Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War

Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War

Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War

Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War


Wars are not fought by politicians and generals--they are fought by soldiers. Written by a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, Not a Gentleman's War is about such soldiers--a gritty, against-the-grain defense of the much-maligned junior officer.

Conventional wisdom holds that the junior officer in Vietnam was a no-talent, poorly trained, unmotivated soldier typified by Lt. William Calley of My Lai infamy. Drawing on oral histories, after-action reports, diaries, letters, and other archival sources, Ron Milam debunks this view, demonstrating that most of the lieutenants who served in combat performed their duties well and effectively, serving with great skill, dedication, and commitment to the men they led. Milam's narrative provides a vivid, on-the-ground portrait of what the platoon leader faced: training his men, keeping racial tensions at bay, and preventing alcohol and drug abuse, all in a war without fronts. Yet despite these obstacles, junior officers performed admirably, as documented by field reports and evaluations of their superior officers.

More than 4,000 junior officers died in Vietnam; all of them had volunteered to lead men in battle. Based on meticulous and wide-ranging research, this book provides a much-needed serious treatment of these men--the only such study in print--shedding new light on the longest war in American history.


October 7, 1970. Somewhere East of Phu Nhon, Pleiku Province,
Republic of Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) reconnaissance unit had
efficiently executed the ambush, but the rocket-propelled grenade
fired from the B-40 rocket launcher had failed to detonate, and the
American radio telephone operator and lieutenant at the center
of the patrol had narrowly escaped death. The ensuing firefight
had resulted in the wounding and capture of a young North
Vietnamese officer, who lay in the jungle clutching his lower
abdomen. His brown fingers contrasted vividly with the whiteness
of the intestines that protruded between his hands; he was either
instinctively trying to push them back into his abdominal cavity or
attempting to hide the wound from his captors .

Kneeling at his side was an American sergeant and an
American lieutenant. The sergeant removed his survivor’s knife
from the inverted scabbard on his web gear. The lieutenant shoved
him away, saying, “Put it away, Sergeant. I’m not Lieutenant

Determining the genesis of a research project is always difficult, but the idea for a study on the role of junior officers in the Vietnam War probably originated with this incident. The impact of Lt. William Laws Calley’s behavior on March 16, 1968, at My Lai has permeated all studies, attitudes, and observations about company grade officers in Vietnam. And as a young lieutenant on that day in October 1970, I would not tolerate Calley-like behavior, even though the sergeant had meant no evil intentions. “I’m just cutting gauze, L.T. He’ll die before the medevac arrives if we don’t bandage his guts.”

With full acknowledgment of the challenges that a Vietnam veteran has in . . .

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