Captain George W. Sachtleben, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines
In January 1969, responsibility for combat operations in the I Corps Tactical Zone (I CTZ) (Also, I Corps), which included the five northern-most provinces of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN) rested with the Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF), who was then Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Jr. Cushman commanded 81,000 Marine and Army combat troops situated throughout the Quang Tri, Thua Thien, Quang Nam, Quang Tin, and Quang Ngai.
(a) Major General Charles J. Quilter commanded 15,500 Marines of the First Marine Aircraft Wing (1stMAW), which included 500 fixed and rotary wing aircraft at Chu Lai, Da Nang, Phu Bai, and Quang Tri.
(b) Major General Ormond R. Simpson commanded the 1st Marine Division (1stMarDiv) just outside Da Nang, a force of 24,000 ground-combat Marines primarily assigned to Quang Nam Province.
(c) Major General Raymond G. Davis commanded the 3rd Marine Division (3rdMarDiv), 21,000 ground-combat Marines from Dong Ha, whose primary responsibility was Quang Tri Province.
(d) An additional 10,000 Marines provided combat logistics support to the MAW and two infantry divisions under Brigadier General James A. Feely, Jr., at Da Nang.
(e) An additional 1,900 Marines served in the Combined Action Program under Colonel Edward F. Danowitz — tasked with providing local area security to local villages and hamlets.
(f) In addition to these Marines, III MAF controlled combat operations involving a force of 50,000 U. S. Army troops involving elements of the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), Colonel James M. Gibson, Commanding, the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) under Major General Melvin Zais, both Army units serving under the US XXIV Corps, Lieutenant General Richard G. Stilwell, U. S. Army, based at Phu Bai.
(g) An additional 23,800 soldiers of Major General Charles M. Getty’s 23rd Infantry (Americal) Division operated in Quang Tin and Quang Ngai Provinces.
(h) General Cushman also exercised operational control over the United States Army Advisory Group (USAAG), who advised and assisted RVN military units operating in the I CTZ.
Enemy forces operating in RVN’s I CTZ included 123 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) battalions and 18 Viet Cong (irregular) (VC) battalions involving 90,000 troops. There were additionally around 23,500 guerrillas and 16,000 political and quasi-military cadres and another 30,000 North Vietnamese regulars operating in Laos but within striking distance of the I CTZ. These forces were controlled by five separate headquarters elements.
In January 1969, the communist forces were still reeling from their massive defeat during the Tet 68 campaign [Note 1]; it forced NVA and VC commands to reconsider their strategy for I CTZ. Rather than attempting to defeat the American and RVN forces through massive assault, they adopted the policy of prolonging the conflict through small unit hit and run tactics, sapper attacks, harassment, terrorism, and sabotage. Their focus became severing lines of communications, attacking rear area support bases, storage facilities, and defeating RVN’s pacification efforts. Driving these strategies and tactics was the differences in terrain from II CTZ to the northwestern areas of I CTZ. NVA regular units concentrated their forces in the uninhabited jungle-covered mountainous areas, close to border sanctuaries.
In the Marine Corps mindset, defense is a temporary tactic used to dig in for the night, or rest, regroup, and resupply their combat forces before continuing the attack. Locating the enemy, viciously attacking him, and destroying him is how wars are won. But this wasn’t the national policy of the United States. The mission in Vietnam was to defend South Vietnam — which gave up initiative to the enemy. Marine and Army commanders hated this with a passion, but those were their orders. But Major General Raymond G. Davis, commanding the 3rdMarDiv wasn’t about to sit around waiting for the enemy to attack him. Soon after assuming command of his division, he ordered his regimental commanders to go find the enemy, and kill him. General Cushman completely agreed with Davis’ thinking — as did Lieutenant General Herman Nickerson, Jr., when he replaced Cushman as CG III MAF on 26 March 1969.
General Davis’ idea of mobile operations depended on the helicopter, of course, but Ray Davis was no one trick pony. He also sought to exploit intelligence gathered by small sized reconnaissance patrols, which were continuously employed throughout the 3rdMarDiv TAOR, which supplemented electronic and other human intelligence sources. The recon patrols were called StingRay operations, who mission was to find, fix, and destroy the enemy with all available supporting arms. StingRay operations were augmented by even smaller “snoop and poop” patrols, known as Key Hole forays. Their mission was to “observe,” not engage.
On 9 April, Colonel Edward F. Danowitz [Note 2] relieved Colonel Robert H. Barrow as Commanding Officer, 9th Marines. Danowitz was determined to continue the aggressive operations planned and executed by Colonel Barrow under General Davis’ policy of finding the enemy and killing him.
Despite the success of the 9th Marines in Operation Dewey Canyon and the 3rd Marines in the Vietnam Salient, intelligence reports indicated that several regimental size enemy units were again infiltrating into the northern area of their Base Area 611, south of the salient, specifically elements of the 6th and 9th NVA regiments, the 675th Artillery Regiment, and various support elements. Air reconnaissance indicated as well that the NVA were repairing Route 922 and that significant numbers of enemy were returning to the A Shau Valley and eastward into Base Area 101, which was located astride the Quang Tri/Thua Thien political boundary.
To counter these enemy infiltrations, elements of the 3rdMarDiv and 101st Airborne were ordered to execute Operation Apache Snow in the northern A Shau Valley and southern Da Krong River Valley, cut the enemy supply and infiltration routes at the Laotian border, locate and destroy enemy forces, base camps, and supply caches. Operating under Lieutenant General Stilwell, XXIV commander, 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines (1/9 and 2/9) were assigned the task of occupying the southern Da Krong and blocking enemy escape routes into Laos along Route 922.
Movement to Contact
The 2/9 Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel George C. Fox. Apache Snow began on 10 May when Lieutenant Colonel Thomas J. Culkin’s 1/9 leap-frogged over 2/9 and assaulted Fire Support Base Erskine, which overlooked the upper Da Krong and Route 922. For the Marines, the timing was perfect because the enemy units had yet to reconstitute infantry regiments following their defeat in Dewey Canyon. Culkin’s aggressive patrolling resulted in several skirmishes with enemy forces in transit, but each time the enemy refused the Marine’s invitation to dance. Fox’s 2/9, located 5 miles north, patrolled FSB Razor and LZ Dallas in an area north-northeast of Erskine. They too encountered numerous small sized enemy units, who were also quick to fade into the jungle.
While the Da Krong remained relatively quiet, the same could not be said for the A Shau Valley, where four US Army battalions and an ARVN battalion encountered a well-defended hut and bunker complex on Hill 937 and commenced operations to clear it of elements of the 9th and 29th NVA regiments. The battle lasted a week, concluding on 20 May 1969 with 500 enemy dead on the; Army casualties were 44 killed, 297 wounded. Soldiers from the 187th renamed this hill complex “Hamburger Hill.” Subsequently, surviving elements of the NVA regiments withdrew into Laos and avoided further contact with US and ARVN forces operating in the A Shau Valley.
The 3rdMarDiv continued to maneuver its battalions in western Quang Tri, which reduced the enemy’s threat. During June, the 9th Marines initiated two simultaneous operations, named Cameron Falls and Utah Mesa, which targeted the 304th NVA Division attempting to establish a presence south of Route 9. Evidence from reconnaissance missions indicated that elements of the NVA division had infiltrated into the lower Da Krong Valley, and were moving east and north along Route 616 and the river. A series of rocket attacks on combat base Vandegrift signaled the start of planned NVA pressure on allied positions by the 57th NVA Regiment. Colonel Danowitz’s Marines were assigned the mission of searching for and destroying enemy forces within an area bordered in the North by Song Quang Tri, in the South by the Da Krong River, on the East by FSB Shepherd, and on the West by FSB Henderson. This area was considered critical to the security of Vandegrift and the Ba Long Valley, which led to the population centers of Quang Tri and Dong Ha.
Cameron Falls began on 29 May. 2/9 moved unopposed toward FSB Whisman, which the battalion occupied; 3/9 under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Oral R. Swigart, Jr., occupied FSB Shepherd. At Whisman, 2/9 Marines began to shore up their defensives with obstacles, fighting holes, claymore mines, and trip flares. At 0215 on 1 June, a small enemy force began probing 2/9’s defenses and ran up against a listening post manned by Golf Company. Two Marines were killed, but he FSB was alerted. Aggressive reaction by Golf 2/9 resulted in 19 enemy killed with two taken prisoner.
From information provided by the prisoners, Colonel Fox learned that the 57th NVA Regiment’s command post (CP) was located to the southwest of Whisman. The 2/9 commander issued a warning order to Fox and Golf companies to prepare for a sweep of the suspected location of the enemy CP; additional intelligence indicated that a large enemy force was moving northeast toward Hill 824. Danowitz redirected the attack toward Hill 824 with two companies from 2/9 in a sweep northeast along the Da Krong River, and two companies of 3/9 advancing east from FSB Shepherd. Swigart reported the terrain and vegetation exceedingly difficult — the twelve foot high elephant grass restricted air movement, making the advance exceedingly hot. As elements of 2/9 and 3/9 converged on Hill 824, both battalion commanders reported that the enemy force was deployed around the hill in considerable strength.
On 5 June, Hotel Company 2/9 encountered a well-fortified NVA battalion on the southern bank of the Da Krong. The initial engagement was a fight that lasted 12 hours. The best description of this fight comes from the Silver Star award citation issued to Captain George W. Sachtleben, of Chicago, Illinois:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in awarding the Silver Star to Captain George W. Sachtleben, United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as Commanding Officer, Company H, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division in connection with operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam.
On the afternoon of 5 June 1969, during operation Cameron Falls, two platoons of Company H advanced on a trail along the Da Krong River eight miles southwest of the Vandegrift Combat Base when they initiated contact with a company-sized North Vietnamese Army force occupying well camouflaged positions on a cliff overlooking the trail. Due to their location, the Marines were extremely vulnerable to the heavy volume of enemy rocket-propelled grenade, small arms, and automatic weapons fire, but continued to fight from a narrow ledge with their backs against the river.
Despite suffering serious wounds sustained during the initial moments of the fire-fight, Captain Sachtleben skillfully deployed his forces to counter the hostile attacks, directed the accurate delivery of supporting arms fire, and organized the movement of casualties to a relatively safe area.
Throughout the fight, he completely disregarded his own safety as he boldly moved about the hazardous area shouting instructions and encouragement to his men. After establishing an initial perimeter, he directed a limited assault which secured a toe-hold on a portion of one cliff looming over his position.
Throughout the night and the following morning, he directed both offensive and defensive actions which thwarted or repulsed repeated North Vietnamese Army attacks. Although aware that the enemy was reinforcing and faced by the fact that his company was running dangerously low on ammunition, that his key officers and noncommissioned officers were wounded, and that his men were nearing exhaustion, Captain Sachtleben fearlessly deployed his men, directed their fire, and fought with such tenacity that the North Vietnamese force broke contact late in the afternoon of the second day and retreated away from the Marines.
Captain Sachtleben’s’ dynamic leadership and valiant actions inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in his company accounting for 54 enemy killed as his company decisively defeated the North Vietnamese Army force. By his courage, bold initiative, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of great personal danger, Captain Sachtleben upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
A subsequent sweep of the area revealed a dozen more enemy remains, enemy bunkers, caves, and senior officer’s living quarters.
The United States Marine Corps paid tribute to Captain Sachtleben at Arlington National Cemetery, shown below:
Sergeant Stanley R. Richard, United States Marine Corps.
Smith, C. R. U. S. Marines in Vietnam: High Mobility and Standdown, 1969. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1988.
 The number of enemy battalions went from around 94 in mid-1968 to around 23 in early 1969.
 Born in Chicago and raised in New Jersey, Edward Danowitz entered the Marine Corps in 1942 and served in World War II, Korea, the Dominican Republic, and in Vietnam. He retired in 1972. After his military service, he joined the faculty at Rollins College where he taught the Russian and Spanish languages. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 92 years.
Who are these people who claim the title, U.S. Marine?
They are men and women who come from every part of the United States of America. They are all high school graduates with many having college credits or degrees. Many left their homes as teenagers seeking adventure; with an average age of 25-years, Marines are the youngest overall of all the uniformed services. They are patriots—men and women who love their country enough to be willing to place themselves in harm’s way defending the American way of life. When they left home, they left all the comforts of home to discover the unknown.
At recruit training or officer’s candidate school, they learned the basics of what it takes to become a Marine. They learned that in the Marine Corps, learning is a lifetime endeavor. Upon graduating from Bootcamp or OCS, every Marine receives his or her first Marine Corps Emblem, signifying that they have passed the test for becoming a United States Marine. They then proceed to infantry training because every Marine is a rifleman.
There are dozens of occupational fields in the Marine Corps, many of these are highly technical areas that demand further training. After their initial period of training, Marines are scattered to the four winds and the corners of the earth. In the process of becoming a United States Marine, they discovered a new family —one composed of men and women who believe as they do, whose values and devotions equal their own. They inherited a unique tradition of devotion to duty that exceeds those of any other service organization; it has been passed to them by every previous generation dating back to 1775. In time, they will pass this tradition on to those who follow them. Part of this tradition demands that they keep faith with their God, their Country, and their Corps. In the Marines, no one cares what color skin you have; they only care about the content of your character. There is no place in the Marine Corps for people of low character.
Marines seldom get enough sleep, yet their energy levels remain high. They take great pride in their uniforms and work constantly to present the best possible military appearance. No one ever wants to become a “raggedy assed Marine.” They are professionals who work hard to develop, maintain, and enhance their unique skills. They are scholars who constantly read about the art and science of warfare. The more they learn, the more they want to know.
Marines are also known to play hard. Some smoke and drink too much, but they are absolutely devoted to maintaining their personal and professional integrity, their honor, their commitment. They are courageous in the face of great danger. They do not behave bravely on the battlefield for the Corps; they do it for each other, but this is what makes the Marine Corps unique. Tragically, Marines sometimes lose a brother or sister; when this happens, they honor them publicly and mourn them privately.
We don’t pay Marines enough money, but most never joined for money —they joined to serve. All they ask in return for their many sacrifices is the gratitude of the American people, and the respect they have earned and deserve. Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter most: letters from back home matter because there are occasions when Marines aren’t sure they’ll ever see home again.
Young Marines grow up fast, because serving as a leader is a weighty responsibility. Most Marine corporals have more responsibility than do most corporate executives. They learn to make hard decisions; they learn how to live with the consequences of those decisions. Yet, in some other ways, Marines never grow up at all … almost every Marine has a wicked sense of humor.
Marines fight for freedom; that is, the freedom of people whom they’ve never met. Some Marines experience the crucible of war and must learn how to deal with its physical and psychological effects. No matter whether Marines served in combat or not, every Marine stands the chance of going into a war zone; Marines are known to volunteer for combat service. Every Marine knows that tough training pays off. They sweat in tough training, so they won’t have to bleed in combat. All Marines give something of themselves in the service of their country —some Marines give all.
Never ask a Marine what it’s like to serve in combat —it is an experience that defies explanation.
Marines love their time-honored rites and ceremonies, for these are the things that strengthen their bond with fellow Marines. When the going gets tough, it is this bond that nurtures them. The future may be uncertain, but one thing is constant: a Marine can always count on a fellow-Marine. It’s what Marines do. Together, Marines learn how to deal with victory and tragedy.
At the end of their Marine Corps adventures, some Marines go back home and take up their lives where they left off … but none of these men and women are ever the same as when they left for boot camp because being a Marine is a lifelong endeavor. There are no ex-Marines.
One-third of all Marines remain in the Corps because they have fallen in love with the uniqueness of the Marine Corps lifestyle. They crave the challenges of adventurous service. Some Marines remain in the Marines because the Corps has become their home.
You should know that Marines are great story-tellers. Most of these stories contain embellishments; the more often they are told, the greater the embellishments become. Eventually, their stories become legend —and in some cases, myth. Elite forces tell such tales. Some are hilarious, some are true, and some are both. No matter what the tale, Marines always speak highly of their Corps.
The title Marine is earned the hard way and remains effective throughout a Marine’s lifetime. It has no monetary value, but it is a priceless gift. When Marines meet one another, in uniform or civilian attire, there is also the exchange of a nod, or perhaps a tight smile. There is but one exception to the Marine for Life Rule: it is that no one can remain part of the Marine family who dishonors themselves or our Corps.
To those who are serving as Marines presently, to those who have gone before, I thank you for your sacrifices. Remember the good times, and if you haven’t done so, I urge you to seek your peace for the unhappy moments. Stand tall, always, because future generations will one day stand upon your shoulders.
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.
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 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, 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.
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.
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) 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 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.
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.
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 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 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. 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.
Brady, J. The Scariest Place in the World: A Marine Returns to North Korea. New York: Dunne Books, 2005
Drury, B., and Tom Clavin. The Last Stand of Fox Company. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009
Henderson, K. A Change in Mission. Washington: Washington Post Company, 2009
Kummer, D. W. S. Marines in the Global War on Terrorism. Quantico: History Division, USMC. 2014
Martin, R. Breakout—The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950. Penguin Books, 1999.
 Celtiberians were Celticized people inhabiting the central-eastern Iberian Peninsula during the final centuries BC.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 Meals, Ready to Eat. Also, Meals Rejected by Ethiopians.
 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.
 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.
People have admired chivalrous conduct for thousands of years, long before we invented a word for it. It does not confine itself to mounted warriors wearing armor and confronting a determined enemy. Chivalry was a code employed by a culture of warriors, which extends to the notion of good men skilled in warfare willing to place their lives and fortunes “on the line” in defense of innocents, in defense of the realm, in defense of religious beliefs. The code was already in writing by the time of Charlemagne and is chronicled in La Chanson de Roland, which tells of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778 A.D. Historians have restored the code, which appears in summary form below:
To fear God and maintain His church (community)
To serve the liege lord in valor and faith
To protect the weak and defenseless
To give succor to widows and orphans
To refrain from the wanton giving of offense
To live by honor and for glory
To despise pecuniary reward
To fight for the welfare of all
To obey those placed in authority
To guard the honor of fellows
To eschew unfairness, meanness, and deceit
To keep faith
At all times, speak only truth
To persevere to the end in any enterprise once begun
To respect and honor women
Never refuse a challenge from an equal
Never turn one’s back upon a foe
Of these eighteen tenets, 12 relate to chivalrous behavior, as opposed to combat. For people like me, they remain relevant and elemental in the behavior of true ladies and gentlemen and closely align themselves with the New Testament’s I Corinthians, 13.
If I speak in the tongues of men or angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all that I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; It is not self-seeking, nor easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies they will cease. Where there are tongues, they will be stilled. Where there is knowledge, this too will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophecy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I spoke as a child; I thought like a child. I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put away the things of childhood. For now, we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but we will see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three alone remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
During the early and late Middle Ages, the code of chivalry was incorporated into rites of knighthood, standards of behavior expected of those who served the interests of others, more than their own interests. They also included strict rules of etiquette and behavior. The codes were so exemplary that poets, lyricists, and writers incorporated them into their tales. Since most people were illiterate, wandering minstrels communicated these ideals throughout the land. In the post-Roman period of England (c. 500 A.D.) Arthurian myths strengthened notions of personal fortitude and courage in the face of adversity, of honor, honesty, valor, and loyalty.
I believe these two things: (1) King Arthur was not a myth; (2) No organization in the world today better emulates the chivalrous code than the United States Marine Corps. This is what I believe, but I do not exclude any other of western civilization’s stalwart military or public service organizations. I only intend my statement to emphasize the frequency of such laudatory qualities within the brotherhood of the US Marine Corps.
The stories from antiquity, mythical or otherwise, serve as teaching moments. There may not have been a greater general in all antiquity than Julius Caesar, but he was a flawed man (professionally and personally) whose mistakes were devastating to Rome and its people. King Arthur too was an illustrious leader, a man whose human frailty led to his demise and that of his Camelotian kingdom. Not too many years ago, the American people spoke of the Kennedy White House as Camelot, but revealed history tells us that Jack Kennedy and his lovely bride were troubled people whose personal behaviors destroyed them, their legacy, which deeply troubled their citizen-admirers’.
The bane of humankind is our moral frailty.
Historians have claimed that the Arthurian stories were legend or myth because there are no written records to validate them. Nor is there any physical evidence that he ever lived —until recently. British archeologists believe that they have uncovered the burial tomb of a man named Arthur that dates back in time to around 500 A. D. Perhaps King Arthur was a myth, but I doubt it. King Arthur is the warrior from antiquity that no one ever forgot. His existence may not be as well documented as that of Jesus of Nazareth, but the evidence that does exist is enough to convince me that such a man did exist —but more to the point, his is a story that can help us discover who we are, and how we might use the lessons of time to improve ourselves; how we might better serve our families, our communities, and our nation.
Many tales were written about King Arthur and his knights of the round table, most of which were romantic constructs that incorporated supernatural or mythical beings, which were clearly imaginative inventions. Three hundred years earlier, however, Nennius records Arthur as a historic figure in Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), an account unfettered by flights of fancy. The Britons, of course, were tribal Celts who occupied all of Britain before being pushed into Wales by the Romans, Angles, and Saxons. Arthur was one of the last Britons to make a successful stand against the Anglo-Saxon invasions, a conflict that continued through the rise and progeny of King Alfred the Great (847-99). If Nennius correctly records the events of the time, given that present-day England was divided by squabbling tribes in the post-Roman period, then Arthur would not have adorned himself in shining armor. He would wear the attire of a Celtic chieftain, which most likely incorporated the clothing and armor of late-Roman style. There would have been no great castles, but something more on the order of wooden stockades incorporated with then-existing Roman fortifications/settlements.
Historic facts about this period of Romano-British England are more fascinating than the fanciful tales because history is more plausible. Monk Nennius never told us where Arthur was born, but he did list his battles —notably his last battle at Badon, which occurred near Aquae Sulis (present-day Bath). The significance of the battle was that the Britons prevailed over the Anglo-Saxon horde, pushing them back to the British Saxon Shore. We know this from the Anglo-Saxon’s own records of the time, and from archaeological evidence. That the Britons had a powerful, unifying leader, seems undeniable.
Was there such a place as Camelot? Yes-and no. Colchester, England is the site of the earliest Roman settlement, although evidence suggests that the settlement existed before the arrival of Romans in 55 B.C. It was then called Camulodunon, which also appears on coins minted by the chieftain Tasciovanus between 20-10 B.C. It would be easy to make this association, but Colchester is far removed from Aquae Sulis and there is yet another possibility.
In the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, there is a 7th-century work titled The Song of Llywarch the Old. It contains one of the oldest references to King Arthur, composed of a series of poems attributed to a poet named Llywarch, who praises the exploits of a chieftain named Cynddylan, who died fighting the Anglo Saxons in 658 A.D. Cynddylan, according to Llywarch, was the direct descendant of Arthur, which implies that Arthur once ruled the kingdom that Cynddylan ruled. It was the kingdom of present-day Powys, Wales, which at the time covered the area described above, in the south and west-central England and east-central Wales. The Anglo-Saxons eventually defeated the Britons, pushing them into the Welsh mountains where a modern-day county still retains the old kingdom’s name. The Romans called this area Viroconium.
When Rome abandoned Britain in 410 A.D., most of their settlements were abandoned and Britain fell into the so-called Dark Ages. Romans and their mixed-blood descendants, however, continued to occupy Viroconium. It had been the fourth largest town in Romano-Britain after Londonium(London), Lindum Colonia (Lincoln), and Eboracum (York). While the Anglo-Saxons quickly overran the largest cities (above), Viroconium was far distant from the invasive Germans and remained free and evolved into the Briton’s most important city in the early Dark Ages. These ruins still exist with archeological evidence that the town went through a process of reconstruction around 500 A.D. We know the town today as Wroxeter, which is 25 miles northwest of Worcester, my lovely bride’s hometown. Ancient manuscripts tell us that Arthur ruled over the Briton’s most important city —which would have been Viroconium.
Still, Arthur is not a Welsh name. The ruler of Viroconium around the time of Arthur was named Owain Ddantgwyn (pronounced Owen Thant-gwyn), which sounds nothing like Arthur. During the early Middle Ages, British warriors were given honorary titles of real or mythological animals thought to represent their prowess in battle. One of these was the Welsh word “Arth,” meaning Bear. In Viroconium around 500 A.D., its ruler Owain Ddantgwyn was known as the Bear, hence, Arth. Scholars today connect the Welsh word for bear with the Latin word for bear, Ursus, which then became, in later years, Arthur, a king, and a person who actually did exist.
The tales of King Arthur are entertaining, but the history of the real warrior is more fascinating. Our admiration for such a fellow continues because, among other things, he helped create the code of honor that serves as our guide for achieving and maintaining nobility.
Knights in the sense of the Middle Ages never existed in the United States, of course —Americans eschewed the notion of kings or of men born into families of nobles. Instead, we Americans believe that every person can obtain nobility by acting nobly. The Knight’s Code of Honor that I borrowed (above) is a nifty tool for helping us achieve nobility —as a guide for the way we live our lives.
As for knights —we do have them, but we call them by another name. Their standards are high, their tolerance for failure is low, they do remarkably brave things almost on a daily basis while never seeking recognition. They are guardians of the weak, they succor the suffering, and live according to a unique code of honor. These knights demand fairness, serve justice, always persevere, and they keep the faith. In fact, it is their motto: Semper Fidelis. We call these modern-day knights United States Marines.
“Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for a friend.”
Remarkably, much about the US Marines is modeled on the warrior that no one forgot. Personally, given who I am, I hope no one ever does forget.
Anderson, G. King Arthur in Antiquity. London: Roufledge (2004)
Phillips, G. The Lost Tomb of King Arthur. Rochester: Bear & Company, 2016
Dumville, D. N. Sub-Roman Britain: History and legend. 1977
 Our observation that chivalrous codes did exist does not suggest that every individual who took such oaths always observed them. Every person has strengths as well as weaknesses; some of us have destructive character flaws. In ancient society, and today, there are plenty of scurrilous fellows who took oaths for only one purpose, to advance themselves, and then violated them on a more-or-less on-going basis.
 Read: The Lost Tomb of King Arthur, by Graham Phillips, Rochester: Bear & Company, 2016.
 Nennius was a Welsh monk of the 9th century. Nennius, who lived in Brecknockshire, present-day Powys, was a student of the bishop Elfodd of Bangor, who convinced ecclesiastics of his day to accept the Continental dating of Easter. Much of Nennius’ effort was based on earlier works, notably De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, which was written by Gildas between 500-579 A. D.
 Popular writers suggest that Arthur Pendragon was descended from a Welsh and Romano-British line, which given the history of Rome’s presence in Britain, and the areas in which they settled (Aquae Sulis (Somerset)-West Mercia (Wroxeter/Worcestershire)), the suggestion is credible.