"What did CBS do to him?"
Barbara Little's question drifted over the crowd pushing and bumping around William Westmoreland, who was wearing a foam neck brace.
"They beat me up pretty bad," Westmoreland laughed back, then quickly added, "Not really."
The retired Army general was in good spirits, even though he was said to be in "severe pain" and was wearing the brace because of a pinched nerve.
But it was by no means a sympathy party, for the pinched nerve or for the fact that Westmoreland, after a five-month courtroom battle, ended up dropping his $120 million libel suit against CBS Inc. Westmoreland charged that CBS had falsely accused him of misrepresenting enemy troop strength in a 1982 documentary, "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception."
"People don't feel sorry for William Westmoreland," said Dona O'Bannon, a senior partner in the governmental affairs consulting firm of Alcalde, Henderson and O'Bannon and Rousselto. The firm threw the party in the Russell Senate Office Building because Westmoreland is a senior consultant and the partners wanted to get together some of his friends, some of the press who covered the trial and some of the firm's clients.
"The list just grew and grew," said O'Bannon, who was worried that the food would run out. She said they started with about 100 guests and ended up at somewhere between 300 and 400. They all came to see the Westmorelands.
Westmoreland's wife Katherine (Kitsy) kissed cheek after cheek of longtime acquaintances, congressmen, reporters or retired generals.
"I'm flattered. I didn't know I had this many friends," said the general.
Westmoreland's son, Rip, came up from law school at the University of South Carolina, where he's about to finish up. "I'm looking for work in Washington or New York." He said he'd like to work for the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"Three years ago you wouldn't have found these people here," said Dan Burt, Westmoreland's lawyer for the trial, who has no regrets about the suit.
"I'm glad we did it," he said. "I'd do it again."
But many of the friends were friends of each other, rather than friends of the Westmorelands. Reporters from Time, Variety, the Philadelphia Inquirer, CBS and the New York Daily News kept gathering in groups throughout the room.
"This is like a class reunion," said Kevin Goldman, who writes about TV for Variety.
Connie Bruck, who has written a highly critical piece in the April issue of the American Lawyer on Burt, stood at one end of the room. And Burt stood not far away, his back to her.
She didn't expect him to come up and say anything.
"He hasn't said anything to me all year," said Bruck. "Why should he now?"
And Burt had nothing to say. At all. When asked about it, he just stared with his lips pressed tightly together. He then said, "This is not a working place," which meant reporters who weren't there for the reunion shouldn't ask questions.
For the most part, the guests were people who came out of respect for Westmoreland.
"We like him. He's a great American. He's fought a good fight," said Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.). He came because he served as a second lieutenant in the Army under Westmoreland in Vietnam and had never met him.
With all the back-slapping and smiles, Westmoreland stuck to party talk and not trial talk. "I don't ever look backwards," he said.