WASHINGTON — More than 30 years after his death, an Air Force general has been exonerated of charges that he violated presidential restrictions on aerial bombing during the Vietnam War and that he ordered the falsification of records to conceal the missions.
John D. Lavelle was forced to retire in April 1972 at the rank of major general — two stars below the rank he held as commander of air operations in Vietnam — after being relieved of duty for ordering unauthorized airstrikes against North Vietnamese military targets.
He maintained his innocence during congressional hearings held after his dismissal. He died in 1979.
The story took a new twist in 2007 with the publication in Air Force Magazine of an article by a retired Air Force general, Aloysius Casey, and his son, Patrick Casey. They used declassified documents and transcripts of President Richard Nixon's Oval Office audiotapes to show that Nixon had secretly authorized more aggressive bombing in North Vietnam in February 1972.
Lavelle's family petitioned the Air Force to correct his record and restore his rank. It said the decision in 1972 to relieve him of duty was based on "woefully incomplete" evidence.
In 2008 the Air Force Board for the Correction of Military Records agreed with the family's assertion that the decision had been based on incomplete information and that the White House and others withheld important facts.
The Air Force board recommended that Lavelle be reinstated to the rank of general. Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorsed the recommendation and President Barack Obama has asked the Senate to confirm Lavelle to the rank of general.
The Lavelle family issued a statement Wednesday praising the decision.