One Day at Khe Sanh

The battle for Khe Sanh began on 21 January 1968; it was one of the longest, deadliest, most publicized, and controversial battles in the Vietnam War. Khe Sanh was 14 miles below the demilitarized zone (DMZ), six miles from the Laotian Border. It became a strategic location when the Commanding General, Third Marine Division realized that the old French outpost could be used as a jumping off point from which the Marines could cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The battle began with a brisk firefight involving the 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines and a North Vietnamese battalion entrenched between two hills northwest of the outpost. The next day, the NVA overran the village of the same name and then began an intense artillery barrage on the outpost itself hitting its main ammunition storage dump and detonating 1,500 tons of explosives. A siege ensued lasting 66 days.

LCpl Gary D. Scribner USMC
LCpl Gary D. Scribner USMC

It was around 1815 hours on 24 January 1968 when the enemy renewed its artillery barrage, employing 152mm shells with deadly accurate skill. At that moment, a Marine was carrying gear across an open area within the perimeter —he was suddenly exposed to a deadly situation. Massive explosions erupted everywhere he turned to escape, but then from within a bunker, twenty-year old Lance Corporal Gary Scribner shouted, “Get your ass over here —move it!”

The Marine dropped all the gear he was carrying and sprinted toward the bunker. Once inside, he found several Recon Marines who jostled him deeper and lower into the bunker. The Marines were typically eating wolf-cookies: “You call this shit well-placed fire?”

The bravado ended with a loud thump and a sound no Marine wants to hear: Zzzzt. It was the sound a delayed fuse makes … and then a humongous blast that literally blew four Marines into tiny parts; Scribner was one of these four Marines. The blast wounded 18 more.

Lance Corporal Scribner enlisted in the Marine Corps at Memphis, Michigan. Before leaving for Vietnam, he married his sweetheart, an airline stewardess. He was twenty years old —48 years and five days ago, today.

The Marine to whom Scribner called to the bunker survived the blast, albeit with serious injuries. In spite of these kinds of daily punishments, the Marines of Regimental Landing Team (RLT) 26 refused to relinquish Khe Sanh to the North Vietnamese.

Not everyone who lost his life in Vietnam died there;

Not everyone who came home from Vietnam ever left there.

Winning Battles While Losing Wars

Bing WestAn essay by Bing West

This essay addresses why America is performing poorly in 21st Century warfare. War is the act of destroying and killing until the enemy is broken morally, and no longer resists our policy objectives. But President Obama eschews the war he claims to be fighting. Our generals have imposed rules of engagement that lengthen war and increase civilian casualties. Our enemies do not fear us, and our friends do not trust us. America is fighting a war without direction or leadership.

Policy Planning

We invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq with inchoate plans and inadequate forces to establish post-war security and governance. After winning the first battle in both countries, President George W. Bush offhandedly decided to build democratic nations, a task for which our State Department and USAID had no competence or interest. By default, the mission fell to our military, also without competence but with unflagging devotion and determination.

In both countries, our true enemies were rabid warriors determined to win or die. For us, the wars were limited —fought with few forces and many restraints. When the Islamists proved dedicated to an unlimited struggle, we reversed course and withdrew. True, President Bush did increase US forces in Iraq in 2007 and that stabilized the country. However, in 2008 he agreed with the sectarian, serpentine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to withdraw all American troops by 2011. He threw away his success.

When 2011 arrived, President Barack Obama went against the recommendations of the intelligence community, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Instead of politically maneuvering to keep a residual force to check al-Maliki’s dark instincts, Obama pulled out all our troops. He fulfilled Bush’s foolish promise. Al-Maliki then proceeded to oppress the Sunnis, leading to the reemergence of the extremists now called the Islamic State. Obama quit, but Bush made it easy for him to do so.

Mr. Obama claimed Afghanistan was the war that had to be won. But as in Iraq, he headed for the exit. To avoid a humiliating collapse before he departs the White House, he will keep perhaps eight thousand US troops there in 2016.

On balance, the results in Iraq or Afghanistan were not worth the costs in American casualties, money, and global influence. Several policy lessons may be drawn.

First, the Pentagon should project for the president the length of time to achieve a desired post-war end state. In Iraq and Afghanistan, that meant staying for twenty or more years. From the start, Bush failed to explain this to the public. He did not even try to set the conditions in Congress and in the press for a long-term presence, as in South Korea.

Second, if our troops are killing and dying because the indigenous troops are not capable enough to stand on their own, then our commanders have the right and the obligation to select the leaders of those local forces. American diplomats chose Karzai and Maliki behind the scenes. Both choices were disasters. Yet due to unthinking allegiance to the word “democracy,” we allowed those solecistic, incompetent “elected” leaders to promote whom they chose within the ranks of the police, military, and other government agencies. Like Great Britain before us, we were a colonial power. Unlike the Brits, we did not select the commanders of the indigenous armies we were training, equipping, and paying.

Third, we granted sanctuaries to the enemy. Our military after Vietnam had vowed never again to fight such a war. But we forgot that vow. We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy al-Qaeda. In December of 2001, the core of that organization and its top leaders were trapped in a mountainous region called Tora Bora. Rather than employ a nearby Marine brigade and special operations forces, the American commander, General Tommy Franks, relied upon Afghan warlords whose motley troops allowed the al-Qaeda force to move across the border into Pakistan. That was a grave, unforced military error. Then, in a triumph of legalism over common sense, Bush decided not to cross the border in hot pursuit to destroy the fleeing terrorists.

Afghanistan steadily deteriorated after that. Yet we persisted for fourteen years in fighting an enemy while giving him a 1,500-mile-long sanctuary. Similarly, we knew where the al-Qaeda safe houses were in Syria, just across the border from Iraq. But we didn’t bomb them. We granted our enemy sanctuary.

Fourth, in such countries we should influence the politics through covert means, just as we did in Europe after World War II and occasionally during the Cold War. This includes channeling money, communications channels, and ease of transportation. Politics determines who gets what, when, and why. We fight wars to shape political ends. Influencing indigenous politics during a war should be a goal, not an out-of-bounds marker.

Fifth, we decided not to capture our enemy. In the twentieth century, many more combatants were captured than killed. Today, we don’t capture anyone. The gross pictures from Abu Ghraib, the political storm over water-boarding and Obama’s pledge to close Guantanamo and prosecute terrorists as criminals forced our military to turn over all captured enemies to corrupt Iraqi and Afghan officials. Most of those once in prison are now free, while the wars continue. Our troops call it “catch and release.” America has no comprehensible judicial system for war in the twenty-first century.

Sixth, we remain at war rhetorically, while refusing to fight with determination. How do we fight? The administration launches one or two drone strikes each month. White House spokesmen have bragged that the president routinely reviews dossiers and selects those to be killed. A commander in chief deciding upon a war fighting tactic calls into question management priorities. It also signals incapacity to think strategically, illustrating that he views war as a set of morally wrenching discrete decisions to kill about one hundred enemies each year.

Occasionally, the White House will supplement the drone strikes with a raid by our special operations forces, especially the SEALs. This garners huge favorable press, projecting an image of American superstar invulnerability. No wonder each SEAL vies to receive the most publicity. Distributing photos of the entire National Security Council mesmerized by the video of a squad raid encapsulates a strategic instinct to focus on the capillaries.

War is the act of relentlessly destroying and killing until the enemy is broken physically and morally, and no longer resists the advancement of our policy objectives. By that definition, Obama eschews war. He has declared the Islamic State will be destroyed. But his actions belie his words.

Seventh, our feckless war fighting policies over the past seven years have gravely diminished the respect of our adversaries and the trust of our friends. We refused to provide Ukraine with weapons after the Russians invaded. After declaring a “red line” if Assad used chemical weapons, Obama asked Russia to help him out. Now Russian aircraft in Syria are bombing the rebels Obama armed in the hope of overthrowing Assad. In Iraq, Iranian troops have replaced American troops. Obama’s retort is that both Iran and Russia won’t achieve anything more than he did. At the same time, Obama signed a nuclear agreement with Iran and lifted sanctions, without submitting a treaty to the Senate. In sum, Russia and Iran have undermined American credibility and military power in the Middle East, while China steals on a gigantic scale in cyberspace and exerts control over the South China Sea.

Currently, America has ceased to be the major power-player in the Middle East. Unless confronted by an absolute disaster, Obama will finish out his presidency without applying any more force than occasional bombing against the Islamic State. Russia and Iran will remain the more dominant military actors, along with the Islamic State. Under Iranian influence, Iraq will remain at war, divided between the Shiite and Sunni areas.

Fighting the War

We have done a miserable job at policy planning. But how are we doing on the battlefield? How do we fight that is really different from the twentieth century?

The most obvious difference is our overwhelming conventional superiority. That was clear when we took back Kuwait in 1991. It was reinforced in the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and of Iraq in 2003. The world has never seen the likes of it. Yes, Alexander, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon … there have been numerous victorious armies and conquests. But none like this, none with such global reach and so few casualties.

What happened here, and why? In the twentieth century, the major wars were fought on an industrial scale. The combatants on opposing sides possessed the same sets of conventional weapons —machine guns, artillery, tanks, ships, vehicles, and aircraft. In the opening decade of the twenty-first century, only America could quickly, and at low cost, destroy all those weapons possessed by any other country.

Why? Because for a brief period —two or three decades?— our military technology had outstripped the rest of the world. The Soviet Union had collapsed, China had not caught up, and no other hostile nation was remotely in our technological league. Most telling was our leap forward in air-to-ground surveillance, detection, and destruction. Militaries cannot move or be supplied without vehicles. Every artillery tube, every internal engine, every human face emits heat that shines like a spotlight. Use any computer or cell phone, walk outdoors, drive down a road —and someone above is watching, electronically or physically. Our air-to-ground surveillance and firepower are astonishing.

Yet we did not win the battles, much less the wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why? Simple: the enemy adapted. He took off his uniform and used our morality and befuddlement as jiu-jitsu to overcome our technological advantages. By hiding among the people, he was safe from our firepower. The enemy lived in the cities and villages, or hid across the border, coming together in small groups and choosing when and where to initiate contact against our patrols. The Vietnam-era tactic of fire and maneuver has gone away. Our troops wear armor and gear weighing about ninety pounds. They cannot run a hundred meters without being exhausted. So when the enemy shoots, a patrol gets down and returns a vicious volume of aimed fire. Except you rarely see a target, because the enemy isn’t stupid. He has selected a covered position before opening fire. Most firefights last less than fifteen minutes, because once a gunship or aircraft comes overhead, the enemy is doomed. So he shoots and scoots. Thus the war goes on and on, because the enemy will not commit suicide by massing or wearing uniforms.

The Islamists in Iraq and Afghanistan did not fight fiercely and stand their ground against our troops. Our training, shooting skills and firepower were overwhelming. The enemy may have been a farm boy, a terrorist from Yemen, a former Iraqi soldier, a youth from a Pakistani madras, a Taliban from Kabul —whomever. They all learned to stay about four hundred meters away from American troops, because every grunt now has a telescopic sight and most are qualified as expert riflemen.

The suicide bomber was a threat to our vehicles and fixed outposts. But it never expanded into an enormous threat. The YouTube videos posted by the Islamic State from the 2015 battles in Iraq suggest an exponential growth. From anecdotal evidence, it appears the suicidal truck bomber is as much a threat as was the kamikaze during the Okinawa campaign in 1945.

There was no solution to the improvised explosive device (IED). There were hundreds of thousands of them, because mixing fuel and fertilizer and packing them into a plastic jug is too easy ever to be stopped. IEDs have to be tolerated on a battlefield just as is a rifle. It’s a simple tool and therefore commonplace. We shouldn’t forget that in Vietnam, we lost over 10,000 killed to mines and booby traps—20 percent of all our fatalities.

What was new in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was not the profusion of the IED/land mine; instead, it was the reduction in the number of American fatalities. Much has been written about “the magic hour,” meaning: get every wounded to an aid station within sixty minutes. True, the ratio of injured to killed dropped from 4-to-1 in Vietnam to 7-to-1 in Iraq. The underlying reason was better training in life-saving drilled into every squad, along with the tourniquet. Most wounded die from exsanguination. They bleed out because the tourniquet is inadequate. Not anymore. The modern tourniquet with its twist and snap is as much a breakthrough for the grunt as was the stirrup for the horse rider.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the doctrine of counterinsurgency prevailed. Practically, this meant our troops patrolled by walking about three miles a day in heavy gear in formations of fifteen to twenty men. The idea was to clear a populated area of the enemy by walking around repeatedly. Once the enemy pulled out or was killed, the friendly platoon or company would hold that area until Iraqi or Afghan forces were capable of holding it on their own. The local forces, in conjunction with local officials, were then to use American funds to build projects in order that the people would see a material reason for supporting their government.

Militarily, the goal was to win over the people. Thus, rules of engagement were designed to place severe limits upon the use of indirect firepower (mortars, artillery, rockets, or bombs). Even one civilian casualty caused bitter complaints, although the Islamists were responsible for three out of four killed or wounded.

On our side, there was a yin and yang to a war that had no endpoint. Over the last four years in Afghanistan, it became common for a platoon commander to say, “My mission is to get every one of my men back home in one piece.” Why risk your men when no one could tell you what defined victory? Why go across a field after taking some fire to check out the compound, when you could call in indirect fire? The incentive at the patrol level was to call in indirect fire.

On the yang side, the incentive of the senior commanders was not to allow indirect fire. The longer we stayed, the more frustrated the top command became with the lack of population cooperation. Every civilian casualty translated into some official complaining. So the more rigorous became the rules, especially in Afghanistan. It finally got to the point that the word of the forward air controller (FAC) on the ground was not good enough. The pilot was required to cross-examine the FAC before executing the mission, and a lawyer and/or another pilot back in an operations center miles away also had to authorize the strike.

Today, eight out of ten US attack aircraft return from missions over Islamic State territory without striking any target. To do so, the pilot needs the permission of a senior American officer in an operations center hundreds of miles away. This enormous caution —and expense— to protect the lives of every civilian is unprecedented in history. Only the richest country in the world can do it. However, it gravely slows down the pace of a war and allows the enemy to recuperate indefinitely.

These rules of engagement cannot be sustained when we again fight an enemy who can and does kill us. So far in the twenty-first century, our helicopters and aircraft have been almost invulnerable. Our losses have been very, very small. Similarly, our forces on the ground have not been under pressure. They are not attacked by doughty infantry in full battalions like the North Vietnamese, supported by heavy artillery. When we again fight heavy, sustained battles on a large scale, some commanders claim we can change these highly restrained rules of engagement at the snap of the fingers. More likely, the rules have sapped the aggressive spirit the high command must share with the warriors on the battlefield.

Lastly and regrettably, I must mention the growing trend of victimhood. Our society does not celebrate and single out the heroes. Instead, it tries to compensate those who psychologically or physically did not return home able to fully cope. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides some level of health care for less than half of our veterans. A minority of veterans use the VA. If all who had served turned to the VA for medical assistance, the VA system would collapse.

Yet the VA is now reporting that more 40 percent of all individuals getting out of the service after four years —and the wars essentially are over— apply for compensation for mental or physical injury. During the Vietnam War, the VA had five injury categories; today, it has seventeen. The more free money is available, the more will apply for that money. What does that do to the internal morale of a service when some in every squad put in claims, and others do not?


In summary, our enemies do not fear us and our friends do not trust us. Sensible steps can turn that around, but that depends upon the next commander in chief. So far in the twenty-first century, due to our vast wealth and technologies, we have not been sorely tested. Our beloved nation does not have a martial spirit, and perhaps does not need one. It does need a military inculcated with a warrior spirit.

Our largest deficit is national will. Consider our actions over the past decade. In 2004, we destroyed the Iraqi city of Fallujah in order to root Islamist terrorists. Then in 2011, we pulled our troops out of Iraq, despite predictions that Iraq would fall apart. In 2009, we demanded Assad leave power in Syria, but did not use military force to accomplish our demand. In the resulting civil war partially caused by our blunders, Islamist terrorists seized half of Syria and Iraq.

In November of 2015, the Islamists —now called ISIS or ISIL— massacred 130 civilians in Paris. But the American political system was unable to unite behind committing forces, as we did in Fallujah a decade ago. Why? Our commander-in-chief has rejected deploying Americans in ground combat, because he believes eternal war is the nature of the Muslim Middle East. He refuses to utter the word ‘Islamist terrorist.’ So does the Democratic contender to be our next commander-in-chief. The Republican candidates are divided. Our Congress will not even debate a resolution to authorize the use of ground forces, for fear of how the vote would affect re-election.

President Bush rashly overstepped in extending war to include nation-building. President Obama ideologically retreated by imposing restraints that encouraged our enemies. Congress proved irrelevant, lacking the cohesion to play its Constitutional role in declaring for —or against— war. As 2015 ends, a leaderless America is drifting. That should scare us all.

Bing West is a former combat Marine and an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration.  He has written nine books about war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

An American Samurai

When the young woman named Misato went to Japan with her parents in 1939, she could not have known that war was imminent with her country, the United States of America. But war did break out, and because of her status as an American citizen, the Japanese police kept a watchful eye on Misato and her family. In time she married a Japanese national, but the marriage did not last. The product of this marriage was young Kenneth B. K. Kozai, who was born on October 29, 1943.

After the war, Misato (called Mimi) found work in the Tokyo offices of the US Far East Air Force. There, she met a young airman named Tom Heard. Heard enlisted in the US Army Air Corps in 1941, but after the war he decided to leave the service and remain in Japan where he worked in the insurance industry. He began to arrange for Mimi and Ken’s relocation to the United States. This was not as much of a problem from Mimi, a US citizen, but Ken was a Japanese national. Tom returned to the United States and enlisted the help of the Japanese American Citizen’s League, and they walked a bill through Congress that provided for Ken’s admission to the United States. Tom greeted Mimi and Ken in San Francisco in 1952. It was a short reunion because Tom Heard returned to active duty to participate in the Korean War.

Tom and Mimi were married on July 1, 1955; he elected to remain on active duty with the Air Force. As a young Air Force dependent, Ken lived in various locations, including Guam and Spain. He attended high school in Omaha, Nebraska where his academic excellence opened the way for a full Navy ROTC scholarship to the University of New Mexico in 1963. Upon graduation in 1967, Ken received a commission to second lieutenant in the US Marine Corps and shortly thereafter, reported to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida for flight training.

Kozai 001Lieutenant Kozai arrived in the Republic of Vietnam on January 20, 1969 and joined the “White Knights” of HMM-165 where squadron mates began calling him the “Samurai Warrior.” As a response to this kidding, Kozai began to wear a traditional Japanese headband while flying missions. The squadron’s mission was to locate and destroy North Vietnamese Army staging and assembly areas, and line of communication near the population centers of Dong Ha, Quang Tri, and Da Nang. President Nixon ordered the implementation of the so-called “Vietnamization” program, the intention of turning over to the Vietnamese armed forces all responsibility for their own defense. Accordingly, US military forces began a gradual withdrawal. One month after the withdrawal of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, HMM-165 flew aboard the USS Valley Forge … the first air squadron to depart Vietnam. Lieutenant Kozai had served six days fewer than seven full months in Vietnam. HMM-165 arrived at the Marine Corps Air Station, Futenma, Okinawa, on the morning of August 17, 1969.

Kozai 003Lieutenant Kozai voluntarily returned to Vietnam in late October and was assigned to HMM-364. After a check ride with the squadron commander, Ken was found capable of serving with the Purple Foxes as an aircraft commander in the CH-46. Then, on November 29, 1969, while operating in the 7th Marines Area of Responsibility (AOR), Ken was the command pilot of a medical evacuation mission just south of Landing Zone Ross. Suddenly the synchronization shaft running between the forward and aft transmissions failed. This allowed the intermeshing rotor blades of his helicopter to make contact with each other, shattering the blades; it was a catastrophic failure that caused the aircraft to fall to earth. All hands on board were killed.

An exacting examination of the wreckage later revealed that a 51 caliber round had entered the bottom of the aircraft, continued through the radio cabinet behind the cockpit, and struck the synchronization shaft, which caused the shaft to fail. Lieutenant Kozai was laid to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Colonel Dave McSorley later recalled Ken Kozai as a fine young man, a good leader, and a professional pilot —an inspiration to all who knew him. McSorley recalled that Kozai wore a colorful jacket with many white stars and the words “Captain America” embroidered on the front. His cheerful demeanor had a positive effect on the Marines of HMM-364.

Semper Fidelis, First Lieutenant Kenneth B. K. Kozai … we are thankful for and humbled by your service.


Marines: Together We Served, Kathleen Phillips-Hellman and Ashley Roberts

Vandegrift —Part II

Vandegrift CMCPresented to the United States Senate Committee on Naval Affairs
May 6, 1946by
General Alexander A. Vandegrift, United States Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps

Mr. Chairman, last autumn I testified before the Military Affairs Committee on the subject of unification of the armed forces. Since that time the real points at issue have been brought into sharp focus, and it is now evident that the entire problem revolves about two fundamental theories which stand squarely at variance. On the one hand is the War Department General Staff theory—implemented in S. 2044. This contends that the complexities of modern warfare justify an extension of political-military control into fields of government, which are essentially civilian in character. Standing in direct opposition to this theory is the Navy’s belief that those same complexities in modern war indicate a need for broader participation and closer attention by the civilian elements of government, all coordinated by an authority with roots in the Congress rather than in the Pentagon.

Beyond the foregoing general observation regarding basic factors, I do not propose to tax this committee with a further restatement of the detailed faults, weaknesses and inequities existing in the War Department merger plan. These have already been explored thoroughly and are well known. Instead, I intend to devote my time before your committee to a subject with which I am thoroughly familiar and one which, in the light of current developments, I feel it essential that the committee appreciate fully before the close of its deliberations. That subject is the specific effect which approval of the pending unification measure would have on the United States Marine Corps.

Marines have played a significant and useful part in the military structure of this Nation since its birth. But despite that fact, passage of the unification legislation as now framed will in all probability spell extinction for the Marine Corps. I express this apprehension because of a series of facts, which I feel must now be placed in your hands as an important element in your deliberations. They may be summarized in one simple statement—that the War Department is determined to reduce the Marine Corps to a position of studied military ineffectiveness—and the merger bill in its present form makes this objective readily attainable.

For some time I have been aware that the very existence of the Marine Corps stood as a continuing affront to the War Department General Staff, but had hoped that this attitude would end with the recent war as a result of its dramatic demonstration of the complementary and conflicting roles of land power, naval power and air power. But following a careful study of circumstances as they have developed in the past six months, I am convinced that my hopes were groundless, that the War Department’s intentions regarding the Marines are quite unchanged, and that even in advance of this proposed legislation it is seeking to reduce the sphere of the Marine Corps to ceremonial functions and to the provision of small ineffective combat formations and labor troops for service on the landing beaches. Consequently, I now feel increased concern regarding the merger measure, not only because of the ignominious fate which it holds for a valuable Corps, but because of the tremendous loss to the Nation which it entails.

The heart of the Marine Corps is in its Fleet Marine Force, an organic component of the United States Fleet, consisting of the amphibious assault divisions which spearheaded our Navy’s victorious westward march across the Central Pacific, and the Marine Air Arm whose primary task is the provision of close air support for the Marines who storm the beaches. The strength of that Fleet Marine organization lies in its status as an organic element of our fighting fleet—prepared at any time and on short notice to extend the will of the naval commander ashore in the seizure of objectives which are vital to the prosecution of a naval campaign or in the protection of American interests abroad. This is the demonstrated value of the Fleet Marine Force, a powerful source of ready strength to the Nation, both in war and in peace.

A significant corollary to the fighting function of the Fleet Marine Force, and actually the one which has required the most sustained effort, is the task of developing the techniques, doctrines, equipment and procedures which relate to the amphibious specialty. The Marines have pursued this effort continuously throughout their history, and during the period between World Wars I and II, the Corps recorded what history will probably assess as the most significant of its many contributions to the development of our national strength.

During that lethargic period of peace, even as early as 1921, the Marine Corps accurately forecast the exact pattern of the coming war against Japan. We were impressed by its amphibious character, but the somber lessons of the Dardanelles campaign were fresh in our minds and we resolved that the coming amphibious war would not involve a repetition of the shambles of Gallipoli. We devoted all our efforts and most of our slender resources to the task of analyzing the Dardanelles failure and developing a modern amphibious technique which would bring together the land, sea and air forces in united action in execution of this most difficult problem of warfare—the major landing operation. In conjunction with the Navy we provided the Nation with a doctrine, technique, method and equipment which became the standard pattern of amphibious warfare adopted not only by our own Army, but by the armies and navies of eight United Nations as well.

It proved to be the key to victory in every major theater of the war, and I believe it to be the most important contribution any American service has ever made in the field of purely prospective developments of a form of major warfare.

It is notable that no parallel effort was being made anywhere by the world’s armies and navies with the possible exception of the Japanese. It is significant that professional military opinion throughout the world was bemused by the axiom that a landing against resistance is an impossible feat of arms. We knew in 1921 that victory in the coming war would require innumerable such landings, and we worked to make them possible, not only for ourselves, but for our Army and the armies of our allies. We take pride in the fact that over 40 of our new national army divisions, as well as many belonging to the Allied armies, were trained in amphibious warfare by the doctrines we devised, and that these same forces acquitted themselves so well in the amphibious phases which were a prelude to the great invasions.

This unique American achievement was made possible mainly because of the existence of a vigorous Fleet Marine Force, in whose practical laboratory the research and development was conducted. But that force will almost certainly be transformed into an ineffective military nonentity if the merger legislation now before this committee becomes law.

That bill gives the War Department a free hand in accomplishing its expressed desire to reduce that Fleet Marine Force to a position of military insignificance, restricting its combat elements to small, lightly armed detachments and units which would be of little significance in amphibious warfare as we know it today. If the title “Fleet Marine Force” is retained at all it will serve only to dignify what actually is merely a shadow of a military body—one of no ponderable value to the Navy or the Nation.

To begin with, it should be observed that because of the character of the war just ended, great attention was focused on amphibious operation. There is, however, no real reason to believe that this particular form of special operation will occupy a different place in the event of another conflict than it occupied in the First World War or the American Civil War—a special operation incident to the conduct of the naval campaign.

Second, it is to be realized that the Marine Corps is a small, highly skilled body of specialists which has earned world-wide professional prestige without benefit of West Point tradition or General Staff direction. Its success rests squarely on its development of a form of military service based on the premise that while the American man in uniform is a warlike individual, he does not respond to methods applicable to the conscript armies of central Europe. The Marine Corps’ guiding principles stem from such intangibles as democracy, recognition of the individual and the timeless value of personal leadership as opposed to machine direction.

A final, and not inconsiderable factor has its roots in simple manpower mathematics. This same Congress has recently, and upon mature deliberation, fixed the strength of the Marine Corps. Despite this fact, there is still a clear realization in the confines of the War Department General Staff that the smaller the Marine Corps the less its demand on the manpower of the Nation—to the ultimate advantage of an Army, which traditionally in time of peace is faced with a difficult problem of recruitment.

It may be said that the apprehensions which I have just voiced are unnecessarily pessimistic, that the value of the Marine Corps is so obvious that its destruction is unthinkable—its perpetuation a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, I know that the War Department’s intention with respect to the Marine Corps are well advanced and carefully integrated. I have seen them in a form emanating from the highest quarters of the War Department. And I also know that the structure of the unification bill as it now stands will provide perfect implementation for those designs. Under the provisions of this legislation, the single Secretary for Common Defense and the all-powerful National Chief of Staff are entirely free either to abolish the Marine Corps outright or to divest it of all its vital functions, leaving only a token organization in order that the name of the Corps may be preserved. And if the proposed Chief of Staff is of Army antecedents, I feel there is strong possibility that is precisely what will take place. Finally, it is of great significance to note that, as the bill is now framed, this summary and altogether arbitrary action could be effectuated by simple departmental order, without prior reference to the Congress.

The foregoing summarizes what, in all probability, will happen to the Marine Corps if the current merger legislation becomes law. It summarizes why it will happen, and how. However, it does not give any evidence of the disastrous effects which loss of the Marine Corps will have on the Nation itself. The first and most serious of these effects is the loss of the Nation’s primary force in readiness. The results of such a situation may be exemplified by considering what would have befallen our Nation had there been no Marine Corps standing in readiness in the early days of the recent war. The occupation of Iceland, when Marines were put in motion within a matter of hours, would have been delayed for months because there was no Army force ready to undertake the task. The operation against Guadalcanal could not have been launched when it was, because there were at that time no Army troops prepared to conduct amphibious assault operations. And had we been without a vigorous and effective Marine Corps at the onset of the war, the United States would have found itself in the hapless position of the British, who, for want of a small professional landing force, suffered a disastrous defeat in Norway. It will be remembered that the German resources in northern Norway were, for a time, badly overextended, and that the British Home Fleet was able to steam with impunity into Trondjem Fiord and shell the lightly held city. But the Home Fleet had no organic fleet force to land and seize the strategic town. The Royal Marines, traditional troops of the British Navy, had been divested of their amphibious functions and were engaged in duties of lesser significance—such as operation of landing boats. By the time troops could be alerted for the task, the fleeting opportunity was lost and German strength in northern Norway had reached such formidable proportions that an attack was no longer practicable.

I would like, Mr. Chairman, if the time permits, to read you just what the British Marines do, if I may.

To provide detachments for service in H.M. ships which, while fully capable of manning their share of the gun armament, are specially trained to undertake such operations on shore as the commander in chief directs. To provide commando units for operation ashore. To provide personnel for landing craft and amphibians as authorized by the board. To provide those units of the naval assault force which operate on land in association with the army in the beach organization. To provide such other units as may be required by the board, for service afloat and ashore, for which the special amphibious characteristics of the Royal Marines make them suitable. To provide such R.M.E. units as may be authorized by the board. To provide bands for H.M. fleets and for certain R.M. and shore establishments. To provide personnel for such other services, including the naval air arm, as the board may require.

This parallel between the British disaster and our military future under a defense structure dominated by the War Department cannot be ignored.

It is particularly significant to note that this demonstrably inadequate employment of the British Marines is the precise pattern of the War Department’s conception as to the function of our own Marine Corps. The Royal Marines lacked a modern form of amphibious organization, enabling them to carry out their mission with the fleet; and it is that identical organization in our own Marine Corps which the War Department seeks to reduce to ineffectiveness. I can likewise add that latest advices are that as a result of the war, the Admiralty has initiated an expansion of the missions and functions of the Royal Marines to a status more nearly corresponding to our own.

But it is not in the matter of major wartime employment alone that the value of a Marine force in readiness is realized. The Marines serve another continuing purpose—the provision of forces to protect our national interests abroad in peace as well as in war. Here in my hand I have a State Department publication entitled Right to Protect Citizens in Foreign Countries by Landing Forces, which records the significant fact that of 61 such operations conducted at the instance of the State Department prior to 1933, the Marine Corps participated in all except 11. And as further emphasis on their position as the Nation’s primary ready-to-act force, it is in point to recall that the Marines have had forces actually operating in the field for 49 of the last 50 years, and have engaged in actual combat in 27 of those same years.

This is only the first loss which the Nation would suffer in the destruction or eclipse of its Marine Corps—and it is a loss which cannot be compensated by the part-time assignment of Army troops to naval purposes, for it is not the genius of a national Army to act as a highly mobile fighting force in instant readiness. Armies are ponderous. They organize and prepare for operations with care and deliberation and they have great staying power. While those are unquestionably admirable virtues, they still are not the characteristics which go to make up an effective mobile, amphibious fighting force, in peace or war—a force ready to act as a part of the fleet at any time.

This, indeed, is the fundamental difference between the Marines and the Army and the effect of this difference has been manifest many times. There is a continuous record of instances in our national history where the Army could not move at all, or could not move soon enough to satisfy the needs of the situation—Cuba in 1906, Vera Cruz in 1914, Iceland in 1941, and Guadalcanal in 1942, are only a few typical examples which demonstrate the point I make. In each case, the Army arrived on the scene only after the objective sought by the United States had been accomplished by Marines. This is not offered in criticism of our Army, but as a factual statement of the effect of basic functional differences. These may be summarized in a simple statement—that no matter how hard it tries, a great national Army cannot be a specialist Marine Corps and still be an Army.

It is a Marine’s duty to be ready any time, and I am pleased to be able to report to you that the condition of readiness prevails within the Marine Corps today. Our field forces are fully prepared to take the field at a moment’s notice. They are well trained and are prepared to carry out their functions with their customary efficiency, spirit and morale at a time when the responsible heads of other services are complaining of disintegration of fighting power accompanied by problems of low morale and deterioration of discipline. I can assure you that these conditions are not existent in the Marine Corps. The Marines are ready, and if it came to a fight today, I do not know who could replace them.

A second and extremely significant advantage which would pass with the destruction of the Marine Corps is the preeminence we have enjoyed heretofore in the field of amphibious development. The United States entered the past war in the enviable position of knowing more about amphibious operations than any other nation in the world. It cannot be said, however, that the same favorable circumstances existed with respect to the other specialized forms of warfare.

But our dominant position in the field of landing operations did not come about by chance. It was the logical issue of 20 years of conscientious devotion by the Navy and Marine Corps to the complexities of the amphibious subject—to the development of the detailed techniques, doctrines and equipment, which later proved of such value to the armed forces of both our own and allied nations. This success in the field of amphibious development is directly attributable to one fact and one fact only—that the Marines have always viewed the landing operation as a specialty—their specialty, and their efforts have been oriented in that single direction on a full-time, year-in-and-year-out basis.

But without a vigorous Marine Corps, the country will be dependent for its amphibious progress on the Army—an Army with a myriad of other more general, and perhaps more vital, concerns related to the security of the United States. Under such circumstances the amphibious project, heretofore the subject of our full-time devotion, would take its place as just one more of the Army’s long list of special problems—alongside such matters as fighting in the mountains, in jungle, the desert and in the snow. There is thus every indication that our future capacity to conduct amphibious warfare would be seriously impaired.

If this conclusion seems unwarranted, one has only to consult the Army’s governing tactical document, the current Field Service Regulations. In that book out of a total of 1,094 paragraphs, exactly eight are devoted to amphibious operations, and furthermore the subject is assigned last place in the discussion of the 12 special forms of military operations—appearing directly after partisan warfare.

Historically it is likewise patent that specialties do not flourish under our War Department. The vast programs related to the security of our Nation and its possessions seem always to eclipse the need for impetus, which a growing specialty requires. There may be a flurry of passing interest, as is now being manifested in the superficial elements of the landing operations field, but the end result is almost invariably the same—a minimum of nourishment for the specialty; restricted development amounting to almost total eclipse, and finally an inadequate state of readiness at war’s onset. Outstanding examples of this situation are to be found in the fate of two specialties, which were the subject of worldwide development between the two World Wars—namely, air-borne operations and armored warfare.

The groundwork for study of air-borne tactics was laid by the Russians during the 1930’s. With our superior technical capabilities it might have been assumed that the United States would strike boldly into the air-borne field and would soon occupy a dominant position, but this did not prove to be the case. Although the Russians continued their developmental program and were soon outstripped by Nazi Germany, the United States still did next to nothing—so little in fact that General Devers, in his recent report on the activities of the Army Ground Forces in the war, was constrained to observe:

The Nazi use of air-borne troops in Holland and Crete made the world gasp, and their parachute regiments, so successfully demonstrated there, were the originals on which our air-borne division was patterned about a year later.

Thus our technical excellence, which might have served such a valuable purpose in the development of the air-borne field, was left unexploited and we entered the war in the unenviable position of having to copy from our enemies in a subject which was peculiarly adaptable to the capabilities of our own country.

In the matter of the armored warfare specialty, the story is essentially the same—the closing events of World War I made clearly apparent the part that armor would subsequently play. Despite that fact, in 1920 the Army Tank Corps was abolished and all tank units were absorbed into the Infantry.

In the ensuing years we made little progress in tank development because tanks were a specialty, and specialties do not flourish in our Army. Indeed, as late as 1932 we still possessed large numbers of World War I tanks of French design, and the idea of a mechanized force, then receiving worldwide attention, was repudiated by the War Department. Actually, it finally required vigorous action by the Congress of the United States to impel the War Department into coordinated action in the tank field. It was this very body that in 1932 incorporated in an appropriation act the provision that no moneys might be expended for the maintenance or purchase of fuel for over-age military vehicles. And it was only after this effort on the part of the Congress that our belated armored development began. But as a result of this delay, the United States—the greatest industrial nation in all the world—entered the war with a tank inferior to that of our German enemy—inferior even to that of our less richly endowed British and French allies. And despite our most determined efforts to match the German development, we ended the European war with a standard tank which many of our own experts characterize as inferior to the German Royal Tiger.

But such was not the case with amphibious operations. As I have noted previously, we entered World War II with unquestioned superiority in the amphibious field over every other nation in the world. The benefits gained and the lives saved by that superiority were of course incalculable. But in any event, it is plain to see that we would have indeed been in serious difficulty had the Marines’ development of the amphibious technique proceeded no further than the kindred development of airborne and armored operations. For this reason, I strongly urge this committee to oppose any legislation which will place the problem of amphibious development in a category in any way comparable to that occupied by our unfortunate airborne and armored programs before the war—unless there exists some certain and unquestioned compensation to be realized in exchange for the sacrifice.

I, for one, fail to perceive any possible compensation, however small, either in economy, increased efficiency, or in elimination or duplication. As regards economy, the Marine Corps has throughout its existence maintained a reputation for utmost frugality, sometimes bordering on penury. In the days of peace preceding the recent war, the United States was possessed of the world’s top ranking Marine Corps. In 1938, that investment in security cost the Nation about $1,500 per Marine. At the same time, the United States possessed the world’s eighteenth place army at an annual cost of over $2,000 per soldier. This is surely no indication of possible economies to be expected in compensation for the sacrifices of a proven professional fighting force.

In the matter of efficiency, I have only to refer you to the manner in which the Marines prepared for the war just past and to the manner in which they fought that war. A similar assessment for the manner in which the War Department prepared its forces for the conflict and of the manner in which its operations were conducted gives no slightest indication that an exchange of Marine specialists for soldiers would result in increased efficiency in the amphibious field. In fact, such an analysis might indicate that the country would not long remain in a position to wage amphibious warfare on the same professional basis as heretofore.

And finally, there is the matter of duplication. The War Department is now contending that the amphibious efforts of the Marines, despite their century and a half of precedent, are an invasion of the Army’s sphere—an unjustified duplication. In that regard I wish to state that no such duplication exists. The amphibious specialty is the Marine’s sphere, and the Army is not and never has been in the amphibious field. It does not have the schools, the training facilities, the development agencies, or the continuity of experience which are essential complements to the maintenance and development of a full-time amphibious specialist force. Furthermore, those Army troops which took part in landing operations during the past war were actually applying the principles and using the techniques, methods and equipment developed by the Marine Corps and the Navy. In some cases, they were even trained by the Marine Corps. At the present time, the Marines are continuing their devotion to the study and perfection of their specialty—standing ready again to impart their knowledge, whenever needed, to any other element of the armed forces. So, if at this time the War Department undertakes to set up the mechanism to enter the amphibious field, a source of duplication will indeed exist, but the responsibility for that duplication will rest not with the Marines but with the War Department.

And as a final element of cost to the Nation, hidden in the pages of S. 2044, I feel it in point to observe that in sacrificing its Marine Corps the country would lose more than a highly trained and thoroughly proven body of fighting men. It would lose a symbol of real democracy—a truly American form of expression of military service. Military service is an honorable thing; in the Marines, men and officers believe in it. And the relationships between officers and men of the Marine Corps have long rested on a sound basis. Reforms which elsewhere are only talked of, today were carried into effect in the Marine Corps at the close of the last war—27 years ago. Our discipline is strict, but it has been humane and based on understanding. I am proud to be able to report to you that the Marine of World War II had the same regular character and steadiness in battle that distinguished his predecessors from the Revolution onward. He was the average of all American boys, but in him our system was able to develop, rather than suppress, his native American character, courage and faith. It is a notable fact that few men have ever left the Marine Corps without a feeling of undying loyalty toward it. I think these things are proof that our system is good and that it is worthy of preservation.

I realize that the observations, which I have made today, are of a thoroughly unequivocal nature, but I can assure this committee that my expressions are based on fact and not on conjecture. In making these statements, I feel that I have acted in a dual capacity—as a professional military specialist who by experience is qualified to advise the committee in this specialty, and at the same time as a citizen of the United States who should not stand unheard while ill befalls his country.

The Congress has always been the Nation’s traditional safeguard against any precipitate action calculated to lead the country into trouble. In its capacity as a balance wheel, this Congress has on five occasions since the year 1829 reflected the voice of the people in examining and casting aside a motion which would damage or destroy the United States Marine Corps. In each instance, on the basis of its demonstrated value and usefulness alone, Congress has perpetuated the Marine Corps as a purely American investment in continued security. Now I believe that the cycle has repeated itself, and that the fate of the Marine Corps lies solely and entirely with the President and the Congress.

In placing its case in your hands, the Marine Corps remembers that it was this same Congress which, in 1798, called it into a long and useful service to the Nation. The Marine Corps feels that the question of its continued existence is likewise a matter for determination by the Congress and not one to be resolved by departmental legerdemain or a quasi-legislative process enforced by the War Department General Staff.

The Marine Corps, then, believes that it has earned this right—to have its future decided by the legislative body which created it—nothing more. Sentiment is not a valid consideration in determining questions of national security. We have pride in ourselves and in our past, but we do not rest our case on any presumed ground of gratitude owing us from the Nation. The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. If the Marine as a fighting man has not made a case for himself after 170 years of service, he must go. But I think you will agree with me that he has earned the right to depart with dignity and honor, not by subjugation to the status of uselessness and servility planned for him by the War Department.

Vandegrift —Part 1

Anyone having served their country as a United States Marine is likely to have traveled on Vandegrift Boulevard while stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. One engages Vandegrift Boulevard at the Main Gate just off I-5 in Oceanside, and after making the long trek through the Camp, exits at the San Luis Rey Gate. Vandegrift Boulevard continues into Oceanside until its intersection at College Boulevard, its terminus. Vandegrift Boulevard is named in honor of Alexander Archer Vandegrift: the Marine Corps’ first four-star general, eighteenth Commandant of the Marine Corps, and holder of the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross.

Called Archie by his close friends, Vandegrift was born on March 13, 1887 in Charlottesville, Virginia. His father, of Dutch descent, was an architect and a building contractor, but from an early age young Vandegrift expressed an interest in the military, both from reading military history and from stories of his own ancestors who fought in various conflicts. He studied at the University of Virginia for three years and the participated in a week-long competition in 1908 in his quest to obtain a commission in the United States Marines Corps. He received his commission to Second Lieutenant on January 22, 1909. Later than year, while assigned to the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia, Vandegrift penned an essay entitled, “Aviation: Calvary of the Future.” Nearly thirty years later, while serving as Commandant, Vandegrift would spearhead the use of rotor aircraft for air (vertical) assault.

Vandegrift LTGeneral Vandegrift’s service at Quantico was a shaky start for his career, however. Numerous disciplinary infractions resulted in poor fitness report evaluations, including one comment by the Commandant of Marine Corps Schools, “This officer has not shown that he appreciates the responsibilities of his position as an officer and unless there is decisive improvement, his relations will not be to the advantage of the service.” In the modern day, these remarks would most assuredly result in a lieutenant’s separation after his obligatory period. Vandegrift did turn himself around, however, and in the following year he was rated “excellent.”

After completing his studies at the Marine Corps Schools, Vandegrift attended further training at Port Royal Island, South Carolina (today, the home of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina). In 1910, Vandegrift was ordered to the Marine Corps Barracks, Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Between 1912 and 1914, Vandegrift was detached from the Barracks to duties at sea and on foreign shore. He first went to Cuba, and then to Nicaragua where he participated in the bombardment, assault, and capture of Coyotepe. He subsequently participated in the engagement and occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Following his promotion to First Lieutenant in 1914, Vandegrift attended the Advance Base Course at Marine Barracks, Philadelphia. He was afterward ordered to the 1st Marines, with whom he participated in combat against hostile Cacos bandits at Le Trou and Fort Capois, Haiti. After his promotion to Captain in August 1916, Vandegrift was assigned to the Haitian Constabulary at Port-au-Prince, where he remained until 1918. After returning to the United States for one year, he rejoined the Constabulary in 1919. He was promoted to Major in June 1920.

Major Vandegrift returned to the United States in 1923 and was ordered to attend the Field Officer’s Course at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia. After his graduation in 1926, Vandegrift was ordered to Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California, where he served as an Assistant Chief of Staff. In February 1927, Vandegrift was ordered to China, where he served as the Operations Officer, Third Marines, then headquartered in Tientsin. In September 1928, Vandegrift was assigned as the Assistant Chief Coordinator, Bureau of the Budget, Washington, DC; he served in this assignment until 1932. Following this assignment, he returned to Quantico to serve at the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-1 (Manpower and Personnel), Fleet Marine Force. He was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in June 1934.

Returning to China in 1935, Vandegrift served as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment at the United States Embassy in Peiping. Promoted to Colonel in 1936, Vandegrift was ordered back to the United States and assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, DC. From 1937 to 1940, he served as the Military Secretary to the Major General Commandant. In March 1940 he was appointed Assistant to the Major General Commandant and in the following month was advanced to Brigadier General.

Vandegrift MajGenVandegrift was ordered to the First Marine Division in November 1941—one month in advance of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Advanced to Major General in March 1942, Vandegrift was assigned to command the First Marine Division shortly before the division sailed for the South Pacific Area.[1] On August 7, 1942, the First Marine Division initiated the first large-scale offense against Japanese forces on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Gavutu in the Solomon Islands. In recognition of his courage and intrepidity during this amphibious assault, Vandegrift was awarded the nation’s second highest award for members of the Navy and Marine Corps: the Navy Cross.

The Battle for Guadalcanal raged for several months, during which time the Marines of the First Marine Division suffered reduced rations, malaria, constant shelling from the Imperial Japanese Navy and aerial bombers, and a determined Japanese infantry consisting of 32,000 troops.[2] Vandegrift and his Marines were withdrawn from Guadalcanal and sent to Australia for rest, retraining, and refitting. While in Australia, President Franklin D. Roosevelt awarded Vandegrift our nation’s highest decoration citing, “With the adverse factors of weather, terrain, and disease making his task a difficult and hazardous undertaking, and with his command eventually including sea, land, and air forces of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, Major General Vandegrift achieved marked success in commanding the initial landings of the U.S. Forces in the Solomon Islands and in their subsequent occupation. His tenacity, courage, and resourcefulness prevailed against a strong, determined, and experienced enemy, and the gallant fighting spirit of the men under his inspiring leadership enabled them to withstand aerial, land, and sea bombardment, to surmount all obstacles, and leave a disorganized and ravaged enemy.”

In July 1943, Vandegrift assumed command of the I Marine Amphibious Corps. Within a few scant months, the I MAC landed at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, Northern Solomon Islands. After establishing a beachhead, he relinquished command of the Corps and returned to Washington, DC to assume the duties of Commandant, United States Marine Corps.

On January 1, 1944, Lieutenant General Alexander A. Vandegrift was sworn in as the 18th Commandant. He was advanced to General in March 1945—the first Marine Corps officer to achieve four-star rank. It was a stressful time. During Vandegrift’s service as Commandant, numerous institutional threats were initiated by the Department of War, the US Army, and President Harry S. Truman. It was Truman’s intent to disestablish the Marine Corps. The Naval hierarchy was sympathetic to Vandegrift, but the Navy was facing serious attacks from the Truman bureaucracy as well. Threatened with losing Naval aviation to the newly emerging US Air Force, the Navy decided it would be to their benefit to sacrifice the Marine Corps in exchange for keeping naval aviation from being consolidated with the Air Force.

Vandegrift CMCJoining with Truman, General Dwight D. Eisenhower argued that the US Army could easily absorb the roles and missions of the United States Marine Corps. What ensued was a power struggle of pro-Army interests over a much smaller post-war Marine Corps, and the Naval Establishment. Vandegrift aligned the Marine Corps with the Congress of the United States. To clinch the support of Congress, General Vandegrift presented his views to the United States Senate Committee on Naval Affairs on May 6, 1946.[3] The entire content of this presentation will appear here next week. Historians and those interesting in knowing more about our history will be fascinated by Vandegrift’s presentation.

General Vandegrift was awarded the Naval Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of his service as Commandant of the Marine Corps. General Vandegrift retired from active duty on December 31, 1947. Afterward, he co-authored a book that chronicled his experiences during World War II: Once a Marine: The Memoirs of General A. A. Vandegrift, Commandant of the Marines in World War II.

General Vandegrift passed away on May 8, 1973 having achieved the age of 86. His foreign awards included: Companion of the Order of the Bath, Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau, and Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour.

General Vandegrift’s son was Colonel Alexander A. Vandegrift, Jr., (1911 – 1969) who also distinguished himself while serving on active duty during World War II and Korea.


[1] The First Marine Division was the first Marine Corps division to leave the shores of the United States as a fully organized infantry division.

[2] Japanese killed in action during this campaign numbered 31,000. A total of 60,000 US troops served on Guadalcanal at various times. The Marine division consisted of only 20,000 men.

[3] General Vandegrift was correct; Truman, Eisenhower, other high ranking Army brass were proved wrong when, on June 25, 1950, the US Army was unable to hold a massive assault of North Korean Army forces. Not only was the post-war Army unable to launch an effective counter attack, they were nearly pushed into the sea near Pusan, South Korea. It was the Marine Corps, not the Army, that gave Douglas MacArthur an amphibious assault at Inchon, effectively cutting off the North Korean Army, which by then were far south on the Korean Peninsula.

Next Week:  Part II —General Vandegrift’s address to the Naval Committee of the United States Senate