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John Paul Vann

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An influential field operator in the Vietnam War, John Paul Vann, first as a United States Army advisor and lieutenant colonel, who later worked for the Agency for International Development in a role with the authority of a major general. Immensely talented, he had been expected to rise to high Army rank.[1] While his public reason for resigning from the Army was indeed disagreement over U.S. policy and honesty, first evidenced at the Battle of Ap Bac, he had irregularities in his personal life that would have blocked his promotion to senior Army rank. [2]

Early life

While many leaders do not develop their personal styles into their college or early professional days, understanding Vann literally requires going back to his birth. He was illegitimate. His married father, John Paul "Johnny" Spry, provided his first and middle name. His mother, an alcoholic and part-time prostitute, was actually married to another man and claimed him as the boy's father on the birth certificate. Later, she married Aaron Frank Vann, who adopted John Paul.[3]

He grew up during the Great Depression. Frank Vann, as he was known, tried to provide for the family, although his mother constantly belittled her husband and was cruel to the family. John Paul found outside outlets from home, including a basketball club and the Boy Scouts, and acquired friends and an adult mentor. He entered junior college, and met his future wife.

Army before Vietnam

In 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and gained a coveted assignment to flight training and became a navigator. Obtaining a regular commission in 1946, he completed college, and then transferred into the infantry, where he saw more room for advancement than in a pilot-dominated Air Force. In the Korean War, he was assigned to an unglamorous but critical logistics role. [4]

Army in Vietnam

He clashed with senior military and civilian officials, such as Ambassador Frederick Nolting.
Theworst thing that happened was Colonel [John Paul] Vann's spilling his guts to the American press and having it spread all over the headlines that the South Vietnamese Army, despite all that the Americans had done to train and supply them, were basically cowards and they couldn't win. [5]

Civilian in Vietnam


  1. Sheehan, Neil (1988), A bright shining lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, New Random House, pp. 481-482
  2. Sheehan, pp. 485-493
  3. Sheehan, pp. 389-410
  4. Sheehan, pp. 435-442
  5. Frederick Nolting (November 11, 1982), Oral History interview by Ted Gittinger, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, pp. I-11