Walter Cronkite of CBS interviewing Professor Mai of the University of Hue, Feb. 20 1968. Image and caption: National Archives.

February 27, 1968, Walter Cronkite reported on his recent trip to Vietnam, following the Tet Offensive.

To say we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.

To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism.

To say that we are mired in a stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.

As Cronkite noted in the video below, history has “muddied” President Johnson’s exact reaction to his editorial. Johnson’s phrasing is said to be along the lines of “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

Walter Cronkite and a CBS Camera crew use a jeep for a dolly during an interview with the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, during the Battle of Hue City, February 20, 1968. Image and caption: National Archives.

The following day, February 28, 1968, President Johnson presented the Medal of Freedom to Robert S. McNamara.

February 29, 1968, at McNamara’s farewell ceremony at the Pentagon, Johnson commented:

I have heard this place here at the Pentagon referred to as the “Puzzle Palace.” Bob McNamara may be the only man who ever found the solution to the puzzle and he is taking it with him. But whatever it is called, it is one of the most important buildings on this earth.

I am sorry that this is so, but until men and nations are content to leave one another in peace it will be so.

That makes you people very important people. A great deal depends on the quality of your performance, on your character, on your intelligence, on your patriotism, on your pride in your own service, and on your ability to rise above narrow service rivalries.

Bob McNamara’s career is just about the textbook example of the modern public servant. But I suspect there are many others out there before me now in uniform and in civilian clothes, high ranking and not so high ranking, who also qualify as modern public servants.

I want to say to each of you that your country is grateful to you for the quality of the work that you do on behalf of all of us, as your country is grateful to this good man, Bob McNamara, to whom we have come here today to say goodbye and farewell.

At the end of the next month, March 31, 1968, the president announced he would not be running for re-election.