Laird, Melvin Robert

Laird, Melvin Robert,

1922–2016, American politician, U.S. secretary of defense (1969–73), b. Omaha, Nebr. After serving (1942–46) in the navy during World War II, he entered politics as a Republican and was (1946–52) a state senator in Wisconsin. As a member (1953–69) of the U.S. House of Representatives, he served on the appropriations committee, where he actively supported a large military budget and a strong nuclear defense posture as well as increased funds for health and education. Laird became secretary of defense in President NixonNixon, Richard Milhous,
1913–94, 37th President of the United States (1969–74), b. Yorba Linda, Calif. Political Career to 1968

A graduate of Whittier College and Duke law school, he practiced law in Whittier, Calif.
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's cabinet and presided over the shift from a conscripted to an all-volunteer army. He oversaw the "Vietnamization" of the Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
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, increasing the role of South Vietnamese forces and reducing that of U.S. forces, as well as the invasion (1970) of Cambodia and bombing North Vietnam and mining its harbors to force a peace settlement, both of which he privately opposed. After his resignation as secretary, he served (1973–74) as counselor to the president for domestic affairs and supported the choice of Gerald FordFord, Gerald Rudolph,
1913–2006, 38th president of the United States (1974–77), b. Omaha, Nebr. He was originally named Leslie Lynch King, Jr., but his parents were divorced when he was two, and when his mother remarried he assumed the name of his stepfather.
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 as vice president after Spiro AgnewAgnew, Spiro Theodore
, 1918–96, 39th Vice President of the United States (1969–73), b. Baltimore. Admitted to the bar in 1949, he entered politics as a Republican and was elected (1961) chief executive of Baltimore co.
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 resigned amid a corruption investigation. Laird subsequently held various corporate posts. He wrote A House Divided (1962) and edited Republican Papers (1968).

Bibliography

See M. R. Laird et al., The Nixon Doctrine (1972); biography by D. Van Atta (2008).

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