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 Nov. 14 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, Col. Summers had been a military affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and had served as editor of the magazine Vietnam.
Col. 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, Kan.
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," Col. 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.
Col. 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 Gen. Douglas MacArthur Chair. In 1993 and 1994, he held the Marine Corps University's Brig. Gen. H.L. Oppenheimer Chair of Warfighting Strategy, and in 1994 and 1995 the Chair of Military Affairs.
In 1996, he held the Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz Lectureship at the University of California, Berkeley. He also lectured at Stanford, Harvard, Georgetown and Vanderbilt universities.
Col. 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, Col. 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.
Col. 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.