08/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Robert S. McNamara Remembered (From Afar)

The summer of 1962 and the Army was on maneuvers in North and South Carolina training for its McNamara-conceived Operation Swift Strike. The idea of the Defense Secretary was to modify military training to enable the U.S. to fight brushfire wars instantly anywhere around the world. Involving 70,000 troops, this was the largest peacetime exercise since the end of World War II.

On a platform watching a parachute drop of men and equipment was McNamara along with several military bigwigs in uniform. I, too, was in uniform, about ten feet away, really a solar system away from those men, a freelance writer from New York. I was there because my Army Reserve unit was due for its two weeks summer active duty period and they sent us to South Carolina. Our Army jobs were in public information and we spent the time writing press releases about the maneuvers. I just happened to end up near the reviewing

I was struck by McNamara's appearance on that platform, imperious, deferred to, a celebrity, or something else, a member of royalty playing with his soldiers and toys, as the paratroopers drifted down, some of the chutes opening badly, those men injured as they rapidly thudded to the earth.

This quality of being above it all, lordly, ordering up many thousands of soldiers so he could try out his concept was foreshadowing for his behavior and the decisions Robert McNamara made in blundering us into Vietnam. Foreshadowed, but you couldn't know it at the time. Only a few men died during the maneuvers, elsewhere. McNamara wouldn't have been able to see them die from where he was standing.