Paul D. Harkins was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 15, 1904. After graduating from West Point in 1929, Harkins took a cavalry assignment, served as deputy chief of staff of George Patton's Third Army in World War II, and then was chief of staff of the Eighth Army in Korea. General Paul Harkins served as the first commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). He occupied that post between February 1962 and June 1964. Harkins was a strong supporter of Ngo Dinh Diem, although the South Vietnamese president frequently ignored his advice. Harkin's opposition to the coup that ultimately toppled the Diem regime put him at odds with U.S. State Department officials in Saigon, most notably Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge.
In the two decades after his exit from Vietnam, Harkins was criticized for his exceedingly optimistic reports to Washington regarding the military and political situation there. This occasionally brought him into conflict with American military officers in the field, who often held much more pessimistic views of the South Vietnamese situation. Harkins retired from active duty in 1964 when General William Westmoreland replaced him at MACV. Harkins died on August 21, 1984.