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James H. Willbanks

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Lieutenant Colonel James H. Willbanks, USA (ret.) “is Director of the Department of Military History, U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel with twenty-three years service as an Infantry officer in various assignments, to include a tour as an advisor with both the Royal Thai Army in Vietnam and the 18th Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.  He also served in command and staff assignments in Panama, Japan, Germany, and CONUS with duty in the 3rd Infantry, 7th Infantry, 9th Infantry, and 1st Cavalry Divisions and as chief of contingency planning in U.S. Southern Command.  While on active duty, he also served two tours as an instructor in the Center for Army Tactics. 


Before assuming his present duties, Dr. Willbanks served twelve years as an instructor in the Department of Joint and Multinational Operations, specializing in theater campaign planning.  Dr. Willbanks took a leave of absence from CGSC in 1996-1998 and worked in Saudi Arabia as an infantry doctrine writer for the Royal Saudi Land Forces.  Dr. Willbanks received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Texas A&M University and a Master of Arts and Doctorate in History from the University of Kansas.  Lieutenant Colonel James H. Willbanks is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Kansas City Kansas Community College.   As a historian, Dr. Willbanks focuses on 20th Century military operations with a specialization on the Vietnam War.


Dr. Willbanks is an Honor Graduate of the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, where he received the Master Tactician Award and Strategist Additional Skill Identifier.  He is also a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies.  His personal military awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with “V” and Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Joint Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Two Silver Stars, and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.”


Lieutenant Colonel James H. Willbanks is the author of Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War; The Battle Of An Loc; The Vietnam War; The Tet Offensive: A Concise History; and, Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact.


According to the book description of Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War, “Did America’s departure from Vietnam produce the “peace with honor” promised by President Richard Nixon or was that simply an empty wish meant to distract war-weary Americans from a tragic “defeat with shame”? While James Willbanks doesn’t offer any easy answers to that question, his book convincingly shows why America’s strategy for exiting the Vietnam War failed miserably and left South Vietnam to a dismal fate.


That strategy, “Vietnamization,” was designed to transfer full responsibility for the defense of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese, but in a way that would buy the United States enough time to get out without appearing to run away. To achieve this goal, America poured millions of dollars into training and equipping the South Vietnamese military while attempting to pacify the countryside. Precisely how this strategy was implemented and why it failed so completely are the subjects of this eye-opening study.


Drawing upon both archival research and his own military experiences in Vietnam, Willbanks focuses on military operations from 1969 through 1975. He contends that Vietnamization was a potentially viable plan that was begun years too late. Nevertheless some progress was made and the South Vietnamese, with the aid of U.S. advisers and American airpower, held off the North Vietnamese during their massive offensive in 1972. However, the Paris Peace Accords, which left NVA troops in the south, and the subsequent loss of U.S. military aid negated any gains produced through Vietnamization. These factors coupled with corruption throughout President Thieu’s government and a glaring lack of senior military leadership within the South Vietnamese armed forces ultimately led to the demise of South Vietnam.


A mere two years after the last American combat troops had departed, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, overwhelming a poorly trained, disastrously led, and corrupt South Vietnamese military. But those two years had provided Nixon with the “decent interval” he desperately needed to proclaim that “peace with honor” had been achieved. Willbanks digs beneath that illusion to reveal the real story of South Vietnam’s fall.”

Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War
James H. Willbanks  More Info

The Battle Of An Loc (Twentieth-Century Battles)
James H. Willbanks  More Info

The Vietnam War (The International Library of Essays on Military History)
Ashgate Publishing  More Info
The Tet Offensive: A Concise History
James H. Willbanks  More Info
Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact (Weapons and Warfare Series)
James H. Willbanks  More Info

According to the book description of The Battle Of An Loc, “With the knowledge born of firsthand experience, James H. Willbanks tells the story of the 60-day siege of An Loc. In 1972, late in the Vietnam War, a small group of South Vietnamese held off three North Vietnamese divisions and helped prevent a direct attack on Saigon. The battle can be considered one of the major events during the gradual American exit from Vietnam. An advisor to the South Vietnamese during the battle, Willbanks places the battle in the context of the shifting role of the American forces and a policy decision to shift more of the burden of fighting the war onto the Vietnamese troops. He presents an overview of the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive, a plan to press forward the attack on U.S. and ARVN positions throughout the country, including Binh Long province and Saigon. The North Vietnamese hoped to strike a decisive blow at a time when most American troops were being withdrawn. The heart of Willbank's account concentrates on the fighting in Binh Long province, Saigon, and the siege of An Loc. It concludes with a discussion of the Paris peace talks, the significance of the fighting at An Loc, and the eventual fall of South Vietnam.”


According to the book description of The Vietnam War, “The Vietnam War remains one of the most contentious events in American history. This book is a collection of essays that seeks to examine the current state of scholarship on the war and its aftermath. It is divided into five sections which address American presidents and the war, the conduct of the war in the field, the impact of the Tet Offensive, the meaning of the war and its lasting legacies. The purpose of the collection is to present the most recent contributions to the continuing academic and scholarly dialogue about one of the most momentous historical events of the twentieth century.”


According to the book description of Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of Their Impact, “The machine gun—often called the killing machine—revolutionized modern ground combat, brought an end to the traditional infantry and cavalry charge, and changed the battlefields of war forever.


In World War I, the Maxim machine gun, used by virtually every soldier, caused more casualties than any other weapon in history. It was an unprecedented display of lethal firepower, and changed the face of ground combat forever. Subsequent versions, offering increased precision, range, and firepower, are now the ubiquitous mainstays of armies worldwide. This volume in the Weapons and Warfare series describes the history of machine guns from the mid-19th century to the present, following both the evolution of small arms technology and the impact of machine guns on the battlefield, on military strategy, and on human society.


This book discusses subjects ranging from the forerunners of mechanical and automatic guns, to the unusual history of the Civil War-era Gatling gun (the first practical machine gun, not used by the Union army because Gatling was a Southerner), to the machine guns developed for the world wars and those for present day use. Readers will see how the advent of the machine gun revolutionized ground combat—and how in some instances, technology outran tactics and doctrines, with disastrous consequences.”

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