Among the Old Breed

As with many of the so-called old breed, Littleton W. T. Waller was an authoritarian officer whose initial commission as second lieutenant of Marines occurred on 24 June 1880.  These old breed Marines were of a different type from those wearing the uniform today.  In the late 1800’s, Marine officers and enlisted men lived hard, drank hard, and fought hard.  Their near-legion consumption of liquor was part of the norm, but with that said, there was no tolerance for an inebriated Marine on duty.  The Marines of Waller’s time were trained by strict disciplinarians … the old salts that accepted no excuses for less than stellar performance; they demanded results and left an indelible mark on their subordinates.  If officer candidates survived their harsh training, they became officers; if they failed, they were dismissed from the Corps.

I have described Waller’s exploits as a battalion commander in the Philippine Islands in two earlier posts (here and here); he became a controversial figure owing to two significant events: his march across Samar, and his court-martial.  Some historians have argued that even though he achieved the rank of major general, his court-martial (although acquitted) may have kept him from serving as Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Others have said that the court-martial was not a factor[1].

Waller was born in York County, Virginia.  Both sides of his family originated in England, migrating to the Americas during the colonial period.  They were wealthy, well-educated, and politically astute.  His ancestors included men with military titles, lawyers, justices, and politicians.  Some of these men served in Virginia’s House of Burgesses; one served on the Virginia delegation to consider the Declaration of Independence.

Referred to as “Tony” by his friends, Waller was regarded as bright, but he was no scholar.  He was an outdoorsman who was fond of hunting, fishing, and riding.  As with many others in his own time, Waller was intimately familiar with three works: The King James Bible, the works of Shakespeare, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  The evidence for this appears in his writing of reports from foreign shore where he incorporates phrases from each of these.  In their own memoirs, Major General Smedley D. Butler and Colonel Frederick M. Wise, described Waller as an eloquent speaker and a fascinating story-teller.

Wallers initial tours of duty were shore-based commands.  The first at the Marine Barracks in Norfolk, Virginia, and the second at the Marine Barracks, Washington, D. C.  He then embarked on his first tour at sea, assigned as executive officer under Captain Henry Clay Cochrane, commanding the Marine Detachment, USS Lancaster.  Lancaster was the flagship of the European squadron, and Cochrane was a veteran of the American Civil War (you don’t get more “old school” than this).

In 1882, Cochrane and Waller were present at the British naval bombardment of Alexandria, Egypt and participated in an amphibious landing of mixed bluejackets and Marines.  As the French had withdrawn their forces from the city, American Marines and sailors were needed to provide protection to the US Consulate, American citizens, and displaced foreign nations.  The landing force consisted two companies: one consisting of sixty-nine sailors under the command of Lieutenant Frank L. Denny, USN and 63 Marines commanded by Lieutenant Waller, USMC.  The overall landing force commander was Lieutenant Commander Charles Goodrich, USN, Captain Cochrane served as Goodrich’s executive officer.

Denny and Waller approached the city center with due caution, reaching the Square of Mehmet Ali (location of the US Consulate).  Designating this location as their headquarters, Marines and sailors began to patrol the city streets.  Subsequently, Waller and his Marines were placed under the command of Lord Charles Beresford’s British forces protecting the European quarter.  The anticipated rebel attack never materialized, however, and after ten days a four-thousand-man British force arrived to relieve the American company.  The Times of London later reported, “Lord Charles Beresford states that without the assistance of the American Marines, he would have been unable to discharge the numerous duties of suppressing fires, preventing looting, burying the dead, and clearing the streets.”[2]

As there was no wireless radio in those days, and the telegraphic cable office in Alexandria was not functioning, the Squadron Commander had approval to land the naval force, but once ashore Goodrich had been on his own. It was he who made the decision to stay with the British rather than follow in trace behind the French.  As one of only four officers in the landing force, Waller would have been present as important decisions were made.  It was an experience that stood him in good stead in later years.

During the Spanish American War, Captain Waller served aboard the battleship USS Indiana as Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment.  He was present during the battle of Santiago on 3 July 1898.  Indiana’s position in the American fleet precluded her participation in the initial chase of the Spanish Navy, but Waller’s Marines did participate in naval gunnery against the Spanish ships Pluton and Furor.  Waller’s Marines pulverized the Spanish ships.  Waller later said that the only problems he encountered during this engagement was in keeping Marines not engaged in gunnery under appropriate cover.

It wasn’t long before the Spanish Navy fell to American naval fires; it may have been one of the most lopsided engagements in naval history: every Spanish ship was destroyed and no US ship suffered more than minor damage.  Within a period of a single hour, Waller’s gunners fired five-hundred rounds from their six-inch guns.  In their hour of triumph, however, the American then performed acts of mercy.  Indiana’s commander, Captain Robley D. Evans, directed Waller to launch the ship’s whaleboats to pick up as many of the shipwrecked Spanish sailors as possible.  With sailors at the oars and Marines in the bow and stern to haul in swimmers, Waller’s detail worked throughout the day.  Here were men already weary from passing ammunition during a naval engagement now sunburned and hands swollen and cracked from salt water, saving their enemy from sure death.  The squadron commander, Admiral William T. Sampson, wrote of Waller’s service to the Secretary of the Navy: “… This rescue of prisoners, including the wounded from the burning Spanish vessels, was the occasion of some of the most daring and gallant conduct of the day.  The [Spanish] ships were burning fore and aft, their guns and reserve ammunition were exploding, and it was not known at what moment the fire would reach the main magazines.  In addition to this a heavy surf was running just inside of the Spanish ships.  But no risk deterred our officers and men until their work of humanity was completed.”

Waller later wrote of this service: “After working for hours with the wounded, we took the prisoners on board ship; there were on board my ship, two hundred and forty-three in all.  We issued clothes to the naked men, and the officers gave up their clothes and beds to the Spanish officers.  Only a few months ago I received a letter from the widow of one of the officers of Admiral Cervera’s staff, telling me of her husband’s death, and saying that it was his wish that she should thank me for all that I had done for him; and I have received many tokens and letters besides this in grateful acknowledgement of the mercy shown.”

Waller later received recognition for this service by award of the Specially Meritorious Service Medal; he is believed to be the only Marine to receive this award.

In early 1900, Major Waller was assigned at the Naval Station, Cavite, Philippines.  He was ordered to command a detachment of Marines assigned to take part in an expedition to relieve the siege of Peking, China—then Imperial China’s capital city.  The city, with its enclave of foreign legations, was besieged by a mixed force of Boxers, so called because their official group moniker was “Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” and the Chinese Imperial troops egging them on.  Waller and his Marines arrived at Taku, China on 19 June 1900, soon afterwards moving inland where they linked up with a Russian column of some 400 men.  On 21 June, the Americans and Russians set out for Tientsin, an enemy-held city.  Their route took them through areas estimated to contain between 1,500 to 2,000 hostile Chinese.  Coming under heavy enemy fire, the column was forced to withdraw with the Russians in the vanguard, and Waller faced with a desperate rearguard struggle.  Waller, leaving behind the dead, dragged along his wounded and fought off numerically superior forces to reach safety.  The Marine Detachment immediately returned to duty, however, and was attached to a British column led by Commander Christopher Craddock.  On 24 June, an international contingent consisting of Italian, German, Japanese, Russian, British, and American forces, again set off for Tientsin.

After participating in the final battle for the City of Peking on 13-14 July, Waller’s Marines took possession of the American sector and brought order out of the chaos caused by the Chinese retreat.  Waller was subsequently promoted to Brevet[3] Lieutenant Colonel and advanced two numbers on the lineal precedence list of officers.  Waller thus became one of only twenty Marines to receive the Marine Corps Brevet Medal when the decoration was created in 1921.  The Brevet Medal was replaced by the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

It was during Waller’s service in China that he began a long-running friendship with a Lieutenant by the name of Smedley D. Butler.  Butler was the only Marine officer to receive two awards of the Medal of Honor.  In 1905, Waller served as best man at Butler’s wedding.  These two Marines remained close friends for the rest of Waller’s life.

Tony Waller was promoted to Brigadier General in 1916, and advanced to the rank of Major General (temporary) in 1918.  However, having failed for selection to the post of Commandant of the Marine Corps, there was very little else Waller could do but retire.  On 22 March 1920, Waller appeared in front of the Marine Corps Retirement Board.  The board concluded that Waller was incapacitated for further service due to arterial sclerosis, that the incapacity was the result of military service, and recommended retirement in grade of Major General.  The White House approved the recommendation and ordered Waller retired effective 22 May 1920.  However, at the direction of President Woodrow Wilson, Waller was retained on active duty until 16 June 1920.  According to at least one military historian, Waller took part in more actions than any other Marine Corps officer of his period.  He lived out the remainder of his days in Philadelphia, passing away on 13 July 1926 at the age of 69-years.  General Waller is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


[1] Selection to serve the post as Commandant of the Marine Corps was highly political in the period before 1940.  Military aide to both Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft, Captain Archibald Butt, U. S. Army, indicated that the Samar incident had nothing at all to do with Waller’s non-selection to the highest post in the Corps; rather there were forces in the Senate that worked feverishly to have their own man advanced as Commandant.  Still, the anti-Imperialist press did maul Waller at every opportunity, suggesting very heavily that a man lacking concern for his fellow man didn’t deserve to represent the entire Marine Corps.  The politicians won the day.

[2] In these times, there was no wireless radio and the telegraphic cable in Alexandria was not functioning.  The US Naval Commander had obtained the approval of Washington D. C. to land the mixed company of Marines and Sailors, but once ashore Lieutenant Commander Goodrich was entirely on his own.  Goodrich made the decision to remain with the British rather than to return his men to their ship.  Waller, as one of only four officers, would have been privy to all decisions being made ashore.  As a 24-year old lieutenant, Waller learned about independence of command; it would stand him in good stead in future years.

[3] A brevet promotion entitles an officer to wear the rank insignia of the next higher grade, albeit without any increase in pay.  It the Marine Corps, a brevet promotion only came as the result of exceptionally meritorious service or gallantry during a period of combat.


Vandegrift —Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vandegrift —Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

General Order No. 1

EGA 2014-002Marine sentries are governed by 11 General Orders and such special orders and directives as may be required for a particular guard post or location. A Marine’s first general order is, “Take charge of this post and all government property in view.” That is precisely what the Marines did in 1921 (and again in 1926) when gangsters began robbing the United States Postal Service of its mail and packages. Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby, himself a veteran of Marine Corps service, instructed the Marines as follows:

“You must, when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand, if attacked, shoot, and shoot to kill. There is no compromise in this battle with bandits. If two Marines guarding a mail car, for example, are suddenly covered by a robber, neither must hold up his hands, but both must begin shooting at once. One may be killed, but the other will get the robbers and save the mail. When our Marine Corps men go as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered or there must be a dead Marine at the post of duty.”

Mr. Denby was not a joking man.

Mail robbery had become a very lucrative business between 1919 and 1921. According to an article by Postal Historian George Corney, about $6 million was lost to mail robbery during these years. In terms of today’s dollars, that would be about $80 million. Train/postal robbery was a worthwhile endeavor back then because registered mail is how most businesses and persons transferred money from one location to another. The worst robbery of all took place in New York City —the loss of $2.4 million in five sacks of registered mail. Today, that would be about $31 million.

The Postmaster General of the United States asked the President for help (on two separate occasions). In 1921, President Harding sent a terse letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Denby:

My Dear Mr. Secretary:

You will detail as guards for the United States Mails a sufficient number of officers and men of the United States Marine Corps to protect the mails from depredations by robbers and bandits.

You will confer with the Postmaster General as to the details, and will issue the necessary instructions in regard to the performance of this duty.

Very truly yours,

Warren G. Harding

It was not very long before the Commandant of the Marine Corps temporarily reassigned 53 officers and 2,200 Marines to duty protecting the United States Mail. These Marines came from the bases at Quantico, Virginia and San Diego, California. Marine commanding officers passed down terse instructions to their Marines, including a training manual formatted as a series of questions and answers. Here are two examples:

Question: Suppose he (the robber) is using a gun or making threats with a gun in trying to escape?

Answer: Shoot him.

Question: Is it possible to make a successful mail robbery?

Answer: Only over the body of a dead Marine.

Of course, so few Marines could not guard every bit of mail and so the Post Office Department decided that Marines would only guard registered mail consisting of a considerable value, particularly mail involving cash and negotiable bonds. The post office consolidated these shipments as much as possible in order to reduce the number of Marines required for such duties.

USMC Mail Guards 001Marines assigned to these duties may have imagined that it was a plum assignment, but it actually involved long, tedious, lonely hours. Not one time during the initial period of guard duty did anyone attempt to rob the U. S. Postal Service. Marines were withdrawn on 15 March 1922.

The break in robberies continued until in April 1923 when a mail messenger in St. Louis was relieved of $2.4 million of registered mail, and a general reescalation of robberies in 1926. In October, a group of gunmen murdered a postal truck driver and made off with $150,000. Once again, the Postmaster requested Marines to guard the mail while the postal service developed its own force of guards and armored trucks. Once again, the Commandant of the Marine Corps detailed 2,500 Marines to postal security duties, this time under the command of two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler (West Coast Operations), and Major General Logan Feland (East Coast Operations). All 2,500 Marines served on Mail Guard Duty.

By 1926, gangsters had upgraded their firearm capability. Now they were using automatic rifles and machineguns. Marines responded in kind, adding Thompson sub-machineguns to their arsenal of .45 pistols and shotguns. This time, a Marine did fire his weapon. On the night of 26 October 1926, while detailed to a Seattle bound train, Private Fred Jackson discovered an intruder standing on the mail car platform. In spite of the fact that the train was traveling at about 25 miles per hour, Private Jackson ordered the man off the train. The man told Jackson he wasn’t going to do it. Jackson fired a shot above the man’s head, which caused the interloper to rethink his position. As the man jumped from the train, Jackson fired a second shot for good measure. Today this would result in a White House investigation.

Marines were withdrawn from Postal Security Duty in February 1927; they were needed elsewhere. The Banana Wars were once more heating up.

Close Air —Part I

Cunningham Alfred 001Marine Corps Aviation began with a few good men that really did want to fly air machines. One of the first of these was a first lieutenant whose name was Alfred A. Cunningham. He was not only the first Marine Corps naval aviator, he was also a visionary able to develop the concept of an expeditionary air force. He had a keen interest in the way Italian aviators used their machines against the Ottoman Turks in 1911, and it was he that urged Major General Commandant William Biddle to establish a flying program for Marines. The timing was right, for General Biddle was under a great deal of pressure to expedite the Marine Corps’ transition to an advanced naval base defense mission. Biddle regarded Cunningham’s proposal as an opportunity to move this mission forward and recommended the creation of a Marine aviation capability. The Navy accepted this as a commitment to modernization and the Marine Corps has been flying tactical aircraft ever since.

When President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Imperial Germany in April 1917, the Marines were ready with fifty pilots and mechanics of the Aviation Detachment of the Marine Advanced Base Force. The War Department was happy to accept Marine ground troops—eventually increasing to 10,000 in strength, but it was somewhat less enthusiastic about accepting Marine Corps land-based air squadrons to provide reconnaissance and artillery spotting. The Navy, however, did accept the Marine’s advanced based seaplane squadron for antisubmarine patrols in the Azores. Captain Cunningham commanded four bomber squadrons in 1918 —the 1st Marine Aviation Force— supporting the Allied naval bombing group in Northern France. At this time, the Marines were flying De Havilland DH-4 and DH-9 biplanes over German installations behind the lines.

DH-4Still, the General Board of the Navy had questions about Marine Corps aviation and it was up to Cunningham to flesh it all out. He testified in 1919, “The only excuse for aviation in any service is its usefulness in assisting the troops on the ground.” He envisioned an air arm capable of providing direct support to battlefield infantry operations. He saw expeditionary air squadrons that could deploy by ship and fly from primitive fields in support of ground units, or in support of advanced naval bases. Remember, however, the Marines were not a very large organization; if they were to develop air support doctrine, they would have to do this on the move. They did this during the so-called Banana Wars in the Caribbean and in Central America. It was a challenging period for the Marines —the only military service engaged in combat during the interwar years (1919-1941). The lessons learned by the Marines during this period would prove invaluable during World War II.

Marine Brigades returned to the United States from Nicaragua and Haiti in 1933, just as the Marine Corps underwent a significant change in its primary mission —from static defense of advanced naval bases to one more suitable for a “likely war” with Japan. (See also: Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia, Major Earl Hancock “Pete” Ellis, USMC, 23 July 1921.) The Navy and Marines had been developing their Amphibious Warfare doctrine since the 1920s, which conceptually involved the forcible seizure of strategic islands in a naval campaign across the Pacific. One cannot help but wonder how it was that Marine officers could see the threat developing in Japan, while no one else in our nation’s government could. Nevertheless, encouraged by the development and tactical performance of Marine Corps aviation in Nicaragua, the Marine Corps incorporated the air-ground team concept in a series of landmark doctrinal initiatives. The new Fleet Marine Force (FMF) brigades formed in 1933 at Quantico, Virginia and at San Diego, California, contained an air group and an infantry regiment. Essentially, this same organizational structure would rescue South Korea and the Eighth US Army from complete destruction in June 1950.

In 1933, however, reliable air-ground radios were almost nonexistent. In 1933, the Marines still had not determined which air frame best suited a Marine Corps mission. Should they adopt dive-bombers, fighters, or some new ground-attack variant? The question would be answered in time, once aviation planners developed a proper construct for the mission, which ultimately was what it had always been: close air support.

To be continued

The First Epistle of the Carrier Pilot

Naval Aviation 001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Major Paul Webb Chapman, USMC (Retired)

“Playboy 37”

Where Marines Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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