Some gave all …

USCG Seal 002The Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands during World War II was not a single battle or engagement. It is better referred to as the Guadalcanal Campaign because military operations there lasted a grueling six months, from the initial landings on 7 August 1942 to 9 February 1943. The initial landings took place in the southern Solomon Islands, involving Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and the Florida Islands of Gavutu and Tanambogo. The mission was to drive the Japanese out of the Solomon Islands, thereby protecting the US Naval Fleet in the Pacific and Eastern Australia. The campaign involved the following battles:

  • Savo Island
  • Teneru
  • Eastern Solomons
  • Tokyo Express
  • Edson’s Ridge
  • Matanikau
  • Cape Esperance
  • Henderson Field
  • Santa Cruz
  • Tassafaronga
  • Mount Austen, and
  • On-going air and naval battles

Title 10 United States Code includes the United States Coast Guard as one of the nation’s armed forces. Title 14 USC provides, “The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915 shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times The Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the United States Navy.”

Munro USCG 001It was under these circumstances that Signalman First Class Douglas Albert Munro, USCG found himself as part of the invasion of Guadalcanal in August and September 1942. Petty Officer Munro is the only member of the United States Coast Guard to have received the Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded in recognition of his courage under fire on 27 September 1942.

The Battle of Matanikau involved two separate actions; one in September-October 1942, and a second engagement between 6-9 October 1942. The Matanikau River area on Guadalcanal included a peninsula called Point Cruz where the village of Kokumbona was located and a series of ridgesand revines stretching inland from the coast. Japanese forces used this area to regroup from attacks against US forces and as a jumping point to launch further attacks against US defensive positions at Henderson Field. In the first engagements, elements of three Marine battalions attacked Japanese troop concentrations at several points around the Matanikau River. These assaults were intended to “mop up” Japanese stragglers retreating toward Matanikau from the recently concluded Battle of Edson’s Ridge. At one stage in the operation, three infantry companies of Marines found themselves surrounded by a superior number of Japanese forces and, having sustained heavy loses, were forced to withdraw.

During this battle, Petty Officer Munro commanded five landing craft, called Higgins Boats. After landing the Marines, the landing craft withdrew from the beach and waited off shore for further instructions. During this time, Munro became aware of the fact that the situation on the beach was critical for the Marines and it would be necessary to evacuate the Marines immediately. Munro brought his boats to shore under heavy enemy fire, and the proceded to evacuate the Marines from the beach. When most of the Marines were in the boats, coplications arose in evacuating the last of the men, whom Munro realized could be in the greatest danger. He placed himself and his landing craft so that they would serve as “cover” for the last men to leave the beach. One of these last Marines evacuated was Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, USMC.

It was thus that Petty Officer First Class Munro was fatally wounded.

Medal of Honor“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty as Officer-in-Charge of a group of Higgins Boats engaged in the evacuation of a Battalion of Marines trapped by enemy Japanese forces at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal, on September 27, 1942. After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly 500 beleaguered Marines, Munro, under constant risk of his life, daringly led five of his small craft toward the shore. As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land, and then in order to draw the enemy’s fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft with its two small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was killed by enemy fire, but his crew, two of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave up his life in defense of his country.”

Petty Officer Munro was awarded the Navy version of the Medal of Honor because at the time, he was serving as part of the Department of the Navy. A Coast Guard version of the Medal of Honor was authorized in 1963, but an actual medal has never been designed or minted. Petty Officer Munro is the only member of the Coast Guard to have been awarded this, our nation’s highest award.

He gave up his own life to save the lives of Marines —72 years ago tomorrow.



Small Wars

I was talking to someone the other day and mentioned the Marine Corps Small Wars Manual, initially published in 1940. The gentleman with whom I was speaking looked at me and asked, “Small Wars Manual … are you kidding me?”

No, I was not kidding. When some future date arrives and people think of me at all, a sense of humor may not immediately come to mind.

Marines Korea 1890Today, the manual is part of the Fleet Marine Force Reference Publications library. It was, and continues to be one of the finest books on military operations in peacekeeping and counterinsurgency operations ever published. That said, however, context is important. The Small Wars Manual depicted pre-World War II operations.

Admittedly, “Small Wars Manual” seems a bit vague for any one of a large variety of military operations. As it applied to the Marine Corps, small wars were operations undertaken by the direction of the President of the United States in matters he believed were issues of national interest. Individuals who fancy themselves as historians will continue to debate whether this is true.

The Small Wars Manual propagated the notion that military force is only effective when combined with diplomatic pressure on the affairs of another state, whose government is unstable, inadequate, or unsatisfactory[1].

During the pre-War years, US military assistance provided to other nations could vary from completely benign acts, such as offering bureaucratic assistance, which certainly has no overt military connection, to the establishment of a military government supported by an active combat force. Between these extremes, we may identify a large number of involvements. One example of an intervention at the beginning of the Twentieth Century was the so-called Perdicaris Affair, which involved (then) Captain John Twiggs Myers. Hollywood’s fictional account of this incident was at least entertaining.

Marines HaitiSmall wars vary in degrees, from the simple to the exceedingly complex, short of general war. They are not limited in size, in the extent of their theater of operations, nor in their property or human costs. The essence of a small war is its purpose and the circumstances surrounding its inception.

The ordinary Marine Corps expedition does not involve a major effort, such as might be discovered in general war against a first-rate power—it was rather created to address the normal type of duty or operations assigned to Marines. It is interesting to note that by the time of its publication, the Marine Corps had engaged in small wars throughout the world. Between 1800 and 1934, American Marines landed on foreign shore 180 times, and in 37 different countries. In every year between 1898 and 1940, Marines engaged in active field operations. In 1929 alone, higher authority directed the employment of two-third of the entire Marine Corps in various expeditionary or sea duty outside the United States.

It is impossible to undertake complex operations at sea and on foreign shore without a solid foundation of Marines, both officer and enlisted, capable of examining the complexities of military operations, and devising solutions to very complex problems. Marines are always questioning things: Why are we doing this, when we could be doing it another way? Time after time, Marines epitomize the notion, improvise, adapt, overcome. We have been doing this now since 1775 and the truth is, we are good at it. Small wars, large wars … the American people know that they can always count on their Marines.

EGA Flags




[1] This could easily describe the US government under Barack Obama

Brigadier General Hanneken

Hanneken_HHThe number of colorful, legendary figures of the United States Marine Corps is amazing. One of these legends was Herman Henry Hanneken, who hailed from St. Louis, Missouri —born there on 23 June 1893. He enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps in 1914 at the age of 21 and after serving five years attained the rank of sergeant.

The United States invaded the island of Haiti in 1915, ultimately maintaining a military presence there for 19 years. The initial invasion encountered armed resistance by rebel bandits called Cacos under the leadership of Charlemagne Masséna Péralte (1886-1919). For four years, the Marines chased Péralte from one end of Haiti to the other, but by his clever use of mountainous terrain and his popularity among local populations, Péralte was able to elude them. Péralte was much like a ghost: he was everywhere; he was nowhere. The Marines finally concluded that no progress could be made to pacify the rebels until they tracked Péralte down and killed him.

This task landed on the desk of Sergeant Herman Henry Hanneken, who was then serving as a captain of the Haitian Gendarmerie. Hanneken knew that the problem wasn’t going to be killing Péralte; the problem would be finding him. He hatched a plan to do exactly that.

Hanneken ordered black gendarmes Jean-Baptiste Conzé and Jean-Edmond François to defect and join Péralte’s forces. Hanneken fully realized that Péralte was no dummy, however, and in order to bolster the story of Conzé, Hanneken arranged a successful attack against U. S. forces, and an astounding victory. Hanneken himself appeared in public as a seriously wounded and grateful survivor of the attack —with the assistance of some quantity of red ink.

In this way, Péralte was convinced to lead an attack against an American position at Grand Rivière de Nippes on 31 October 1919; finally the door of opportunity was finally opened to locate and destroy the rebel bandit.

As the battle raged through the night, Hanneken and another white Marine blackened their faces with charcoal and, armed with the passwords provided to them by Conzé, infiltrated the Cacos perimeter. After a nerve-racking penetration of the enemy line, Hanneken reached Péralte’s own camp and lost no time locating Péralte and gunning him down. Miraculously, Hanneken and his accomplice made it back to their own lines undiscovered. For his role in locating and destroying Péralte, Hanneken earned a commission to 2nd Lieutenant and the Medal of Honor:

Medal of HonorFor extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in actual conflict with the enemy near GRANDE RIVIERE, Republic of Haiti, on the night of October 31st-November 1st, 1919, resulting in the death of Charlemagne Péralte, the supreme bandit chief in the Republic of Haiti, and the killing, capture, and dispersal of about 1,200 of his outlaw followers. Second Lieutenant Hanneken not only distinguished himself by his excellent judgment and leadership, but unhesitatingly exposed himself to great personal danger, and the slightest error would have forfeited not only his life but the lives of the detachments of Gendarmerie under his command. The successful termination of his mission will undoubtedly prove of untold value to the Republic of Haiti.

Six months later, Hanneken was again cited for extraordinary heroism, receiving his first (of two) Navy Cross citations:

Navy Cross MedalThe President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant Herman Henry Hanneken, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism displayed on the night of March 31 – 1 April 1920, by advancing into the camp of Osiris Joseph, a notorious bandit leader, while serving with the First Provisional Brigade of Marines (Gendarmerie d’Haiti). With admirable disregard of danger, Lieutenant Hanneken, leading a small detail, advanced to within about fifteen feet of Osiris Joseph, who was surrounded by his followers, shot and killed him, thereby ridding the country of a bandit who had long terrorized Northern Haiti. In addition to the courage displayed, the resourcefulness shown, and the careful planning necessary to accomplish his mission are worthy of the highest praise.


The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant Herman Henry Hanneken, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary achievement, zeal untiring and most successful efforts during active service in the Northern Area of the Republic of Nicaragua from 11 December 1928 until 30 June 1929. In command of a combined Marine and Nicaraguan Voluntario combat patrol First Lieutenant Hanneken had many successful contacts with the bandits during which he distinguished himself by his gallantry. His courage and ability are exceptional and his operations against bandits were of great value in the suppression of banditry in this area.

Lieutenant Hanneken continued to serve during the so-called Banana Wars through the 1920s. In the following decade, Hanneken served at various posts and stations throughout the Corps, attended grade-level professional schools, and in 1936 was advanced in grade to Major. From 1939 to 1940, he served as Commanding Officer, Marine Barracks, Naval Ammunition Depot, Hingham, Massachusetts and was subsequently ordered to command the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Harry Lee.

Hanneken 003In June 1941, LtCol Hanneken reported to the 1st Marine Division where he served in various assignments. While commanding the 7th Marines on Guadalcanal, he received the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy. During the Peleliu campaign he received Legion of Merit, and during the Cape Gloucester operation, he received the Bronze Star Medal, with combat “V” device.

Colonel Hanneken concluded his 34 years of Marine Corps service in 1948. Having been specially decorated for heroism in combat, Colonel Hanneken was advanced to Brigadier General on the Retired List. He passed away on 23 August 1986 at the age of 93. He was accorded full military honors at his interment at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.





Fog of War

I have heard people reject military service as one of the least valuable of human endeavors. In my experience, these people are left-leaning elitists that would never place themselves in harms way for another human being, or any cause or idea more important than themselves. They are only capable of living in the comfort and safety provided by others. Whenever I heard such disparaging remarks, I immediately know that the speaker has never served in uniform, and most assuredly never served in combat.

Beyond its obvious lethality, war is a complex business and there is nothing easy or simple about it. It does not matter whether the foe represents a first rate nation, or a ragtag militia of a fourth-world cesspool. The battlefield is a crucible where everything capable of overwhelming human senses arrives suddenly, and at once. Only individuals that possess superior intellect, resourcefulness, quick wit, and determination have a chance to survive this onslaught and lead others to victory and safety. Combat without victory is only a temporary respite. The term for uncertainty of situational awareness in combat is Fog of War; within it, one not only finds ambiguities about their own capability, they also find confusion about the capacities of their opposing force.Von Clausewitz 001

“War is an area of uncertainty; three quarters of the things on which all action in war is based are lying in a fog of uncertainty to a greater or lesser extent. The first thing needed here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel out the truth with the measure of its judgment.”

—Carl von Clausewitz

The Marine Corps instructs its personnel to expect murkiness and confusion in combat. In fact, squad leaders begin to worry at anytime events seem to progress as planned. We do not relegate confusion to small unit leaders, for even higher commanders must confront and conquer confusion and doubt. Anxiety stems from not knowing the enemy’s strength, his intention, or his mission. These things will reveal themselves in time and so what must then transpire is reliance on the employment of sound tactics and aggressive, albeit thoughtful action. In the Marines, this equates to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver. All combat organizations should expect a dearth of information about the enemy, as previously noted.

Here is one good example of the fog of war, recounted from World War I:

On July 14, 1918, the U. S. 30th Infantry held a defensive sector south of the Marne, with its com­mand post in the Bois d’Aigremont. The reinforced 1st Battalion defended an area north of the Fossoy-Crézancy Road. Companies B and C out posted the riverbank from Mézy to the Rû Chailly Farm. The rest of the regiment, reinforced by two additional companies of the 38th Infantry, had organized the Bois d’Aigremont in depth.

Communications between the 1st Battalion and the regiment included two independent telephone lines, one buzzer, one TPS (earth telegraphy), a projector, pigeons, and runners.

Artillery Barrage 001Near midnight on the 14th, American artillery opened a violent bombardment against the German line; a few minutes later, German artillery answered and in a few moments the entire 1st Battalion area was under intense fires. Soon after the German bombardment had gotten under way, the battalion commander reasoned that a long-expected German attack had begun. The signal equipment was tested and found worthless. The CO ordered a rocket sent aloft calling for artillery fire on the north bank of the Marne because it was impossible for anyone to tell whether the American artillery was even firing. He periodically continued to send up rockets, signaling a request for artillery support. The CO also sent runners to his three subordinate companies informing them of an expected German attack; informing them that they must hold their positions.

At 0200, an excited runner arrived at the Battalion CP n from Company C. He reported the presence of an overwhelming German force at the company location and swarms of Germans between the Battalion CP and front line units. A few moments later, another runner arrived reporting the destruction of two full platoons within Company B; the company commander urgently requested reinforcements. The Battalion Commander realized the folly of attempting to move troops through forest in darkness during artillery barrage. Accordingly, he made no move to reinforce Company B. Finally, a messenger arrived from Company A, informing the battalion commander that all of its officers had been killed. Runners sent out for additional information never returned.

At dawn, the battalion commander sent out four officers’ patrols. One of these, commanded by the battalion intelligence officer, returned shortly and reported that a hostile skirmish line was only fifty yards in front of the woods. In view of these alarming reports, the battalion commander decided to move his command post 500 yards to the rear. He believed this location would facili­tate better control and greater access to runners. He sent messengers to subordinate units informing them of this change of location. The Commanding Officer of Company D construed this message to mean that the Battalion was retreating, and so he withdrew his company to the Bois d’Aigremont via Crézancy. The battalion commander was unaware of this movement at the time.

US Soldier WW I 001At this point, the 1st Battalion commander received a message from regiment asking for his report on the situation. From the context of the message, it was clear that the Regimental Commander had not received any of the messages sent back over the previous five hours.

Although the battle had only been in progress for a few hours, the battalion commander had no idea about his own front line, or that of the enemy. He did not know the status of his forward units; he was unaware of the situation on his flanks. He had to decide what to do based on reasoned judgment, and he had to rely on common sense and previous training. While true that situational awareness does provide challenges in the business environment, nothing quite compares with this —which is not atypical of any hostile action.

The battalion commander in the foregoing case was Major Fred L. Walker, who retired as a major general in 1946. I am quite certain that as Major Walker left his regimental commander’s office with maps in hand, he had a very clear idea about the mission assigned to his 1st Battalion. I am equally certain that when the company commanders left Walker’s office with maps in hand, they too had a good idea about their sectors of responsibility. No matter how well the planning process, everything goes to hell the moment the first shot is fired … and this is just the beginning of that terrible fog.