WASHINGTON -- Gen. Paul Gorman, the outspoken architect of major U.S. military exercises that kept American forces in Honduras for a year, plans to resign despite appeals from President Reagan, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The surprise statement by Pentagon spokesman Michael Burch came as Gorman announced plans for another major exercise this spring between Honduran and U.S. forces involving up to 5,000 American troops, and as Navy officials said the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is headed toward the Caribbean coast of Central America.
For the first time, U.S. maneuvers in Honduras will include armored vehicles and mechanized infantry, Burch said. The vehicles and troops manning them will come from the Army National Guard.
As head of the U.S. Southern Command in Panama since May 1983, Gorman, 57, was responsible for executing the Reagan administration's military policy directed at stopping the expansion of Marxist influence in Central America.
The four-star Army general plans to retire in several months and go into farming after nearly 35 years of service, despite attempts by Reagan and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to persuade him to remain in the military -- either in his present post or in another position, Burch told reporters.
'He has chosen, for personal reasons, to leave,' Burch said. 'He's leaving because he wants to leave. The secretary of defense feels his retirement is a great loss to the nation.'
Gorman's replacement in Panama is to be announced 'in the future,' he said.
Gorman created an international flap when he told a congressional committee last year that Mexico 'has pursued a policy of accommodation (with) international leftist influences' and 'is now becoming a center of subversion throughout Central America.' The administration apologized to Mexico.
The general, described as a staunch anti-Communist, has been quoted describing how he deterred Nicaragua from launching a suspected invasion of Honduras in 1983 by persuading the Pentagon to send thousands of troops to the to the country for joint exercises with the Honduran army.
'I'm convinced we averted war down there,' the Wall Street Journal quoted the white-haired general June 26. 'If we hadn't intervened, we would have seen Sandinista action.'
Those joint exercises, called 'Big Pine II,' were launched in the summer of 1983, ran for six months and involved U.S. land, sea and air forces. U.S. maneuvers have been held on a smaller scale on a nearly continuous basis since then.
A successor operation, 'Big Pine III,' will begin in early spring and 'last only a few days,' Burch said. But the deployment and site preparations will be carried out over several months, other Pentagon spokesmen said.
The maneuvers will include engineer activities, a counterinsurgency field training exercise and an anti-armor field exercise 'involving a small contingent of armored and mechanized vehicles from the Army National Guard,' a Pentagon background paper said.
'The purpose of this exercise is to enhance the readiness of U.S. and Honduran units,' it said.
At the same time, Navy officials said the Nimitz and, later, the battleship USS Iowa will spend several days off the Central American coast and off Nicaragua in 'show-the-flag' missions similar to others conducted in the past year.
'There's nothing more to it' than showing the flag, a senior Pentagon official said.