Harry G. Summers, Jr. – Colonel, United States Army

From a contemporary press report:

Harry G. Summers Jr., 67, a retired Army colonel who wrote extensively about the Vietnam War and other areas of military history and who also was a frequent military analyst on television broadcasts during the Gulf War, died November 14, 1999 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He had diabetes and a heart ailment and died after a stroke.

In addition to books, magazine pieces and television broadcast work, Colonel Summers had been a military affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and had served as editor of the magazine Vietnam.

Colonel Summers, who was born in Kentucky, enlisted in the Army at the age of 15, hiding his correct age. He served in Korea during the Korean War and decided to make the Army his career. He received a commission in 1957.

Over the years, he graduated from the University of Maryland, the Army War College and the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

In the mid-1960s, he was wounded twice in Vietnam and twice was decorated for valor. “I was the second-to-the-last Army guy out of Vietnam,” Colonel Summers later recalled. “Flying from the roof of the embassy . . . was quite a searing experience.”

In 1974, he returned to Saigon as a U.S. negotiator with North Vietnam on prisoner of war issues.

He served on the faculty of the Army War College and became a noted pioneer student of the military aspects of the Vietnam War. In 1982, the War College published his “On Strategy: The Vietnam War in Context,” in which he advanced the theory that the major American failing was seeking the destruction of Viet Cong guerrillas operating in South Vietnam rather than the North Vietnamese army.

He contended that on the battlefield itself, the U.S. military was tactically superior, and he cited a number of key victories. But strategically, he added, it failed in taking on the mission of pacification while trying to defeat the Viet Cong. The theory was embraced by many in the military but was roundly criticized by some officers who had left the Army and were more critical of U.S. strategic planning.

Colonel Summers retired from active Army duty in 1985, but his interest in the Vietnam experience continued. In 1988, he became editor of Vietnam magazine, which, he said, was committed to trying “to tell the truth about Vietnam in all its complexities . . . with the realization that there's not one truth about Vietnam but many.” Published by the Cowles History Group, the bimonthly magazine has an estimated 80,000 circulation.

In the 1990s, he was a highly sought lecturer throughout the military education system on the subject of warfare. He held the War College's General Douglas MacArthur Chair. In 1993 and 1994, he held the Marine Corps University's Brigadier General H.L. Oppenheimer Chair of Warfighting Strategy, and in 1994 and 1995 the Chair of Military Affairs.

In 1996, he held the Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Lectureship at the University of California, Berkeley. He also lectured at Stanford, Harvard, Georgetown and Vanderbilt universities.

Colonel Summers was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He testified before Congress on strategic military issues and lectured at the White House and State Department.

During the Gulf War, he acted as a military analyst for NBC News, making more than 250 network television appearances, and was a frequent guest on Voice of America and National Public Radio.

A prolific and prize-winning writer, Colonel Summers turned out a weekly military affairs column for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Previously U.S. News & World Report's chief military correspondent and contributing editor of the former Defense and Diplomacy magazine, he wrote articles and reviews for American Heritage, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and New Republic.

His military decorations included two awards of both the Combat Infantryman's Badge and the Legion of Merit; a Silver Star; three awards of both the Bronze Star and Meritorious Service Medal; and two awards of both the Purple Heart and Air Medal.

Colonel Summers also won New York University's 1990 Olive Branch Award, the Veterans of Foreign War's 1991 News Media Award and the Vietnam Veterans of America's 1993 Excellence in the Arts award.

Survivors include his wife; two sons; and five grandchildren.

Colonel Summers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Section 34, Grave 168)


Combat Infantryman's Badge (2)

War veteran, columnist dies

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, November 22, 1999) – Retired Army Colonel Harry G. Summers, a Korean and Vietnam war veteran and a syndicated columnist, died November 14, 1999, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was 67.

Summers suffered from diabetes.

Retired Army Colonel James N. Hawthorne was a friend of Summers and remembers him as a very humble, private person.

Hawthorne was the public affairs officer at the Army War College in 1984 and helped in fulfilling requests for Summers to present lectures and to appear on television on strategic issues.

“He was in demand because his first book on Vietnam had just been published,” Hawthorne said.

“He was a remarkable fellow and mostly self-educated. He did a wide-range of reading and in fact, he was the best read man I've ever known.”

Hawthorne said although many people inside and outside the Pentagon viewed Summers as an undisputed expert on military affairs, Summers was most proud of being an enlisted soldier in Korea.

Summers was born May 6, 1932, in Covington, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Army at age 15 and served as a squad leader in Korea. He earned his commission in 1957 and received a bachelor of science degree that same year from the University of Maryland.

In 1966 Summers went to Vietnam with a combat infantry unit as a battalion operations officer. For his actions there he received the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts.

After returning to the States, he served as an instructor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and later lectured on strategy at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. He also headed an U.S. delegation that negotiated with North Vietnam regarding prisoners of war and service members missing in action.

After his retirement in 1985, Summers also wrote several books. He lectured at the three U.S. military academies, the White House, State Department, CIA, Marine Corps University and other institutions. He also wrote a weekly military column.

According to Mary Lou Forbes, editor of the “Washington Times” commentary section, Summers “offered wise and cogent insights into the military complexities of our times. He was above all an original thinker unafraid to share his ideas and support them with remarkable historic expertise.”

His books include “On Strategy,” “Vietnam War Almanac,” “Persian Gulf War Almanac,” “On Strategy II,” and “Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War.”

Summers is survived by his wife, Eloise Cunningham Summers; two sons, Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Harry G. Summers III, and Army Lieutenant Colonel David C. Summers and five  grandchildren.

A viewing will be held November 28, from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m., at Evans Funeral Home in Bowie, Maryland. Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery.

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