Raised during the Depression in rural Charlotte County, Virginia, Rufus Phillips became a graduate of Yale, went briefly to the University of Virginia Law School, then joined the CIA in 1952, and subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Army. Detailed back to the CIA as an Airborne Infantry Officer, he became a member of the Saigon Military Mission, headed by the legendary Colonel Edward G. Lansdale in 1954. There he served as the sole advisor to two Vietnamese Army pacification operations in 1955 and received the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit.
Vietnam Delta Phillips returned to Vietnam in 1956 as a CIA civilian Case Officer and later served in Laos until 1959. At the request of President Kennedy, in 1962 he organized and led a special counterinsurgency effort in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Saigon Mission, called Rural Affairs. There he supported the “Strategic Hamlet Program” providing aid directly to the provinces in economic and social development, and in hamlet self-defense helping hamlet militia to resist the Vietcong. He was directly involved with all echelons of the Vietnamese Government, including President Diem. From 1964-1968 Phillips served as a consultant to AID and the State Department, making five trips to Vietnam. He also served as an advisor to Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
Former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke calls Rufus Phillips “the most knowledgeable civilian official then in Vietnam; he seemed the epitome of President Kennedy’s new generation-a Yale man with military and intelligence experience, deeply committed to his job and absolutely convinced of the importance of improving the lives of the Vietnamese and defeating the Vietcong.” Holbrooke goes on to say, “Why Vietnam Matters, is a major contribution to the history of Vietnam. It contains important lessons for the wars America is currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.” In 1971, Phillips was elected to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors from the Dranesville District (McLean,Great Falls and Herndon) serving until 1976. He became Chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and was a member of the Metro Board. He was named Washingtonian of the Year in 1976 by the Washingtonian Magazine for leadership in planning in Fairfax County and the region. He also had a business career as president of a consulting engineering firm with projects in the U.S. and abroad and as an independent consultant. His consulting work involved planning and designing mainly airport projects in over forty foreign countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America. He served as Chairman of he Business Advisory Council to the President’s National Commission for the Review of Antitrust Laws and Procedures in 1978.
Phillips was one of eight contributing authors to Prelude to Tragedy: Vietnam 1960-1965, published by the Naval Institute Press in 2001. He has interviews on record with the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas and with the Laubinger Library at Georgetown University and is either quoted or cited in more than twenty books about Vietnam. Mr. Phillips has participated in symposiums or given lectures about Vietnam at the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University, Dartmouth College, the National War College, the University of Virginia and at VMI.
Phillips recently spent a month as a volunteer in Afghanistan assisting the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) in their efforts to monitor the Afghan elections. He and his wife Barbara were residents of McLean, Virginia for forty-five years and currently live in Arlington, Virginia.