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Improvising a War: The Pentagon Years 1965-1967: Reminiscences of an Untried Warrior

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Improvising a War

The Pentagon Years 1965-1967

Reminiscences of an Untried Warrior
  • by Benjamin L. Landis
    • Merriam Press Vietnam War Series
      • First Edition 2017
      • 186 6x9-inch pages
      • 10 photos
The United States Amy was ill prepared to engage in a major conflict in Vietnam.  This was the consequence of President Lyndon Johnson deciding that the National Guard and the Reserves would not be called up to support the war effort. Army contingency planning for any major conflict was based on the call up of the National Guard and the Reserves.  Not being authorized to do so increased exponentially the difficulties in meeting the requirements to fight the war in Vietnam.

Between 1965 and 1968 the United States Army almost doubled in size. Who were the additional personnel? Privates fresh out of basic training and second lieutenants fresh out of OCS, ROTC, or West Point.

Improvising a War is the story of how the Army General Staff coped with this challenge to meet the forces requested by the Army headquarters in Vietnam and approved by the Secretary of Defense.

The author arrived for duty in the Pentagon two days after the first major combat units (1st Infantry Division, 1st Air Cavalry Division) departed for Vietnam and after the creation of the Committee for Unit Deployments to Vietnam on the same day. One day later he became the Representative of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel on this Committee. The responsibility of this committee was to ensure that the units requested and approved were sent to Vietnam on their scheduled dates.

Improvising a War recounts how the committee accomplished its mission (not always successfully) with particular emphasis on the personnel challenges.

The Author: Benjamin L. Landis

Graduate, United States Military Academy, 1946; Graduate, French Army General Staff School, 1957; obtained an MSA (Business Financial Management, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 1972; retired as Colonel 1973; after retirement he became the Director of Administration and Finance for three major Washington, D.C., law firms; in 1986 with four partners he formed a management consulting firm for law firms; he retired in 1992.

He is the author of The Governance of Law Firms: The Business of Practicing Law and an expanded and updated version several years after the initial publication. He is also the author of Searching For Stability: The World in the Twenty-First Century and is the author of numerous articles on the web site

  • Chapter 1: Preface
  • Chapter 2: Prelude
  • Chapter 3: Day One
  • Chapter 4: Day Two and Thereafter
  • Chapter 5: On My Own
  • Chapter 6: Well Diggers, Divers, Railroaders and Stevedores
  • Chapter 7: The Problems Never End
  • Chapter 8: The 9th Infantry Division
  • Chapter 9: Modified Tables of Organization and Equipment (MTOE)
  • Chapter 10: Getting the Job Done
  • Chapter 11: Senator Margaret Chase Smith
  • Chapter 12: The 196th Infantry Brigade
  • Chapter 13: Getting Organized, Finally
  • Chapter 14: The 25th Infantry Division
  • Chapter 15: The Drawdown
  • Chapter 16: Unit Readiness
  • Chapter 17: DA Versus DOD
  • Chapter 18: The Pacing Units
  • Chapter 19: The Engineer Construction Battalions
  • Chapter 20: Postlude
  • Appendix: Army Regulations 220-1


Landis was there and knows what he's talking about. If you want some insight about those years read it.
—N. McCord

A personal take about the Army’s coping with “the challenge to meet the force requested” in Vietnam without tapping the National Guard or Reserve.
—Military Times

If you want an accurate picture of how the United States Army General Staff functioned during the early years of the Vietnam War, you should read Benjamin L. Landis’ Improvising a War: The Pentagon Years, 1965-1967: Reminiscences of an Untried Warrior  (Merriam Press, 186 pp. $11.95, paper).
     Landis, who graduated from West Point in 1946, wrote the book based on his staff work as a lieutenant colonel at the place and time of the title. The representative of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, his job was to see that requested and approved units went to Vietnam on their scheduled dates, he says.
     That sounds easy: Cut the orders and ship the troops. But it didn’t work that way because President Lyndon Johnson would not let the Army use National Guard and Reserve troops. That left an undermanned and under-equipped Army to fend for itself.
     From among a crowd of lieutenant colonels who filled junior positions in their section of the Pentagon, Landis ended up in a job for which he had no background or training. As the newest guy, he had led an ad hoc inter-staff committee designed to find, equip, and train enough men for deployment to Vietnam, a duty that no other LTC wanted.
     By that time, four big combat units had been sent to Vietnam. But they were not in good-enough shape to perform their missions, as Landis saw it. The need to improve the system was exemplified by Landis’ “disillusioned and frustrated” boss, a senior colonel who told him, “If I’m going to go down because of this, I’m not going alone.”
     With tacit approval from his superiors, Landis enlisted Maj. William Duba and together they “skirted [and] circumvented, rules, regulations, policies, chain of command. I exceeded my authority regularly,” he says. “We did whatever we had to do to get the required people into the units deploying to Vietnam. We were not always 100% successful. We were in a bureaucratic morass that at times engulfed us.”
     During his first year at the Pentagon, Landis worked without a computer despite needing to search Army records worldwide to fill assignments. Guidance came from Army Regulation 220-1 Field Organizations Unit Readiness. Landis attaches a copy of that reg at the end of his book. He also includes photographs of the most important players involved in the deployment program.
     Improvising a War is a good read because Benjamin Landis wrote it fifteen years after leaving the Pentagon when his on-the-job notes and vivid memories were fresh. In 2012, he pulled the draft from his files, edited it, and added anecdotes from his long military career, then published it this year.
     His writing style delighted me. He uses real names, and the guilty are not forgotten. Landis describes a fellow officer as “undoubtedly the worst lieutenant colonel I ever encountered” who “could very well have been the worst lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army at that time.” He says an orientation talk about his new job from his new boss was “cordial, concise, and imprecise.” He tells a story about a major general who carried “tradition to the outer limits of absurdity.”
     Landis, by the way, also lauds his heroes.
     His insight into the dreams, schemes, and machinations of full and light colonels in quest of their next promotions validates the suspicions often held by lower-ranking personnel. The book also provides an eye-opening lecture on Army readiness in the mid-sixties.
     Shuffling paperwork can be a lackluster pursuit, but Landis has turned his deployment task into a management adventure as entertaining as any I have read.
     Vietnam veterans who served in the 9th or 25th Infantry Divisions or the 196th Infantry Brigade should find interest in Landis’  inside stories of the war-time deployment of their units.
—Henry Zeybel, The VVA Veteran

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