It was a quiet day in the White House press room until Chairman John Stennis of the Senate Armed Services Committee upstaged President Lyndon Johnson. The Mississippi Democrat told United Press International that the Pentagon now needed as many as 500,000 troops for the Vietnam War. The increase to half a million American soldiers was a landmark, a political thunderbolt in 1968 that would cause an outcry in a nation already divided by the endless bloodletting. Johnson, who struggled to control the flow of all Vietnam news, saw the bulletin on the UPI teletype next to his desk. He immediately confronted the UPI White House reporter, Merriman Smith.
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