Nawzad —2008

Some Background

Men have used spears in warfare for well over 3,000 years —and they continued using them even after the invention of firearms.  The use of spears began as implements for hunting in pre-history.  They were fashioned by burning one end of a straight stick until it had become pointed, its makers scraping the wood further to make the pointed end even sharper, which increased its lethality.

The hunting spear may have been one of mankind’s earliest technological advances, inspired by early man’s demand for food.  Scientists in Germany discovered this kind of weapon embedded into the skeletal remains of an elephant.  No one is quite sure when humans turned these hunting weapons upon one another; we only know that it was a long time ago.  What we do know is that spears were far more efficient than clubs, and likely preferable because of their versatility.  A spearman could thrust his weapon into an enemy or throw it from a distance.

Over time, hunters-gatherers became agriculturalists.  With farming came the domestication of animals and less demand for hunters.  One demand remained, however: the defense of small villages to protect loved ones and food stores.  When men learned that more spearmen were far more efficient in self-defense than one or two uncoordinated defenders, they began to develop offensive and defensive tactics.  At first, it is likely that the employment of these maneuvers more closely resembled a Chinese fire drill than a military formation, but in time someone came up with the idea that a well-drilled formation fared better in warfare than a mish-mash of stick-wielding yahoos.

The earliest formation was the phalanx, a closely packed block of spearmen.  The phalanx made the spear far more deadly in close combat; even back then there was no ribbon for coming in second.  The phalanx formation made ancient Greece into a military power with subsequent armies adopting similar formations over the next 2,000 years.

Gladius Hispaniensis

The Roman armies did such a good job of emulating Greek strategies that they eventually took over the known world.  The Roman started with the basics of Greek tactics and improved on them.  While retaining the spear (pilus) the Romans also used swords (Gladius).  Initially, Roman swords were much like those used by the Greeks, but from around the third century BC, Rome adopted the Celtiberian[1] sword; they called it Gladius Hispaniensis.  This sword was shorter in length, better made, and far more manageable for close-in fighting.  The Roman spear was especially adapted to Roman tactics, used as a kind of close-combat artillery, but constructed more on the order of a javelin.  After throwing their pilum in a single volley, Roman legions then charged into their enemy in close formation with shield (scutum) and gladius.

Rome’s demise[2], after 1,100 years of military domination, produced several hundred years of political and social instability.  The next innovation of the spear came in the form of the lance, a weapon used from horseback by mounted knights.  Knights led infantry (foot) formations (that retained the spear as its primary weapon), but it was the mounted warrior that led to most military innovation in subsequent years—such as saddles, stirrups, a longer “cavalry” sword.  Cavalry (or its earliest form) became the Middle Ages’ most important combat component.  Eventually, polearms replaced spears as infantry weapons.

The polearm provided a defense against mounted assaults —an innovation that enabled the Swiss to become the most feared military force in Europe during the Middle Ages.  The most widely recognized polearm of that period was called a halberd, a cross between a spear and an ax with a hook.  The halberd was useful in stabbing, slashing, and pulling riders from their horses.

The pike was an exceptionally long spear fielded by large blocks of men (similar in many ways to the Greek phalanx, but without shields).  Pikes enabled infantry to hold off charging cavalry.  By this time, military formations had begun to field fire arms so the pike blocks also protected musketeers while they reloaded their weapons.  When muskets and rifles became the primary weapon of field armies, bayonets became the primary means used by riflemen to defend themselves in close combat.  When attached to the musket or rifle, the two weapons served the same purpose as the ancient spear.

U.S. Marine Corps bayonet

Bayonets continue to function as a close-in weapon in modern military arsenals.  They are primarily used while searching for the enemy in confined spaces, or whenever a field commander anticipates close combat.  There are many examples of the use of the bayonet in World War II and the Korean War.  The command, “Fix Bayonets” is chilling because at that point, everyone knows that a knife fight is about to take place.

In Afghanistan

When First Lieutenant Arthur E. Karell ordered “Fix Bayonets,” the hunkered down Marines of Fox Company’s 3rd Platoon began to perspire.  The sound of Marines withdrawing their bayonets from scabbards and affixing them to the ends of their rifles was distinctive.  Click, click, click.  Lieutenant Karell’s order was precautionary because he didn’t know what to expect in the quiet darkness.  All he knew was that his orders placed he and his men at that specific spot, and that Helmand Province (later known as Marineistan[3]) is where someone high up in his chain of command had decided that U.S. Marines could do the most good.  Karell was part of the vanguard of Marines who would become predators —their prey was the Taliban.

Nawzad, Afghanistan was a ghost town.  The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines (2/7) assumed responsibility for pacifying this enemy-occupied but once-populated town in a remote and god-forsaken area of southeast Afghanistan.  The people who used to live in Nawzad (some 10,000 in number (estimated)) abandoned their mud-brick homes and melted away into the dusty area surrounding it.  With the departure of these simple people, the Taliban moved in and made themselves at home.  Karell’s battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Richard D. Hall, had sent Fox Company to issue eviction notices.

The fact was that Colonel Hall didn’t know much more about Nawzad than Karell; Hall had no “intel” of the enemy situation because Helmand Province wasn’t a priority for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), NATO’s coalition headquarters in Kabul.  Up until 2/7’s arrival in Helmand Province, the ISAF had ignored Nawzad.

The quiet darkness of early morning was periodically interrupted by the sounds of distant  jackals, which was enough to straighten the Marine’s neck hair.  Karell’s Marines didn’t know what awaited them, but whatever it was, it was about to get its ass kicked.  The Taliban were dangerous, of course, but they weren’t U.S. Marines.  They may have intimidated poor farmers and the U.S. Army led ISAF in Kabul, but they weren’t going to cower Fox 2/7.  Still, neither Lieutenant Karell nor his company commander had a firm picture of the enemy situation.

The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines was initially activated on 1 January 1941 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Its world war service included Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, and Okinawa.  During the Korean War, 2/7 participated in the landing at Inchon, the Battle of Seoul, the landing at Wonsan, and the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.  Captain William Barber received the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary courage while commanding Fox Company.  The battalion deployed to Vietnam from July 1965 until October 1970.  While based at Twenty-nine Palms, California, the battalion was deployed for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91 with additional service in Iraq in 2004, 2005, 2006.  The battalion deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, and again from 2012-2013.

2/7 spearheaded the return of Marines to Afghanistan in April 2008, engaging in combat almost from the very first day.  It was the hardest hit battalion in the Marine Corps in 2008.  During its eight month deployment, the battalion lost 20 Marines killed in action; 160 wounded in action, and of these, thirty amputees.

It was 15th June 2008 and Karell was seconds away from launching his first combat assault.  Most of his noncommissioned officers were combat veterans, but their previous experience had been in Iraq.  Afghanistan was a horse of a different color.  From their position in a dried-up irrigation ditch, in the pitch-black early morning, the only thing the Marines could see was the vague outline of a thick mud wall that stood higher than most Marines were tall.  The wall separated the town from a small, scraggly forest.  Up until then, it was “Indian country,” and no one from Fox Company had seen what lay on the other side.  They only knew that whenever a patrol came near the wall, someone from the other side started shooting at them.  Not knowing the enemy situation beyond the wall prompted Karell to issue his order, “Fix Bayonets.”

Karell began the platoon’s advance, stealthily creeping along in the dark with he and his platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Gabriel G. Guest, leading the way.  This is how Marines do combat: leaders at the tip of the spear.  Despite a long list of unknowns, the Marines of the 3rd Platoon had confidence in their lieutenant.  Karell possessed all the positive attributes of an outstanding combat leader.  He was calm in stressful situations.  He moved with purpose and self-confidence.  He was open with and respectful of his men.  He was willing to admit when he’d messed up.  He learned from his mistakes.  In the eyes of his superiors, Karell had additional traits: knowledgeable, thoughtful, aggressive, good at planning and even better in execution.  In short, Karell was a hunter-warrior —a dangerous predator.

As Karell’s Marines moved forward, they could hear the growling engines of support vehicles coming up behind them.  Suddenly, from behind the wall, a rocket-propelled grenade shattered the silence of the night —the explosive swooshing above the heads of the leathernecks toward the approaching support vehicles.  Marine machine guns opened up; enemy machine guns answered.  Muzzle flashes from the base of the wall revealed the enemy’s positions.

The instant before the shooting started, Karell’s Marines were nervous; an instant after, Marine Corps training took over.  The Marine’s first emotion was that they were pissed off that someone was shooting at them.  After coordinating by radio with Fox Actual, once the Marine’s machine guns shifted their fires, Karell launched his assault toward the enemy.  2nd Squad laid down a base of fire as Karell and the 1st Squad rushed forward.  Then 1st Squad took up suppressing fires as 2nd Squad advanced.  The Marines of 3rd Platoon ignored the enemy’s fire as deadly rounds snapped past them, but they were expending a lot of ammunition.  SSgt Guest began relaying ammo resupply forward. The enemy machine gun went silent and the enemy began running in the opposite direction.

Lieutenant Karell brought combat engineers forward.  After firing mine clearing devices into the area in front of the wall, they blew a gaping hole through the adobe barrier.  Karell’s platoon poured through the wall and took up a hasty defense position until the platoon was ready to pursue the enemy.  What they found inside the compound stood in stark contrast to the desolate moonscape on the outside.  It was a garden setting, complete with flowing water and a forest of fruit trees.

Karell and his Marines had no time to enjoy it; the lieutenant organized his Marines to begin destroying enemy bunkers.  Their progress took them into the light forest.  Standing before them was a white mound that rose above the trees.  Karell estimated that the damn thing was forty-feet above ground.  The skipper[4] supposed it could be a command bunker.

From where the 3rd Platoon was standing the mound looked like a stone fortress.  It was “no big deal.”  The Marines started climbing weighted down by the intense morning heat, their weapons, ammunition, and body armor.  They were looking for caves —but found none.  They expected enemy resistance —but there was none.  When he reached the top, Lieutenant Karell did a quick search of the area.  All he found were scars from artillery of some earlier battle.  Karell laughed —his 3rd Platoon had captured a huge rock.

2/7 was sent to Nawzad to train Afghan police.  The ISAF reasoned that if the Marines could train local police, the police would then be able to protect their own community.  The fly in that ointment was that there were no police in Nawzad.  Absent the police training mission, Colonel Hall queried higher headquarters about his new mission.  He was told to make it possible for the Afghan people to return to their long-deserted town.  There was no mention of how he was to accomplish this task, of course, only that the Marines needed to “get it done.”  So, Hall executed the Marine Corps plan: find the Taliban and convince him that he’s in the wrong business.

Helmand Province in Afghanistan

While it was true that the battalion’s mission had changed, little else had.  Since ISAF controlled all in-theater air assets, 2/7 would not have dedicated air support.  Marine grunts love their aviators, and this has been true all the way back to the early days of Marine aviation —when Marines began to explore the utility of aircraft for ground support missions.  For two decades, the Marines perfected air-ground operations during the so-called Banana Wars.  During World War II, Navy and Marine Corps aviation perfected the art and science of close air support.  They employed these skills in the Korean War.  In fact, it was during the Korean War that the Marines taught the Army a thing or two about on-call close air support.  In Afghanistan, however, the Marines would have to REQUEST air support through the ISAF.  Maybe they would get it, maybe they wouldn’t.  There was no guarantee that 2/7 Marines would have their USMC Cobra pilots (their combat angels) overhead.

By the time 2/7 arrived in Nawzad, the once-thriving city was already long-abandoned.  It was likely that Taliban or drug trafficking warlords had driven them away.  But Colonel Hall was resourceful and smart.  Before the scheduled deployment of his Battalion, Hall went to Helmand Province and talked to people on the ground.  He came away with the understanding that, despite his (then) stated mission to train a police force, his Marines would do more fighting than training.

A week after Lieutenant Karell’s rock climb, Captain Russ Schellhaas, the Fox Company commander, assigned Karell’s 3rd Platoon to support of his 1st Platoon during an operation that unfortunately found 1st Platoon in the middle of a minefield.  It was a horrible day for twenty-six seriously wounded Marines.  A few days after that, Staff Sergeant Chris Strickland, an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician was killed while attempting to disarm an improvised explosive device (IED).

The mission of the Marine combat engineer is to enhance the mobility and survivability of ground combat forces.  Among its several specific tasks are expedient demolition, route/area minesweeping operations, and a range of other force protection measures.  Thirty days later, it was Lance Corporal John Shrey’s duty to conduct minesweeping operations while leading Lieutenant Karell and his platoon’s 3rd Squad through a potential IED minefield.  Karell and his Marines followed him as if they were baby ducks.

Once the Marines had made it through the minefield, they concealed themselves in a grove of scrubby underbrush within sight of their point of interest —a supposedly abandoned compound with a single adobe shack.  Intel claimed that insurgents were using the compound as a rallying point, a place where they stored their gear before laying in more IEDs.  North of the rally point was a band of trees, within which was another series of compounds —in distance, about a half-mile in length.  Heavily armed Taliban occupied these compounds and used them as IED factories and safe havens.  According to the 2/7 operations officer, the Taliban were Pakistanis who had come to fight through what the Marines were calling “Pakistan Alley.”  And the Marines knew that it was only a matter of time before they would have to clear it out.  For now, though, the Karell concentrated on the immediate threat: the rally point.

At daybreak, the 3rd Squad could hear the Moslem call to prayer echoing through the northern forest.  Lieutenant Karell also detected the sound of armored vehicles bringing up the rest of his platoon.  Shouts erupted from insurgents just inside the tree line; two Pakis ran from the wood carrying RPGs.  They were unaware of Karell’s presence in the grove.

Enemy machine-gun fire opened-up against a Marine bulldozer as it barreled its way through a minefield, clearing a lane to the rally point.  An RPG was fired at the MRAP carrying Karell’s second squad.  The leader of the 2nd Squad was a young corporal by the name of Aaron Tombleson.  At 23-years of age, Tombleson was responsible for the lives and welfare of twelve Marines.  His point man was Private First Class Ivan Wilson, whom everyone called “Willie.”

Explosions began erupting near the MRAP.  Lieutenant Karell heard a loud detonation and this was followed by the giant tire of an MRAP flying toward 3rd Squad.  With none of his men injured in the blast, Corporal Tombleson quickly transferred his squad to a second vehicle.  It was already a jumbled day and it was still early in the morning.

Marines of Fox Company 2/7 in 2008          Photo credit to Sgt F. G. Cantu, USMC

The bulldozer went on to punch a hole through the wall of the compound but had gotten stuck in the rubble and tight surroundings.  A fire team from 2nd Squad dismounted to provide security for the engineers while they attempted to straighten out the bulldozer.  Willie led the fireteam alongside the MRAP toward the rear of the dozer, but incoming small arms fire began pinging the side of the MRAP.  The fire team took cover and began returning fire.  PFC Wilson on point ran to the edge of the compound and took a kneeling position to return fire.  In that instant, an IED exploded under him.  Lieutenant Karell heard the explosion, followed seconds later by a radio report that the 2nd Squad had four or five casualties with one KIA.

3rd Squad’s Navy Corpsman was HM3 Tony Ameen.  He requested Karell’s permission to move up to help attend to the wounded.  Assuming 2nd Squad’s corpsman was overwhelmed in treating the injured, Karell told Ameen he could go —but only with an engineer to sweep for mines.

With Lance Corporal Shrey leading the way, Ameen and another Corpsman, HM Jack Driscoll, and a few additional Marines to provide security, moved up.  The going was slow.  As the medical team inched forward behind Shrey, another explosion erupted, and a plume of smoke appeared behind the tree line.

“Doc” Ameen, impatient with the rate of march, bolted out of line and rushed forward.  This is what Navy Corpsmen are trained to do.  They run to their wounded Marines —and this explains why 2,012 Navy Corpsmen have been killed in combat since the Navy Medical Corps was founded in 1871.  Forty-two corpsmen lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There are 21 U.S. Navy ships named after Navy Corpsmen; they have received over six-hundred medals for valor —including 23 Medals of Honor and 179 Navy Cross medals.

A few steps past Shrey, Ameen stepped on another IED.  Ameen went flying head over heel.  He lost one foot and half of his left hand.  Shrey, knocked to the ground by the concussion and bleeding from both ears, got groggily to his feet.  Despite his injury, Shrey maintained his presence of mind and shouted to Doc Driscoll to halt in place.  LCpl Shrey did not want another casualty among the corpsmen.

Meanwhile, Corporal Tumbleson and seven of his Marines —all that was left of his squad— carried Willie to the MRAP; as the Marines struggled to place him inside the vehicle, Wilson attempted to help them.  It was then that he and realized that his arm was missing.  Willie slipped into unconsciousness.  Nearby, a contingent of ISAF Estonian soldiers rushed forward to help get Willie to the Medevac Landing Zone.

Lieutenant Karell called for an airstrike, which after a few minutes destroyed the compound.  Afterward, Karell moved his platoon forward and occupied the compound.  That afternoon, during retrograde back to Nawzad, another MRAP set off an IED, but there were no more human casualties; the truck was damaged beyond repair.  When the Marines arrived back at the company command post (CP), Karell learned that Willie had died on the medical evacuation helicopter.

Even though 3rd Platoon Marines were shaken and exhausted from the day’s events, Karell assembled them to break the news about PFC Wilson.  Afterward, the Marines never spoke about the battle of the compound —they only talked about the day Willie died.  That night, Karell led an eight-man patrol from 1st Squad back to the enemy rally point.  The Marines had learned that the Taliban often returned to a battle site to assess the damage and lay in more IEDs.  No sooner had Karell and his men reached the area just outside the compound, they heard movement ahead of them.  Apparently, the enemy also heard the Marines approaching and withdrew.  Karell wasn’t looking for another fight —he wanted to get his Marines back in the saddle after losing Wilson.

Conditions in Nawzad were what one might expect in Afghanistan.  2/7 Marines were fighting in temperatures that hovered around 120-degrees Fahrenheit.  The chow sucked —but then, all MREs[5] do.  Critical resupply was continually interrupted by enemy activity along the main supply route (MSR).  There was no running water.  The constant swirling of powdery Afghan dust clogged the Marine’s throats —they were continually rinsing their mouths with water, gargling, and spitting it out.  Lack of contact with the outside world challenged unit morale, but worse than that, the Marines believed that their sacrifices were serving no worthwhile purpose.  They were sent there to train police, but instead, the Marines became the police.  And the fact was that a single battalion of Marines was an insufficient force to deal with the overwhelming number of Taliban/Pakistani insurgents over so large an area.  As a result, the Marines were spread too thin —a direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to withdraw the military from Afghanistan.  There were no replacements for evacuated casualties; the Marines would have to fight with what they had.  Corporal Tombleson’s squad, for example, started off with twelve Marines, casualties reducing it to eight —a 33% reduction in combat efficiency.

The attitudes of Marines of Fox Company mirrored those of the other line companies.  Everyone believed that when 2/7 was pulled out, as one day it must, there would be no one to replace them —and they wondered, if this was true, then why were they in Afghanistan at all?  Staff Sergeant Kevin Buegel, who replaced the wounded and evacuated Staff Sergeant Guest as platoon sergeant, was pissed off.  The very idea of losing Marines for no good purpose was a constant source of irritation.  Eventually, word came down that Obama had reversed his earlier decision to withdraw all US forces.  2/7 would be replaced by another battalion landing team after all.

In late October 3rd Platoon assumed the company vanguard (the point) position when Fox Company plunged into Paki Alley to root out and destroy Taliban forces.  Hall’s 2/7 had already cleared Nawzad but clearing the Taliban from the alley would be a tough fight, as urban-type warfare always is.

Lieutenant Karell’s platoon was engaged in clearing operations; each of his rifle squads moving deliberately through their assigned sectors.  At one location, the 1st Squad encountered a Taliban shooter in the structure’s basement.  Marines called out to him in Pashtu to surrender, but he kept shooting at them with an AK-47.  Corporal Joe Culliver was an intelligence analyst temporarily attached to Fox company.  He wanted the shooter taken alive, if possible; one of the Karell’s Marines told him, “Don’t count on it.”  Nothing the Marines did convinced this shooter that it would be to his advantage to surrender.

1st Squad’s delay of advance was becoming a critical issue because the three squads moving forward provided mutual security during the platoon’s operation.  Lieutenant Karell decided that they’d wasted enough time on this one holdout.  Marines tossed hand grenades into the basement; the insurgent answered with more rifle fire.  Staff Sergeant Buegel was pissed off; he always was about something.  He rigged a C-4 explosive and tossed it into the basement.  Whatever impact the explosion had appeared negligible because the shooter continued to unleash measured fire.  Karell knew that the shooter was wounded, knew that he wasn’t going to surrender, and he knew that he was not going to leave him alive in the rear of his Marines.

Elsewhere in the Alley, the Taliban was putting up one hell of a fight.  The enemy employed mortars, machine guns, and hand grenades against the 3rd Platoon.  Karell needed to close the door on this shooter.  Marines inched down the stairwell and poured hot lead around the adobe corer into the open basement.  The shooter finally went silent.  Karell, with his pistol at the ready, entered the basement with Corporal Culliver right behind him.  The Taliban was laying on the floor along the wall on the far side of the room.  He was badly wounded.  Spread out across the floor in front of him were dozens of needles and empty ampules of morphine.  The shooter was higher than a kite, and this explained his apparent lack of pain.  As Karell approached the shooter, he suddenly heaved, reaching for his AK-47.  One of the Marines behind Karell fired twice, killing the Taliban.

Folks back home believe (because this is what the U.S. media tells them) that the Taliban are deeply religious people, dedicated to their belief system, that they are willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of their god.  This could be true among those who run dozens to hundreds of madrassas, and it may even apply to Afghanistan’s dozens of warlords.  Taliban fighters, on the other hand, are seriously malnourished men radicalized by drug addiction.  Culturally and historically, the average Afghan is opposed to any form of government and there is nothing any western coalition can do to change that.  It is a situation that has existed since the days of Alexander the Great.  The only options available to western forces is that of (a) relieving them of their misery and sending them into whatever awaits them in the afterlife (although, with a population exceeding 36 million people, this is highly unlikely), or (b) leaving them alone.

3rd Platoon fought on.  Now, finally, with the backing of newly assigned cobra gunships, pilots[6] could see Karell’s three squads dangerously separated in the urban setting.  3rd Platoon’s fight lasted well over seven hours.  Karell believed his Marines were making progress, but that’s not what the cobra pilots were seeing.  From their vantage point, dozens of insurgents were swarming eastward toward the Karell’s Platoon.  It was only the gunship’s well-aimed rockets that drove them back toward Pakistan.

After seven hours, Lieutenant Karell was running out of daylight —and everything else— and his platoon was only half-way through the series of walled compounds.  Marine engineers destroyed several IED factories and knew more of them lay ahead.  The problem was that the 3rd Platoon was an insufficiently sized force to seize and hold the compounds.  Worse, the combat engineers were out of explosives —so that even if the 3rd Platoon did capture additional IED factories, there was no way to destroy them.  Captain Schellhaas knew that when he ordered the withdrawal of his platoons, it would be only a matter of time before the insurgents filtered back in.

Caught in the middle of all this was the Afghan farmer who only wanted to raise his poppies in peace[7].  The day following 3rd Platoon’s assault on Paki Alley, Karell led a motorized patrol to a small hamlet known as Khwaja Jamal.  In the spring, someone from this village was always taking pot-shots at patrolling Marines; since then, the insurgents there had either withdrawn or gone underground.  More recently, 2/7 Marines had established a dialogue with village elders.  Everyone in Khwaja Jamal was curious about these American interlopers.  It worked to the Marine’s advantage that their living conditions were equal to those of the poor farmers, but while the Marines —the product of 21st Century American society— enjoyed their creature comforts, Afghanis steadfastly rejected modernization in every form.

Were these villagers’ friend or foe?  A third of them were intent on selling Marines their ample supply of illicit drugs; another third wanted to know about American farming and irrigation techniques —and then there was a group of younger men who demanded to know why the Marines were in Afghanistan at all, how many soldiers they had, and how far could their guns shoot.

In December, when 2/7 was withdrawn, Nawzad was still empty of civilians.  By then, a third of Karell’s platoon had been killed or wounded.  Platoon sergeant Buegel was himself wounded by an IED, but he was one of the lucky ones.  Maybe the good Lord likes cranky people.  Relieved by Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/8, BLT 2/7 Marines returned to California to resume their lives.  Some of these men left the Corps at the end of their enlistments, some remained on active duty.  The majority of those who remained on active duty were transferred to other posts or stations.  As new men reported for duty with 2/7, replacing those ordered out, the battalion began its workup for a subsequent tour in Afghanistan.

Lieutenant Karell, who was at the end of his obligated service, decided to remain on active duty.

Sources:

  1. Brady, J. The Scariest Place in the World: A Marine Returns to North Korea.  New York: Dunne Books, 2005
  2. Drury, B., and Tom Clavin. The Last Stand of Fox Company.  New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009
  3. Henderson, K. A Change in Mission.  Washington: Washington Post Company, 2009
  4. Kummer, D. W. S. Marines in the Global War on Terrorism.  Quantico: History Division, USMC.  2014
  5. Martin, R. Breakout—The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950.  Penguin Books, 1999.

Endnotes:

[1] Celtiberians were Celticized people inhabiting the central-eastern Iberian Peninsula during the final centuries BC.

[2] There are dozens of explanations for the collapse of Rome, among them corruption, social malaise, and the fact that Rome attempted to incorporate barbarians into the Republic/Empire —people who were culturally non-Roman, and who therefore lacked the uniqueness of Roman esprit-de-corps.

[3] At the end of 2007, the most optimistic description possible for Helmand Province was that it was a gaggle turned stalemate.  When the Marines were sent to Helmand Province, Marine commanders decided they had had enough of fighting battles the Army way; they intended to fight the Taliban on their own terms.  It wasn’t long before the U.S. Army hierarchy in Kabul complained to Washington that the leathernecks had gone rogue; the Marines refused to do anything their Army superiors wanted them to do.  But the Marines know how to win battles.  They win battles through aggressiveness, thinking outside the box, and terrifying the hell out of the enemy.  This mindset is a significant contrast to Army careerism.  The Army began referring to Helmand Province as Marineistan.

[4] Skipper is an informal naval term denoting the Commanding Officer of a Marine company, the Commanding Officer of a Navy ship, or a Navy/Marine Corps aircraft squadron.

[5] Meals, Ready to Eat.  Also, Meals Rejected by Ethiopians.

[6] Every Marine officer is trained as an infantry officer.  A combat pilot knows exactly what his ground counterpart is facing and strives to support the grunts in every way possible.

[7] Fifty-two percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) is generated by their illicit drug trade.  Given that the majority of its 36 million people are happy to remain in the stone age, one wonders how “saving” Afghanistan is in the United States’ national interests.

The Warrior No One Forgot

Templer KnightPeople 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[1].  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[2].  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.

Arthurian 001Many 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[3] 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[4] 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.

cropped-marine-recon-002.jpgAs 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.”

—John 15:13

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.

Sources:

  1. Anderson, G.  King Arthur in Antiquity.  London: Roufledge (2004)
  2. Phillips, G.  The Lost Tomb of King Arthur.  Rochester: Bear & Company, 2016
  3. Dumville, D. N.  Sub-Roman Britain: History and legend.  1977

Endnotes:

[1] 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.

[2] Read: The Lost Tomb of King Arthur, by Graham Phillips, Rochester: Bear & Company, 2016.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

From King to Joker

How administration policies moved America from greatness to mediocrity

The Kiss VJ DayThe United States was a very troubled land following World War II … only most people didn’t realize it.   The American people had grown tired of the tragedies of war and all of its inconveniences on the home front.  Over a million Americans became casualties during the war: 292,000 killed in action, 113,842 non-combat related deaths, 670,846 wounded in action, and 30,314 missing in action.  Folks back home wanted their survivors back, their husbands, sons, daughters, and sweethearts, so that they could return to a normal life.  What they did not know, and could not know, was that there would never again be “a normal life” following World War II.

Part of this, of course, was the war itself.  People who come through war —any war— are never quite the same as before they experienced it.  Part of it, too, was that American society was moving away from a few of its traditional defects; change is never easy.  There were civil rights issues, voting rights issues, human dignity issues … problems that were created and nurtured by the Democratic Party over the previous 80 years.  Americans did address these issues, fought back against the innate racism of the Democratic Party and in time, for the most part, many of these problems were solved —to a point.

With the war drawing to a close in May 1945, Democrat President Harry S. Truman ordered a general demobilization of the armed forces after the defeat of Nazi Germany, even while the war continued in the Pacific.  In May, before Japan’s surrender, the United States had more than twelve million men and women serving in uniform; nearly eight million of these were serving outside the United States.  Truman’s plan for general demobilization was code-named Operation Magic Carpet, supervised by the War Shipping Administration.  It was a massive undertaking that demanded hundreds of liberty ships, victory ships, and nearly 400 ships of the US Navy to bring the troops back home.

Post-war demobilization of the armed forces was always anticipated, of course.  But, as we shall see, the Truman administration took the concept of a peace-time America a few extraordinary steps beyond demobilization and why this is important is because none of Truman’s decisions were beneficial to the long-term interests of the United States, or its long-suffering population.  In fact, the incompetence of the Truman administration was so pervasive that it is nearly impossible to believe it.  Make no mistake, however, Truman and his associates guaranteed to the American people great suffering and angst.

At the conclusion of World War II, after the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan, occupation forces were needed throughout Asia to disarm and help repatriate remnants of the Japanese military.  The steps that would be necessary for the immediate post-war period were negotiated and agreed to by the aligned nations long before the end of the war.  Each allied nation accepted responsibility for disarmament and political stabilization in Europe and on the Asian mainland.  Korea, however, presented a unique set of problems —and unknown to most Americans at the time, it was a harbinger of the Cold War.

Before World War II, Korea was a unified nation, albeit one controlled by the Empire of Japan.  In negotiating the fate of post-war Korea, the allied powers (principally the United States and the Soviet Union) failed to consult anyone of Korean descent.  The Soviet Union did not want the United States in control of an area abutting its Pacific border and the United States was not inclined to relinquish the Korean Peninsula to the Soviet Union.

Korea Map 001While the Soviet Union (then one of the allied powers) (an ally of the United States in name only) agreed to liberate the northern area of the Korean Peninsula and accept the surrender of Japanese forces there, the United States assumed responsibility for the southern region.  Korea was thus divided into two separate occupation zones at the 38th parallel.  Ostensibly, the ultimate objective was for the Soviet Union and the United States to help stabilize the Korean Peninsula, and then let the Korean people sort their politics out for themselves.  The problem was that every effort to create a middle ground whereby unification might occur peacefully was thwarted by both the US and USSR.

Thus, two new sovereign states were created out of post-war geopolitical tensions.  In the north, the Soviet Union created a communist state under the leadership of Kim-Il-sung and in the south, the United States created a capitalist state eventually led by Syngman Rhee).  Both Kim-Il-sung and Syngman Rhee claimed political legitimacy over the entire peninsula, neither man ever accepted the 38th parallel as a permanent border, and neither of these men (or their sponsors) would yield to the other.

In South Korea, Truman directed the establishment of the United States Army Military Government in Korea (acronym: USAMGIK), the official ruling body of South Korea from 8 September 1945 until 15 August 1948.  At the head of USAMGIK was Lieutenant General John R. Hodge[1], U. S. Army, while concurrently commanding the United States’ XXIV Corps.  As an organization, USAMGIK was completely out of its depth in addressing the challenges of administering South Korea.  The problems were several and serious:

  • USAMGIK had no one on staff who could speak the Korean language, no one with an understanding of, or appreciation for Korean culture, its history, or its politics. Consequently, many of the policies it enacted had a destabilizing effect throughout South Korea.  To make things worse, waves of refugees from North Korea swamped USAMGIK and caused turmoil throughout Korean society.
  • The consequences of Japanese occupation remained throughout the occupation zone; popular discontent stemmed from the military government’s support of continued Japanese colonial government. Once the colonial apparatus was dismantled, the military government continued to retain Japanese officials as their advisors.
  • On the advice of these Japanese advisors, the military government ignored, censored, or forcibly disbanded the functional (and popular) People’s Republic of Korea. This action discharged the popular leader, Yeo Un-hyeong, who subsequently established the Working People’s Party, and it further complicated matters by refusing to recognize the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (in exile), led by Kim Ku, who was insulted when he was required to re-enter his own country as a private citizen.

In the beginning, the USAMGIK was tolerant of leftist politics, including the Korean Communist Party —apparently attempting to seek a balance between hard-left and hard-right political groups.  Such liberality created an adverse relationship with the powerful South Korean leader Syngman Rhee.  In any case, the effort to reconcile political differences in South Korea didn’t last and the ban on popular political expressions sent dissenting groups underground.  Following South Korea’s constitutional assembly and presidential elections in May and July 1948, the Republic of South Korea was officially announced on 15 August 1948.  US military occupation forces were withdrawn in 1949.

In 1948, a large-scale North Korean-backed insurgency erupted in South Korea[2].  The unrecognized border between the two countries was part of the problem, but Kim-Il-sung was an experienced guerilla fighter; one who helped lead Korea’s resistance to Japanese colonialism.  Kim Il-sung, more than most, knew how to agitate the masses.  The communist insurgency resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides.  Post-1945, the armed forces of the Republic of Korea (ROK) were almost exclusively armed and trained to address the Communist insurgency.  They were not trained or equipped to deal with conventional war.  Advising the ROK military was a force of about 100 US Army advisors.

Acheson 001
Dean Acheson

The communist insurgency did have the attention of senior military leaders in the United States, but they were preoccupied with the Truman administration’s gutting of the US Armed Forces.  In January 1949, recently elected President Truman appointed Dean Acheson as the 51st Secretary of State.  Acheson had been ensconced at the State Department since 1941 as an under-Secretary.  In 1947, Truman awarded Acheson the Medal of Merit for his work in implementing the Marshal Plan, which was part of Truman’s overall Communist containment policy.  In the summer of 1949, after Mao Zedong’s victory against the Chinese Nationalists (and before the presidential elections), the American people (mostly Republican politicians) demanded to know how it was possible, after spending billions of dollars in aid to the Nationalist Chinese, that the United States lost China to the Communist dictator, Mao-Zedong.

To answer this question, Secretary Acheson directed area experts to produce a study of recent Sino-American relations.  Known conventionally as the China White Paper, Acheson used it to dismiss claims that Truman’s incompetence provided aid and comfort to the Maoists during the Chinese Civil War.  The paper argued that any attempt by the United States to interfere in the civil war would have been doomed to failure.  This, of course, was probably true[3].  It did not, however, serve American interests for the Truman administration to bury its collective head in the sand and pretend that all was well in the world.  It was not.

On 12 January 1950, Acheson addressed the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. During his discussions about the all-important US Defense Perimeter, Acheson failed to include the Korean Peninsula or Formosa within the United States’ protective umbrella.  Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and North Korean leader Kim-Il-Sung interpreted what Acheson had not said as a green light for military aggression on the Korean Peninsula.

Johnson 001
Louis A. Johnson

In March 1949, President Truman nominated Louis A. Johnson to serve as the second Secretary of Defense.  Johnson shared Truman’s commitment to drastically reduce US expenditures on national defense in favor of socialist programs.  Truman viewed defense spending as an interference with his domestic agenda and without regard to the nation’s ability to respond to foreign emergencies.  Truman made the erroneous assumption that America’s monopoly on nuclear weapons would be a sufficient deterrence against Communist aggression.  Secretary Johnson’s unwillingness to budget for conventional forces-in-readiness caused considerable dissension among the nation’s military leaders.

To ensure congressional approval of Johnson’s proposed DoD budget request, both President Truman and Johnson demanded public acceptance, if not outright support, from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other leaders of military departments when making public statements or testifying before Congress.  The intimidation worked, apparently, 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 General Collins testified before Congress that Truman cuts made the services more effective.

In a meeting with the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Richard L. Conolly, Johnson said, “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 had no love for the US Marine Corps; he did not think the nation needed a Corps of Marines when it had an army capable of doing the same things.  He never accepted the fact that the Marine Corps, as a combat force, provided unique strategic and tactical strengths to the Naval establishment and he, in fact, undertook efforts to disband the Marine Corps prior to the National Security Act of 1947, which protected the Marine Corps from disbandment.  What the law did not allow Truman to do, he attempted to accomplish through insufficient funding —but this was something the Marine Corps shared with all other services.  As a result of Truman’s Department of Defense (DoD) budget cuts, the United States had no combat-effective units in 1950.

On 31 December 1945, the Eighth US Army assumed occupation duties in Japan, replacing the Sixth US Army.  Between then and June 1950, the Eighth Army was reduced in both manpower and material.  Most of the enlisted men were basically trained soldiers with no combat experience.  Among the enlisted men, life in Japan was good.  Owing to the fact that there was no money for adequate resupply, training ammunition, fuel, or replacement parts for vehicles, radios, or aircraft, there was plenty of time for imbibing, chasing kimonos, gambling, and black marketeering.  Equally inexperienced junior officers, mostly from wealthy families padding their resumes for post-military service, stayed out of the way and allowed the senior NCOs to run the show.  Mid-grade officers were experienced enough to know that the senior officers didn’t want to hear about problems involving troop efficiency, unit morale, or disciplinary problems.  The more astute majors and colonels learned how to lose games of golf to their seniors, and the generals enchanted their wives by throwing wonderfully attended soirees for visiting dignitaries.

In the early morning of 25 June 1950, the North Korean People’s Army invaded the Republic of South Korea.  It was a lightning strike.  The only US military presence in the ROK was the US Military Advisory Group (KMAG) under Brigadier General William L. Roberts, U. S. Army, commanding 100 military advisors.  Wisely, officers not killed or taken as prisoners of war made a rapid withdrawal southward toward Pusan.

Acting on Dean Acheson’s advice, President Truman ordered General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) to reinforce the South Korean military, transfer materiel to the South Korean military, and provide air cover for the evacuation of US nationals.  Truman also ordered the 7th US Fleet to protect the Republic of China (ROC) (Taiwan).

On 3 July, Lieutenant General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, conferred with General Douglas MacArthur in Tokyo, Japan.  At the end of this meeting, MacArthur dispatched this message to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Request immediate assignment marine regimental combat team and supporting air group for duty this command.  Macarthur.”

Before the JCS made their decision on General MacArthur’s request, MacArthur had to send five additional dispatches.  The Korean War was a week old and still, the Marine Corps awaited orders.  But while waiting for Truman to decide whether or not there was a role for the Marine Corps, the Marines had begun the process of creating a regimental combat team.  On 3 July 1950, however, the 1st Marine Division, closest to the action on the Korean Peninsula, was a paper division.  There was only one infantry regiment (as opposed to three): the 5th Marines.  Commanding the regiment was Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L. Murry (Colonel Select).  Rather than three infantry battalions, Murry had only two.  Each battalion had two rifle companies (rather than three).  Each company had two rifle platoons, instead of three.  Given the status of Murry’s regiment, it would require a herculean task to put together a regimental combat team.

Smith C B 001
Charles B. Smith

In Korea, the Battle of Osan was the first significant engagement of US forces in the Korean War.  Tasked to reinforce the South Korean Army, Major General William F. Dean, commanding the 24th US Infantry Division in Japan, assigned the 21st Infantry Regiment as his lead element.  Its first battalion (1/21) was the regiment’s only “combat-ready” battalion, commanded by the experienced Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Smith, who had earlier participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal.  Designated Task Force Smith, 1/21 moved quickly to block advancing NKPA forces.  Smith’s orders were to hold off the NKPA until the rest of the division could be moved to Korea by sea —Major General Dean thought it would take three days.

Smith had a little over 500 men under his command, barely 3 rifle companies and a battery of field artillery.  Most of these men were teenagers with no combat experience and only eight weeks of basic training.  Each of Smith’s rifleman was limited to 120 rounds of ammunition and two days of field rations.  Task Force Smith arrived in Korea on 1 July 1950.  The unit moved by rail and truck northward toward Suwon, about 25 miles south of Seoul.

At the Battle of Osan on 5 July 1950, Task Force Smith was only able to delay the advancing KPA for seven hours.  American casualties were 60 killed, 21 wounded, 82 captured, and six artillery pieces destroyed.  Smith did the best he could with what he had at his disposal —which was little more than young boys carrying rifles.  His soldiers ran out of ammunition.  None of his field radios were in working order.  The size of his task force was insufficient for the mission assigned to him.  When faced with retreat or capture, Smith ordered the withdrawal of his companies in leap-frog fashion.  The men of the 2nd platoon, Company B never received Smith’s order to withdraw.  When the platoon commander finally discovered that he was completely alone, it was already too late to withdraw his men in an orderly manner.  The wounded were left behind[4], along with much of the platoon’s equipment (including automatic weapons).  According to the later testimony of a North Korean army officer, the Americans were too frightened to fight.

Smith’s withdrawal soon devolved into confused flight.  In total, Task Force Smith imposed around 20 enemies KIA with 130 wounded.  Task Force Smith revealed the effects of Truman’s national defense policies.  The troops were completely unprepared for combat and their inoperable or barely functioning equipment was insufficient to their mission.  Following the defeat of Task Force Smith, the 24th Infantry Division’s 34th regiment was likewise defeated at Pyontaek.  Over the subsequent 30 days, the NKPA pushed the Eighth Army all the way south to Pusan and the United States Army gave up its most precious resource —the American rifleman— to enemy fires … all because President Truman thought that socialist programs were more important than the combat readiness of its military services.

Equally disastrous for the United States was the long-term implications of the Truman administration’s thinking.  There is no such thing as “limited war,” at least, not among those who must confront a determined enemy.  Police action is something that civilian police agencies do … winning wars is what the US military establishment is supposed to do … but when national policy dictates “holding actions,” or the acceptance of stalemate, then America’s excellent military can do no more than win battles, give up casualties, and accept the stench of strategic losses created by Washington politicians.

But there is an even worse outcome, which is where I think we are today.  It is that in serving under self-absorbed, morally bankrupt, and thoroughly corrupt politicians, career military officers relinquish their warrior ethos.  They learn how to accept casualties as simply being the cost of their career advancement, they learn how to lose graciously, and they learn that by getting along with Washington and corporate insiders, lucrative positions await them after military retirement.

The stench of this is enough to make a good American retch.

These lessons began in Korea.  The mindset took hold during the Vietnam War.  Their effects are easily observed in the more recent efforts of Generals Petraeus and McCrystal, who focused on counterinsurgency strategies (winning hearts and minds) rather than locating a ruthless enemy and destroying him.  Recent history demonstrates that there is little that counterinsurgency did to benefit the long-term interests of the United States in the Middle East.

Our current policy objectives accomplish only this: making America the laughingstock of a dangerous and determined enemy.  Neither have the efforts of American diplomats benefited our national interests, but then, this has been true for well over 150 years.

The American people are not consulted about the direction of their country but they must live with the results of inept government policy.  The American people have but one responsibility, and that is to vote intelligently and responsibly according to their conscience.  Nor is the imposition of this responsibility overpowering.  We only vote once every two years in general elections.

Yet, how the people vote does matter.  Ilhan Omar, Hank Johnson, Erick Swalwell, Ted Lieu all matter.  Who the people choose as their President matters: Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.  Presidents matter because they appoint cabinet officials (Dean Acheson, Robert McNamara Cyrus Vance, Edmund Muskie, Warren Christopher, Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry), federal judges (John Roberts, Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan), and other bureaucrats whose primary allegiance is to themselves rather than to the poor dumb suckers across America who pay their salaries.

Truman laid the foundation for our national malaise, and most presidents between then and now have contributed to our present-day quagmire.  America is in trouble and has been for far too long.  It occurs to me that if the American people are tired of burying their loved ones at Arlington National Cemetery, then they need to do a better job choosing their national leaders.

The United States was once, not long ago, a king on the world’s stage; today, America is a joker —a useful idiot to people who share the world stage but whose diplomats and policy makers are much smarter than anyone on our side of the ocean.

Success has many fathers—Failure is an orphan.

Sources:

  1. Cumings, B. The Origins of the Korean War, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
  2. Eckert, C.J. and Ki-Baik Lee (et.al.) Korea: Old and New, a History.  The Korea Institute, Harvard University Press, 1990.
  3. Karnow, S. Vietnam: A History.  Viking Press, 1983
  4. Millett, A. R. The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning.  Topeka: University of Kansas Press, 2005
  5. Robinson, M. Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey: A short history.  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007

Endnotes:

[1] John Reed Hodge (1823-1963) attended Southern Illinois Teachers College and the University of Illinois and received his appointment in the U. S. Army through the ROTC program.  He served in World War I and World War II, retiring as a lieutenant general following his assignment as Chief of Army Field Services in 1953.

[2] The exact-same strategies used by Ho Chi Minh in 1946.  The similarities are no coincidence since the USSR backed Ho Chi Minh at the same time they backed Kim Il-sung.  Part of this strategy was to overwhelm South Korea and South Vietnam by streaming thousands of “refugees” into the struggling countries and embedding within these populations hundreds of Communist troublemakers.  The amazing part of this is that no one in the Truman administration was able (or could be bothered) to put any of the pieces together.  In both events (Korea/Vietnam), Americans lost their lives in a losing proposition.  The architect (through malfeasance) of both disasters was the Truman administration.

[3] The United States’ long-time ally in China was Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek, one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s useful idiots and a beneficiary of Roosevelt’s lend-lease arrangement.  Roosevelt also provided Mao Zedong with arms and munitions so that he too could confront Japanese Imperial forces in China.  Chiang was only marginally successful in waging war against invading Japanese, Mao didn’t even try.  He kept Roosevelt’s gifts for use later on against Chiang.  In any case, with American made arms and munitions, Chiang repressed the Chinese people, driving many of them squarely into the Communist camp. The first question to ask might have been whether or not Chiang or Mao deserved any support from the United States, and the second might have addressed the kind of ally Chiang would have made had he won the civil war.  In any case, no one in America was smart enough to deal effectively with unfolding events in Asia.

[4] These wounded soldiers were later found shot to death in their litters.

244th Anniversary of the U. S. Marine Corps

November 10th is the 244th anniversary of the founding of the United States Marine Corps. If you’ve never served as a Marine, then you will never know what being a Marine is all about. If you’re interested, though, here’s a short glimpse of our history.

 

If you are a Marine (there are only two types: those still living (and have maintained their faith with us), and those who aren’t), then you are my brother or sister. To you, I wish the happiest (and safest) of all Marine Corps birthday celebrations.

Semper Fidelis, Marines

Mustang sends …

A Short History of the Royal Marines

US:UK EnsignWhat is a Marine?  The short answer would be a specialized member of the armed forces who participates in efforts to project naval power ashore. What makes a Marine stand out from a regular soldier and sets him apart from any other fighting organization isn’t just a matter of how they’re trained, the equipment they use, or their tactical skills.  It is the fighting spirit that lives within each Marine —and this is what drives a Marine to accept nothing less than victory in all lethal situations.  It is the determination to win, the eagerness to fight, and the high standard of excellence they demand of themselves and each other that makes a Marine unique.  Their battle record speaks for itself.

Marines are, by definition, an expeditionary force in readiness who are deployed at a moment’s notice to quickly and aggressively win their nation’s battles.  Marines have a long history of developing expeditionary doctrine and amphibious innovation that sets the standard for all other branches of military service.  In projecting naval power into a hostile environment, Marines rely on their superior training, their self-confidence, their discipline, and each other to win the day.  Toward this end, Marines are trained to improvise, adapt, and overcome every obstacle in whatever situation they encounter.  They are not only willing to engage any enemy force; they are also determined to defeat them until national victory has been achieved.  Marines have but one mission: fight, and win.

Of all Marine organizations that exist in the world today, only two stand out: United States Marines, and their British counterparts—the Royal Marines.

RM 001 BadgeThe story of the Royal Marines began on 28 October 1664 when Great Britain formed the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot.  It soon became known as the Admiral’s Regiment. The Holland Regiment (later called The Buffs) was also raised to serve at sea on 11 July 1665.  Both regiments were paid for by the Admiralty.  John Churchill, later 1st Duke of Marlborough, was a famous member of The Buffs.  Additionally, a company of foot guards served as Marines to augment the Admiral’s Regiment during the sea battle at Sole Bay in 1672.  The Holland Regiment was disbanded in 1689 after James II was deposed during the so-called Glorious Revolution.

Two maritime regiments of the British Army were raised in 1690 —the Earl of Pembroke’s and Torrington’s Regiments, later designated Lord Berkeley’s Regiment.  These Marines participated in an opposed landing during the Williamite War in Ireland at Cork on 21 September 1690, John Churchill commanding.  The Marine Establishment was reformed in 1698.  Two existing regiments became a single regiment under Thomas Brudenell, and the foot regiments under William Seymour, Edward Dutton Colt, and Harry Mordaunt were converted to Marine regiments —all of which were disbanded in 1699.

In 1702, six regiments of Marines and six Sea Service Regiments of foot were formed to participate in the War of Spanish Succession.  While on land, the Marines served under Brigadier General William Seymour; while at sea, they fell under the authority of the senior naval commander and the captain of the ship to which assigned.  The Admiral’s Regiment first distinguished itself in 1704 when the Marines captured the mole [1] during the assault on Gibraltar.  British and Dutch Marines later defended the fortress from counterattack.  After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, three Marine regiments were transferred to the army, where they were designated as the 30th, 31st, and 32nd Regiments of Foot.

RM 001A Uniform
Painting of an early maritime officer.

The Admiral’s Regiment was redesignated as His Majesty’s Marine Forces on 5 April 1755; fifty companies were organized into three divisions, placed under the command of the Admiralty, and stationed at Portsmouth, Chatham, and Plymouth.  Note: shown left, a painting of an early Maritime officer.

British Marines were not the first naval infantry to emerge in Europe.  They were preceded by the Spanish Infanteria de Marina (1537), Venice’s Fanti da Mar (1550), the Portuguese Marine Corps (1610), and the French Troupes de Marine (1622).  The British, in turn, established a regiment of (3,000) American Colonial Marines during the War of Jenkins’ Ear, around 1739.

In the early days, all field-grade officers of the Marines were serving officers in the Royal Navy.  Because the Admiralty believed that the top field officer ranks were largely honorary posts (which was also true in the Army), the farthest a field officer could advance was to lieutenant colonel.  It was not until 1771 that the first Marine officer was promoted to colonel, but this situation persisted well into the 1800s.  In any case, British Marines performed numerous amphibious landings throughout most of the 18th Century.  Among the more famous was the landing at Belle Isle [2] in 1761.  British Marines also served during the American War of Independence.  A company of Marines under Major John Pitcairn broke rebel resistance at Bunker Hill and took possession of the American’s redoubt.  When Royal Navy ships were becalmed, Marines often took to ship’s boats to repel attackers during blockade operations.  On the day that Captain James Cook was killed in Hawaii (14 February 1779), he had with him four British Marines: Corporal James Thomas, Private Theophilus Hinks, Private Thomas Fatchett, and Private John Allen.

In May 1787, four companies of Marines under Major Robert Ross accompanied the First Fleet [3] to protect a new colony at Botany Bay (New South Wales).  Due to a gross oversight, the First Fleet departed Portsmouth without its main supply of ammunition, cartridge paper, and flintlock tools.  The oversight was noted early in the voyage and a dispatch sent back to England that the missing supplies be urgently forwarded to the fleet.  Captain William Bligh was assigned this mission while in command of HMS Bounty.  Ten thousand rounds of ammunition were obtained from Rio de Janeiro, but these stores were still inadequate and in time, the Marines would find themselves in difficult circumstances.  A full measure of stores was never sent to the First Fleet.

In total, the Marine contingent of four companies included 212 Marines; of these, 160 privates.  Marine strength was based on the advice of Mr. Joseph Banks, who counselled the British government that local Aborigines were few and retiring by disposition.  Upon their arrival at New South Wales, Captain Arthur Phillip, Royal Navy, found that the natives were populous and aggressive.  Within a year, Aboriginals had killed 6 of the First Fleet and wounded scores of others. Marines were ordered to expand the initial settlement area at Sydney Cove and organize farming operations at Parramatta.  When Aboriginals contracted smallpox, some journalists claimed that the British Marines deliberately spread the disease.  Most modern scholars regard this as uncorroborated bunk, however.

At the instigation of Admiral John Jervis, 1st Earl of St. Vincent in 1802, His Majesty’s Marine Forces were titled Royal Marines by King George III.

Up until 1804, the Royal Artillery Regiment had provided artillery support to the British Marines.  A lawsuit by a Royal Artillery Officer led a civil court to declare that Army officers were not subject to Navy regulations or the orders of Naval officers.  Accordingly, Royal Marine Artillery was added to the Royal Marines in that very same year.  They were referred to as “Blue Marines” because these forces retained the blue coats of the Royal Artillery Regiment.  In contrast, the Royal Marines dressed in scarlet coats (as did the British Army).  They were called “Red Marines” or, more derisively, Lobster backs by the unenlightened naval ranks.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Royal Marines took part in every notable naval battle on board Royal Navy ships, executed amphibious raids, provided security aboard ship, maintained discipline among the crew, engaged enemy crews with long rifles, and led boarding parties.

The number of Marines assigned to Royal Navy ships depended on the size of the ship, but Marine strength was usually maintained at a ratio of one Marine per ship’s gun, plus officers commanding.  A “first rate ship of the line” would have a compliment of 104 Marines; a 28-gun frigate would have 29 Marines.  Between 1807 and 1814, a total of 31,400 men served in the Royal Marines but given the size of the Royal Navy during this period, and the missions assigned to the Royal Navy, British Army detachments frequently served aboard Navy ships to augment the Royal Marines.  Seaborne operations frequently included blockading French ports and conducting amphibious raids against French signal communications stations and other operations designed to harass the enemy.

In the Caribbean, freed French slave volunteers formed the 1st Corps of Colonial Marines to help bolster the ranks of Royal Marines.  This practice was repeated during the War of 1812, when escaped American slaves were formed into the 2nd Corps of Colonial Marines.  These men were commanded by Royal Marine officers and fought alongside their regular Marine counterparts at the Battle of Bladensburg (August 1814).  During this battle, a detachment of Royal Marine Artillery under Lieutenant John Lawrence deployed Congreve rockets [4] with telling effect against American militia.  A battalion of Royal Marines augmented the 21st Regiment of Foot during the burning of Washington.  They did not torch the U. S. Marine Corps Barracks at 8th & I Streets, however.

During the War of 1812, Royal Marines frequently operated in the Chesapeake Bay, including operations up the Penobscot River.  This was a composite battalion, formed from several ship’s detachments, serving under Captain John Robyns [5].  A smaller organization of Royal Marines, numbering around 100 troops, served under captains John T. Wilson and John Alexander Phillips that augmented the British Army force of 700 men under Major Thomas Adair, who successfully led an attack against the west bank of the Mississippi River.  This was Britain’s only success at New Orleans.  These same Marines later helped to capture Fort Bowyer in Mobile Bay —the last action of the War of 1812.

In 1855, the Royal Marines were renamed the Royal Marines Light Infantry (RMLI).  A slight modification to this designation was affected in 1862: Royal Marine Light Infantry.  After 1850, the Royal Navy saw limited service at sea until 1914.  During this time, Naval planners became more interested in the concept of Naval Brigades, which is to say Royal Marines, augmented by artillery, who would make amphibious landings ahead of naval infantry and conduct skirmishes —a traditional function of light infantry.  For most of their history, the Royal Marines have functioned as fusiliers (riflemen).  In this capacity, they served with distinction during the First and Second Opium Wars (1839-1860) in China.  Every engagement in China was successful save one: when British Admiral Sir James Hope ordered the Marines to make a landing across a wide expanse of mud flats.  I will forego any comment about Admiral Hope’s leadership ability.

RM 002 Boxer Rebellion
Royal Marines during the Boxer Rebellion

Royal Marines, along with their American counterparts, played a prominent role during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900.  See also: Send in the Marines!

Pursuing a career in the Royal Marines was considered “social suicide” through much of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Royal Marines had a lower standing than their counterparts in the Royal Navy [6].  In 1907, the British government reduced professional differences between the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.  In time, the Royal Marines were elevated to a position of respect within the British forces, although sharing a pint of ale with British Army veterans, one might come away with an entirely different point of view.  What British soldiers have never understood, however, is that ARMY stands for “Aren’t Ready to be Marines Yet.”

During the first part of the 20th century, the role of the Royal Marines remained traditional, that is, providing shipboard infantry for security, boarding parties, and amphibious raids.  The Marines’ other traditional role while aboard Royal Navy ships was manning gun turrets on battleships or cruisers.

During World War I, Royal Marines landed with the Royal Navy Division in Belgium in 1914 to defend Antwerp.  They later participated in the amphibious landings at Gallipoli in 1915 and conducted the Zeebrugge Raid in 1918.  After this “war to end all wars,” Royal Marines took part in the allied intervention in post-Revolutionary Russia.  In 1919, the 6th Battalion mutinied and was disbanded in disgrace.

RM 002In 1922, during post-war demobilization, the Royal Marines were reduced from a strength of 55,000 to around 15,000.  To further reduce the costs of maintaining this force in readiness, Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) and Light Infantry units were consolidated in June 1923.  Even so, tremendous political pressure was applied to disbanding the Royal Marines altogether.  As a compromise, opposing politicians agreed to a Royal Marine organization of 9,500 troops.  To accomplish this, the RMA was deactivated; henceforth, the title Royal Marine would apply to the entire Corps.  Artillery organizations would be part of the force structure, but on a much smaller scale.  After consolidation, the Royal Marine full-dress uniform became dark blue and red; Royal Marine officers and SNCOs continue to wear scarlet uniforms as part of their mess dress kit.  The rank structure was also modified.  The private of infantry and gunner of artillery were replaced by the rank of Marine.

In World War II, Royal Marine shipboard detachments continued to make amphibious raids with limited objectives, such as accepting the surrender of French Axis forces.  Initially, Royal Marine infantry units were organized as Mobile Naval Base Defense Organizations (which were similar to U. S. Marine Corps’ Advanced Base Defense Battalion).  The MNBDO’s took part in the defense of Crete, Malaya, and Singapore.

RM 004 WW IIIn 1942, Royal Marine infantry battalions were reorganized as commando units.  The Division command structure became a Special Service Brigade command.  In total, four Special Service (Commando) Brigades were raised during World War II.  Nine RMC battalions were created, numbered from 40 Commando to 48 Commando.  Brigades were task organized, which means that Royal Marine commando organizational structure depended on their assigned mission.  In the early years, British Army units served alongside the Marines within Commando Brigades.  Support troops served as landing craft crew and saw extensive action on D-Day in June 1944.  In January 1945, an additional two RM brigades were formed, both organized as conventional infantry.  Of these, only one saw any action during World War II.

Several Royal Marine officers served as pilots during the World War II, one of these leading the air attack that sank the German warship Konigsberg.  Eighteen RMOs commanded fleet air squadrons, and after the formation of the British Pacific Fleet, Royal Marine aviation assets were well-represented in final operations against Japan.  Squadron commanders were usually captains and majors.  Lieutenant Colonel R. C. Hay commanded an air group on board HMS Indefatigable.  Meanwhile, Royal Marine detachments continued to serve aboard Royal Navy cruisers and battleships.

During World War II, the Victoria Cross [7] was awarded to only one Marine: Acting Corporal Thomas P. Hunter, aged 21 years, of 43 Commando, during combat operations at Lake Comacchio, Italy.  On 2 April 1945, Hunter commanded a Bren gun (light machine gun) section.

RM 004 T P Hunter
Corporal Thomas Peck Hunter, RM

According to the citation for this award, 43 Commando was advancing to its final objective and was within 400 yards of an east-west canal.  Corporal Hunter observed that the enemy was entrenched around a group of houses south of the canal and realized that his troops, who were following in trace of his advance, would soon be exposed to enemy fire in an area devoid of cover or concealment.  Seizing his light machine gun, Hunter charged alone across two hundred yards of open ground.  The Germans engaged Hunter with no fewer than nine automatic weapons.  Attracting enemy fire away from his men, and demonstrating a complete disregard for his own safety, Corporal Hunter assaulted the German position while firing from the hip, changing magazines as he ran, killing several of the enemy and clearing houses of all enemy troops.  Six German soldiers surrendered to him, while the remaining enemy fled across a footbridge to the north bank of the canal.  Taking a position atop of pile of rubble, Corporal Hunter engaged the enemy’s new positions with deadly accurate fire while encouraging his men to take up secure positions within the cluster of houses.  It was then that Corporal Hunter received the bulk of enemy’s fire and he was killed.  Corporal Hunter is remembered at ten separate locations throughout the United Kingdom.

In 1946, British Army Commandos were disbanded, leaving the Royal Marines to continue the commando role (with supporting army elements).

Drysdale 002
LtCol Douglas B. Drysdale, RM

At the outset of the Korean War, 41 Commando was reformed for service with the United States Navy.  After the landing of the X Corps at Wonsan, 41 Commando joined the 1st U. S. Marine Division.  41 Commando formed the nucleus of Task Force Drysdale under Lieutenant Colonel Douglas B. Drysdale, Royal Marines, with one US Marine Corps rifle company and one US Army rifle company, and attachments of rolling stock and fought their way from Koto-ri to Hagaru-ri after the Chinese erected blockades along the north road.  It then took part in the epic Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.  41 Commando subsequently implemented several raids against Communist Chinese forces.  The Royal Marines were withdrawn from the Korean conflict in 1951.  For its service in the Korean War, 41 Commando was awarded the United States Presidential Unit Citation and Colonel Drysdale received the Silver Star Medal for valor.

Between 1948 and 1960, elements of the Royal Marines participated at various times and places in the Malayan Emergency [8].  In 1955, 45 Commando was dispatched to Cyprus to undertake anti-terrorist operations against Greek Cypriot insurgents.  In 1956, 3 Commando Brigade with 40, 42, and 45 Royal Commando took part in the Suez Crisis. This event marked the first time the Royal Marines employed helicopters in vertical assault operations.  British and French forces ultimately defeated the Egyptians, but US diplomatic activities helped to defuse the crisis.  40 and 41 Commando were sent to Borneo at various times to help defuse tensions between Indonesian-Malayan belligerents.  In January 1964, elements of the Tanzanian Army mutinied.  The United Kingdom responded by dispatching 41 Commando from Devon and landing Royal Marine elements from HMS Bulwark.  The Tanzanian revolt was put down rather quickly, but it took another six months to disarm rebel elements of the Tanzanian military.

Royal Marine units regularly deployed to Northern Ireland to help contain that conflict.  Referred to as “the Troubles,” the Northern Ireland conflict lasted from 1969 through 1998.  In total, 24 Royal Marines died as a result of protestant snipers and bombers.

Between 1974 and 1984, the Royal Marines undertook three United Nations peacekeeping tours of duty in Cyprus.  The first was operation took place after the Turkish invasion in November 1974.  41 Commando took over responsibility for the Limassol District from the 2nd Battalion Guard’s Brigade.  41 Commando was the first Royal Marine unit to wear the light blue beret of the United Nations Command.

RM 003 Falklands
The Battle for Stanley

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982, the United Kingdom dispatched a task force to recapture them, which given the necessity for an amphibious assault, included the Royal Marine Commando.  British troops landed at San Carlos Water on East Falkland and moved across the entire island to the capital city of Stanley.  In Royal Marine parlance, the troops “yomped” across the Falklands, which means a long-distance force march in full kit.  Stanley fell to the Brits on 14 June 1982.  Major General Jeremy Moore, Royal Marines, commanded the land forces in the Falklands Conflict.

During the 1991 Gulf War, 24 Marines from Kilo Company, 41 Commando served as six-man raiding teams aboard Royal Navy destroyers and frigates.  They were mainly used as ship boarding parties.  Elements of 3 Commando Brigade were deployed to provide aid and protection to Iraqi Kurds in Northern Iraq as part of Operation Safe Haven.

RM 007
Royal Marine Commando, Helmand Province

After the turn of the century, Royal Marines began converting from their light-infantry role towards an expanded force-protection role.  The British refer to this reorganization as Commando-21: the establishment of two battalion-sized commando units (which included 40 Commando and 45 Commando.  Each organization consists of six company sized units, and these organized into “troops,” (platoons).  The change has given the Royal Marines more firepower, greater mobility, better access to intelligence, and more operational flexibility.  The size of each commando is roughly 692 of all ranks.  41 Commando has taken on a specialized maritime mission since 2017 under the auspices of 3 Commando Brigade.

Now approaching the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, Royal Marines and their American counterparts have never been closer.  They share a tradition, a similar mission, and the title Marine goes a very long way in defining who they are.  To cement this tie, British flight officers have begun training alongside Marine Corps aviators; US Marine officers serve in exchange billets in the United Kingdom, and lately, junior Royal Marine officers (three so far) have begun serving 18-month tours within US Marine Corps ground units.  US Marine Corps lieutenants have not yet started serving in similar capacities in the United Kingdom, but it is likely that this will happen in the future.

Sources:

  1. Ballantyne, I. Strike from the Sea.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2004
  2. Chappell, M. Wellington’s Peninsula Regiments.  Oxford: The Oxford Press, 2004
  3. Moore, J. The First Fleet Marines.  Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 1989
  4. Mountbatten, L. Combined Operations: The Official Story of the Commando.  New York: Macmillan Company, 1943
  5. Poyntz, W. H. Per Mare, Per Terram: Reminiscences of Thirty-two Years’ Military, Naval, and Constabulary Service.  London: Print & Publishing Company, 1892
  6. Thompson, J. The Royal Marines, from Sea Soldiers to a Special Force.  London: Pan Books, 2001

Endnotes:

[1] A mole is a massive stone structure constructed to serve as a pier, a breakwater, or causeway between bodies of water.

[2] The operation at Belle Isle was an amphibious expedition intended to capture the French island off the Brittany coast during the Seven Years’ War.  The initial attack was repulsed, but a second landing forced a beach head.  After a siege of six weeks, the French surrendered (as they almost always do) and this gave the British total control of the island.  Belle Isle was returned to French authority after the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

[3] The First Fleet consisted of eleven ships that departed from Portsmouth, England on 13 May to establish a penal colony that became the first European settlement in Australia.  The fleet involved two Royal Navy vessels, three store ships, and six convict transports carrying between 1,000 to 1,500 convicts, Marines, seamen, civil officers, and free people.  From England, the fleet sailed to Rio de Janeiro, east to Cape Town and then to Botany Bay … arriving between 18 to 20 January 1788.

[4] The Congreve rocket was designed and developed by Sir William Congreve in 1804; it was an adaptation of the Mysorean rockets used against the British in India.  By 1813, there were three classes of Congreve rockets: heavy, medium, and light.  Heavy rockets consisted of between 100 and 300 pounds but were generally regarded as too cumbersome to use in the field.  Medium rockets were between 24 and 42 pounds, and from two to four feet in length.  Light rockets were between 6 and 18 pounds and from 16 to 25 inches in length.  Medium and light rockets could be case shot, shell, or explosive.

[5] Major General John Robyns, Royal Marines, (1780-1857) served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars, including Martinique, and the War of 1812.  In America, Robyn faced off against the U. S. Marines at Bladensburg, Washington, Baltimore, and New Orleans.

[6] This was true in the United States, as well.  My grandmother was devastated when I joined the U. S. Marine Corps in 1962.  Every member of my family up until then had served in the Army.  It wasn’t until 1965 when my uncle (my grandmother’s son, a career army NCO) was able to convince her that the Marines was the right choice for me.  I was, at the time, a very proud and somewhat cocky corporal of Marines.  By the time I received my commission in 1975, Grandmother had fully embraced my service and bragged to her few remaining friends that her grandson was a United States Marine.

[7] The Victoria Cross is the United Kingdom’s highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy.

[8] Following World War II, British authorities attempted to form the Malayan Union.  Their goal was to create a state wherein all citizens (Malay, Chinese, and Indian) would have equal stature, but many ethnic Malayans, along with regional rulers, rejected this scheme.  Armed insurgency first occurred on 16 June 1948 when three of four targeted plantation managers were assassinated.  The ensuring guerrilla war involved pro-communist, anti-British forces who engaged in terror tactics like those employed by the Viet Cong during the Viet Nam War.  Nearly 12,000 people lost their lives in this 12-year conflict.

Marine Detachments (1775-1998)

Resolved, That two Battalions of marines be raised, consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors, and other officers as usual in other regiments; and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office, or insisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required: that they be insisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress: that they be distinguished by the names of the first and second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered as part of the number which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.

Continental Congress, 10 November 1775

OLD EGA 001This was the instrument that created the Marine Corps.  The entire purpose of the Marines back then was to serve aboard ships of the Continental Navy —its original purpose and duty, but the concept of such employment goes back much further in history.  Roman ships had detachments of naval infantry whose purpose it was to take the battle to the decks of enemy ships, but seagoing marines have been a fact of naval warfare long before then —which is to say marines in some form or fashion, even if not referred to as such.

We cannot speak of American Marines 2,500 years ago, of course, but we do know that the first American Marines were British colonialists who first served as such under Colonel Alexander Spotswood and Colonel William Gooch (both of whom served as lieutenant governors of the colony of Virginia) during the War of Jenkin’s Ear in 1741.  Four battalions were raised for this purpose, but the enterprise did not end well for those men.  Most were defeated by rampant tropic diseases, which made them ineffective as a fighting force.

After the Congress’ authorization for a Corps of Marines, Tun Tavern [1] in Philadelphia became the main recruitment office for Marines.  Here, able bodied seamen were lured into Marine Corps service for six and two-thirds dollars per month, a daily ration of bread, one pound of pork or beef, potatoes or turnips, or a half-pound of peas, and a half-pint of rum.  Recruits were also promised butter once a week, pudding twice each week, and an allotment of cheese three times a week. Their uniforms included green overcoats and white trousers —so long as clothing was available.

Samuel_Nicholas
Captain Samuel Nicholas

In 1775, the owner of the Inn was a man named Samuel Nicholas [2].  Nicholas was commissioned a captain of Marines and charged with the initial recruitment effort.  He was responsible for leading the first 300 Marines in a raid at New Providence Island in the Bahamas to seize war materials greatly needed by General George Washington.  Ultimately, the Marines seized two forts in the face of almost no British resistance and helped themselves to available guns, powder, cannon balls, mortars, and various caliber of shells.  Marines did receive three rounds of British cannon fire, but no one was injured.

On their return voyage, the Continental Navy suddenly faced the twenty or so guns HMS Glasgow at Block Island.  When the smoke cleared, seven Marines lay dead and four others required treatment for serious wounds.  British casualties included four killed or wounded.

Seagoing Marines (also referred to as seadogs) were involved in many of the battles in the American Revolution.  Marine sharpshooters stationed on platforms above the masts delivered devastating fire to the decks of enemy ships. Occasionally, the Marines would conduct raids ashore along America’s long coastline.

When peace finally came in 1783, the Congress decided that it could no longer afford a naval establishment and the Continental Navy and Marine Corps were disbanded.  Up until then, the Continental Marines had consisted of 124 officers and 3,000 enlisted men.  There was no naval force in the United States between 1783 and 1794; in that year, Congress authorized the construction of six frigates, all of which would have stationed aboard them detachments of US Marines.  They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and so it was with the reemergence of the Navy and Marine Corps.  Moorish raiders operating in the Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboard had begun seizing US flagged vessels and holding them, their cargoes, and crews, for ransom.  In 1793 alone, the US lost eleven merchantmen to Barbary pirates.  Added to this, European wars continued to involve American ships and the newly-created United States of America was forced to break free of its isolationist policies.

Three frigates were launched in 1797; they were christened USS United States, USS Constellation, and USS Constitution.  A congressional act on 1 July of that year reactivated the Marine Corps.  The Act called for five lieutenants, eight sergeants, eight corporals, three drummers, three fifers, and 140 privates to man these ships in Marine Detachments.  From this point forward, the strength of the Marine Corps seagoing Marines continued to grow.

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson, who was no friend of the American Navy, decided that the country could ill-afford to maintain the naval establishment.  Ships were decommissioned or dismantled, and the Marine Corps was cut to 26 officers and 453 enlisted men.

Yet, even as the President was looking to reduce America’s debt, the Navy-Marine Corps team had managed to create turmoil among French privateers operating in the West Indies during the so-called Quasi-War [3] (1798-1800).  The war was “quasi” because it was undeclared.  The French were surprised by the fighting skills of America’s fledgling Navy, among whose senior officers included Stephen Decatur, Silas Talbot, and William Bainbridge.

Overwhelmed at sea, French ships withdrew to littoral areas of the West Indies and adopted the tactics of ambushing American commercial ships.  Undaunted, the US Navy pursued the French into shallow waters.  USS Delaware was the first American warship to claim a French prize.  USS Constellation captured the French ship Insurgente, a 40-gun ship of the line, on 7 February 1799.  Constellation also captured the 52-gun Vengeance after a five-hour battle in 1800.  Both of these vessels sustained heavy damage, however.

Lieutenant Bartholomew Clinch commanded the Constellation’s Marine Detachment during both sea battles; his Marines were recognized for delivering devastatingly accurate fire upon the French ship.  Lieutenant James Middleton led a landing party of Marines from USS Merrimack and USS Patapsco to defend the port of Curacao from a French raid.  Marines were also employed to seize an English ship being held under heavy cannon fire at Puerto Plata in Santo Domingo.

Suffering these depredations at the hands of the American Navy and Marines, the French soon signaled their interest in ending the war —but not before Marines from USS Enterprise captured nine French privateers, defeated a Spanish brig, and re-captured eleven American vessels.  In December 1800, Enterprise also defeated L’Aigle and Flambeau with much credit given to Marine sharpshooters.

Firing Pennsylvania
Firing the Philadelphia

President Jefferson’s frugality campaign came to an end when he realized that Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian, and Tripolitan raiders were costing the Americans several million dollars a year, or roughly one-fifth of the nation’s income, paid either as ransom for captured Americans, or in bribes paid to allow US merchantmen to sail in Mediterranean waters.  In 1805, Tripoli’s pasha foolishly declared war on the United States by capturing USS Philadelphia and imprisoning its crew, which included 44 Marines.  To prevent the Tripolitans from using Philadelphia against the American Navy, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a raid into the harbor aboard the captured French ketch, USS Intrepid, boarded Philadelphia, overpowered the pirates, and burned the ship to its waterline. An eight-man squad of Marines participating in this raid was led by Sergeant Solomon Wren.

One of the more audacious actions during the Barbary Wars was the overland expedition led by William Eaton and Marine First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, who had recruited mercenaries and marched six-hundred miles through the Libyan desert to attack the fort at Derna.  After heavy fighting, during which Eaton was wounded, O’Bannon’s remaining force assaulted the fort and defeated it.  This was the first time the United States flag was raised over foreign territory and the origin of the words to the Marine Corps Hymn, “…to the shores of Tripoli.”

Seven years later, during the War of 1812, Marine Lieutenant John Marshal Gamble became the only Marine Corps officer to command a U. S. Navy ship, the captured British whaling ship Greenwich.  Lieutenant Colonel Gamble retired from active service in 1834.

During the War of 1812, a young officer by the name of Captain Archibald Henderson served aboard USS Constitution, distinguishing himself in engagements with HMS Java, Cyane and Levant.  He was brevetted to Major in 1814.  Colonel Henderson was later appointed to serve as the fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps, a post he would retain for 38-years.  He was brevetted to Brigadier General in January 1837.

Numerous men of Marine Corps fame served as seagoing Marines, including Henry Clay Cochrane, John Twiggs-Myers, Smedley D. Butler, and John Quick.  An overview of combat service involving ship’s Marine Detachments includes:

  • Barbary Wars
  • Florida Indian Wars
  • Operations in Haiti
  • Firefighting at St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
  • Falkland Islands engagement
  • Slave suppression operations in South America
  • Diplomatic security in Japan
  • Operations ashore in China to protect American lives and property
  • Fiji Island raids to avenge the murders of American seamen
  • Union and Confederate forces in the American Civil War
  • Combat operations in Korea, 1870s
  • Peace-keeping missions in Haiti and Egypt
  • Spanish-American War (Philippines and Cuba)
  • Panamanian revolution and construction of the Canal

With the outbreak of the so-called Great War, Marine Corps senior officers began planning for a significant increase in troop strength.  The demand for amphibious/land forces began to outpace the requirement for shipboard detachments.  These continued, of course, but in smaller numbers.

During World War II, Marine Detachments performed strategic raids as part of the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.  In 1942, the Marines serving aboard USS Philadelphia (CL-41) landed at Safi, French Morocco to secure the airfield until relieved by Army units.  On 6 June 1944, shipboard Marines participated in the Normandy invasion by detonating floating mines blocking the path of US Navy ships operating in the English Channel.  They also manned secondary batteries aboard Navy cruisers and battleships.  On 29 August 1944, during the invasion of southern France, Marines from USS Philadelphia (CL-41) and USS Augusta (CA-31) went ashore to take charge of 700 Germans who had been manning fortified garrisons around the French harbor in Marseilles.  In the Pacific, the seadogs manned naval guns as Japanese kamikaze bombers attempted to destroy Navy vessels operating off the coast of Okinawa.  On 2 September 1945, Marines aboard the USS Missouri participated in ceremonies accepting Japan’s unconditional surrender to allied forces in Tokyo Bay.

The end of World War II propelled the world into the atomic age and cold war with the Soviet Union and China.  With war at an end, the United States reexamined its military footprint.  Under President Truman, the size of the military was sharply reduced.  Both the Navy and Marine Corps were reduced by one-third of their operating forces. The National Security Act of 1947 (Title 10, United States Code 5013) reaffirmed the seagoing mission of the Marine Corps: “… the Marine Corps shall provide detachments and organizations for service on armed vessels of the U. S. Navy and shall provide security detachments for the protection of naval property at naval stations and bases.”

Due to significant cutbacks in the operating forces under the Truman administration, the Navy and Marine Corps were barely able to respond to North Korean aggression in 1950.  Ships that had been mothballed were reactivated.  The same carriers, battleships, and cruisers that had served in World War II were brought back for the Korean War.  There would be no sea battles, however.  Off shore navy platforms provided air support and battleships and cruisers provided naval gunfire support to the land forces.

The cold war produced significant advances in technology.  The US Navy continued to protect sea lanes throughout the world and participated in operations in Lebanon, Santo Domingo, Formosa, Cuba, and a then relatively unknown placed called Viet Nam.  Marine Detachments continued to serve aboard cruisers, battleships, and carriers, but their roles were changing.  Some of these ships had been transformed into nuclear powered vessels; additional security was needed to safeguard “special weapons.”

On 29 July 1967, while serving at Yankee Station, an aircraft aboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-49) exploded setting off a series of fires and secondary explosions.  This was another important function of seagoing Marines: firefighting. Among the casualties from this incident were 134 sailors killed, 64 seriously wounded.  On 14 January 1969, another fire erupted aboard USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) while operating off the coast of Hawaii, resulting in 28 deaths, 128 injuries, the destruction of 15-aircraft, and a monetary loss of more than $128-million.  Few events are more deadly at sea than a shipboard fire.

In the post-World War II period, the duties of seagoing Marines were set forth in U. S. Navy Regulations (1047): “A Marine Detachment detailed to duty aboard a ship of the Navy shall form a separate division thereof.  Its functions shall be (1) Provide for operations ashore, as part of the ship’s landing force; or as part of the landing force of Marines from ships of the fleet or subdivisions thereof; or as an independent force for limited operations.  (2) To provide gun crews.  (3) To provide internal security of a ship.  (4) To provide for the proper rendering of military honors.  In addition to these duties, Marines also provided the ship’s captain with a Marine orderly, brig sentries, and guards for special weapons.

Eventually, the Navy replaced their deck guns with guided missiles and computer-controlled weapons systems.  There was no longer a need for Marines to man antiquated naval guns.  USS Oklahoma (CL-91) was the Navy’s last gun cruiser.  She was retired in the late 1970s, replaced in 1979 by the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19).  Her sister ship was USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), placed in service in 1981. Initially, both of these ships had Marine Detachments, but because of their mission of directing amphibious operations, and because these ships incorporated Marines especially trained for planning and conducting amphibious operations, the detachments were deemed excess to requirements and were removed.

In small but steady increments, ship’s detachments were reduced in the Navy fleet. In 1979, the Commandant of the Marine Corps changed the mission of seagoing Marines.  From that time, Marine duties involved little more than providing security for special weapons storage spaces, the transfer of such weapons aboard ship, provide security for the ship, provide gun-crews as required, and such other duties as may be assigned by competent authority.  Marines no longer performed landing operations or brig security.  In 1986, the Commandant specifically precluded Marines from performing any duty that would detract from their primary role of safeguarding special weapons.

Between the early 1980s and 1990s, the battleships USS New Jersey and USS Iowa were reintroduced into naval fleets.  When one of the gun turrets of the Iowa exploded, killing 47 crewmen, Marines helped in firefighting and damage control operations.  Still, the accordion effect of manpower management caused the Navy and Marines to again reevaluate the Marine Detachments.  By the early 1990s, the United States entered another dangerous period: international terrorism.  In meeting this demand, Headquarters Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Security Forces (MCSF) with the stated mission of providing trained personnel and cadres to security departments at designated naval installations. The MCSF also provided mobile training teams to support anti-terrorism training at navy bases.

Detachments of Marines served exceptionally well aboard US Navy vessels since Corps’ very beginning; this ended in 1998. The last Marine Detachment bid farewell to the USS George Washington (CVN-73) on 1 May 1998.  A 223-year tradition of service at sea came to an end. Time marches on.

MARDET CINCLANT
Marine Detachment CINCLANT

Personal note: it was my privilege to serve at Marine Detachment, CINCLANT/ CINCLANTFLT/SACLANT in Norfolk, Virginia from June 1964 to October 1966.  Today, the detachment is known as Marine Security Guard (MSG) Detachment, U. S. Fleet Forces Command.  At that time, it was the only non-seagoing detachment in the Marine Corps.  The two detachment commanders during this period were Major Figard and Major Kraynak. The executive officers were 1stLt Gaumont and 1stLt Ahern.  The First Sergeant was Donald A. Whiteside (retired in grade of Captain).  I was promoted to corporal and sergeant while stationed in Norfolk.

Endnotes:

[1] Tun Tavern was established in 1686 by Joshua Carpenter, the brother of Samuel who was a wealthy Quaker merchant.  The brewery and pub was located on King Street (later, Water Street) and Tun Alley, a caraway that led to Carpenter’s wharf.  The word “Tun” comes from old English meaning barrel or keg of beer.  The tavern became an early meeting place for a number of notable groups, including Freemasons in early America.

[2] While not officially appointed as such, Nicholas is traditionally regarded as the first Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[3] This conflict erupted during the administration of John Adams.  After the French monarchy was abolished in September 1792, the United States determined that its debt to France was cancelled. The French Republic thought otherwise and began to seize American ships and sell them as repayment of America’s debt.  The war was fought almost entirely at sea.

The War Time Generations

EGA 2018No serviceman today will diminish the service, sacrifice, or achievements of our World War II heroes.  After all, they were our fathers, uncles, brothers, or maybe even our grandfathers. What they accomplished in Defending America, under the most difficult of circumstances between December 1941 through September 1945, should cause every one of us to stand in honor of their presence. They are entitled to our deepest respect.

And yet, to claim that one generation of American warrior is “greater” than any other is grossly inaccurate.  I have never heard a veteran of World War II proclaim themselves as such. The phrase, as one might expect, originated with a journalist by the name of Tom Brokaw who used that phrase in the title of his book.  It was later borrowed by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in several films recreating events in World War II.  Neither Brokaw, Spielberg, nor Hanks ever served their country in uniform —so I suspect they wouldn’t have any first-hand knowledge about combat, or what actually defines a “greatest” generation.

Tens of thousands of Americans served in the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  Some of these men and women also lived during the Great Depression, experiencing tough times in the 1930s and 1940s.  It is certainly true that our Iraqi and Afghan war veterans grew up at a different time, but these men and women stepped up to serve; some gave all they had to give.  Most of our latest greatest volunteered for military service; all of them had to leave behind a loved one to worry about them over many months.  Do they not also count as among America’s greatest generation(s)?

In World War II, ten million Americans were conscripted into military service; another 3 million were volunteers.  Of these, 407,316 US servicemen gave up their lives.  An additional 671,846 received serious wounds.  In the Korean War, the United States drafted 1.5 million men, with a much smaller number volunteering to fight.  In total, 326,823 Americans served in Korea; of these, 33,651 Americans laid down their lives.  In Vietnam, 2.2 million Americans were forced to serve; only a quarter of these people actually served in Vietnam.  We lost 58,318 Americans in Vietnam; an additional  303,656 received combat wounds.

Do the Americans who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars deserve as much respect as those who served in World War II —particularly since neither of these conflicts received the popular support of the American people?

Of course, they do …

Yet, today, people who never once placed themselves in harm’s way will argue that the modern battlefield is far less demanding than those of earlier wars.  I suspect that our Iraqi and Afghan War veterans will disagree.  To begin with, while there does continue to be a draft registration, today’s military is an all-volunteer force.  These are America’s true warrior class citizens.  There is as much (or more) courage displayed on the battlefields of today as in our previous three conflicts.  What does stand out is that veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars received fewer combat awards than those in previous eras.  There are several reasons for this, but none of them related to any lack of courage among our modern-day warriors.

Wooldridge 001For those who think that the Iraq and Afghan Wars were “long distance” engagements, think again.  Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once said, “Our enemy generally use weapons at a distance from us, so there’s less hand-to-hand or in-close combat than there has been in previous years.”  Mr. Gates probably never met Corporal Clifford Wooldridge, United States Marine Corps.

On 17 June 2010, Cpl. Wooldridge was riding in a convoy when the vehicles came under heavy enemy fire from a group of Taliban fighters in Helmand Province [1], in Afghanistan.  The story of Wooldridge’s heroism is told in the following award presentation:

Navy Cross 001Navy Cross Citation:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Corporal Clifford M. Wooldridge, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Vehicle Commander, Combined Anti-Armor Platoon White, Weapons Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2, FIRST Marine Division (Forward), I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) Afghanistan, on 18 June 2010 in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.  When their mounted patrol came under intense enemy fire, Corporal Wooldridge and his squad dismounted and maneuvered on the suspected enemy location. Spotting a group of fifteen enemy fighters preparing an ambush, Corporal Wooldridge led one of his fire teams across open ground to flank the enemy, killing or wounding at least eight and forcing the rest to scatter. As he held security alone to cover his fire team’s withdrawal, he heard voices from behind an adjacent wall. Boldly rushing around the corner, he came face-to-face with two enemy fighters at close range, killing both of them with his M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon. As he crouched back behind the wall to reload, he saw the barrel of an enemy machine gun appear from around the wall. Without hesitation, he dropped his empty weapon and seized the machine gun barrel. He overwhelmed the enemy fighter in hand-to-hand combat, killing him with several blows to the head with the enemy’s own machine gun. His audacious and fearless actions thwarted the enemy attack on his platoon. By his bold and decisive leadership, undaunted courage under fire, and total dedication to duty, Corporal Wooldridge reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.

Notes:

[1] Also known as “Marine-istan.”

Evaluating the Apple

A good friend recently sent me a book review by Mark Bowden, which I can only assume appeared in The Atlantic.  Bowden is best known for writing Black Hawk Down: A story of Modern War.  The subject of Bowden’s review is a book titled Eat the Apple: A memoir, by Matt Young.

Bowden begins,

“The trouble with writing the unvarnished truth in a memoir is that it requires you to be hard not only on others, but also on yourself.  Matt Young’s inventive, unsparing, irreverent and consistently entertaining [book] is that, but it is also a useful corrective to the current idealization of the American soldier —or in this case a Marine.  Patriotism and respect for the military is so high in this country that we have lately held a national debate over whether professional athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem.  Men and women in uniform are given preference in boarding airplanes and are so routinely thanked for their service that the expression has become rote.  Each new season brings a crop of movies and glossy TV serials dramatizing the heroics of our Special Operations.”

“[Matt] Young see’s hollowness and potential harm in this.”

“Enforcing the idea that every service member is a hero is dangerous; like creating of generation of veterans who believe everything they did was good,” wrote Young.

Bowden tells us that Matt Young wants to warn us of the dangers in creating an army of fanatics.  “[Military] service deserves respect, of course, but it does not in itself guarantee stirring and selfless acts of bravery.”

24th Marine Expeditionary Unit table 3 rifle range shootI’m quite sure that I won’t read Matt Young’s book.  I already know about military service and I might even suggest that I completed my career long before Mr. Young enlisted.  Still, some things go without saying.  Given the nature of our Armed Forces, and the fact that the military services host hundreds of occupational specialties —all of which support the efforts of front-line forces— only about one-third of our 1.4 million military service members serve in the combat arms … which is the place where we’ll find most heroes if we happened to be looking for them.  Nevertheless, courageous acts aside, very few of these selfless individuals are without sin.  A split second of bravery doesn’t make a soldier a good husband, a good father, or even a trustworthy friend.

Now about those fanatics Mr. Young is worried about.  I am unable to speak about the other services, but I can say that it is the purpose of Marine Corps training to turn every Marine into a lethal killing machine.  This is how battles are won.  If it is fanaticism, it is necessary to the success of combat units (and their combat/service support attachments).  If at some future time, as a matter of national policy, we intend to arm milquetoast youngsters with weapons and send them into harm’s way, then our nation will no longer deserve an elite combat force.

Nevertheless, the Marine Corps isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Roughly 40% of Marines reenlist after their first enlistment, which means that around 60% of everyone who joins the Marine Corps end up leaving at the end of their term of service.  Of those who end up getting out of the Corps, probably less than 20% later whine about their service as American Marines.  Once a first term Marine decides to leave the Corps, it almost isn’t relevant what it was that he or she did while wearing the uniform.  One thing does remain, however: this individual became a United States Marine —and he or she will always be a United States Marine— even if a chronic complainer.  If there is one thing that every Marine has in common, whether an officer or an enlisted man, it is the amount of complaining they do.  If you find a Marine who isn’t complaining about something, keep an eye on him —he’s probably stealing from the supply section.

Still, no matter what Matt Young says in his book, it isn’t enough to join the Corps.  Almost anyone can do that.  Moreover, almost anyone can end up in a combat unit.  What matters to me is an honest answer to these questions: Have you served honorably and faithfully in an extremely chaotic environment over an extended period of time?  During your service as a Marine, did you keep faith with your fellow Marines, past and present?

One will note that I didn’t say it was necessary that the Corps keep faith with us … only that we Marines keep faith with each other because this is the foundation of our brotherhood; this is what the Marine Corps has always been about.

MILLER JBI do have a bother, however —it is this: young Marines returning from combat, where they formed intense bonds with their fellow Marines, who suddenly find themselves isolated in a completely different environment.  Many of these young men are soon released from active duty and find themselves in the midst of a society that does not understand what they’ve just been through or the things they did for their country.  They are at a place where there is no safety net, and where no one is watching their six —a place where many young men and women struggle to maintain a sense of who they once were only a short time before.  We seem to have plenty of time for classes on gender and civility, but there appears to be no time at all for combat decompression.  Ours is not (and never has been) a good transition.  We (the Marines) could do a lot better in this regard.  Personally, I see this as a monumental failure of senior leadership.

Notes:

  1. The photograph that appears within my last paragraph is that of the iconic James Blake Miller, a Marine who fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah.  The photograph was widely published in the American press; he was tagged “Marlboro Marine.”  Jim Miller suffers from PTSD and is now in recovery.  In my opinion, senior leaders in the Marine Corps deserted this young Marine when what he needed from them was the kind of leadership espoused by Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune, our 13th Commandant.  We talk about this leadership annually as part of our celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday.  Apparently, modern leaders of the Corps would rather talk about it than to act on it.  In my opinion, Jim Miller and thousands of men just like him qualify as being among our nation’s greatest of young patriots.
  2. This post was previously published at my other blog, which I have since re-titled Old West Tales. Since this particular post no longer fits that profile, I’ve re-posted it here.