Recently found 1972 Oval Office conversations show Nixon agonized about letting General John Daniel Lavelle take the blame, but let it happen to avoid more controversy as the Watergate scandal mushroomed.
Lavelle, who died in 1979, was a United States Air Force general and commander of Seventh Air Force, with headquarters at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam.
"I don't want to hurt an innocent man," Nixon told Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser.
"Frankly, Henry, I don't feel right about pushing him (Lavelle) into this thing and then, and then giving him a bad rap... I just don't want him to be made a goat, goddammit," the New York Daily News quotes Nixon as saying further in the declassified tapes.
But Nixon hung him out to dry.
He said publicly at the time that the bombing "wasn't authorized. It was proper for him (Lavelle) to be relieved and retired."
Lavelle was forced to retire and lost two of his four stars as he was demoted from general to major general. He told a skeptical Congress he was being railroaded for "conscientiously doing the job I was expected to do."
Aloysius Casey, a retired Air Force general, and his son, Patrick Casey, built the case for Lavelle's innocence.
They found the Nixon transcripts and wrote an article on Lavelle for Air Force Magazine.
On President Obama's recommendation on August 4, 2010, the Senate, which confirmed Lavelle as a general, began proceedings to restore his two stars. Obama nominated Lavelle posthumously for promotion back to the grade of general in light of the release of declassified information that showed that Lavelle had been authorized by President Richard Nixon to conduct the bombing missions.
The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records also found no evidence of Lavelle having caused, either directly or indirectly, the falsification of records, or that he was even aware of their existence.
Once he learned of the reports, Lavelle took action to ensure the practice was discontinued.
The nomination to restore his four-star rank was recommended by the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Air Force.
Senators Carl Levin and John McCain of the Armed Services Committee said in a joint statement that "After their decades-long fight to restore General Lavelle's honor, his wife, Mary Josephine, and her family deserve prompt action."
In a statement, Mary Jo Lavelle said "Jack was a good man, a good husband, a good father, and a good officer. I wish he was alive to hear this news." (ANI)