Old Gimlet Eye

Butler 001Smedley Darlington Butler may not be a name most parents would choose for their first-born son, and it is certainly not a name that most people are familiar with —and yet, next to “Chesty” Puller, Smedley Butler remains one of the most colorful officers in the history of the United States Marine Corps.

Smedley was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania on 30 July 1881—the eldest of three sons.  His father, descended from Quaker families, was a lawyer, a judge, and for 32 years, a congressman and Chair of the House Naval Affairs Committee during the Harding and Coolidge administrations.  His grandfather was Smedley Darlington, a Republican congressman from 1887 to 1891.

Butler attended The Haverford School, a secondary academy popular among upper class Philadelphia families.  He was a Haverford athlete, becoming captain of the baseball team, and quarterback of the football team.  Against the wishes of his father, he left the school a few weeks before his 17th birthday to offer his services to the Marine Corps during the Spanish-American War; nevertheless, Haverford awarded him his high school diploma.

On the day of this moments decision, Butler went directly to the Marine Corps headquarters where he was able to see the Colonel Commandant Charles Heywood [1], and thereupon applied for a commission as a second lieutenant.  Colonel Heywood looked steadily at Butler and said, “I spoke with your father the other day, and he told me you are only 16 years of age.”  Butler replied, “He often gets me and my brother confused sir.  I’m actually 18 years old.”  Heywood continued to eye the young man but then finally relented.  “Okay, we’ll take you.”  Both of these men knew that one of them was lying.

Butler trained at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC.  In July 1898, he went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba arriving shortly after its invasion and capture.  His company soon returned to the United States and, after a short break, Butler was assigned to the armored cruiser USS New York for a period of about four months.  He was mustered out of the Marine Corps in February 1899, but in April of that year, he was offered and accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the regular Marine Corps.

Brevet Medal 001After service in the Philippines (1899-1900), Butler was assigned to a company commanded by the famous Littleton Waller whose orders were to proceed to China and relieve the siege of Peking.  It became known as the Boxer Rebellion.  Butler was ordered to Tientsin, where he served with honor and received his first gunshot wound.  Since at that time officers could not receive the Medal of Honor, Butler was promoted to Captain by brevet for distinguished conduct and public service in the presence of the enemy.  He was later awarded the Brevet Medal, one of only 20 Marines to receive it.

From 1901 to 1912, Butler served at various post in the United States, in Puerto Rico and Panama.  Afterward, he commanded an expeditionary battalion in Nicaragua and several other locations during the so-called Banana Wars.  In 1914, Butler participated in the pacification of Vera Cruz, Mexico, form which he became eligible for and received his first Medal of Honor, “For distinguished conduct in battle, engagement of Vera Cruz, 22 April 1914.  Major Butler was eminent and conspicuous in command of his battalion.  He exhibited courage and skill in leading his men through the action of the 22nd and in the final occupation of the city.”  Butler returned the medal to Marine headquarters, explaining that he had done nothing to earn it, but the medal was returned to him with terse order to retain the medal, and to wear it.

Medal of HonorButler was awarded his second Medal of Honor (the only Marine officer to receive two) for “extraordinary heroism in action while serving as Commanding Officer” of detached companies in Haiti on 17 November 1915.

During World War I, Butler commanded the 13th Regiment in France, from which he was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the French Order of the Black Star.

Upon return to the United States in 1919, Butler was promoted to Brigadier General and served as Commanding General, Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia until 1924.  In 1924, Butler was granted a two-year leave of absence from the Marine Corps to accept the post of Director of Public Safety in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He resumed his duty at Quantico in 1926 until assuming command of the 3rd Marine Brigade in China, 1927 through 1931.  Upon return to the United States, he retired upon his own application after 33 years of active duty service.

Butler 002After retirement, Major General Butler became outspoken against war profiteering—for sending young Americans out to die to further corporate interests.  He was also opposed to Herbert Hoover, who directed Douglas MacArthur to disperse the so-called bonus army.  The veterans, he argued, had as much right to petition congress as did any American corporation.

In November 1934, Butler reported to members of congress the existence of a conspiracy by prominent capitalists, including JP Morgan, DuPont, and Goodyear Tire, to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt and install in place of duly elected government, a fascist regime headed by Hugh S. Johnson, a former official in the National Recovery Administration.  A special committee of the House of Representatives was convened, headed by Representative John W. McCormack [2] (D-MA), and Samuel Dickstein [3] (D-NY) who took General Butler’s testimony in secret.  The principal organizer of this movement was said to be Grayson Murphy [4].  The committee’s initial report stated that General Butler’s statements could not be confirmed.  No prosecutions or further investigations followed Butler’s testimony and the press made great light of Butler’s story and did what they could to discredit him.  However, the committee’s final report credited much of Butler’s testimony as “alarmingly true.”  Still, no one was ever prosecuted for conspiracy to overthrow the U. S. government.

General Butler died from what might have been pancreatic cancer at his home on 21 June 1940.  He was 58 years old.

Notes:

_____________________________

[1] Heywood was promoted to Brigadier General in March 1899; he later became the first Marine officer promoted to major general.

[2] 53rd Speaker of the House, 1962-1971

[3] According to Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev in 1999, records of the USSR reflect that Dickstein was a paid employee of the NKVD, precursor of the KGB.  An article in the Boston Globe stated, “Dickstein ran a lucrative trade in illegal visas for Soviet operatives before brashly offering to spy for the NKVD, in return for cash.”  His NKVD nickname was “Crook.”

[4] Grayson Mallet-Prevost Murphy (1878-1937) was head of a private banking concern and a director of Anaconda Cooper Mining Company, Guaranty Trust Company, New York Trust Company, Bethlehem Steel, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, New York Railways, Fifth Avenue Coach and Chicago Motor Coach.

[5] Special annotation: there are conflicting accounts about how Butler earned the nickname “Old gimlet eye.”  Two of these accounts suggest the possibility that he suffered from malaria (although at two different locations and at different times: Honduras 1903 and Nicaragua 1912).  Another supposition is that Butler suffered from jaundice, one indicator of a diseased liver.  Still another theory retains the liver as the source of his red, bloodshot eyes, suggesting it cause was related to too much alcohol consumption.

The First Epistle of the Carrier Pilot

Naval Aviation 001

1. Verily I say unto all ye who wouldst fain operate the great bent wing bird from the tilting airdrome: for it doth require great technique, which cometh to no man naturally. Yea verily, it is acquired only by great diligence and perseverance, and great faith in the Father Almighty.

2. Hearken ye unto the Centurion: for he speaketh from vast wisdom and great knowledge. He hath experienced a vast number of cat shots and traps, and hence is a sadder and wiser man than thee.

3. Heed ye not those who speaketh of the romance and glamour of the high seas, be ye not swayed and when they extol the sting of the salt spray upon thy lips and the roll of a stout deck beneath thy feet and the exotic peoples of foreign lands.

4. Verily, it shall come to pass: that the salt spray windeth up in thy joe, and the roll of the stout deck wilt send thee to the fantail with a retching of thy belly.

5. He wouldst remove thee far from thy loved ones, and cast thee amonst the riff-raff of all nations: who shall then approach thee with an extended hand and open palm.

6. Turn thee a deaf ear unto all these things, for he speaketh as a man with a head full of missing buttons and his mouth quoteth from recruiting pamphlets.

7. Beware of the sadistic inhabitant in the land of Fly One, and regard him with exceeding wariness. For while he bringeth thee up to the spot, and his visage smileth confidently at thee, he concealeth a serpent in his breast, and plotteth all manner of evil against thee.

8. He smileth not for thee, but smirketh at thy youth and helplessness. He dines lustily upon the nugget and gloateth greatly at his power over thee. The manner of torment, which he inflicteth on thee, is great.

9. Heed ye his signals promptly, else he windeth thee up mightily and sendeth thee off whilst thou art still checking thy gauges or whilst the bow goeth down into the depths of a wave. For he is a man of great imagination and enjoyeth a jest mightily. His cunning knoweth no bounds.

10. Know ye well the officer called “landing signal,” and trust him not; for he is a doltish oaf and is poorly coordinated. Verily, whilst he also doth wear the wings of gold, he is a prodigal, and his judgments are untrue.

11. He has eyes with which to see, but they are weak; he distinguisheth day from night with exceeding difficulty.

12. Yea, he waveth off Angel Donald, saying, “Land ye not on a pass which is so long in the groove.

13. Make him thy friend. When ye doth engage in a game of chance, calleth not his two little pair with thy full house, for he prizes a winning hand above all things, and he will love thee.

14. Incite him not to anger, else he bringeth thee in low and slow, and spinneth thee into the spud locker.

15. Cursed be he who dost tarry long in the wires after his trap; he causeth his wingman to be waved off on a roger pass, and the next man to become long in the groove.

16. He fouleth up the pattern mightily, and given the Air Boss all manners of gastric disorders.

17. He is thrice damned, and all people, even unto the Yellow Shirts, shall revile him and use strong language in his behalf, for he is indeed a plumber and plague upon the Air Group.

18. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. As the two-finger turn-up is the signal to fly, so to is the cut the signal to land.

19. Therefore, I say unto you, holdeth yet not after the cut; for whosoever floateth into the barriers soweth great anguish in the breast of the Maintenance Officer and causeth a blue cloud to form at the bridge.

20. The wise pilot engageth a three wire smartly, but the fool shall dwell in the pattern forever.

21. Hell hath no fury like a Catapult Officer scorned. Therefore treat him with great kindness and speak ye unto him soft and tender tones.

22. Verily I say unto thee: whosoever shall arouseth the wrath of the Catapult Officer wilt soon receive a cold shot, and his next of kin shall know great anguish and sorrow

23. Hearken unto his teachings, and heed his signals with great diligence; for he is a man of great and unnatural cunning.

24. He windeth thee up mightily, and faileth to fire when thou art ready. He then shooteth thee off when thou art not, and into the mouth of the deep.

25. Beware ye of the Old Man, and regard him highly, for unto thee he is not unlike the Almighty. When he approacheth, linger ye not in Flight Deck Control, for he falleth like a whirlwind upon the idle and laucheth upon JO’s without compassion.

26. He regardeth the newly made major with raised eyebrow.

27. Ye shall remain out of his sight, and let him not know thee by name: for whosoever shall arouse the ire of the Old Man shall go many times to the Chaplain.

28. Give ye heed unto all these things for they are the bitter fruits of those who hath proceeded thee, so shall your words be as blessings unto those who shalt follow thee, and the Carrier Pilot shall live forever and ever.

Note: The foregoing was written by Captain Milton V. Seaman, USMC while serving aboard the USS Leyte (CV-32) while deployed to the Mediterranean Sea in 1949 with Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) —223. It was dedicated to the squadron commander, Major Darrell D. (Slim) Irwin, USMC.

Source:

Major Paul Webb Chapman, USMC (Retired)

“Playboy 37”

Someone has to know how …

Lejeune 001Last Sunday, my good friend Z published a quote by Marine Corps Major General John A. Lejeune, the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, who wrote eloquently of the spiritual in time of war.  “Miracles must be wrought if victories are to be won, and to work miracles, men’s hearts must be afire with self-sacrificing love for each other, for their units, for their divisions, and for their country.”

Americans do not go to war lightly for everyone realizes that war is a serious business.  Neither do they go to fight because they want to; no one who is sane enjoys war.  Americans go to war because they must.

There is nothing clean and simple about the battlefield.  It is both horrible, and complex—and this means that in order to succeed, someone has to know how to do it.  Someone must know of its horrors in order to prepare the uninitiated for the ordeal that awaits them.  This is the task we assign to our regular forces—the career NCOs and officers who are responsible for making sure that our military services maintain their ability to defend our nation.  Each of our military services has distinguished themselves through their own combat history, their own service traditions, and the mission assigned to them by the Congress of the United States.

Daly 001In 1918, Captain John Thomason described the Marine Corps as follows:

“There were north westerners with straw colored hair and delicately spoken chaps with the stamp of eastern universities on them.  There were large boned fellows from Pacific Coast lumber camps, and tall, lean southerners who swore amazingly in gentle drawling voices.  There were husky farmers from the Corn Belt, and youngsters who had sprung to arms from the necktie counter.  And there were also a diverse people who ran curiously to type, with drilled shoulders, and bone-deep sunburn and an intolerant scorn of nearly everything on earth.  They were the [professional] leathernecks, the old breed of American regular, regarding the service as home.  And they transmitted their temper and character and viewpoint to the high-hearted mass, which filled the ranks of the Marine Brigade.

Thomason 1918-3“There’s nothing particularly glorious about sweaty fellows going along to fight.  And yet, they represent a great deal more than individuals mustered into a Division.  There is also what is behind those men.  The old battles, long forgotten, that secured our nation.  Traditions of things endured, and things accomplished, such as regiments hand down forever — and that abstract thing called patriotism, which I have never heard combat soldiers mention.  All this … passes into the forward zone to the point of contact where war is grit with horrors and where common men endure these horrors and overcome them, along with the insistent yearnings of the belly and the reasonable prompting of fear.  And in this, I think, is glory.”

It remains thus to this very day …

Where Marines Go

I think it is absolutely true that most Marines “go home” after their service in the Corps, whether that is at the end of their first enlistment, or at some future intermediary period, or upon retirement.  By “home,” I mean the environment that is most familiar and comfortable to them.  This could mean back home with Mom and Dad, or it could be the hometown of the girl or guy they married.  For some Marines, home becomes the area nearest their last duty station before retirement.

Not all Marines go back home, though.  Some Marines never really had a home.  Rather than loving parents, they had a working mother who did the best she could for them; a woman who was relieved when their child finally found a place where they could excel.  For many Marines, the Corps became their family —their home became a spotlessly clean barrack at any number of Marine Corps posts or stations.

This has been true for a very long time —perhaps even for as long as we’ve had a United States Marine Corps.  Colonel John Thomason wrote about some of these people in his book, Fix Bayonets (after which I named this blog).  Thomason was born in Huntsville, Texas in 1893, joined the Marine Corps on 6 April 1917, and served until his death in March 1944 achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.

China Marine MountedDuring World War I, Thomason served as the Executive Officer (second in command) of the 49th Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.  He was awarded the Navy Cross for his sustained courage and leadership throughout America’s participation in the war.  Following the war, Thomason served in Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, China and in California.  He commanded the Horse Marines at the American Legation in Peiping and later commanded the 38th Company, 4th Marines, the Marine Detachment aboard USS Rochester (CA-2), and the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines.  Before the outbreak of war with Japan, Thomason was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence.  In 1942, he was assigned to Admiral Nimitz’ staff in Hawaii.

Thomason tells of one Marine, who he refers to as Sergeant Bridoon of the Horse Marines at the American legation in Peiping.  The sergeant was a fine leader of men who had become romantically attached to an American missionary woman.  As he was nearing retirement, the Marine Corps decided to return Sergeant Bridoon to the United States where he would be processed for separation.  The problem was that his fiancé, “Miss Jones” would not return to the States; she had important work to do in China.  Bridoon would not leave her, and so on the eve of his retirement, Sergeant Bridoon deserted.

Years later, while conducting a “survey” of the Far East —by which I mean spying on the Japanese during their unofficial Sino-Japanese War, Lieutenant Colonel Thomason made his way to Mongolia via Kalgan and Mukden where he joined an assortment of international journalists, which included a few Japanese reporters.  Finally the unseemly group arrived near the Khingan Mountains.  Thomason wrote of approaching a Japanese brigade:

“As we came down the last slope toward them, we saw cavalry and armored cars moving to the left of the main column —about two squadrons of mounted men and fifteen to twenty vehicles. …  They were tired.  I’d say they had marched all night, and possibly the day before, with not much rest or food.  Now they drew off the road, stacked arms, and lay down … but I noticed that each unit disposed itself in such cover as there was, taking full advantage of ditches and gullies and the thin mountain scrub; a very disciplined, orderly command.  At intervals there were machine guns laid for antiaircraft fire, and their crews were alert.  The equipment was good, and the whole look of them soldierly. “

Colonel Thomason then described how the Japanese brigadier prepared to serve lunch and tea to the unexpected journalists as the mixed brigade moved off to confront their enemy within the Mongolian valley.  It was now time for the Japanese troops to do their work, but Colonel Thomason and the journalists never had their lunch …

“The advance companies disappeared as if they had never been, and half a mile ahead of us, in the low road and in the dry stream bed, the closed battalions and the horse batteries were floundering and writhing in a confusion of tormented yellow dust.  One minute, they went in progression as orderly symbols on a map; the next, they were disintegrating.  The gun teams reared and plunged, and the rifle battalions tried to shake themselves out into combat groups, and the agitation around the guns was stilled, and the troop formations shredded away into shapeless crawling masses, from which detached units milled hopelessly —and you heard the frantic human cries, and the animal sounds men make in despair— all strained out fine by distance…”

“Peering over a shoulder of our ridge, I saw an armored car burning, and saw some running horses.  And there were revolver shots around me.  I suspect what they were for, but I do not know —the headquarters group was not there any more.  I remember an orderly carefully stowing teacups in a wicker basket, and I remember the brigadier drawing his samurai sword and plunging down the hill, two or three officers with him.  I never saw the Japanese journalists again, or the Chinese.  My Danish colleague was beside me, stretching his neck and sputtering, when something hit him; he sat down, folding his hands in front of his stomach, then stretched himself out on his back, dug at the ground with his heels, and died.

“I got myself behind the most substantial tree I could find and lay myself down…”

Colonel Thomason described how on the slope where once stood the field headquarters of a Japanese brigade there suddenly appeared strange looking men, some of them standing, others mounted on shaggy ponies —huge, inhuman looking people dressed in the round cloth caps of the Chinese armies, assorted patterns of steel helmets, fur caps, and a variety of uniform items.  But they all had weapons and they seemed to know how to use them, and as a Mongolian soldier took Thomason captive and began to search his person, he wondered if his bones would ever see the burial ground at Arlington.

In China - Thomason 002“…  A man on a woolly buckskin stallion reined in beside me and shouted at my captors and they stood away from me.  The mounted man and I stared at each other.  He was obviously an officer of some consequence.  He wore an American steel helmet, a Russian blouse, whipcord breeches, and soft black boots which must have belonged to a Japanese once.  Belted on him was one of our service automatics, and he carried in his right hand a very elegant Mongol riding-whip, the handle fashioned from an antelope’s foot, and the loop of braided silk.  He stared at me for some seconds, straightened himself in the saddle and saluted me with precision … I knew that leathery face under its larding of dust.  It was Bridoon, late sergeant of the Mounted Detachment of the Peiping Guard.”

Not every deserter becomes a general in the Chinese army, not every sergeant a tactical or a strategic genius.  I cannot even say that every sergeant is an outstanding leader of men.  What I can say, however, is that some extremely interesting personalities have worn the uniform of the United States Marine.  They may have been misfits “back home,” and they may not even have amounted to very much beyond our Corps … but we remember them fondly, and we pray for them dearly.  They were we …

Today, we continue to find our former comrades living in far off lands: Japan, on Okinawa, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and in Vietnam.  Where do Marines go?  They go to places where they can discover their own niche in a complex, often unforgiving world.  Ultimately —and I have this on good authority— they will one day guard the streets of Heaven.