Melvin Laird, Vietnam War defense secretary, dies at 94

MARSHFIELD — 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.

Governor Scott Walker released the following statement on the passing of Laird:

"Tonette and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Laird family during this difficult time. Melvin Laird devoted his life to our nation and our state in the spirit of service as a decorated World War II veteran, state senator, congressman, and secretary of the Department of Defense. Mr. Laird was a patriot, and his contributions in service to our nation will always be remembered."