council for his service in the Philippines during the period 1950 to 1953, the Philippine's Legion of Honor, and the Philippine's Medal of Military Merit.

General Lansdale was an early proponent of stronger U.S. actions in the cold war, as expressed in a number of speeches and articles on counter-insurgency, psychological operations, and civic action, which have received wide attention in the U.S. Government.

General Lansdale was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, section 8, grave 7022.

William Colby, the late Director of Central Intelligence, rated Edward Lansdale as one of the ten greatest spies in modern history.

Edward Geary Lansdale was indeed a most unusual character: regarded as a maverick by many in the U.S. Defense and State Departments, yet greatly appreciated and even loved by nationals of the countries in which he spent much of his career: the Philippines and South Vietnam.

Rising to the rank of Major General in the Air Force, Lansdale worked his entire career in either military intelligence, psychological warfare, or special operations, with the O.S.S., C.I.A., and DoD.

Lansdale's most successful efforts were in the Phillipines in the late 40's and early 50's, helping defeat the communist insurgents (Huks) and establish democratic reforms. In “Bright Shining Lie” Neil Sheehan called Lansdale the “father of South Vietnam,” and this is largely true. But despite two long assignments in country (1954-57 and 1965-68) not even the legendary Lansdale could stabilize South Vietnam, largely because senior U.S. leaders would not support his ideas. Lansdale was against the predominant U.S. “big battle” strategy, but rather believed the fight was a “people's war” which required working with villagers to help them defend themselves. This is the strategy Andrew Krepenivich espoused in “The Army and Vietnam.” Lansdale believed that helping nationals fight a people's war was a form of brotherly love, inspired by the Founding Fathers' concepts of respect for the rights of individuals. He felt an important way to learn Asians' culture was to learn their folk songs (always playing along on his harmonica) and to let them know that Americans accepted them as equals. In the long anti-Vietnam period after U.S. withdrawal in 1973, Lansdale has often been unfairly maligned. This book finally gives him a fair treatment, while pointing out criticisms from both the left and the right. Lansdale is a legend, and with good reason. Few people's lives involve the amount of intrigue similar to, for example, the character Reilly, “Ace of Spies,” who worked for British intelligence. To learn about the noble ideals behind American Cold War foreign policy (despite often tragic miscalculations), the fascinating life of Edward Geary Lansdale is an enlightening tale.


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