How sensitive was the U.S. military about the press covering Vietnam? Consider the case of an Aug. 7, 1967, article in The New York Times by R.W. Apple Jr.

Apple's story, concluding that the war had reached a stalemate, exploded like a claymore mine in the offices of Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, then the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The article challenged the official optimism of those days, suggesting that instead of imminent victory or even a "light at the end of the tunnel," the United States might face a hopeless deadlock.

From documents released during the Westmoreland-CBS trial, we learn that Apple's article provoked a cable from Gen. Wheeler to Gen. Westmoreland in Saigon complaining about the article. Four days later, Westmoreland cabled Wheeler to complain about Apple.

Wheeler was particularly upset about a quote in Apple's article from an unnamed U.S. general, who said: "Every time Westy makes a speech about how good the South Vietnam Army is, I want to ask him why he keeps calling for more Americans. His need for reinforcements is a measure of our failure with the Vietnamese."

"I must say," Wheeler cabled, "it is regrettable that a senior officer felt compelled to respond to a press query of this type and tragic that he was disloyal to his commander in the process."

Westmoreland replied that such a comment by one of his generals was "inconceivable." He went on to assess Apple's reporting methods: "Apple does not research his military material with the (Westmoreland) staff. He works mostly with personal contacts. He is pessimistic and suspicious . . . . (He is) convinced that we are not honest about casualties and are manipulating the figures.

"I have watched Apple become more critical and more argumentative during recent months," Westmoreland continued. "Barring some dramatic and irrefutable turn for the better here we can expect him to continue to play the role of doubter and critic. He is probably bucking for a Pulitzer prize."

-- ELEANOR RANDOLPH