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John Paul Vann: Man and Legend

By Peter Kross
2/20/2007 • Vietnam

By 1965, as American forces increased dramatically in South Vietnam, it was obvious that the advisory mission President John F. Kennedy had begun in 1961 was now entering a new and more perilous phase. While U.S. Army and Marine units went on combat missions with South Vietnamese army (ARVN) troops, reporters on the ground began to question the conduct of the war — and so did a few U.S. Army officers.

These officers knew that such questioning of the way the war was going could lead to the end of their military careers, but decided to pursue the truth regardless. One such man was a decorated veteran of the Korean War, Lt. Col. John Paul Vann. By the time of his death in Vietnam in June 1972, Vann had taken on the highest military authorities in Washington and had earned the respect and trust of a small group of newsmen whose reporting of the war began a general public questioning of how and why the conflict was being fought.

John Paul Vann was born on July 2, 1924, in Norfolk, Va., the illegitimate son of Johnny Spry and Myrtle Lee Tripp, a reputed part-time prostitute. Tripp married Aaron Frank Vann in 1929, and young John took his new father’s name. In June 1942, Frank Vann officially adopted John.

John Vann attended public school in Roanoke, Va. In the early 1940s he was attending junior college as the United States entered World War II. Vann was eager to join the fight, and entered the Army in 1943 intending to fly. He was accepted into the Army Air Forces training program that June and took his initial training in Rochester, N.Y. Moving from one base to the next, he finally was accepted for pilot training. While in training, he met Mary Jane Allen, whom he married on October 6, 1945.

Vann received his wings and was commissioned as a lieutenant, fulfilling his boyhood ambition to become a flier. Having missed combat during World War II, he was sent to Guam, where he flew Boeing B-29 bombers to bases across the Pacific. In 1946 Vann enrolled at Rutgers University in New Jersey to earn his bachelor’s degree. He was now the father of a baby girl named Patricia. Along with almost all Army Air Forces officers of the day, Vann faced a key career decision the following year. Under newly passed legislation that reorganized the entire American defense establishment, the Army Air Forces were separated from the Army to form a new branch of the mili­tary, the U.S. Air Force. Vann decided to remain with the Army and transferred to the infantry branch. Assigned to Fort Benning, he undertook paratroop training. The Army then assigned him to Korea as a special services officer, coordinating entertainment activities for the soldiers.

From Korea, Vann was sent to Japan to supervise the procurement of supplies for the 25th Infantry Division, based in Osaka. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he deployed back to Korea with the 25th ID and was stationed near Pusan, where he oversaw the loading and unloading of the massive amount of supplies required for the military buildup. As the fighting intensified on the Korean peninsula, Vann, now a captain, assumed command of a company in the 8th Ranger Battalion and led missions behind enemy lines. One of Vann’s soldiers was a very young David Hackworth.

Vann’s second son, Jesse, was born on August 5, 1950. The child’s health problems forced Vann’s early return to the United States. In 1954 he was assigned to the 16th Infantry Regiment in Schweinfurt, West Germany, to command the regiment’s Heavy Mortar Company. An officer evaluation report he received from Colonel (later General) Bruce Palmer Jr. described Vann as “one of the few highly outstanding officers I know.”

In 1955 Vann was promoted to major and reassigned to U.S. Army Europe headquarters in Heidelberg, where he worked in logistics. He returned to the United States in 1957 to attend the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

While he was enrolled at Syracuse University in New York in May 1959, Vann was notified by the military police that he was being investigated on charges of statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl while he had been at Fort Leavenworth. The consequences if he was found guilty would be enormous. A jail term and dismissal from the Army were distinct possibilities. If that was not enough pressure on the family, Vann’s youngest son, Peter, was seriously ill and required extensive medical treatment.

Vann was informed by the MPs that the girl had told a military chaplain at Fort Leavenworth about the alleged rape. Vann denied the charges. The Criminal Investigative Division was able to verify some ele­ments of the accuser’s story. The girl took a lie detector test and passed. Right after Vann graduated from Syracuse University with a master’s in business administration, CID recommended that court-martial proceedings go forward, on charges of statutory rape and adultery.

As Vann took up a temporary assignment at Fort Drum, N.Y., an Article 32 investigation (the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury) proceeded. Vann maintained that he had become friends with an emotionally unstable girl, who confided in him about her terrible home life and her inability to communicate with her parents. Vann insisted that the girl was fabricating the story of an affair with him. Vann submitted a 17-page rebuttal to the charges filed against him, but he also studied ways to beat a polygraph test, and he coached his wife on how to beat the machine when she testified on his behalf. Vann took the polygraph without incriminating himself, and the Article 32 convening authority subsequently concluded that there was not enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to convict him. Vann had dodged a huge bullet. No court-martial proceedings were held, and all charges were dropped. Despite the shadow of the charges and the investigation, Vann was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1961.

By late 1961 and early 1962, the Kennedy administration started to focus its attention on the conflict in South Vietnam. The Communist North Vietnamese, acting through their Viet Cong proxies in the South, were wreaking havoc among the populace outside of Saigon. The corrupt South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem asked for and received American military advisers to help fight the ever-growing insurgent attacks. Soon American troops were patrolling with the ARVN regulars, and Ameri­can helicopters were providing covering fire on search-and-destroy missions in the South. Upon arriving in Saigon in March 1962, Vann reported to Colonel Daniel Porter, the senior U.S. adviser to ARVN III Corps. Vann and the rest of the influx of Americans were assigned to the newly established U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), then commanded by General Paul Harkins, who during World War II had been General George Patton’s assistant chief of staff. By 1962 Harkins commanded more than 11,300 American troops in Vietnam.

Vann’s first duty was to organize a supply system for the ARVN forces. The system was a huge success; soon supplies that had once been tied up in red tape were flowing to the proper units. Porter then assigned Vann as the American adviser to Colonel Huynh Van Cao, commander of the ARVN 7th Division, who later became a corps commander and then a South Vietnamese senator.

Vann’s key military talent was his ability to see the big picture and establish the priorities necessary to accomplish the objective. Wanting to learn the situation firsthand, he flew helicopters into and out of hostile areas, often at risk to his own life. He was an early proponent of the war, believing that American policies in South Vietnam were the main thing blocking the Communist drive to control all of Southeast Asia.

Porter gave Vann a virtual carte blanche for his travel. Accompanying ARVN helicopter missions throughout the northern Mekong Delta, Vann made contact with the local tribal chiefs and monitored the fighting progress of the ARVN troops. Vann methodi­cally learned the tactics of guerrilla warfare and methods of counterinsurgency that the Kennedy administration was then promoting so aggressively. One of his most trenchant observations was: “This is a political war and it calls for discrimination in killing. The best weapon for killing would be a knife, but I’m afraid we can’t do it that way. The worst is an airplane. The next worse is artillery. Barring a knife, the best is a rifle — you know who you’re killing.”

Accompanying ARVN units to the field, Vann quickly realized to his dismay that the South Vietnamese army lacked the will to fight. In the face of enemy fire, far too many ARVN officers and soldiers opted not to engage the enemy and took flight. The disastrous battle at Ap Bac on January 2, 1963, was a turning point for Vann. Attempting to direct the battle from a light and unarmed observation aircraft, Vann was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Yet despite Vann’s best efforts and a solid tactical plan that should have succeeded, the ARVN allowed the VC to escape.

The more Vann came to understand the political situation in Saigon, the more he became disenchanted with the way President Diem was running the country. It was an open secret in Saigon and Washington that the Diem government was rife with corruption. Vann witnessed firsthand how Diem refused to implement needed political and military reforms and how his corrupt brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, rewarded friends in the military. Seeing how badly the Diem regime was responding to the ever-growing Communist threat, and the lack of military progress against the VC, Vann decided he had to tell his superior officers, and anyone else who would listen, just how badly things were going in Vietnam.

It had become obvious to some of the Americans at MACV by late 1962 that the war on the ground was not going right. Instead of learning from mistakes or correcting the situation, many of the senior officers around MACV’s General Harkins had begun to rein in any officers who were deviating from the playbook. Vann, however, publicly called the January 1963 battle of Ap Bac a defeat for American and ARVN forces and “a miserable damn performance.” Harkins almost fired him, giving him a severe tongue-lashing. From that day forward, Vann was persona non grata at MACV headquarters in Saigon.

In his reports, Vann used statistical analysis methods to show that the South Vietnamese government was grossly inflating VC body counts, further infurating his superiors. Vann also incurred the wrath of his superiors by stating openly that the ARVN troops would not risk conducting search-and-destroy missions but instead assumed defensive positions whenever possible. He further angered senior military leaders by his association and friendship with two young American reporters in Saigon, David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan. Vann shared his misgivings with them, and they in turn filed news reports of alleged ARVN ineptitude. Vann was also strident in his criticisms of the Strategic Hamlet Program, which he thought was a waste of time and energy, and he was critical of the way MACV ran counterintelligence operations.

Harkins had finally had enough. In April 1963 Vann returned to America. When he arrived in Washington, he carried with him his final report as a senior adviser — a scathing critique of the way the war was being handled by the South Vietnamese armed forces. Few of the Pentagon’s senior officials wanted to read his report, however.

Vann’s new assignment in the Pentagon involved managing the financial resources allocated to the Special Forces counter­insurgency program. He also interviewed many military officers who had been in Vietnam, and he finally produced a narrative that made the Pentagon take notice.

In his report, Vann backed up with hard statistical analysis his assessment that the number of enemy troops actually killed was less than two-thirds the number claimed by MACV. Many of those counted as enemy dead were in reality civilians caught in crossfire. Vann also was highly critical of South Vietnamese tactics, noting a tendency to make excessive use of airstrikes and artillery, rather than putting ground units into VC territory.

To his surprise, Vann found one ally among the top brass in the Pentagon: Lt. Gen. Barksdale Hamlett, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for operations. General Hamlett agreed that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were not getting the full truth about combat in Vietnam. Ham­lett tried to get General Maxwell Taylor, the JCS chairman, to allow Vann to brief them, but Taylor refused. Despite Taylor’s orders to the contrary, Hamlett scheduled a meeting with Vann and the chiefs. In the end, the meeting was canceled. Taylor, however, did have what was reported to be a very confrontational meeting alone with Vann.

Vann also met with the military staff of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and with presidential assistant Roswell Gil­patrick, as well as with CIA operative Maj. Gen. Edward Lansdale, who told Vann he should stick to things he knew firsthand and skip the gossip about what was going on in Saigon. But Lansdale also tried, without success, to get Vann to brief the JCS. Frustrated and seeing his career at a dead end, Vann retired from the Army in July 1963.

Two years later, he returned to Vietnam as a pacification representative for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Working in the ARVN III Corps area, where he had served his previous tour, Vann was so successful that within a year he was chief of the civilian pacification program in all the provinces around Saigon. Initially, the Office of Civilian Operations had been established to manage all U.S. government civilian agencies working in Vietnam under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Embassy. In May 1967 OCO was replaced with Civilian Operations and Revolutionary Development Support under the military chain of command. Robert Komer became the MACV civilian deputy commander for CORDS, with a rank equivalent to that of a lieutenant general.

Because of his track record in the field, Vann was the lead candidate to become CORDS deputy for the III Corps Tactical Zone (CTZ). Komer supported the appointment, but General William C. Westmoreland, now in command at MACV, was less than enthusiastic. Westmoreland, however, left the final decision to Lt. Gen. Fred Weyand, the newly appointed commander of U.S. II Field Forces, the senior American commander in the south of the country. Weyand, who had served as an intelligence officer in the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II, valued unconventional thinkers. While commander of the 25th Infantry Division, Weyand had learned that Vann was right far more often than he was wrong. Although Weyand predicted that Vann would be a “hair shirt,” he also knew that he would be worth the trouble.

Weyand’s hunch paid off. In the run-up to the Tet Offensive of 1968, Vann was one of the few Americans besides Weyand who saw and correctly interpreted the intelligence patterns that indicated a massive VC/NVA assault on the Saigon–Long Binh–Bien Hoa area. Weyand’s insistence that Westmoreland allow him to pull more U.S. maneuver battalions away from the border areas and inside the “Saigon Circle” was the key factor that turned Tet into a mili­tary disaster for the Communists.

When Maj. Gen. Ngo Dzu became the commander of ARVN IV Corps in 1970, he already had a good relationship with Vann, extending back to 1967. Dzu actually spent more time with Vann than he did with Maj. Gen. Hal McCown, who was Dzu’s official senior adviser in the IV CTZ. As U.S. forces started to draw down in Vietnam, Vann saw an opportunity to redeem his aborted military career through an alternate path, which was to replace McCown as the IV CTZ senior adviser when McCown’s tour ended in May 1971. A specific request from General Dzu was the mechanism needed to make that happen. Vann also believed he could count on support from Weyand, who was scheduled to return to Vietnam in the fall of 1970 as the deputy commanding general of MACV, which was now commanded by General Creighton Abrams.

Dzu was happy to support Vann, but the whole plan almost derailed when South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu reshuffled the ARVN’s corps commanders in August 1970. With Dzu sent to command II Corps in the central highlands, Vann now had to alter his maneuvering so that he would replace Maj. Gen. Charles P. Brown as the II CTZ senior adviser.

Weyand presented Vann’s case to Abrams in April 1971. Abrams, who had a relatively high opinion of Vann, was open to the suggestion, but there were still the institutional and legal hurdles of placing a civilian in a military command position. Weyand managed to convince Abrams that U.S. officers would respond to Vann’s unquestioned competence and natural leadership abilities, much as they had in III CTZ in 1967, when Vann first became the CORDS deputy there. Vann’s influence over Dzu was also a crucial factor in the decision.

In May 1971, Vann moved north to become the senior adviser in II CTZ. Although he was now the civilian equivalent of a major general, he legally could not be given the title of commander. The 2nd Regional Assistance Command was redesignated the 2nd Regional Assistance Group, and Vann’s title was director. Because a civilian cannot convene courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Vann was assigned a military deputy, Brig. Gen. George Wear, whose official title was commanding general, U.S. Army Forces Military Region 2. Nonetheless, Vann exercised de facto operational command over all U.S. military forces in his sector. Other civilians, such as Komer, had held general officer equivalency rank, but Vann was the first to have the authority to direct American troops in battle. Rather than large maneuver units, however, most of the U.S. combat forces remaining in Vietnam by that time were advisers and aviation units.

Vann’s major test as a field commander came during the Easter Offensive of 1972. As the North Vietnamese mounted a massive three-prong conventional attack from the north, Vann planned to defeat the thrust against II CTZ using the mobile defensive tactics he had seen Lt. Gen. Walton Walker use to defeat the North Koreans at the Pusan Perimeter in 1950. The NVA objective in II CTZ was Kontum, the northernmost key city in the Central Highlands. If Kontum fell, Pleiku would go with it. But before it could reach Kontum, the NVA had to take a series of ridges and high ground to the north, to which the outpost at Tan Canh was the key.

The headquarters of the ARVN’s 22nd Division, Tan Canh, was defended by about 10,000 South Vietnamese troops. On the morning of April 23, 1972, Tan Canh was attacked by a large NVA force that included T-54 tanks. Vann landed under heavy fire at Tan Canh with his helicopter and began evacuating civilians and the wounded. He remained on the ground and tried to rally the demoralized ARVN soldiers. As the attack continued through the following day, Tan Canh’s defenses finally collapsed. Vann again returned to the battle, where he located and extracted three American advisers. His heli­copter took several hits in the process, as he personally directed airstrikes on NVA tanks and anti-aircraft positions. Vann was credited with rescuing more than 50 wounded and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the only civilian to be so honored since World War II.

With the fall of Tan Canh, the NVA had a direct shot at Kontum, 25 miles away. The North Vietnamese, however, had no real experience with pursuit in mobile warfare and failed to follow up aggressively. Vann used the pause to good advantage. Abandoning any pretense of who was really in command of II Corps, he bypassed Dzu and began to issue orders directly to the ARVN units defending Kontum. MACV rushed reinforcements north, including the still-experimental Huey helicopters armed with TOW antitank missiles — history’s first use of helicopters to attack tanks.

In the end, however, it was air power, and specifically around-the-clock Boeing B-52 strikes, that broke the back of the offensive and destroyed the better part of two NVA divisions. Personally involved in targeting during the course of the battle, Vann directed more than 300 B-52 strikes. Ironically, the man who once said the most discriminating weapon in insurgency warfare was a knife or a rifle had now acquired the nickname of “Mr. B-52.”

By June 5, the battle for Kontum was over. The civilian general had won his major battle, but he didn’t live long to enjoy his victory. On June 9, 1972, John Paul Vann was killed when his helicopter, call sign “Rogues’ Gallery,” flying in darkness, slammed into a stand of trees and exploded. He was 47. As author Neil Sheehan described the funeral, it was “like an extraordinary class reunion. Here were all the figures from Vietnam in this chapel.” General Westmoreland was the chief pallbearer. Also in attendance were such diverse individuals as Edward Lansdale, Lucien Conein, Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Kennedy, prowar columnist Joseph Alsop, Robert Komer and William Colby. Vann was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

On June 16, 1972, President Richard M. Nixon met with members of Vann’s family at the White House to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to the former renegade lieutenant colonel. The citation read in part, “Soldier of peace and patriot of two nations, the name of John Paul Vann will be honored as long as free men remember the struggle to preserve the independence of South Vietnam.”

Saigon fell less than three years after Vann’s victory at Kontum. As Sheehan noted: “John Vann was not meant to flee to a ship at sea, and he did not miss his exit. He died believing he had won his war.”

This article was written by Peter Kross and originally published in the April 2007 issue of Vietnam Magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today.

For additional reading, see Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam,and David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest.

54 Responses to John Paul Vann: Man and Legend

  1. […] Who was that guy, anyway? […]

    • Johann Von Eisenhaus says:

      well kiddo, John Paul Vann was the equivalent in Vietnam of Mein Feldherrmarshall Erwin Rommel (A.K.A. Wustenfuchs) a non understood officer who could win a war if the ones that could help would do their job.

  2. says:

    Thank You for this story!
    Vietnam Vet

    Larry Mandrell

  3. mitchell smith says:


  4. Wayne Marshall says:

    While the factual information presented in this biography may be true, the most important aspect of JP Vann’s life is entirely overlooked. I worked for JP Vann in the Phoenix program. Although most aspects of this program will remain classified for years to come, eventually this too will become public knowledge and the contributions of this man will be recognized.

    • Jimbob says:

      Why dont you come out and tell everyone what went on??There is no reason to keep secrets after all these years…TALK MAN !!!!!

      • capt nemo says:

        Phoenix was a targeting for torture and death of NLF (Viet Cong), NVA, or “sympathizers”. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese were killed, many were civilians caught in the middle.

  5. Ryan Vann says:

    I am the grandson of John Paul Vann, his son Peter is my father. Thank you for taking the time to write this article.

    • Johann Von Eisenhaus says:

      man if what you say is true… then i only can send you my salute, your grandfather was a genius, is a shame that only “popular heroes” are the ones being teached of in schools instead of the true natural born heroes.
      is a FACT that if John Vann was given the tools he needed right in time… well the americans now could celebrate a victory.

      Ein Volks

      • Beanie says:

        JvE: No, that is a wildly speculative bit of wishful thinking rather than a fact. JPV himself ackowledged that the American role in Vietnam could be no more than a long delaying action of the inevitable.

    • Akhmad Taufik says:

      Wow….Ryan, your grandpa was a great warrior……….I like to see your grandpa on the movie…i saw again and again…..
      Akhmad Taufik

    • Wayne Marshall says:

      I worked for John Paul Vann in Vietnam in 1969-70, and it was the most satisfying time of my life. Your grandfather inspired a small group of Phoenix operatives to defy the odds and accomplish great things. He loved the Vietnamese people dearly and hated the communists intensely.

      There were only about 50 Americans in the Phoenix program at any given time, and with John Paul’s guidance and assistance, we moved the world.

      I wish that there were more like him today. W-

  6. Edward Story says:

    Hello Ryan (and Peter and John A and Jesse and Patricia);

    I worked for your grandfather at MAC-CORDS, IV Corps, 69-70. Considered him a mentor; changed my life along with his good friend, fellow soldier and free thinker, Col Carl Bernard.

    JPV was a second father to me — though for only a short period of his life and a shorter period of mine. He was indomitable and was only brought down by the laws of physics. I have no doubt that had he survived we would have had a different and better outcome in Vietnam.

    Stumbled across this article today by chance. Anyone interested should read Neil’s Bright Shining Lie. And anyone interested in contacting me, feel free; look me up on the net.

    Ryan, you and your father and uncles and aunt come from the best stock. Stand proud.


  7. Jeremy Vann says:

    Mr. Story,

    My Grandfather is Eugene W. Vann, better known as John’s brother. He was a CMSgt in the Air Force. I’ve been in the AF almost ten years and am proud to bear our last name on my uniform. I’m putting in my package to go Green and be a Warrant Officer… your comment about being from the best stock would be awesome somewhere in my package! Wish me luck!


  8. Gary Richardson says:

    Does anyone know what happened to John Vann’s Vietnamese daughter? Did her family leave Vietnam after 1975?

    • Brad Fradette says:

      I received information that his Vietnamese daughter from “Juliette Bach” moved to the US with Juliette before 1975 from a school in Paris. Does anyone know her real name? Or her married name now? Or her daughters name? It would be interesting to talk with them. My email is:

  9. Vo Vann Decker says:

    Cool article. My dad was a LtC. and named me after him out of the respect he held for him. (Vo is my mom’s family name… they were not sure if any of my mom’s relatives survived the war, so they wanted me to carry the name another generation)

    • darcy says:

      There is a Vo family living in Yarmouth Nova Scotia – San Van Vo, his wife and kids. They were among the boat people who came to North America during the war. They are all doing very well.

  10. Jack Johnstone says:

    In 1972 Gene La Rouche and I drove from Cam Ranh to Qui Nhon on the day the Tet Offensive began. We were working for ITT-Federal Electric and were delivering test equipment for calibration. Three bridges were taken out behind us and we were stuck in Qui Nhon, as it came under attack.

    We hitched a ride on a Huey headed back to Nha Trang, from a young Warrant Officer Pilot we met in the Officers Mess. We were diverted to Tuy Hoa, by orders from John Paul Vann. He commandeered
    the Huey and Pilot to inspect mountain top microwave communication sites, that had come under attack, during the offensive.

    We met Mr. Vann in passing, as he boarded the Huey and took off
    for his inspection of the mountain top sites. We sat at Tuy Hoa and
    listened to his radio calls, as he flew from one mountain site to the other. One particular radio transmission will always stick in my mind. He was talking to a Vietnamese Officer and said “you tell
    General(can not recall his name), that if he does not have that bridge in by noon, I will have his ass on the carpet in Saigon”.

    It’s difficult to convey the aura of no nonsense and dedication he
    displayed,as this civilian, retired officer worked around us. I am
    proud to have met and see him in action.

    When our Pilot returned from the inspection flight, he told us, one
    mountain top site was held by an old Vietnamese man who was hired to run the diesel generators, that powered the site. While under attack, the ARVN company fled and he manned a M-60, killing many VC on their perimeter and held the mountain top
    site by himself. On another site it was a similar situation and a
    American Army Major, serving in an advisory capacity, held the
    mountain top firing from a bunker, and fought the VC off killing
    at least a score of them, while the ARVN company fled and his Vietnamese counterpart cowered in the bunker near him. So went the war near the end

  11. Jack Johnstone says:

    Please note an error that I made when submitting my original comments. The incidents I described, happened during the Easter Offensive in 1972, not during a Tet Offensive. Although the memory
    fades after 37 years the incidents I described, are absolutely true.

  12. ALI HUSSAIN says:

    ASSLAM O ALLAIKUM….i m ALI from PAKISTAN…i just saw the movie A BRIGHT SHINNING LIFE..and i m inspired by hius personlity..he was geius..i m also in army and i have great interest in reading and knwoing abpout military leaders..and unfortunatley most of them they could not have successfull perosnal life…but he was really a hero…nation having men like him is lucky….i would love to see ppl related to hi talking or contacting me and i salute all those soldiers who sacrified their lives in veitnam………….

  13. Ryan Vann says:

    Last I heard she and her mother relocated to the US. East coast I believe. I heard Maryland. We don’t communicate with them.

    Thank you Ed. I will not forget your words.

    If any of you have any questions please contact me at

  14. thecleaner says:

    I have read about JPV for many a year and he has to me seemed like a perfect hero, flawed yet brilliant, his children can be proud of who he was and what he achieved – JPV We Salute You Sir.

  15. Ruperto Fiories says:

    JPV has been a hero to me for years now. I first heard of him when I joined the military book club and bought the book, A Bright Shining Lie. Later, the HBO movie brought the book to life. I share the book and movie with friends, so they may know the story about a soldier who led a very interesting life.
    JPV was certainly a great American and leader of men, whose life was taken too soon, as happens to many heroes.

    I am just an enlisted soldier who has served in Desert Storm and Afghanistan, and respect what JPV stood for- the courage to lead from the front and tell it like it is…

  16. Eugene W. Vann says:

    I am Eugene W. Vann, the youngest brother of John Paul Vann. I want to thank everyone for their comments about my brother who adored his family and was adored by his Mom and Dad and brothers and sister. He was our hero and is missed every day. My grandson, Jeremy R. Vann is doing his best to follow in the footsteps of this great man and we are extremely proud of him, just as we were of John. John had a human side that has never been written about. He was kind, loving , gentle and generous and that is the part of him that lives in our hearts. To put into feelings simply….he was my brother.

    • Chris Swift says:

      Mr Vann,

      I am currently in the Army and enrolled in a history class that deals with Vietnam and the US relationship. So far our class has been dealing with your brother and the book “A Bright Shining Lie”. Being a veteran of multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, I would have loved to serve under LTC Vann, he is the type of leader that makes you want to be better, the kind of leader that you would do anything for. Leaders like that are uncommon and the fact that he gets such little credit for how he stood up against the political nightmare. I have the utmost respect for your brother and just wish that I had the opportunity to serve under him. I am envious of you and how you actually got to grow up and watch this man evolve and become what he was.

  17. Jo Vann says:

    My name is Jo Vann, John Paul Vann’s sisiter-in-law. Reading the comments about John, one from Ruperto Fiores struck me…he referred to himself as,”just an enlisted soldier.” There is no such thing…every man who puts on a uniform and heads off to war to defend this great country is a National Hero and deserves the respect and gratitude of every citizen in the USA. Ruperto, you are no less a hero to me than John was and I, personally, want to thank you for your service and thank God you returned home safely. If only 15 minutes of time was bought for our country as a result of your service, that is a great tribute to John for all his efforts and it is greatly appreciated by the Vann family. May all the good things in life come your way and again, thank you.

  18. Wm. Johnston says:

    In 1972 I was with the Central District Engineers. We had moved our operations from Cam Rahn Bay in March to Nha Trang and became Headquarters Engineer Region MR 2. A request came from II Corp HQ in Plieku that Col Vann wanted to build an area in his command center where he could talk and hear on a telephone. The need was for some kind of sound proofing / deadening material.

    I was able to “locate and aquire” some acoustical ceiling tiles which were duly sent to Plieku.

    A week or two later I was told there was a call for me. The caller identified himself as Mr. Vann and asked if I could hear him OK and I responded with a loud and clear. He said he was calling from his new phone booth / corner to thank me for finding the material and getting it to his HQ. It was working better than he had hoped it would.

    What a class act that was for him to personnally call. He didn’t need to but he did. A brief converstion, yes. But one I won’t forget.

    Not many weeks later he was gone.

  19. Zach Moyer says:

    I am Lt. Col. Vann’s great nephew (his sister is my grandmother). I am 20, and was not even alive during all this. i feel honored to be related to such an important man. Im amazed that all i know about my great uncle is what I’m reading on the internet on sites like this. My own immediate family hasnt even told me much about him other than telling me about the book written about him by Mr. Sheehan. This really is an honor. Anyone who can tell me more about him personally please dont hesitate to respond to ” “.

    • Akhmad Taufik says:

      Dear Zach…..
      Of course I know abaut Ltc J.P. Vann anly on vcd…….since more than ten years ago. Did you believe that I often watch the movie “A Bright Shinning Lie”…to understood why Ltc Vann…..a bright officer, lead the war that he believed will to the victory.
      Ltc. Vann beyond call of duty as the great American Soldier althoug US Goverment and US Military didn’t like him.
      Akhmad Taufik

  20. Vann Malinowski says:

    To the Vanns,

    My mother served in USAID from 68 -70. Mr. Vann made such an impression on her that upon adopting me during a return assignment to Vietnam from 72-75, she named me after him. I am proud to carry your last name as my first name. I also served briefly in the US Army as an in Infantryman in 93, before injury ended the military career that I wanted. I am proud to have served and carried John Paul Vann’s name back to the Army, however brief.

  21. Michael McWatters says:

    I served in Plieku headquarters in the Easter offensive. I remember our Captain on radio with US forces at Tan Canh when the radio went dead. We new they had been overrun. JPV was on route trying to get all Americans out . We knew that if Kon Tum fell Pleiku would be next. Our only hope was Vann. He was the one commander that could get the ARVN forces to fight . The article does not adequately document the battle for Kon Tum. At one point NVA were in parts of the city. Turning point came when Vann had friendly troops withdraw into known positions and used b 52 strikes to bomb areas near the city , and near friendly troops. No one else would have made that decision.

  22. Jimbob says:

    A great Man…thinker…everyone has their faults..he should be recognized with another medal!!!!

  23. Le Tan Dat says:

    Neu không có ong Vann n?m 1972 tai kontum, Tân Cah rs? không th?t th? ! Ông nay fch?t vào tháng 6. 1972 la h?p v?i luat nhân qu? Vietnam

  24. Russ Martin says:

    Met JPVann in Tan Son Nhut at the end of April 1972….just a few days after the 23rd and 24th. An incredibly knowledgeable man with an insight of the conflict that simply could not be matched, Mr. Vann was a no-nonsense, take charge commander with whom we were in awe. Informed of his untimely death just five weeks later I declined an opportunity to view the body. His descendants can be very proud of him. All of us from that period are so fortunate to have served with JPVann.

  25. Wong Hoong Hooi says:

    This article conveyed the subject’s bravery and command abilities that translated to the authority to assert himself in the field when the rounds were flying. No mean feat.

    The basic problem with that war for the US was that it was a political war which most South Vietnamese were disinterested in fighting. The man had said so himself in his own terms.

    The label “genius” seen in commentary would more obviously apply if the man had a workable plan that could address the basic problem above to achieve either objective:
    a) win the war (in terms of destroying the insurgency); or
    b) managing the war to a stalemate acceptable to the US that could pass for stability for most South Vietnamese at the time.

    This did not come across from the article.

  26. Akhmad Taufik says:

    I know abiaut Ltc John Paul Vann when saw a vcd film “A Bright Shinning Lie” on 1999. I think late JPV was a brilliant soldier US Army ever have. I like to write comment of Mr. Vann family.
    Akhmad Taufik

  27. david says:

    my father worked for John Paul Vann and named his one son after him, Vo Vann Decker

  28. Michael Friedman says:

    What a great man and how unfortunate it was that not enough people listened to him.

  29. […] named Daniel Ellsberg—who, at one point, as a gung-ho USAID pacification adviser worked alongside John Paul Vann to spread the gospel of American  democratic values to the Vietnamese peasants—leaked troves of […]

  30. Armando Cardona says:

    It may be a sign of the times or a sad reflection of the fact that the political agenda of the American Left has forever tainted our perception and our memories of the Vietnam War, but one cannot escape the feeling that John Paul Vann, despite the honors bestowed on him (both while he was alive and posthumously) remains a largely unsung hero. His grasp of the realities of the Vietnam War and what was really at stake at that time and place were second to none; his insight into human nature, politics (both in South Vietnam and the U.S.), the military situation and social realities (again, both in South Vietnam and the U.S.) were nothing short of extraordinary. Truly an American hero, one of the very few (Dr. Thomas Dooley may be another in the same class) who understood what was at stake, clearly saw what needed to be done and gave their all (their lives even) trying to stem the tide. We Americans are truly lucky to have had such men born in our midst; giants in every sense of the word. Thank God that these men so honored our country and blessed us with their presence, their actions and their legacy.

  31. Gerry Gudinas says:

    Wayne my name is Gerry Gudinas I was with A Co. 1/12 1st Cav Div my second Captain in the field worked with John Paul Vann on his second tour 69-70 his name is John Burdett do you know him?

  32. Bill Vann says:

    My Father is Eugene W. Vann, his brother was John Paul Vann. Uncle John was a hero to our family. He was dedicated, sincere, brave and had a very powerful personality. When he would come to visit us, or us him, we stayed in complete awe of the man, it was as powerful as having a President in the room….I’m sure I don’t have to verify how missed he is by all the Vann’s. There has not been a man ever who has impressed me like Uncle John did. His contribution to the Vietnam Conflict can not be equaled as every other falls short. He was a great man, a brave soldier and most definitely the one you’d want in your corner.

  33. Jeremy Vann says:

    I was in the library here a few days ago and that had the book there. It always lights me up when I see it somewhere and i can pick it up and flip right to the page that has a picture of my grandpa in the room with other Vann’s and the President.

  34. Wayne B says:

    “Ironically, the man who once said the most discriminating weapon in insurgency warfare was a knife or a rifle had now acquired the nickname of “Mr. B-52.””

    He was no longer fighting an insurgency, but an outright invasion by the 5th largest military in the world. He knew how to use the right tool for the job. Not ironic at all.

  35. Rod Stewart says:

    I met him after the battle of Cung Son and had the honor of showing him some of our handy work. Unlike most junior officers at the time, I had some knowledge of who he was and what he had done. It was an honor to shake his hand.

    • Rod, I’m writing a dissertation on Phu Yen with a chapter that covers the battle at Cung Son. I’d love to learn your perspective of the battle.

    • Robert says:

      Rod, I’m writing a dissertation on Phu Yen with a chapter that discusses the battle at Cung Son. I’ve chatted with the DSA whom participated in the battle and with a Cobra pilot whom flew a number of runs overhead that day. I’d love to learn your perspective of what transpired that day.

  36. […] ferrying him from a visit to a brothel, crashed on the way back to his operational headquarters. John Paul Vann: Man and Legend John Paul Vann After military ops in the Courtney Rubber Plantation, and adjacent forested […]

  37. Phil Stanchfield says:

    I was in Vietnam 68-69. After I read the book “A BRIGHT AND SHINNING LIE” John Paul Vahn & Major Daniel Ellsberg, could of ended the war in 1963. If only anyone had listened. He could see what the the US Politicians were doing wrong. I am ashamed he is not on the Vietnam Wall. He was a true American Hero.

  38. […] the Vietnam War for the New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for chronicling the unusual story of John Paul Vann. Vann retired from the army in 1963 after failing to persuade his superiors to change U.S. strategy […]

    • Erik Knight Doman says:

      I’ve sponsored the great John Paul Vann for life membership in the Legion of Valor (DSC, 1972). Please read the citation below. From one infantry grunt to another, drive on! The only civilian since WWII to be awarded the DSC.

      Erik Doman
      Associate Life Member, LOV
      Combat Infantrymen’s Association, Life Member

      Vann, John Paul
      U.S. Civilian
      Agency for International Development, United States Department of State
      Date of Action: April 22 & 23, 1972

      The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Mr. John Paul Vann, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service as a United States civilian working with the Agency for International Development, United States State Department, in the Republic of Vietnam.

      Mr. Vann distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action during the period 23 April to 24 April 1972.

      During an intense enemy attack by mortar, artillery and guided missiles on the 22d Army of the Republic of Vietnam Division forward command post at Tan Canh, Mr. Vann chose to have his light helicopter land in order to assist the Command Group.

      After landing, he ordered his helicopter to begin evacuating civilian employees and the more than fifty wounded soldiers while he remained on the ground to assist in evacuating the wounded and provide direction to the demoralized troops. With total disregard for his own safety, Mr. Vann continuously exposed himself to enemy artillery and mortar fire. By personally assisting the wounded and giving them encouragement, he assured a calm and orderly evacuation. As the enemy fire increased in accuracy and tempo, he set the example by continuing to assist in carrying the wounded to the exposed helipad. His skillful command and control of the medical evacuation ships during the extremely intense enemy artillery fire enabled the maximum number of soldiers and civilians to be safely evacuated. On the following day the enemy launched a combined infantry tank team attack at the 22nd Division Headquarters compound.

      Shortly thereafter, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam defense collapsed, enemy tanks penetrated the compound, and the enemy forces organized .51 caliber anti-aircraft positions in and around the compound area. To evade the enemy the United States advisors moved under heavy automatic weapons fire to an area approximately 500 meters away from the compound. Completely disregarding the intense small arms and .51 caliber anti-aircraft fire and the enemy tanks, Mr. Vann directed his helicopter toward the general location of the United States personnel, who were forced to remain in a concealed position. In searching for the advisors’ location, his helicopter had to maintain an altitude and speed which made it extremely vulnerable to all forms of enemy fire. Undaunted, he continued his search until he located the advisors’ position. Making an approach under minimal conditions he landed and quickly pulled three United States advisors into the aircraft. As the aircraft began to ascend, five Army of the Republic of Vietnam soldiers were clinging to the skids. Although the total weight far exceeded the maximum allowable for the light helicopter, Mr. Vann chose to save the Army of the Republic of Vietnam personnel holding on to the skids by having the helicopter maneuver without sharp evasive action. Consequently, the aircraft sustained numerous hits.

      In order to return to Tan Canh as soon as possible to save the remaining advisors and to save the soldiers clinging to the skids, Mr. Vann detoured his aircraft from Kontum to a nearby airfield. Throughout this time Mr. Vann was directing air strikes on enemy tanks and anti-aircraft positions. While en route back to Tam Canh, Mr. Vann’s helicopter was struck by heavy anti-aircraft fire, which forced it to land.

      Throughout the day Mr. Vann assisted in extracting other advisors and soldiers in the Dak To area. On one such occasion another group of army of the Republic of Vietnam soldiers attempted to cling to one side of his helicopter, caused it to crash. Undaunted by these occurrences, Mr. Vann continued directing air strikes and maneuvering friendly troops to safe areas. Because of his fearless and tireless efforts, Mr. Vann was directly responsible for saving hundreds of personnel from the enemy onslaught. His conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary heroic actions reflect great credit upon him and the United States of America.

      John Paul Vann, Second From Right.

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