Top 7 Vietnam Era Military Leaders

The Vietnam War was one of the most publicly criticized and protested wars in US history.  It is sometimes difficult to really grasp and understand the who, what and why about the Vietnam War.  However, you can get a better understanding of the Vietnam War by taking a look at the leaders of North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the United States and the roles they played in the war.

Getting to know more about the leaders in the Vietnam War will help you better understand their reactions to the ever changing battlefield and dynamic as the US became more involved in Vietnam.  That being said, here are the Top 7 Vietnam Era Military Leaders, as I see it.

1. Creighton Abrams (US): Now, I have to say that this is a little biased as I am a thoroughbred tanker, but General Abrams was a dynamic leader who dramatically shaped the Vietnam war.  In 1967, he was appointed as General Westmoreland’s deputy commander.  However, in 1968 he took command.  He used non-conventional methods to fight the war.  For example, he broke American forces into small units that lived with and trained the South Vietnamese civilians to protect and defend their villages.  He also spent time and money to expand, train and equip the ARVN.  Simply put, he focused on strategies to win the hearts and minds of the population.

2. Ho Chi Mihn (North Vietnam): Ho Chi Mihn, while not a true military General, was prime minister from 1946 to 1955 and was President from 1945, until his death in 1969, of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.  He was a strong nationalist who believed that the French had no right to rule the people of Vietnam.  Ho Chi Mihn was the face of the Communist movement and the supreme influence of the aggression exercised on South Vietnam. The city of Saigon was renamed to Ho Chi Mihn, several years after his death.

3. Duong Van Minh (South Vietnam): Mihn led the South Vietnamese Army as a  military adviser under President Diệm.  In 1963 he led a a coup that ousted Diem.  He was also briefly the leader of South Vietnam in 1963 and 1975, until the North Vietnamese took over the country. He was the last president of South Vietnam. 

4.  John S. McCain, Jr. (US): McCain was an American admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Command.  His father was a famous Navy Admiral and his son is the current Senator McCain.  He was an advocate of bringing in the “Iowa Class” battleships to support with bombing efforts in Vietnam.  He was also a great tactician who leveraged the Navy to assist in the war.

5. Vo Nguyen Giap (North Vietnam): Giap was the Vietnamese General in the Vietnam People’s Army (NVA), Commander-in-Chief of PAVN and was one of the most prominent military leaders during the war. 

6. Le Nguyen Khang (South Vietnam): Khang was the commander of the Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps. General Khang held a variety of important leadership positions during his career, such as:

  • Commandant of the Marine Division
  • VNN Commander
  • Commander of the Capital Military Zone
  • Saigon-Gia Dinh Military Governor
  • III Corps and III Tactical Zone Commander
  • Representative of the Government in the Eastern Regions
  • Deputy Chief of the Joint General Staff in Operations

Here is an excerpt from a speech given at his funeral.

“Calm, astute, and impartial, he was often the mediator between opposing factions, and played a key role in averting many crises and turmoils that threatened to weaken the country.

He was a vastly experienced field commander, who led the Marines to many victories. Many fighters owed their lives to his skillful commanding. He was honoured with several National medals, and received many medals of bravery from Allied nations.

Three quarters of his military career was dedicated to the role of Commandant of the Marine Corps. He commanded respect – his men loved him for enduring all manners of hardship side by side with them. He always put in put more than was required of him in any operation. He was the Big Brother in the Marine Corps. He won the admiration of the South Vietnamese people and the ARVN for his high morality” (source).

7. Frederick C. Weyand (US): Weyand was a U.S. Army General and was the last commander of American military operations in the Vietnam War from 1972 to 1973. He later served as the Army Chief of Staff.  His strategy towards the Vietnam War was much different than General Westmoreland’s strategy.  He tried to “think like the enemy” and he moved U.S. troops close to Saigon.  He felt that “securing and pacifying” the towns and village in South Vietnam was very important.  He was awarded the National Order of Vietnam and Gallantry Cross. Read more about General Weyand.  

Final Thoughts

The Vietnam War was a long and horrible war.  Thousands of Soldiers died.  Despite the horrible acts of violence, there are lots of valuable leadership lessons and tactical lessons that can be learned from the war.  There were many great leaders (on both sides) who influenced the war and had a major impact in the outcome.  These seven folks listed above were the top 7 Vietnam era military leaders as I see it. What do you think? Who is the most influential Vietnam era military leader that you can think of?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.


chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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1 thought on “Top 7 Vietnam Era Military Leaders”

  1. Very good post Justin. It somewhat amazes me there are no comments here. It is controversial, but no one dare says anything, or has Vietnam been forgotten?

    My Uncle was a man who endured a lot in ‘Nam. He was shot several times and ended back out in the midst of the fighting. Just before his discharge, he had a rat the size of a small dog bite him and gave him rabies. Kenny told me he would have rather taken another bullet in the leg than the shots he got in his stomach.

    As for your post, Ken says that if General Weyand would have managed the war from the start, the North would not control the South now, and the war would have been over much sooner.

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