TopVet: James Webb

James Webb

James Webb, whose distinguished career has swung between government service and writing, hails from a family with a strong citizen-soldier military tradition. Family members have served during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. Mr. Webb’s father was a career Air Force officer who flew B-17s and B-29s during World War Two, cargo planes during the Berlin Airlift, and was a pioneer in the United States missile program.

True to his family, Mr. Webb, who was born in 1946 in St. Joseph, Missouri, attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating in l968 and choosing a commission in the Marine Corps. He then served with the Fifth Marine Regiment in Vietnam, where as a rifle platoon and company commander in the infamous An Hoa Basin west of Danang he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts.

He later served as a platoon commander and an instructor in tactics and weapons at Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, and then as a member of the Secretary of the Navy’s immediate staff, before leaving the Marine Corps in l972. Mr. Webb spent the "Watergate years" as a student at the Georgetown University Law Center, receiving his J.D. just after the fall of South Vietnam in l975. While at Georgetown he began a six-year pro bono representation of a Marine who had been convicted of war crimes in Vietnam (finally clearing the man’s name in 1978, three years after his suicide), won the Horan award for excellence in legal writing, and authored his first book, Micronesia and U.S. Pacific Strategy.

Mr. Webb has written five best-selling novels: Fields of Fire(l978), considered by many to be the classic novel of the Vietnam War; A Sense of Honor(l981); A Country Such As This (1983); Something to Die For (1991); and The Emperor’s General (1999). He has taught literature as the first visiting writer at his alma mater. He has traveled worldwide as a journalist. His PBS coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut earned him an Emmy Award.

In government, Mr. Webb served as counsel to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs from l977-8l, the first Vietnam veteran to serve as a full committee counsel in Congress. During the Reagan Administration, he was the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs from l984-87. In 1987 he became the first Naval Academy graduate in history to serve in the military and then become Secretary of the Navy. He resigned from that position in 1988 after refusing to agree in the reduction of the Navy’s force structure during budget cuts mandated by Congress.

Among Mr. Webb’s many awards for community service and professional excellence are the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the Medal of Honor Society’s Patriot Award, the American Legion National Commander’s Public Service Award, the Marine Corps League’s Military Order of the Iron Mike Award, the John Russell Leadership Award, and the Robert L. Denig Distinguished Service Award. He was a 1992 Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

Mr. Webb has worked on feature film projects with many of Hollywood’s top producers. The film of his original story, Rules of Engagement, which he also executive-produced, was released in April 2000 starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. His fifth novel, The Emperor’s General, was purchased by Paramount pictures as the largest book-to-film deal of 1998. He is now working on a new novel for release in late 2001, and on writing and producing the film version of Fields of Fire, to be shot in Quang Nam province, Vietnam.

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