People have admired chivalrous conduct for thousands of years, long before we invented a word for it. It does not confine itself to mounted warriors wearing armor and confronting a determined enemy. Chivalry was a code employed by a culture of warriors, which extends to the notion of good men skilled in warfare willing to place their lives and fortunes “on the line” in defense of innocents, in defense of the realm, in defense of religious beliefs. The code was already in writing by the time of Charlemagne and is chronicled in La Chanson de Roland, which tells of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778 A.D. Historians have restored the code, which appears in summary form below:
To fear God and maintain His church (community)
To serve the liege lord in valor and faith
To protect the weak and defenseless
To give succor to widows and orphans
To refrain from the wanton giving of offense
To live by honor and for glory
To despise pecuniary reward
To fight for the welfare of all
To obey those placed in authority
To guard the honor of fellows
To eschew unfairness, meanness, and deceit
To keep faith
At all times, speak only truth
To persevere to the end in any enterprise once begun
To respect and honor women
Never refuse a challenge from an equal
Never turn one’s back upon a foe
Of these eighteen tenets, 12 relate to chivalrous behavior, as opposed to combat. For people like me, they remain relevant and elemental in the behavior of true ladies and gentlemen and closely align themselves with the New Testament’s I Corinthians, 13.
If I speak in the tongues of men or angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all that I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; It is not self-seeking, nor easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies they will cease. Where there are tongues, they will be stilled. Where there is knowledge, this too will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophecy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I spoke as a child; I thought like a child. I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put away the things of childhood. For now, we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but we will see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three alone remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
During the early and late Middle Ages, the code of chivalry was incorporated into rites of knighthood, standards of behavior expected of those who served the interests of others, more than their own interests. They also included strict rules of etiquette and behavior. The codes were so exemplary that poets, lyricists, and writers incorporated them into their tales. Since most people were illiterate, wandering minstrels communicated these ideals throughout the land. In the post-Roman period of England (c. 500 A.D.) Arthurian myths strengthened notions of personal fortitude and courage in the face of adversity, of honor, honesty, valor, and loyalty.
I believe these two things: (1) King Arthur was not a myth; (2) No organization in the world today better emulates the chivalrous code than the United States Marine Corps. This is what I believe, but I do not exclude any other of western civilization’s stalwart military or public service organizations. I only intend my statement to emphasize the frequency of such laudatory qualities within the brotherhood of the US Marine Corps.
The stories from antiquity, mythical or otherwise, serve as teaching moments. There may not have been a greater general in all antiquity than Julius Caesar, but he was a flawed man (professionally and personally) whose mistakes were devastating to Rome and its people. King Arthur too was an illustrious leader, a man whose human frailty led to his demise and that of his Camelotian kingdom. Not too many years ago, the American people spoke of the Kennedy White House as Camelot, but revealed history tells us that Jack Kennedy and his lovely bride were troubled people whose personal behaviors destroyed them, their legacy, which deeply troubled their citizen-admirers’.
The bane of humankind is our moral frailty.
Historians have claimed that the Arthurian stories were legend or myth because there are no written records to validate them. Nor is there any physical evidence that he ever lived —until recently. British archeologists believe that they have uncovered the burial tomb of a man named Arthur that dates back in time to around 500 A. D. Perhaps King Arthur was a myth, but I doubt it. King Arthur is the warrior from antiquity that no one ever forgot. His existence may not be as well documented as that of Jesus of Nazareth, but the evidence that does exist is enough to convince me that such a man did exist —but more to the point, his is a story that can help us discover who we are, and how we might use the lessons of time to improve ourselves; how we might better serve our families, our communities, and our nation.
Many tales were written about King Arthur and his knights of the round table, most of which were romantic constructs that incorporated supernatural or mythical beings, which were clearly imaginative inventions. Three hundred years earlier, however, Nennius records Arthur as a historic figure in Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), an account unfettered by flights of fancy. The Britons, of course, were tribal Celts who occupied all of Britain before being pushed into Wales by the Romans, Angles, and Saxons. Arthur was one of the last Britons to make a successful stand against the Anglo-Saxon invasions, a conflict that continued through the rise and progeny of King Alfred the Great (847-99). If Nennius correctly records the events of the time, given that present-day England was divided by squabbling tribes in the post-Roman period, then Arthur would not have adorned himself in shining armor. He would wear the attire of a Celtic chieftain, which most likely incorporated the clothing and armor of late-Roman style. There would have been no great castles, but something more on the order of wooden stockades incorporated with then-existing Roman fortifications/settlements.
Historic facts about this period of Romano-British England are more fascinating than the fanciful tales because history is more plausible. Monk Nennius never told us where Arthur was born, but he did list his battles —notably his last battle at Badon, which occurred near Aquae Sulis (present-day Bath). The significance of the battle was that the Britons prevailed over the Anglo-Saxon horde, pushing them back to the British Saxon Shore. We know this from the Anglo-Saxon’s own records of the time, and from archaeological evidence. That the Britons had a powerful, unifying leader, seems undeniable.
Was there such a place as Camelot? Yes-and no. Colchester, England is the site of the earliest Roman settlement, although evidence suggests that the settlement existed before the arrival of Romans in 55 B.C. It was then called Camulodunon, which also appears on coins minted by the chieftain Tasciovanus between 20-10 B.C. It would be easy to make this association, but Colchester is far removed from Aquae Sulis and there is yet another possibility.
In the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, there is a 7th-century work titled The Song of Llywarch the Old. It contains one of the oldest references to King Arthur, composed of a series of poems attributed to a poet named Llywarch, who praises the exploits of a chieftain named Cynddylan, who died fighting the Anglo Saxons in 658 A.D. Cynddylan, according to Llywarch, was the direct descendant of Arthur, which implies that Arthur once ruled the kingdom that Cynddylan ruled. It was the kingdom of present-day Powys, Wales, which at the time covered the area described above, in the south and west-central England and east-central Wales. The Anglo-Saxons eventually defeated the Britons, pushing them into the Welsh mountains where a modern-day county still retains the old kingdom’s name. The Romans called this area Viroconium.
When Rome abandoned Britain in 410 A.D., most of their settlements were abandoned and Britain fell into the so-called Dark Ages. Romans and their mixed-blood descendants, however, continued to occupy Viroconium. It had been the fourth largest town in Romano-Britain after Londonium(London), Lindum Colonia (Lincoln), and Eboracum (York). While the Anglo-Saxons quickly overran the largest cities (above), Viroconium was far distant from the invasive Germans and remained free and evolved into the Briton’s most important city in the early Dark Ages. These ruins still exist with archeological evidence that the town went through a process of reconstruction around 500 A.D. We know the town today as Wroxeter, which is 25 miles northwest of Worcester, my lovely bride’s hometown. Ancient manuscripts tell us that Arthur ruled over the Briton’s most important city —which would have been Viroconium.
Still, Arthur is not a Welsh name. The ruler of Viroconium around the time of Arthur was named Owain Ddantgwyn (pronounced Owen Thant-gwyn), which sounds nothing like Arthur. During the early Middle Ages, British warriors were given honorary titles of real or mythological animals thought to represent their prowess in battle. One of these was the Welsh word “Arth,” meaning Bear. In Viroconium around 500 A.D., its ruler Owain Ddantgwyn was known as the Bear, hence, Arth. Scholars today connect the Welsh word for bear with the Latin word for bear, Ursus, which then became, in later years, Arthur, a king, and a person who actually did exist.
The tales of King Arthur are entertaining, but the history of the real warrior is more fascinating. Our admiration for such a fellow continues because, among other things, he helped create the code of honor that serves as our guide for achieving and maintaining nobility.
Knights in the sense of the Middle Ages never existed in the United States, of course —Americans eschewed the notion of kings or of men born into families of nobles. Instead, we Americans believe that every person can obtain nobility by acting nobly. The Knight’s Code of Honor that I borrowed (above) is a nifty tool for helping us achieve nobility —as a guide for the way we live our lives.
As for knights —we do have them, but we call them by another name. Their standards are high, their tolerance for failure is low, they do remarkably brave things almost on a daily basis while never seeking recognition. They are guardians of the weak, they succor the suffering, and live according to a unique code of honor. These knights demand fairness, serve justice, always persevere, and they keep the faith. In fact, it is their motto: Semper Fidelis. We call these modern-day knights United States Marines.
“Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for a friend.”
Remarkably, much about the US Marines is modeled on the warrior that no one forgot. Personally, given who I am, I hope no one ever does forget.
Anderson, G. King Arthur in Antiquity. London: Roufledge (2004)
Phillips, G. The Lost Tomb of King Arthur. Rochester: Bear & Company, 2016
Dumville, D. N. Sub-Roman Britain: History and legend. 1977
 Our observation that chivalrous codes did exist does not suggest that every individual who took such oaths always observed them. Every person has strengths as well as weaknesses; some of us have destructive character flaws. In ancient society, and today, there are plenty of scurrilous fellows who took oaths for only one purpose, to advance themselves, and then violated them on a more-or-less on-going basis.
 Read: The Lost Tomb of King Arthur, by Graham Phillips, Rochester: Bear & Company, 2016.
 Nennius was a Welsh monk of the 9th century. Nennius, who lived in Brecknockshire, present-day Powys, was a student of the bishop Elfodd of Bangor, who convinced ecclesiastics of his day to accept the Continental dating of Easter. Much of Nennius’ effort was based on earlier works, notably De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which was written by Gildas between 500-579 A. D.
 Popular writers suggest that Arthur Pendragon was descended from a Welsh and Romano-British line, which given the history of Rome’s presence in Britain, and the areas in which they settled (Aquae Sulis (Somerset)-West Mercia (Wroxeter/Worcestershire)), the suggestion is credible.
Shortly after the inauguration of President George Washington in 1789, Congress created the United States Department of War (also, War Department) as a cabinet-level position to administer the field army and Naval Affairs under the president’s constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States and the United States Secretary of War. The first Secretary of War was retired army general Henry Knox. With the possible exception of President James Madison “lending a hand” alongside U. S. Marines at the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814, George Washington is the only Commander-in-Chief to lead a field army in 1794 during the so-called Whiskey Rebellion.
President John Adams considered the possibility of reorganizing a “new army” under the nominal command of retired President Washington to deal with the increase of maritime incidents between the United States and the French Republic in 1798. Adams considered this possibility owing to his concern about the possibility of a land invasion by the French and his perceived need of consolidating the Armed Forces under an experienced “commander in chief.” A land invasion would come, but not from France.
Also, in 1798, Congress established the United States Department of the Navy, initiated on the recommendation of James McHenry to provide organizational structure to the emerging United States Navy and Marine Corps (after 1834), and when directed by the President or Congress during time of war, the United States Coast Guard (although each service remained separate and distinct with unique missions and expertise). Until 1949, the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy served as members of the presidential cabinet.
Following World War II, particularly as a consequence of evolving military technology and the complex nature of war, Congress believed that the War and Navy departments would be better managed under a central authority. James Forrestal, who served as the 48th Secretary of the Navy, became the first United States Secretary of Defense. A restructuring of the US military took the following form under the National Security Act of 1947.
Merged the Department of the Navy and Department of War into the National Military Establishment (NME). The Department of War was renamed the Department of the Army. A Secretary of Defense would head the NME.
Created the Department of the Air Force, which moved the Army Air Corps into the United States Air Force.
Protected the U. S. Marine Corps as a separate service under the Department of the Navy.
The secretaries of military departments remained nominal cabinet posts, but this arrangement was determined deficient given the creation of the office of the Secretary of Defense.
While the National Security Act of 1947 did recognize the U. S. Marine Corps as a separate naval service, it did not clearly define the service’s status within the Navy Department. Under this new arrangement, the Commandant did have access to the Secretary of the Navy, but many operational matters involving the Marine Corps continued to fall under the purview of the Chief of Naval Operations. As an example, the U. S. Navy funded Marine Corps aviation, determining types of aircraft made available to the Marine Corps as well as matters pertaining to air station operations. Accordingly, the Marine Corps, as an organization, remained vulnerable to the dictates of others in terms of its composition, funding, and operations limiting the role of the Commandant in deciding such matters.
Within three months of assuming the office of Commandant on 1 January 1948, General Clifton B. Cates was forced to confront a difficult political situation. In March, Defense Secretary Forrestal convened a meeting of the military secretaries and service chiefs in Key West, Florida to discuss and resolve their respective roles and missions within the National Military Establishment. Since General Cates was not invited to the meeting, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Louis E. Denfield, undertook the representation of the Marine Corps as part of the Navy. The problem was that the Marine Corps has never been part of the U. S. Navy.
Part of the Key West conference involved a discussion concerning likely future conflicts, with everyone agreeing that America’s next war would involve the Soviet Union in Europe. Should this happen, given President Truman’s mandate to cut Defense spending, then the Army and Air Force would require substantial defense allocations for reinforcements. In order to fund this potential threat, the meeting concluded that the Marine Corps must receive less money. Besides, argued the Army and Air Force, there would be no need for an amphibious force in a European war. The Key West meeting concluded with an agreement that the Marine Corps would be limited to four infantry divisions, that the JCS would deny Marine Corps leadership any tactical command above the corps levels, and a prohibition of the Marine Corps from creating a second land army.
When General Cates learned of this meeting, he protested making such decisions without his participation claiming that it violated the intent of the National Security Act of 1947 and impaired the ability of the Marine Corps to fulfill its amphibious warfare mission. General Cates protestations fell on deaf ears.
Louis A. Johnson replaced James Forrestal as Secretary of Defense in March 1949. Johnson shared Truman’s commitment to drastic reductions in defense spending in favor of domestic programs. Both Truman and Johnson made the erroneous assumption that America’s monopoly on atomic weapons would act as a sufficient deterrence against Communist aggression. Neither of these men, therefore, believed that a military force-in-readiness was a necessary function of the Department of Defense.
Given the relative autonomy of the service secretaries and military chiefs under the National Security Act, and as a means of thwarting independent lobbying by either the Navy or the Air Force, President Truman pursued two courses of action. (1) Truman sought (and obtained) an amendment to the National Security Act that made the Department of Defense a single executive department, which incorporated as subordinates, each of the service secretaries. The amendment also created the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, subordinating its members to the chairman, the first of these being General Omar Bradley. (2) Both President Truman and Johnson demanded that the service secretaries and senior military leaders “get in line” with the President’s defense cuts.
The intimidation apparently worked because General Omar Bradley changed his tune once he was nominated to become Chairman of the JCS. In 1948 he moaned, “The Army of 1948 could not fight its way out of a paper bag.” In the next year, both he and Army Chief of Staff General Collins testified before Congress that Truman cuts made the services more effective.
At about the same time, in a meeting with the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Richard L. Conolly, Johnson told him, “Admiral, the Navy is on its way out. There is no reason for having a Navy and Marine Corps. General Bradley tells me amphibious operations are a thing of the past. We’ll never have any more amphibious operations. That does away with the Marine Corps. And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy.”
Truman hated the Marine Corps with intense passion, which might afford psychologists years of interesting study. He did not think the nation needed a corps of Marines when there was already a land army. In implementing Truman’s budget cuts, Secretary Johnson intended that the Marine Corps be disestablished and incorporated into the U. S. Army. Toward this goal, Johnson initiated steps to move Marine Corps aviation into the U. S. Air Force. He was soon reminded that such a move would be illegal without congressional approval.
Neither Truman nor Johnson ever accepted the fact that the Marine Corps, as a combat force, provided unique strategic and tactical strengths to the national defense structure. What the law would not allow Secretary Johnson or President Truman to do, they attempted to accomplish through financial starvation. Under the chairmanship of Omar Bradley, the JCS was bitingly hostile to the Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps, however, was not the lone ranger. Less than a month after assuming office, Secretary Johnson canceled construction of the USS United States, a then state-of-the-art aircraft carrier. Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan resigned his office, and a number of Navy admirals joined him, effective on 24 May 1949. The incident is remembered as the Revolt of the Admirals.
The revolt of admirals prompted the House Armed Services Committee to convene hearings during October 1949. A number of active duty and retired admirals appeared before the committee and gave their testimony, including Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Denfield. They had little good to say about Louis Johnson or newly appointed Navy Secretary Francis Matthews. General Cates also gave testimony, giving his unqualified support to the Navy. Along with this, he protested the fact that he had not been consulted in matters pertaining to the Marine Corps and the impact of these decisions on the national defense. Said Cates, “… the power of the budget, the power of coordination, and the power of strategic direction of the armed forces have been used as devices to destroy the operating forces of the Marine Corps.” The House committee also called General Bradley, who, in arguing in favor of disestablishment of the Navy and Marine Corps rejected the notion that the United States would ever again have a use for amphibious operations.
Replacing Admiral Denfield as CNO was Admiral Forrest P. Sherman, who immediately repudiated General Vandergrift’s agreement with Secretary Sullivan. He instead approached the Secretary of Defense and requested “a free hand” in matters pertaining to the Marine Corps. Johnson granted Sherman’s request. At the beginning of 1950, after two years of forced budgetary cuts, Sherman slated the Marine Corps for additional cuts. The Marine Corps would be reduced to 24,000 officers and men, a reduction from eleven infantry battalions to six, from twenty-three aviation squadrons to twelve. Additionally, Secretary Johnson ordered the curtailment of appropriations for equipment, ammunition, supplies, and people and excluded Marine Corps units from various tactical training. Admiral Sherman assigned the bulk of amphibious ships to support Army training, leaving the Marines with little to do.
War did return to the United States, of course. When it did, it proved General Omar Bradley and the other joint chiefs were completely wrong in their predictions. Worse, it demonstrated how unprepared the United States was for its next martial challenges.
Support for the Marines
Although Representative Carl Vinson (D-GA) proposed a bill that gave full JCS membership to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the measure failed but generated much attention in the American press, particularly in the Hearst news organization. Public support was already growing for the Navy-Marine Corps when the war clouds once more gathered in the Far East.
Among Truman’s staunchest congressional foes was Representative Gordon L. McDonough (R-CA). McDonough wrote a letter to President Truman noting how the Marine Corps has always rushed to the nation’s defense. With this in mind, the congressman urged the president to include the Commandant as a full member of the JCS. The president’s response to McDonough tells us far more about Truman than is possible in an entire essay. Truman wrote, “For your information, the Marine Corps is the Navy’s police force, and as long as I am President, that is what it will remain.” Apparently, Truman failed to consider that he was writing to someone who might use the president’s blistering comments against him later on. Truman continued, “They [Marines] have a propaganda machine almost the equal of Stalin’s. When the Marine Corps goes into the Army it works with and for the Army and that’s the way it should be … The Chief of Naval Operations is the chief of staff of the Navy of which the Marines are a part.”
McDonough inserted Truman’s response into the Congressional Record, and it wasn’t long before the press picked it up and printed it. Press reporting created a firestorm in the United States. Conservative politicians of both parties and journalists excoriated Truman for his remarks. The White House was overwhelmed by mail from the public, many who lost loved ones during World War II, expressing their indignation of Truman’s remarks. Presidential aides scrambled to construct a letter of apology, which Truman personally handed to General Cates at the White House. He then released a copy to the press. Afterward, when Truman fired Louis Johnson after only 18 months as Defense Secretary, the matter moved to the back burner.
The nation responds
Immediately following World War II, the Eighth US Army was assigned to occupation duty in Japan. Initially, there was much work to be done: disarming former Japanese soldiers, maintaining order, dealing with local populations, guarding installations, and prosecuting war criminals. According to the Eighth Army Blue Book, “On 31 December 1945, Sixth Army was relieved of occupation duties and Eighth Army assumed an expanded role in the occupation, which encompassed the formidable tasks of disarmament, demilitarization, and democratization. The missions were flawlessly executed at the operational level by Eighth Army …”
The statement may be undeniably true, but as the Japanese people settled comfortably into their new reality, demands placed on soldiers and their officers lessoned. What the Blue Book’s history section omits, a dangerous precedent for future soldiers, was that this major combat command became lethargic, pleasure-seeking, and in the face of severe budgetary restraints imposed on it by the Truman administration, reached an unbelievable level of incompetence and ineptitude.
In the early hours of 25 June 1950, the (North) Korean People’s Army, numbering 53,000 front line and supporting forces followed a massive artillery bombardment into South Korea. There were only a handful of Army advisors in South Korea at the time. Those who wanted to continue living made a beeline toward the southern peninsula.
In Japan, there was a single battalion in the 21st Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division capable of “mounting out” to interdict the overwhelming KPA army. The battalion, composed of mostly untrained teenagers capable of little more than standing guard duty in Japan, never stood a chance.
The Marines Respond
At the time of the North Korean invasion, senior officers of the U. S. Marine Corps knew that they would be called upon to address this new crisis. Lieutenant General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, in Hawaii, flew to Tokyo to confer with General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP), in Tokyo. At the conclusion of their meeting, MacArthur sent a dispatch to the JCS in Washington requesting the immediate assignment of a Marine regimental combat team to his command.
In Washington, General Bradley delayed his response for a full five days. By the time the JCS did respond, the North Korean Army had already mauled the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division at the Battle of Osan, rendering it combat ineffective. Closer to the truth, 1/21 was combat ineffective even before it arrived on the Korean Peninsula. For these young men, the land of the morning calm had become a bloody nightmare.
In late June 1950, Marine Corps manpower equaled around 74,000 men. The total number of Marines assigned to the Fleet Marine Forces was 28,000, around 11,000 of these were assigned to FMFPac. Neither the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton nor its east coast counterpart, the 2nd Marine Division, could raise more than a regimental landing team (RLT) of combat-ready troops, with supporting air. To fully man a combat division, it would be necessary to transfer Marines to Camp Pendleton from posts and stations, recruiting staffs, supply depots, schools, depots, districts, and even Marine headquarters.
General MacArthur had requested an RLT, he would get a Marine brigade, the advance element of the 1st Marine Division that had been ordered to embark. The officer assigned to lead the Brigade was the senior officer present at Camp Pendleton, Brigadier General Edward A. Craig, an experienced combat leader with 33 years of active duty service.
The ground combat element of the Brigade would form around the 5th Marine Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L. Murray. Murray was already selected for promotion to colonel. Marines reporting for duty at Camp Pendleton were rushed to the 5th Marines where they would flesh out Murray’s understrength battalions. 1st Battalion 11th Marines (artillery) would serve in general support of the brigade with additional detachments (company strength) in communications, motor transportation, field medical, support, engineer, ordnance, tanks, and special weapons.
At the Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, California, Marine Aircraft Group 33 was being formed around Brigadier General Thomas H. Cushman. Cushman would serve as Craig’s deputy and command the brigade’s air element, consisting of a headquarters squadron, service squadron, VMF 214, VMF 323, VMF(N) 513(-), and Tactical Squadron-2 (detachment).
In total, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade arrived in Korea with 6,534 Marines —its equipment, brought out of mothballs dating back to World War II: trucks, jeeps, amphibian tractors, all reconditioned and tested for service.
Major General Frank E. Lowe, U. S. Army (Retired) was dispatched to Korea as the personal envoy of President Truman. His task was to observe the conduct of the conflict and report his findings directly to the President. General Lowe advised President Truman that the Army, its senior leadership and combat doctrine were dangerously lacking. Of the 1st Marine Division, General Lowe reported, “The First Marine Division is the most efficient and courageous combat unit I have ever seen or heard of.” General Lowe recommended that the Marine Corps have a permanent establishment of three divisions and three air wings.
Whether General Lowe’s report influenced Truman is unknown. What is known is that the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of the Navy, and Chief of Naval Operations continued to oppose recognition of the Marine Corps as a viable service and its leader as someone entitled to become a member of the JCS. Still, public and congressional support for the Marine Corps increased steadily. The issue of the Douglas-Mansfield bills was deferred until the 1952 legislative session. Before then, however, Admiral Sherman died suddenly in July 1951, and General Lemuel C. Shepherd succeeded Cates as Commandant of the Marine Corps.
As a result, the 1952 legislative session worked in the Marine Corps’ favor. The Marine Corps was approved for a peacetime force of three infantry divisions, three air wings, and a manpower ceiling of 400,000 men. The Commandant was granted access to the Joint Chiefs of Staff with voting rights on matters pertaining to the Marine Corps, as determined by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and on 20 June 1952, President Truman signed into law the Douglas-Mansfield Act. Some pundits claim that politically, Truman did not dare veto the bill —others argue that Truman finally realized the value of the Marine Corps as our nation’s premier combat force.
Catchpole, L. G. The Korean War. London: Robinson Publishing, 2001
Davis, V. The Post-Imperial Presidency. New Brunswick: Transaction Press, 1980
Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History. Washington: Potomac Books, 2001
Krulak, V. H. First to Fight: An Inside View of the U. S. Marine Corps. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999.
Montross, L. and Nicholas A. Canzona. S. Marine Operations in Korea, 1950-1953 (Volume 1): The Pusan Perimeter. Historical Branch, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, Washington, D. C., 1954.
The United States Naval Proceedings Magazine, Volume 33, Number 3: A Propaganda Machine Like Stalin’s, Alan Rems, June 2019
 A supporter of the United States Constitution, Representative from Maryland, and third Secretary of War. He was also a noted surgeon with many successes during the Revolutionary War. Fort McHenry, outside Baltimore, is named in his honor.
 Forrestal had served in the Navy Department as Under Secretary since 1940 and appointed as Secretary of the Navy in 1944. Forrestal served as Secretary of Defense from 18 September 1947 until 28 March 1949 when President Harry S. Truman asked for his resignation and replaced him Louis A. Johnson. Forrestal’s wartime service had taken its toll and he was personally shattered when fired by Truman, with whom he had little patience. He took his own life on 22 May 1949 while undergoing treatment for severe depression.
 During World War II, Chief of Naval Operations Ernest J. King was well-known as a micro-manager. He treated the Commandant of the Marine Corps as another one of his bureau chiefs and denied the Commandant access to the Secretary of the Navy. This restriction changed when Admiral Nimitz became CNO, but the relationship was a gentleman’s agreement between Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan, Admiral Nimitz, and Marine Commandant Alexander A. Vandergrift. The National Security Act of 1947, however, did not clarify the status of the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy.
 During World War II, the Marine Corps fielded six infantry divisions.
 Nearly every newly created U. S. Air Force general was a proponent of the use of strategic bombing and atomic warfare as the United States’ principal defense strategy. Standing in opposition to this ludicrous mindset was nearly every active duty and retired Navy admiral.
 The JCS evolved from a relatively inefficient joint board of senior Army and Navy officers who seldom agreed in matters of operational planning or execution. The Joint Board performed as presidential advisors but had no authority to initiate programs or policies. Following World War I, the Joint Board was renamed the Joint Planning Committee with the authority to initiate recommendations but had no authority to implement them.
 General Bradley detested the Marine Corps almost as much as President Truman and Secretary Johnson.
 Because of Truman and Johnson’s defense cuts, the United States had no combat-ready units in June 1950.
 Replacing Sullivan was Francis P. Matthews, a former director of the USO who admitted to having no expertise that would qualify him for service as a Navy Secretary beyond his contempt for the Marine Corps.
 President Truman demanded Denfield’s resignation and took action to demote the other admirals.
The War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States evolved from several factors: (1) British impressment of American sailors, (2) The Americans accepted for citizenship British deserters, (3) British frigates blockaded US harbors in their search for British deserters, (4) British supported native Americans and urged them to commit hostile actions toward American settlers, (5) American interests in expansion into the Northwest Territory, and (6) America’s internal politics, with one faction demanding a stronger central government and closer ties to Great Britain, with the opposing party demanding a smaller central government, preservation of slavery and states’ rights, westward expansion, and a stronger break with the British.
Hostility with Great Britain, which at the time had the world’s strongest navy and land army, did not favor the United States. With few exceptions, senior American army officers —holdovers from the Revolutionary War— were elderly, full of themselves, tired, and incompetent. The combination of these factors led to American defeats at Detroit, Queenston Heights, and Upper Canada. Whether the United States succeeded or failed in this latest confabulation, the American people did not want another war with Great Britain; they were war-weary, which made James Madison a very unpopular president.
On the Continent, the United Kingdom was heavily committed to fighting Napoleon Bonaparte and could not immediately spare its army or the Royal Navy to confront the United States. These circumstances led the British to develop a conservative strategy in North America: defend British territory on land, employ naval blockades of American harbors, and harass US naval shipping at sea.
Following the death of Major General Robert Ross, who commanded the British North American Army, killed in action near Baltimore, Maryland, the British war office appointed Major General Edward Pakenham to succeed him. In August 1814, the United Kingdom and the United States initiated diplomatic negotiations to end the war. British Secretary of War Henry Bathurst issued Pakenham secret orders commanding him to continue prosecuting the war, even if he heard rumors of a peace treaty being signed because Bathurst feared that the United States Senate would refuse to ratify such a treaty. Bathurst did not want Pakenham to endanger his troops or miss an opportunity to gain advantages over the American Army.
In December 1814, the British navy stationed sixty (60) ships in the Gulf of Mexico, east of the entrance to Lake Pontchartrain, under the command of Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane. Aboard these ships were 14,450 soldiers. An American flotilla of gunboats under the command of Lieutenant Thomas ap Catesby-Jones, blocked their access to the lakes. British forces under Captain Nicholas Lockyer attacked Jones with 1,200 British sailors and Marines in 42 longboats. Each longboat was armed with a small cannonade. In this engagement, known as the Battle of Lake Borgne, Lockyer captured Jones’ vessels. Lockyer lost 17 of his men killed in action, with 77 wounded. Jones lost 6 Americans KIA, 35 wounded, 86 captured. Among the wounded were both Jones and Lockyer.
While Lockyer engaged Jones, General John Keane, commanding a force of three-thousand British soldiers, established a garrison on Pea Island (now, Pearl Island), which was about 30 miles east of New Orleans. On 23 December, Keane led a vanguard force of 1,800 soldiers to the east bank of the Mississippi River, 9 miles south of New Orleans. Unknown to General Keane at that time, New Orleans was undefended. Keane bivouacked his force at the Lacoste Plantation pending the arrival of reinforcements in preparation for an assault on New Orleans. When British officers commandeered the home of Gabriel Villeré, Villeré escaped through a window and warned General Andrew Jackson of the approaching British Army and informed Jackson of Keane’s position.
That very evening, Jackson led an assault force of 2,000 men to engage General Keane. After achieving surprise and disrupting the British camp, Jackson withdrew his force back to the Rodriguez Canal, 5 miles north of Keane’s encampment. General Jackson’s foray cost him 24 men killed in action (KIA) and 115 wounded in action (WIA). General Keane reported 46 of his men KIA, 167 WIA, and 64 missing in action (MIA). General Pakenham’s force arrived in the field on Christmas day. After conferring with Keane, Pakenham ordered a reconnaissance-in-force to test the Jackson defense.
Between 24 December and 8 January, General Jackson ordered his “rag-tag” army to construct, expand, or improve existing defensive positions. Jackson’s command of 4,732 men included 968 US Army regulars, 164 sailors and Marines under the command of Major Daniel Carmick, 1,060 Louisiana militia and volunteers, 1,352 Tennessee militia, 986 Kentucky militia, 150 Mississippi militia, 52 Choctaw warriors, and a volunteer force operating under the pirate Jean Lafitte.
When completed, Jackson’s defensive line was substantial. There were three lines of static defenses organized north of the Rodriguez Canal, which was fifteen feet wide and around eight feet deep. The breastwork, which included felled timber and soil, protected riflemen from enemy musket fire. Behind the defenses, Jackson constructed earthworks for his artillery. In addition to eight batteries of artillery, Jackson had at his disposal naval guns aboard the USS Carolina, the steamboat Enterprise, and the grounded USS Louisiana. Carmick’s force of sailors and Marines manned the western redoubt and helped coordinate naval gunfire from the vessels already named.
Soon after Pakenham’s main force on 1 January 1815, British artillery initiated a barrage of Jackson’s defenses. The exchange of artillery lasted over three hours and ceased only when Pakenham had expended all available munitions. Several of Jackson’s guns were silenced, which necessitated a realignment of artillery. During the barrage, Major Daniel Carmick fell wounded from fragmentation striking his forehead. Command of the naval forced passed to First Lieutenant Francois de Bellevue, USMC.
Initially, General Pakenham intended to launch an assault on Jackson’s position after first softening the American position with artillery fire. Whether it was a matter of Pakenham not realizing that he was short of artillery munitions, or that his fire plan was deficient, or some other reason, Pakenham canceled the attack. General Pakenham did not realize how close he had come to defeating Jackson. Several of Jackson’s militia had abandoned their positions during the British barrage and were not likely to return. Instead, Pakenham delayed his offensive until the entire force of 8,000 infantry was assembled ashore.
Pakenham’s force included eight battalions of Highlanders, the 14th Light Dragoons, elements of the 95th Rifle Brigade, and the 1st and 5th India Regiments. Several hundred blacks, recruited from West Indies colonies reinforced the British order of battle and a force of undetermined size of native Americans under the war chief Kinache.
The British assault began on the morning of 8 January 1815. Pakenham ordered a two-prong attack. Colonel William Thornton was to cross the Mississippi from the west back during the night with a force of 780 men, move up-river, and storm the naval battery under Commodore Daniel Patterson. Then, with captured American artillery, Thornton would turn those guns on the American line. General Keane would lead his force along the river and position them shy of Jackson’s defensive line for a frontal assault. General Samuel Gibbs (Pakenham’s deputy) would lead his column along the swamp, approaching the American on Jackson’s left flank. Major General John Lambert would hold his brigade in reserve.
No military operation plan survives its first objective, and this was the case with Colonel Thornton, who was delayed twelve hours when a dam constructed on one of the canals failed, forcing his men to drag their boats through muddy ground.
Notwithstanding Thornton’s delay, Pakenham ordered his assault to begin before dawn. Heavy fog and the pitch-black of the early morning hour wrapped his men as in a cloak, denying them a clear vision of what lay ahead. As the fog lifted, Pakenham’s forward line encountered withering American fire. Colonel Thomas Mullins, commanding the 44th East Essex Regiment, had forgotten the ladders and fascine he needed to cross the Rodriguez Canal and scale the American breastwork. When Mullins and most of his officers were killed, along with General Gibbs, the men became confused and floundered.
With his right-center struggling, General Pakenham ordered General Keane to detach his 93rd Highlanders and move across the open field and reinforce the British right flank. During this movement, Keane fell wounded. On Pakenham’s left flank, Colonel Rennie’s force managed to attack and overrun an American redoubt next to the river but was unable to hold the position or advance into the American line.
Jackson sent the 7th Infantry to recapture the redoubt. After 30 minutes of intense combat, Colonel Rennie and most of his men lie dead. On Pakenham’s right, British infantry threw themselves on the ground or into the canal to avoid American musket fire and grapeshot. A handful of men made it to the top of the parapet, but they were soon killed or captured. The 95th Rifles had managed to advance ahead of the main assault and were concealed in a ditch below the parapet, but without additional support, they were unable to advance further.
Jackson’s Americans repulsed the two-pronged British attack.
While directing his troops on the field, grapeshot from US artillery shattered General Pakenham’s left knee and killed his horse. As he was helped to his feet by his senior aide-de-camp, Major Duncan MacDougall, Pakenham was wounded a second time in his right arm. Then, having mounted MacDougall’s horse, another salvo of grapeshot ripped through his spine and he fell to the ground mortally wounded. With his second in command already dead (Gibbs), Major Wilkinson reformed the 21st Regiment and initiated a third assault. Wilkinson was shot as he achieved the top of the parapet; the Americans, impressed with his courage under fire, carried him to safety behind the rampart. The 93rd Highlanders, having no further orders, were caught in the open and were slaughtered by American artillery. General Lambert, commanding the reserve brigade, assumed command of the British force. Lambert led his reserve brigade onto the field. Observing that the attack had failed, he ordered a withdrawal with the rifles of his brigade providing covering fire for the retreating army.
The British had but one success during the Battle of New Orleans: it was the delayed attack on the west bank of the river where Thornton’s brigade and detachments of Royal Navy and Marines attacked and overwhelmed the American line. In this assault, Thornton was wounded, but his success had no effect on the outcome of the battle. General Lambert directed Colonel Alexander Dickson, his chief of artillery, to assess the British position. Dickson reported that no fewer than 2,000 additional men would be required to hold what they had. On this advice, Lambert ordered a general withdrawal from the field. In the American camp, Jackson believed that his defense strategy had failed and was preparing to withdraw when he received word that the British had already begun their withdrawal.
The battle was brief but costly. Pakenham’s force suffered 285 killed, 1,265 wounded and gave up 484 prisoners —all within 25 minutes. The Americans lost 13 killed and 30 wounded. Admiral Cochrane continued his naval bombardment of Fort St. Philip for another ten days but finally withdrew on 18 January. In the Duke of Wellington’s final analysis, the failure of this campaign was the result of Admiral Cochrane’s shortcomings as Commander-in-Chief of British Forces and the failure of Colonel Mullins to carry the ladders and fascines onto the field. There is little doubt that Colonel Mullins’ error cost Pakenham his victory at New Orleans.
After the battle, General Andrew Jackson commended the navy and Marines for their gallant conduct. On Jackson’s recommendation, the Congress resolved on 22 February 1822, that “Congress entertain a high sense of the valor and good conduct of Major Daniel Carmick, of the officers, noncommissioned officers, and Marines under his command, in the defense of [New Orleans] on the late memorable occasion.”
US Marine Corps Major Daniel Carmick, wounded during Pakenham’s artillery barrage, died from his wound on 6 November 1816. At the time of his service in New Orleans, Carmick was the second-ranking officer in the Marine Corps. Lieutenant de Bellevue, later promoted to captain, resigned his commission on 9 March 1824.
One of the saddest footnotes to any battle exists in the aftermath of the Battle of New Orleans. The fight actually occurred after a peace accord had been signed by British and American officials on 24 December 1814 —days before American and British forces confronted one another on 8 January 1815. Word of the peace was not received in the United States until 11 February 1815. In the final analysis, however, given Henry Bathurst’s secret directive to Pakenham, that is, to “continue the war even if he should hear rumors of a peace treaty”, the Battle of New Orleans would in all likelihood have taken place as it did even if word of the peace had reached American shores in time to avoid the conflict. The Bathurst directive reminds us that great danger to our forces exists whenever civilian officials interject themselves into the prerogatives of a field commander.
Borneman, W. H. 1812: The War that Forged a Nation. New York: HarperCollins, 2004
Chapman, R. The Battle of New Orleans: “But for a Piece of Wood.” Pelican Publishing, 2013
Drez, R. J. The War of 1812, Conflict and Deception: The British Attempt to Seize New Orleans and Nullify the Louisiana Purchase. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014
Patterson, B. R. The Generals, Andrew Jackson, Sir Edward Pakenham, and the road to New Orleans: New York: New York University Press, 2008
 Sir Edward Michael Pakenham (1778-1815) was the son of the Baron Longford and the brother in law of the Duke of Wellington. Pakenham was an experienced military officer, with service as a dragoon in the Rebellion of 1798, in Nova Scotia, Barbados, and Saint Croix. In 1803, he led an attack at Saint Lucia, where he was wounded, and in 1807 fought in the Danish Campaign at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807. He was wounded for a second time at Martinique.
 Cochrane, who was then servicing as a vice admiral, commanded the North America and Jamaica Stations. Under Cochrane, Ross successfully burned the city of Washington and laid down the massive barrage at Fort McHenry, Baltimore, from which the Star-Spangled Banner was penned by Francis Scott Key. Despite criticism of the Duke of Wellington directed at Cochrane, he was advanced to full admiral in 1819. He passed away in Paris, France on 26 January 1832.
 Catesby-Jones (1790-1858) was appointed a navy midshipman in 1805 but lacking in education the Navy suggested he return home and study geography, navigation, and surveying as a measure to improve his future chances for an active naval assignment. When the navy mobilized gunboats following the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, Catesby-Jones was assigned to gunboat 10, commencing active service in August 1807. After distinguishing himself at the Battle of Lake Borgne in 1814, Jones continued his service as a navy officer, reaching the rank of commodore. He passed away while serving on active duty in California.
 Attached to Jones were 35 Marines, three of which were killed and two wounded.
 The number of killed and wounded in this action may be accurate but given the placement of Keane’s encampment at the Villeré Plantation, the numbers reported as MIA seems questionable. It is more likely that some of these MIAs deserted Keane.
 A rough bundle of brushwood or other materials used for strengthening an earthen structure or making a pathway across uneven or saturated terrain.
 484 British riflemen had pretended to be dead; when the British force withdrew, these men stood up and surrendered to the Americans.
Shortly after the Geneva Convention of 1954, CIA director Allen Dulles sent Colonel Edward Lansdale to initiate a series of clandestine operations against North Vietnam. Lansdale initiated several operations, code named Nautilus, which included South Vietnam manned commando raids and the insertion of CIA recruited spies. In 1963, the CIA and US Department of Defense jointly agreed that these covert operations should transfer to the DoD. In January 1964, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) assumed responsibility for all covert operations in Vietnam.
Once MAC-SOG took control of covert operations in North Vietnam, the Pentagon issued Operation Plan (OPLAN) 34-63, which entailed a continuation of commando raids and the expansion of electronic surveillance through US Navy ships and patrol boats based out of Da Nang. OPLAN 34-A expanded covert operations with more ambitious missions to offshore assaults on coastal installations. When US intelligence officers realized that some of their raiders had been turned by the North Vietnamese, US covert operations shifted more toward psychological operations, which involved spreading anti-Communist propaganda and deception. The effectiveness of these clandestine measures remains questionable, but there was no doubt that both the USSR and China were actively supplying the Viet Cong (VC) with weapons and munitions, or that North Vietnam was funneling men and material into South Vietnam through Laos.
With US Navy ships collecting intelligence off the coast of North Vietnam, it was only a matter of time before the North Vietnamese challenged these encroachments, which were mostly converted minesweepers. Occasionally, but always between midnight and 0300, North Vietnamese gunboats would approach these ships at high speed and then peel off and return to their island base of operations at a location above the 30th parallel. North Vietnamese gunboats were threatening, but they never actually attacked the unarmed minesweepers. Because the minesweepers were defenseless, the Navy decided to replace them with destroyers to continue electronic surveillance. These were referred to as desoto patrols. By sending out patrol boats to challenge US navy ships (which were always conducted beyond the internationally recognized 3-mile limit), US intelligence officers were able to collect useful information about North Vietnamese (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) (DRV) military and naval capabilities. In time, the DRV replaced their gunboats with larger vessels and torpedo equipped frigates.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on 22 November 1963, the American presidency passed to Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson retained most of Kennedy’s cabinet and advisors —men who had helped craft and manage the Kennedy administration’s policies toward Southeast Asia. Prior to his vice presidency, Johnson had been a long-serving member of the US Senate and the House of Representatives from Texas —but despite those bona fides, Johnson was uncertain about his own foreign policy credentials and this forced him to rely on Kennedy’s cabinet … men such as Robert S. McNamara, Dean Rusk, and McGeorge Bundy.
President Kennedy (like his predecessor Dwight D. Eisenhower), was reluctant to involve the United States in another Asian war. Neither of these men were hesitant to offer military assistance, in terms of advisors and material support, but neither could see how direct involvement would benefit either South Vietnam or US interests in Indochina. Kennedy had, with some success, negotiated recognition of the Kingdom of Laos as a neutral state, but this agreement was almost immediately ignored by the DRV, who had previously used Laos to infiltrate men and material into South Vietnam —and continued to do so. In signing the accord, Kennedy was naïve. Neither did the President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem (or the US Ambassador to South Vietnam), believe that the Geneva Accord was a good idea. Diem believed that the United States was more concerned about its own interests in Southeast Asia than it was about the security of South Vietnam —and of course, he was right.
Diem had long resented America’s heavy hand in its internal affairs. For all of his short comings (at least, according to western standards), Diem was an intelligent man who was confronted by a plethora of domestic issues, not the least of which were well-entrenched urban gangsters, rural warlords, Buddhist activists opposing a Catholic head of state, and a determined Communist insurgency. American diplomats did not seem to appreciate either Diem’s stress level or the fact that he was culturally Vietnamese. His attitudes toward curtailing dissent were not so far removed from those of his North Vietnamese counterpart, Ho Chi Minh. Diem was harsh in his suppression of dissidents and Kennedy, believing that Diem’s punitive policies were counterproductive to stabilizing South Vietnam’s (RVN) government, pushed back. President Diem deeply resented this interference. The US and RVN were at an impasse —and something had to give.
On 1-2 November 1963, President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother (and chief advisor) Ngo Dinh Nhu were assassinated, an operation ostensibly planned and carried out by Diem’s senior military officers. Almost no one believed that these incompetent generals could have pulled off such an intricate operation without the help of the American CIA. If South Vietnam was unstable under Diem, his assassination made things worse. Ho Chi Minh, while stymied by the American-backed event, couldn’t have been more pleased.
Prelude to War
President Johnson soon learned that earlier assurances by McNamara and Bundy that the RVN was making progress against the communist insurgency were ill-founded. Secretary of State Dean Rusk warned Johnson that in fact, South Vietnam was in a deep spiral. McNamara and senior DoD officials rejected Rusk’s arguments, but as it turned out, Rusk was right and South Vietnam was in dire straits. Viet Cong attacks, performed at will, were increasing in frequency and lethality.
In late January 1964, South Vietnamese General Nguyen Khanh overthrew the ruling junta of Duong Van Minh (also known as Big Minh). It was the second coup d’état in three months. Amazingly, Johnson, who was not pleased with RVN’s progress in countering the communist insurgency, found encouragement in the coup and sought to bolster the Khanh regime. In March 1964, Johnson sent McNamara to undertake a fact-finding mission in South Vietnam. His report pointed to an easily discernible deterioration of popular morale and an acceleration of communist insurgencies. McNamara advised Johnson to send more US military and economic support.
By this time, President Johnson was convinced that South Vietnam was about to fall into the hands of the communists. He was determined not to become the first US president to lose the fight against communist aggression. The emerging war in Vietnam became Johnson’s primary focus. Ultimately, Johnson decided on a series of increasingly aggressive political strategies.
But 1964 was an election year in the United States. When US Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge resigned his post and announced that he was running for the presidency, Johnson replaced him with retired US Army General Maxwell Taylor, formerly the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Taylor’s recommendation, Johnson also replaced General Paul D. Harkins as head of the US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (USMACV), with General William C. Westmoreland. In making these changes, Johnson’s signal seemed clear enough: he was leaning toward a military solution to the conflict in Vietnam, rather than a diplomatic resolution.
President Johnson was also challenged for the presidency by Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona. Johnson was many things (a decent human being not being one of them), but he was a master politician. With two very substantial challengers, Johnson increased his popularity by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (passed into law on 2 July), but he also understood this alone would not be enough to take America to another Asian war. Johnson would require the support of Congress to increase US involvement in South Vietnam. In order to achieve congressional support, Johnson would need to demonstrate that North Vietnam was a bona fide threat to the peace and security of the Southeast Asian Mainland.
On 1 August 1964, South Vietnamese commandos raided a North Vietnamese radio transmitter located on an offshore island. The very next morning, 2 August, the destroyer USS Maddox (DD 731) while cruising in international waters 28 miles off the coast of North Vietnam, engaged three North Vietnamese Navy (NVN) P-4 Motor Torpedo Boats of Torpedo Squadron 135. The Commander, Destroyer Division, 7th Fleet, Captain John J. Herrick, was aboard Maddox and exercised command authority over the Desoto mission. Herrick ordered Commander Herbert Ogier, the ship’s captain, to have gun crews fire on the torpedo boats if they came within 10,000 yards of Maddox. When the boats encroached upon the Maddox, Ogier ordered three rounds to warn off the NVN craft.
The NVN commanders were brothers, Van Bot, commanding T-333, Van Tu, commanding T-336, and Van Gian commanding T-339. The attack commenced in numerical order with T-333 spearheading the attack. The maximum effective range of their torpedoes was 1,000 yards (9/10ths of a mile). Maddox’ gun range was 18,000 yards. T-333 pressed home its assault astern Maddox with the two additional boats in trace. Then, T-333 attempted to run abeam of Maddox for a side shot. T-336 and T-339 fired first, but Maddox’ five-inch gun fire threatened the torpedo boats. Both fired their torpedoes prematurely, all four missing their target. T-333 fired its torpedoes, also without effect, but then fired at Maddox with its 14.5-mm (.57 caliber) deck gun. The American destroyer received a single hit. Altering course, crewmen observed torpedoes passing Maddox on her starboard side.
Within short order, four F-8 Crusaders from USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) arrived overhead and promptly attacked the NVN torpedo boats, forcing them to withdraw. Several NVN crewmen were wounded, four were killed, and all three boats were seriously damaged. There were no US casualties. One of the four aircraft sustained damage to its left wing, but all birds returned to Ticonderoga.
On 3 August, USS Turner Joy (DD-951) was ordered to accompany USS Maddox for another Desoto mission. On 4 August, Turner Joy’s radar picked up a number of blips believed to be approaching small, high-speed surface craft, but at an extreme range. As a precaution, the two destroyers called upon Ticonderoga to furnish air support. After nightfall, radar signatures suggested the convergence of patrol boats from the west and south. Turner Joy reported that she sighted one or two torpedo wakes, ramped up her speed and began evasion maneuvers. Turner Joy then began firing in the direction of the unidentified surface vessels. Over the next two and a half hours, Turner Joy fired 220 five-inch shells; aircraft from Ticonderoga likewise fired on “suspected” torpedo boats.
This second attack on 4 August never actually happened, but together with the incident on 2 August, President Johnson claimed “unprovoked attacks” upon the sovereignty of the United States. On 5 August, Johnson ordered bombing raids on North Vietnamese military targets. Referred to in history as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Johnson asked for and received Congressional approval to escalate US involvement in the Vietnam War.
In North Vietnam, General Vo Nguyen Giap made a disturbing accusation. Lyndon Johnson, he said, constructed the Desoto patrols in order to provoke North Vietnam into a response, so that Johnson could use such a response as an excuse for escalating the conflict in South Vietnam. Giap’s allegation is probably true. According to Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst (1963-90), the CIA, “not to mention President Lyndon Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy all knew full well that the evidence of an armed attack on 4 August 1964, the so-called ‘second’ Tonkin Gulf incident, was highly dubious. During the summer of 1964, President Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff seemed keen on widening the war in Vietnam. They stepped up sabotage and hit and run attacks on the coast of North Vietnam.”
James Bamford, author of the book Body of Secrets, who spent three years in the US Navy as an intelligence analyst, agrees with McGovern. The primary purpose of the Maddox “was to act as a seagoing provocateur —to poke its sharp gray bow and the American flag as close to the belly of North Vietnam as possible, in effect shoving its five-inch cannons up the nose of the communist navy. The Maddox’ mission was made even more provocative by being present at times that coincided with commando raids, creating the impression that Maddox was directing those missions.” Accordingly, the DRV had every reason to believe that USS Maddox was involved in the commando raids.
Here’s what we know …
In the early afternoon of 4 August (Washington time), Captain John Herrick reported to the Commander in Chief, Pacific that “freak weather effects” on Turner Joy’s radar had made North Vietnamese attacks questionable. He was clear in his statement: “No North Vietnamese patrol boats had actually been sighted.” Herrick urged a full reevaluation of these events before any further action was taken. It was too late. President Johnson had already made his televised announcement.
Secretary McNamara later testified that he had read Herrick’s message after his return to the Pentagon in the afternoon of 4 August, but that he did not immediately contact the president to tell him that the premise of his justification for retaliatory air strikes was at that time, highly questionable. Scholars now argue that had Johnson received accurate information, had he been informed of the Herrick message, he “might have demanded more complete information before proceeding with broadening the war.” Personally, given what I know of Lyndon Johnson, I doubt it.
Johnson was up for reelection. He informed congress that the USS Maddox was not involved in providing intelligence for raids into North Vietnam. He stated clearly that North Vietnamese attacks were “unprovoked.” This was a lie and he knew at the time that it was a lie. As a result of this testimony, the US Congress passed a Joint Resolution granting Johnson authority to conduct military operations in Southeast Asia without the benefit of a declaration of war. Johnson was empowered to “take all necessary steps, including the use of armed forces, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom.”
Lyndon Johnson’s election as President of the United States in his own right allowed the administration to move forward with a more aggressive policy in Southeast Asia. Mere days before the election, Communist guerrillas attacked the US air base at Bien Hoa killing four Americans, wounding scores, and destroying twenty-five aircraft. Johnson decided (politically) not to respond to this attack so close to a national election, but on election day, he created an interagency task force to review US-Vietnam policy. Chairing this task force was William Bundy (a former CIA analyst), the brother of McGeorge Bundy (serving as chief of the State Department’s Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs).
At the time of the election of 1964, owing to the political instability of South Vietnam, the US Military Assistance Command (USMACV) under General William Westmoreland, had grown to more than 20,000 men. Of the over 800 Marines in Vietnam, most were assigned to the I Corps Tactical Zone (I CTZ) (Also, I Corps), which consisted of the five northern-most provinces of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN). Sixty USMC advisors were assigned to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in I Corps. Aviators assigned to Shufly at Da Nang were reinforced by a Marine rifle company for airfield security. Additional Marines were assigned to the US Embassy in Saigon and the MACV staff.
In Washington, the government examined the possibility of sending US combat troops to RVN for the defense of critical US installations. General Maxwell Taylor, serving as US Ambassador to the RVN, warned the administration against over-emphasizing static security and recommended that aggressive ARVN field operations was the best strategy for stabilizing the country. Taylor was right in his assessment.
The possible employment of US forces was of special concern to the Marine Corps. In 1964, the most combat-ready Marines in the Far East were those of the 3rd Marine Division, located on Okinawa, and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Iwakuni, Japan. Both commands, under III Marine Amphibious Force, were task organized to support various contingency plans for Southeast Asia.
Following the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the US Pacific Command activated the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (9thMAB)under the command of the 3rdMarDiv Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Raymond G. Davis. The ground combat element included the 9th Marine Regiment (9th Marines) and three battalion landing teams (BLTs) and a Provisional Marine Air Group (ProvMAG) consisting of fixed wing and helicopter squadrons. For the first several months, 9thMAB was a pre-positioned (mostly on paper) organization with a small headquarters at Subic Bay, Philippines. Brigadier General John P. Coursey relieved General Davis in October.
On 22 January 1965, Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch assumed command of the 9thMAB, which now consisted of two BLTs (1st Battalion, 9th Marines (1/9) and 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines (3/9)), both of which had been serving afloat with the Amphibious Ready Group/Special Landing Force since the beginning of the year. At this time, the Marine brigade was the US combat force most readily available for deployment to RVN.
Meanwhile, in Washington, President Johnson’s working group gave him three options: (1) Continue with the current approach (funding and limited military support); (2) Escalate the war and strike North Vietnam; (3) Pursue a strategy of graduated response. After weeks of discussions, Johnson endorsed the third option and directed the task force to “flesh out” its implementation.
The Bundy Plan envisioned a series of measures of gradually increasing intensity. (1) An escalation of military involvement and the presence of US military personnel would bolster national morale. (2) Attack Viet Cong forces operating in South Vietnam. (3) Pressure Hanoi into ending its support of the Communist insurgency. The first phase of this plan was Operation Barrel Roll.
Johnson’s task force reflected his management style. He would have none of Kennedy’s lengthy debates with policy staffers. By tasking subordinates to develop broad planning initiatives, on an interagency basis, and frequently at levels far below that of senior white house officials, Johnson only considered recommendations that had already gained consensus before bringing them to his top aides. President Johnson would only make key decisions in the presence of a limited number of his closest advisors. Almost more than anything else, Johnson feared “leaks to the press.”
The problem, however, was that Johnson’s managerial style was frequently overwhelmed by events happening on the ground. No amount of tinkering would allow his administration to escape the reality of the Vietnam War: unabated political instability in South Vietnam and Communist successes in the field (being fought, of course, in South Vietnam rather than in North Vietnam). There were two problems with Johnson’s penchant for running the war from the white house: (1) With limited military experience, Lyndon Johnson was out of his depth, and (2) his meddling in the prosecution of the war seriously undercut the tactical prerogatives of his senior-most military officers.
The deterioration of South Vietnam’s political structure (and his apparent lack of confidence in his field commanders) led Johnson to take on an even larger role in handing the war. In February 1965, Johnson dispatched his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, to assess the need for an expanded bombing campaign, which William Bundy’s interagency task force had anticipated a few months earlier. At the time of Bundy’s visit, nine Americans were killed when VC elements raided Camp Holloway and Pleiku. This event provided the justification for expanding US military involvement —which of course, Bundy’s task force was already considering. Another VC assault at Qui Nhon resulted in the death of 23 Americans with another 21 wounded. Within days, Johnson approved a sustained bombing campaign of North Vietnam that would last for the rest of his presidency.
The attacks on Pleiku and Qui Nhon underscored the vulnerability of bases that US planes would be using in the bombing campaign. Accordingly, Johnson authorized the deployment of two Marine battalions to Da Nang in March 1965. It was a decision that caused Johnson great anxiety because he realized the likely impact of sending Marines into a combat environment and its impact in the minds of the American people.
Meanwhile, the bombing campaign did not appear affect Hanoi or the Vietcong in any significant way. By mid-March, Johnson was considering additional proposals for expanding the American combat presence in RVN. By 1 April, he decided to increase the Marine Corps footprint in RVN by two additional battalions and changed their mission from static defense of airfields to one of “active defense.” Realizing that four battalions of Marines would not be a sufficient force to stamp out the VC insurgency, he directed planners to expand the US military in Vietnam to 82,000 men.
According to a 2005 article in The New York Times, Robert J. Hanyok, a historian for the National Security Agency, after reviewing all available information, concluded that the NSA distorted intelligence reports passed to policy makers regarding the Gulf of Tonkin incident on 4 August 1964. Hanyok said that “NSA staff deliberately skewed evidence to make it appear as if the attack had occurred.” According to Hanyok, the incident began at the Phu Bai Combat Base where intelligence analysts mistakenly believed that the destroyers would soon be attacked. This concern would have been communicated back to the NSA, along with evidence supporting such a conclusion, but the fact was that the evidence did not support their conclusion. As the evening progressed, signals intelligence did not support a North Vietnam ambush, but NSA analysts were so convinced of an attack, they ignored 90% of the data that did not support their conclusion. This, too, was excluded from information provided to the President.
John Hanyok explained, “As much as anything else, it was an awareness that Johnson would brook no uncertainty that could undermine his position. Faced with this attitude, CIA analyst Ray Cline recalled, “We knew it was bum dope that we were getting from the 7th Fleet but we were told to only give facts with no elaboration on the nature of the evidence. Everyone knew how volatile Johnson was; he did not like to deal with uncertainties.” In other words, government bureaucrats wanted to avoid a presidential tantrum directed at them.
None of the foregoing supposes that war in Vietnam could have been avoided, particularly given the United States government’s previous twenty-years of involvement in Indochinese affairs. Truman’s concerns about a domino effect of global communism were justified by the behavior of Communist states before and after World War II. By the end of the Korean War, Americans were war weary. Eisenhower wisely determined that the American people, the US economy, could not sustain another foreign conflict in 1954. He also had hopes that limited engagement would provide the government of South Vietnam the time it needed to stabilize and solve its own problems. Both Truman and Eisenhower underestimated the lengths to which Ho Chi Minh was willing to go in unifying Vietnam under the Communist flag —but neither man really knew the Vietnamese, their history or their culture. John Kennedy’s idealism and naïveté worked against the long-term interests of the United States in Southeast Asia; his acquiescence in the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem made things worse.
Lyndon Johnson may be my least favorite character in history. He was a self-serving gangster, a liar, and lacked the kind of leadership the American people must have in time of war. Johnson’s war-time decisions traumatized the American people for a full generation —and I never actually touched upon the disaster that resulted from Johnson’s “great society” experiment with socialism. The American people are still paying for that.
Along with the good they might do, men elected to the presidency have to accept the bad as well. Presidents are mortal, after all. The men they select to advise them, in many cases, have much to do with their successes or failures. Truman’s confidence in Dean Acheson is one example, Kennedy’s and Johnson’s reliance on McNamara is another.
Richard Nixon was a deeply flawed man and did himself no honor in the matter of the Watergate Affair, but he did have an adequate measure of Ho Chi Minh and Pham Van Dong. Today, we do not give Nixon enough credit for disentangling the United States from a war that could not be won. But we must also acknowledge that the American people themselves contributed to the evolving disaster of Vietnam. They, after all, voted in elections that chose such men as Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson; they in turn made bad choices in important cabinet positions.
The costs of the Vietnam War were high. 58,318 Americans died in the Vietnam War; 153,303 received combat wounds; 2,971 of those required hospitalization; 1,587 Americans remain listed as missing in action. 778 Americans were taken as prisoners of war, of those 116 died in captivity. This should lead a rational person to the conclusion that if the United States is going to involve itself in war, given its costs, then we damn sure need to win it. The American fighting man won every battle in Vietnam, but politicians in Washington handed the enemy a strategic victory. Surely the American voter can do better than this …
“Critical analysis,” said Clausewitz, “is the application of theoretical truths to actual events.” … theoretical truths of the principles of war to the actual events of the Vietnam War to produce an explanation for our failure there. If we are to profit by our mistakes, we must understand that it was a violation of these truths, not evil or wicked leaders, that was the cause of our undoing. As David Halberstam pointed out in The Best and the Brightest, one of the saddest aspects of the war is that it was waged by well-meaning and intelligent men doing what they thought best. The tendency to find devils, however, is still with us.” —Harry G. Summers, Colonel, Infantry, U. S. Army (Retired)
Beisner, R.L. Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War. New York: OUP USA, 2006
Beisner, R. L. Patterns of Peril: Dean Acheson Joins the Cold Warriors, 1945-46. Diplomatic History, Vol 20, 1996
Berman, L. Lyndon Johnson’s War: The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam. New York/London: Norton & Company, 1989
Courtois, S. and Nicolas Werth, Andrzej Paczkowski (et. al.). The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, 1997.
Freedman, R. Vietnam: A History of the War. Holiday House, 2016.
Hastings, M. Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-75. Canada: HarperCollins, 2018.
Karnow, S. Vietnam: A History. New York: Viking/The Penguin Group, 1983
Lacouture, J. Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography. Random House, 1968
McNamara, R. S. and Brian Van De Mark. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. Vintage Books, 1995.
Summers, Jr., H. G. On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. Presidio/Random House, 1982
Whitlow, R. H. S. Marines in Vietnam: The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era, 1954-1964. History & Museums Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, Washington, D. C., 1977
 MAC-SOG was a cover name for a multi-service unconventional warfare task force under the direct control of the Pentagon.
 The US OSS and CIA knew early on that Ho Chi Minh was a thoroughly nasty man who should be opposed by freedom-loving democracies at every turn. As outlined in The Black Book of Communism, Ho Chi Minh directed the Viet Minh in the conduct of a ruthless assassination campaign to remove all potential political opponents. The campaign began around 1944 (although some argue as early as 1941). Victims included Bui Quang Chieu, leader of the Constitutional Party and Ngo Dinh Khoi, brother of Diem, who headed the Party for Independence in North Vietnam. Again, with reference to The Black Book, Ho Chi Minh and his successors orchestrated the murder of more than 1 million people between 1941 and 1980.
 Commando type insertions involved Vietnamese personnel so that the US could deny involvement. Most were unsuccessful with the commandos frequently being captured and executed.
 If there is one man who is most culpable for America’s failed strategy in the Vietnam War, it is McNamara.
 Johnson wasn’t was interested in winning the fight as he was in not losing it.
 General Westmoreland was a proficient general, but two factors worked against him. First, he was political, which is the bane of most senior (three and four star) officers. Second, he didn’t have the courage to tell Johnson that he didn’t need the president’s help in running the war.
 Owing to President Kennedy’s assassination, American voters remained sympathetic toward Johnson. Lyndon Johnson won the 1964 election with 303 electoral votes to Richard Nixon’s 219.
 The P-4 was a 66-foot-long aluminum hulled boat armed with two torpedoes each mounted with a 550-pound TNT warhead. The P-4 was capable of exceeding 40 knots per hour.
 Rear Admiral James Stockdale, a veteran of World War II, a naval aviator and prisoner of war in North Vietnam, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor, testified that the second incident, reported on 4 August, never happened. Stockdale said, “I had the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets—there were no PT boats there. There was nothing but black water and American firepower.”
 One should ask, What would be the US response to foreign attacks upon coastal military installations inside the territory of the United States?
 U. S. Army General Earle Wheeler served as Chairman of the JCS from 3 July 1964 to 2 July 1970. From 1961-64, he served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army. Wheeler was regarded by some senior officers as a “yes man,” and exactly what President Johnson was looking for in a JCS chairman —General Curtis LeMay being one of them.
 The designation “Amphibious” in task organizations was later changed to “Expeditionary.” In 1965, the usage was 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade.
 The BLT is the basic Marine unit in an amphibious or vertical assault. It is a task organized infantry battalion reinforced with necessary combat support and combat service support elements (artillery, motor transport, tanks, amphibian tractors, engineers, communications, shore party, reconnaissance, and medical teams).
 A veteran of several amphibious campaigns in World War II.
 Which makes it apparent that no one in the Johnson Administration knew anything about Vietnam, its history, its people, or their culture. It is equally apparent that few senior military officers were equipped to fight the war in Vietnam, that most accepted the erroneous notion that the United States could defeat North Vietnam through an air campaign, and no one understood the value of defeating an enemy on his own territory.
 A USAF and Naval Air campaign designed to disrupt North Vietnam’s logistical corridor, known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail from 1964 to 1973.
 While serving in the US House of Representatives, Johnson received a direct commission to lieutenant commander in the US Navy Reserve. He was called to active duty after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and initially assigned to inspect shipyard facilities in Texas and on the West Coast. Johnson, a trusted ally of Franklin Roosevelt, was later send by Roosevelt to obtain information of conditions in the Southwest Pacific Area. While serving as an observer aboard a B-26 during a schedule air strike on New Guinea, the aircraft developed mechanical problems and was returned to its base of operations. According to Johnson, however, his aircraft received battle damage and was forced back to base before reaching its objective. Flight records reflect that the aircraft never came under enemy fire. Nevertheless, General MacArthur awarded Johnson the silver star medal for “gallantry in action.” He was the only member of the flight crew to receive an award. Returning to Washington, Johnson gave MacArthur’s command a good report.
 Named in honor of Warrant Officer Charles E. Holloway, the first Army aviator assigned to the 81st Transportation Company killed in action.