Melvin Laird, Vietnam War defense secretary, dies at 94

FILE - In this Sept. 1992 file photo, former Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Laird, Defense Secretary under Richard Nixon who helped engineer withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, has died. (AP Photo/John Duricka, File)

MARSHFIELD, Wis. (AP) – President Richard Nixon’s first defense secretary, Melvin Laird, has died. He was 94.

Laird’s grandson, Raymond Dennis Large III, confirmed that he died Wednesday in Florida.

The former Wisconsin congressman helped engineer the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. The Vietnam War had divided the country and killed some 58,000 U.S. troops.

Laird’s legacy also included a telephone call that eventually played a role in the Watergate scandal that drove Nixon from office.

Laird was Nixon’s counselor on domestic affairs in October 1973 when Nixon had to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had resigned in scandal. Laird called his good friend, Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford, to ask if he would be interested in replacing Agnew.

Ford accepted. Ford later became president after Nixon resigned.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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