Documents which have been available for decades in the LBJ Library show clearly that McNamara failed to inform Johnson that the U.S. naval task group commander in the Tonkin Gulf, Captain John J. Herrick, had changed his mind about the alleged North Vietnamese torpedo attack on U.S. warships he had reported earlier that day.
By early afternoon Washington time, Herrick had reported to the Commander in Chief Pacific in Honolulu that “freak weather effects” on the ship’s radar had made such an attack questionable. In fact, Herrick was now saying, in a message sent at 1:27 pm Washington time, that no North Vietnamese patrol boats had actually been sighted. Herrick now proposed a “complete evaluation before any further action taken.”
The initial report of an attack came from the young and inexperienced sonar operator on the USS Maddox, who turned the sonar the wrong way and picked up the sounds of his own ship's screws, mistaking the sounds for an incoming torpedo.