Paso Robles man fights to clear dad’s military record
December 21, 2010
For the last 38 years, a Paso Robles man has been fighting to clear the name of his father, a U.S. four-star Air Force general, who was stripped of two stars and relieved of his command for allegedly ordering a rogue 1972 bombing campaign against North Viet Nam. [LA Times]
Dennis LaVelle, a management specialist based in Paso Robles, has been attempting to clear the record of his father John D. LaVelle, known to his men as “Smiling Jack.”
With the general’s widow, 92-year-old Mary Jo Lavelle in precarious health after a hospital stay in Virginia this week, the family is pressing the Senate Armed Services Committee to act quickly on a petition to restore Lavelle’s rank and reputation while his widow is still alive.
The Obama White House backs the family, which has a new trove of Pentagon documents that their lawyer says prove Lavelle was following orders. And recently released Nixon White House tapes reveal that President Nixon regretted that Lavelle had been wrongly blamed and made “a goat,” or scapegoat.
However, supporters only have until the end of the current lame duck session of Congress to act — and that could come as early as Wednesday as lawmakers rush to get home before Christmas.
General LaVelle died in 1979, insisting all along that he did nothing wrong and that the bombings had been ordered by superiors.
“Time is running out,” said Dennis Lavelle, 56. “The facts speak for themselves.”
The younger LaVelle believes there’s more than enough evidence to exonerate his father. He pointed out that the Armed Services Committee has spent more time investigating the petition to clear the general’s name than it did when he was punished in 1972.
R. Jams Woolsey, a Clinton-era CIA head who was chief counsel to the Senate Armed Services Committee that punished Lavelle in 1972, said the new documents convinced him that Lavelle was wrongly accused.
In 2007, former Defense Secretary Laird wrote to Air Force Magazine that he had authorized Lavelle to apply rules of engagement “liberally.” Last year, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records concluded that Lavelle had sufficient authorization for the raids and recommended he be restored to four-star rank.
The general’s most loyal supporter, his son said, has been his wife, who has never lost hope that his reputation would be restored in her lifetime.