Operator: Reverend Billy Graham∇ on the line, sir.
President Nixon: Who?
Operator: Reverend Billy Graham.
President Nixon: Hello?
Operator: There you are.
Billy Graham: 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 want 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.1
Graham: Well, that, I think you even threw old [CBS correspondent] Dan Rather∇ off balance.
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: Yeah, I've been down here about five weeks.
President Nixon: When do you go to your crusade in Kentucky?
Graham: Yes, that starts in about three weeks.
President Nixon: Oh, yeah. I see.
Graham: Have to go to California to deliver a couple of speeches first.
President Nixon: 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.
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 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 [President John F.] Kennedy.
President Nixon: That's right! He started the damn thing!
Graham: Well, I—
President Nixon: And he sent the first 16,000 combat people there himself.3
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.]
Graham: I said, when President [Lyndon B.] Johnson took over, we had 16,000 troops there.
President Nixon: That's right.
Graham: And I said the political climate in the United States—-
President Nixon: Well, and Diem had been murdered. See, you see, Billy, the key thing here was Kennedy's and, I must say, our friend [Henry Cabot] Lodge∇'s agreement to the murder of Diem.4 Diem—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.” And I got all that in there, and they've taken it. They're going to print it Friday morning.
President Nixon: Yeah. Good. Well, anyway, I appreciate—
Graham: But I thought it [was] great.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Graham: Your sincerity and your manner of presentation was just excellent.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Graham: Gosh, it was just wonderful. I was—
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, little Kevin, you know, when he saluted me, I damn near broke up.
Graham: I'm sure you did.
President Nixon: Well, 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 gonna win.
1 At the conclusion of his 7 April 1971 television address on Vietnam, Nixon set aside his written copy of the speech and delivered a rehearsed “ad lib” conclusion. He told how Marine Sgt. Karl G. Taylor died rushing a machine gun nest to save his fellow soldiers in Vietnam. His little boy, Kevin, attended the White House ceremony where Sgt. Taylor was honored posthumously with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Kevin saluted President Nixon. (↑)
2 Kennedy approved the South Vietnamese coup plot that culminated in Diem's assassination. (↑)
3 Kennedy refused to send combat troops to Vietnam, but he did expand the number of American advisers in South Vietnam from about 600 that had been sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to about 16,000 at the time of Kennedy's death 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 guerillas before the guerillas fired on them. (↑)
4 Henry Cabot Lodge, Nixon's running mate in the 1960 presidential election, was ambassador to South Vietnam at the time of the coup that overthrew Diem. (↑)