James Henry Webb Jr. was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on 9 February 1946. Growing up, he frequently moved because his father was a career pilot in the U.S. Air Force. After attending more than a dozen schools in the United States and England, Webb enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1968. After graduating first in class at the Marine Corps Officer’s Basic School, Webb deployed to Vietnam to serve as rifle platoon and company commander of Delta Company, First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, during a period when the number of U.S. personnel killed in action averaged more than 400 per week. During his tour of Vietnam, Webb was awarded the Navy Cross and two Purple Hearts. His injuries from earning those two Purple Hearts eventually ended his active duty career in 1972.
After graduating from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1975, Webb embarked on a career in government with a focus on veterans affairs and armed forces modernization. He served as Minority Counsel for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, Secretary of the Navy, and U.S. senator from Virginia. Webb was the first Naval Academy graduate to serve in the military and then become Secretary of the Navy. As senator, Webb drafted, introduced, and built bipartisan support in both the House and Senate to pass the “post-9/11 GI Bill,” which was signed into law in 2008.
A fellow of the Harvard University Institute of Politics, Webb has received more than 20 national awards for his public service, including the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal (the University of Virginia’s highest external honor), the American Legion Public Service Award, and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Patriot Award.
In addition to his public service, Webb has enjoyed a storied career as a writer. His commentaries on national security, foreign relations, and domestic issues have been published in a wide range of major magazines and newspapers. Traveling widely as a journalist, he received an Emmy Award for his PBS coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983, and in 2004 was embedded with the U.S. military in Afghanistan. He wrote the original story and was executive producer of the film Rules of Engagement, which held the top slot in U.S. box offices for two weeks in April 2000. Webb’s books include Fields of Fire, widely recognized as the classic novel of the Vietnam War, and Born Fighting, a sweeping history of the Scot-Irish culture that Tom Wolfe called the most important ethnography in recent American history.