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” is the story of the 5,069 junior officers who died in Vietnam as well as the ones who survived. We are reminded all officers had volunteered to lead men in battle. Based on Ron Milam’s detailed and thorough research, “Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War” gives an excellent analysis of these men. The author has the rare combination of scholarly research and with an easy reading text. The book is divided into two main parts.

Part one views the future officers and officers in the United States. It examines their officer training programs: West Point, Officer Candidate School (OCS), and Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The selection, training, and evaluation process of each is explained in detail. We see how the army ramped up for the increased demand in officers. We feel the arrogance of the West Point educated toward the Infantry Officer Basic Course and the slow change of curriculum at the United States Military Academy. We learn that the majority of officers were commissioned through ROTC. We find out the selection standards were not lowered for OCS. We are reminded that changing views on campus impacted the world views of men commissioned through ROTC.

Part two has the young officer in Vietnam. The four chapters in this section examine the junior officer’s performance as combat leaders. We experience the life and death tests they faced. We confront the myths about the men. We experience the different leadership challenges of being on a mission in the field and being in a firebase or in garrison such as preventing alcohol and drug abuse as well as racial tensions.

Myths about the Vietnam War say the junior officer was a no-talent, inadequately trained, and unenthusiastic soldier. Lt. William Calley of My Lai often is held up as the typical junior officer baby killer. Ron Milam debunks this view with detailed research including oral histories, after-action reports, diaries, letters, and other records.

The author has excellent primary resource materials. He clearly shows that most of the lieutenants who served in combat performed their duties well. The junior officers were effective. They served with great skill. While they were not always clean shaven and often had mud on their boots, they were dedicated and committed to the men they led. Ron Milam’s story provides a vibrant, you-are-there portrayal of what the platoon leader faced and his ability to meet the challenges as documented by field reports and evaluations of their superior officers.

This is a book that all students of the Vietnam War should read. I encourage all military officers to read the book as well. “Not a Gentleman’s War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War” should be in every college library in the world. Ron Milam has written an excellent book. Dr. Milam is assistant professor of military history at Texas tech University.

On a personal level, the book helped me better understand my own experience as an United States Army officer. I received my officer training and commission through the United States Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) between 1971 and 1975. Some of the training I received was based on decisions explained in the book.

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