“We Did What We Had To Do – We’re Engineers”: An Engineer In Vietnam And Germany

James F. Shamblen


Jim Shamblen grew up in West Virginia and attended West Virginia State University, an historically black college & university (HBCU) where his experience was “like integration in reverse.” At West Virginia State, he played on the football, swimming, and golf teams, and performed in an a capella choir singing at NAACP events. After completing ROTC, he commissioned as an Engineer Officer, and following a brief tour at Fort Campbell with the 101st, he deployed to Vietnam, where he joined D Company, 39th Engineer Battalion in Duc Pho. Following his tour in Vietnam, and a deployment to the Philippines with Special Forces, he became a Company Commander in D Company, 12th Engineer Battalion in Germany. That assignment proved to be a leadership challenge, but, through positive NCO leadership and maintaining high standards, he was able to reverse the lack of discipline and develop an outstanding company. After his return from Germany, he taught ROTC at Marshall, where he was able to positively shape future leaders. In this interview, he talks about his childhood and his family, including his brother who had an impressive career as a weapons engineer. He describes his college experiences, and how he had to modify his workouts depending on the season and the sport he was playing. His discussion of his deployment to Vietnam is especially enlightening for its leadership lessons. He compares and contrasts two different company commanders and their leadership styles, which helped shape his own approach. He explains several of the missions he performed in Vietnam, such as mine sweeping, bridge building, road repair, and rock crushing. He reflects on one of his Soldiers who was killed on July 4, 1967. He analyzes his company command time in Germany, and some of the challenges he faced in Cold War Europe near the end of the Vietnam War. Finally, he discusses teaching ROTC, reflects on his service, and describes his work with the 101st Airborne Division Association.


conflicts Vietnam War Cold War
topics Courage Leadership Camaraderie Diversity Injuries Military Techniques Wartime Decisions Taking on a New Command
interviewer David Siry
date 01 December 2017


name James F. Shamblen
institution West Virginia State
graduation year 1966
service Engineer
unit D Company 39th Engineer Battalion; D Company 12th Engineer Battalion
specialty ROTC Marshall
service dates 1966 1994