The Navy Cross

–And Posha

Introduction

Normally, a structure begins with a solid foundation, construed to mean “at ground level,” and works itself upward to its pinnacle.  The United States military awards system works just the opposite.  The current system begins at the pinnacle and works its way downward.  At the pinnacle of this system is the United States Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award for bravery, awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the United States Congress.  For this reason, the medal is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, but its official title is simply the Medal of Honor.  So far in its history, since its introduction in 1863, the Medal of Honor (also, MoH) has been awarded 3,512 times to 3,493 recipients.  Nineteen individuals have been double recipients of the award.  Since the award’s inception, the laws and regulations that apply to it have changed.  In some instances, the award has been rescinded.  Six rescinded awards have been reinstated.

On several occasions, legislation has been offered to waive certain restrictions — to encourage the President to award the Medal of Honor to particular individuals.  In the most general sense, this type of legislation is rarely enacted.  In limited number of cases, the medal has been awarded outside legal restrictions concerning time limits.  These cases are often based on technical errors, lost documents or eyewitness accounts, or other factors that justify reconsideration.  Such cases are an exception to the rule.

At the beginning

The tradition of recognizing American military men (later, women) dates to the American Revolution.  In the American colonies, the oldest military decoration was the Fidelity Medallion, created by the Continental Congress in 1780 and presented to the men responsible for capturing British Major John André — the officer who worked with Benedict Arnold to betray the colonies.

The recipients of the Fidelity Medallion were members of the New York militia: Privates Isaac Van Wart, David Williams, and John Paulding.  The medal was never again awarded — and it is for this reason that the first United States (as opposed to Continental) medal awarded was the Badge of Military Merit, created in 1782.  In the new egalitarian America, it is also significant that the first medals were awarded to enlisted men, not officers.[1]

On 7 August 1782, General George Washington designed the Badge of Military Merit.  It was a cloth or silk figure of a heart, recognizing meritorious or gallant conduct.  But credit for instigating the practice of awards recognition belongs to George Washington. Only three men received this hand-made decoration: (a) Sergeant Elijah Churchill: 2nd Regiment, Light Dragoons.  He was awarded the badge for his part in two successful raids behind British lines in Nov. 1780 and in October of 1781.  (b) Sergeant William Brown: 5th Connecticut Regiment. Awarded the badge for leading an advance party — with only bayonets — penetrating the British lines at Yorktown, VA on 14 October 1781, and (c) Sergeant Daniel Bissell: 2nd Connecticut Regiment. Awarded the badge for masquerading as a British soldier from August 1781 to September 1782.[2]  Again, all three recipients were enlisted men — and this design, by General Washington, became the forerunner of the modern Purple Heart Medal.

Between General Washington’s Merit Badge and the American Civil War, government officials issued certificates of merit and “brevet promotions” to recognize courageous conduct and meritorious military service.  Thus, the first military decoration formally authorized by the United States government to symbolize valorous conduct was the Medal of Honor, approved for enlisted men of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.  President Lincoln signed the authorization on 21 December 1861.  In July 1862, Congress approved a Medal of Honor suitable for the U.S. Army (and Volunteer Army of the United States).[3]

During the Civil War, more than 2,000 Medals of Honor were issued.  Allegations of fraud and shady politics in the award of the medal led to a review of all those issued to Army members prior to 1917.  A commission of five retired general officers determined that 911 of the medals had been improperly awarded.  Those awards included medals given to members of the 27th Maine Regiment for reenlisting during the Civil War, along with those presented to members of the Presidential Honor Guard at Lincoln’s funeral.  Also included was the only MoH awarded to a woman: Mary Walker, a union surgeon.[4]

Fifty-four years after the creation of the Medal of Honor (1861), at a time when the Medal of Honor was the only U.S. award for valor, officials of the Navy Department and War Department understood that servicemen were still behaving with extreme courage on the battlefield, but simply not to the level expected of the Medal of Honor.  For this reason, the Navy and Army developed additional decorations designed to recognize battlefield bravery of a lesser standard than that of the Medal of Honor.

In the Navy, officials ordered the creation of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal as second in line to the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross Medal as third in line.  Army officials approved the Army Distinguished Service Medal and the Army Distinguished Service Cross.  In 1942, the precedence of these awards was reversed so that the Navy Cross and Army Distinguished Service Cross became the second highest awards, followed by the Distinguished Service medals as the third highest awards. 

Within the Navy Department, the Navy Cross was created to recognize valorous sailors and Marines whose performance would not qualify them for thenation’ss highest award.[5]    The Navy Cross, designed by James Earle Fraser, has been awarded 6,300 times.  Since 2001, the Navy Cross has been awarded 47 times — in two instances, the name of its recipient was classified secret.

The Navy Cross may be awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces while serving with the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard (when serving under the Navy Department) who distinguish themselves by extraordinary heroism, not justifying an award of the Medal of Honor.  Such actions must take place under one of three sets of circumstances:

  1. In combat action, while engaged against an enemy of the United States; or,
  2. In combat action, while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or,
  3. In combat action while serving with friendly foreign forces, who are engaged in armed conflict in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

The act(s) of heroism must be performed in the presence of great danger or at great personal risk and must be performed in such a manner as to render the individual’s action(s) highly conspicuous among others of equal grade, rate, experience, or position of responsibility.  An accumulation of minor acts of heroism does not justify an award of the Navy Cross.

One of the recipients was a war dog handler —

William B. Soutra is a son of Worcester, Massachusetts.  When he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, he became the third generation of his family to serve as a Devil Dog.  William, who everyone calls Billy, did more than serve his country; he made history.

Soutra’s plan was simple enough.  He wanted to sign on the dotted line, enlist for a few years, do some growing up, and then return home with all kinds of stories to tell.  Once he was in the Corps, he wanted to do more than the average Marine (as if being a superhero isn’t enough excitement).  What Billy wanted to do is become a K-9 handler.

It was a tough program to get into, but Soutra managed it.  He initially worked with police dog breeds on basic patrol and scout work.  In 2006, the war was ramping up, and the Marines needed more dog handlers.  Following basic training, the Marine Corps selected Soutra to attend the specialized search dog (SSD) course, which at the time was a new frontier — its demand was the result of a new threat everyone was calling an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.).  It was a competitive selection, and Soutra made the cut.

In February 2007, Soutra was posted to Security Battalion, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, CA.  His first dog post-graduation was a Belgian Malinois (also, Belgian Shepherd).  The team would deploy together in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  They performed combat patrols in Fallujah.  The dog, named Dina, was highly protective and intelligent.  She responded to hand signals from Soutra.  In 2008, Billy and Dina returned to Camp Pendleton.  Dina was seven years old; she was ready for retirement.

His next dog was a completely black male German Shepherd named Posha.  His reputation was aggressive and fearless; he didn’t play nice with the other animals.  Posha was an Alpha Male. During their deployment to Iraq in 2009, Soutra and Posha’s teamwork was so precise and seamless that, in a rare event, the Marines meritoriously promoted Soutra to Sergeant and, by extension, Posha to Staff Sergeant.

As the Marine Corps was in the process of developing three Military Working Dog platoons, there was an immediate need for Soutra and Posha, which in 2010 took the team to Company B, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  While patrolling with Afghan Commandos in Helmand Province, Soutra’s unit became pinned down by a complex ambuscade initiated by an I.E.D. that mortally wounded Soutra’s element leader, a staff sergeant.  In the following actions, Sergeant Soutra distinguished himself, earning the nation’s second-highest decoration for heroism on the battlefield.

With the team leader incapacitated, Soutra immediately assumed command of the element and, with complete disregard for his own life, moved across the open terrain to each commando’s position, orienting them and directing their fires upon the enemy.

Under intense fire, Soutra fearlessly moved forward with the team Corpsman to reach the fallen element leader.  While the Corpsman rendered aid, Sergeant Soutra placed a tourniquet on a severely wounded commando nearby and pulled him to safety.  Repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire, he again moved from position to position to orient and direct friendly fire and accurately relay enemy information to supporting aircraft overhead. Professionally and calmly, Soutra enabled coordinated a successful evacuation of the casualties, personally carrying one of the wounded men 75 meters to safety.

Nearly 70 minutes later, Sergeant Soutra rallied the platoon and maneuvered them safely out of the kill zone, with Posha remaining at his side throughout the actions.  It was Soutra’s decisive leadership, his exceptional courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and his complete dedication to duty that earned him the Navy Cross.

Official military news releases use phrases such as — “moving exposed down the line,” and “rushed into the kill zone,” and “flurries of insurgent machine gun and mortar fire.”  But when Soutra speaks of this period, he mostly speaks of his combat partner. He’ll even tell you that Posha owns half of that Navy Cross.  According to Soutra, “Posha made me the Marine I am today.”

Sergeant Soutra cannot say enough good things about Posha.  “During all of the gunfire, as we moved into the firefight, he didn’t hesitate, he didn’t cower, he did everything exactly when and how I did it for two straight days.  If he had faltered or balked at any point, it could have been different.”  He added, “He always reacted the same way. He saved my life.”

While Posha made it through the second combat deployment, he later succumbed to cancer and was euthanized in 2011.  His loss was particularly difficult for Billy Soutra.  In 2012, Soutra said, “It’s been a year now, but it still hurts when I think about how he got cancer and had to be put down.”

Posha’s ashes rest in an urn at a place ofSoutra’st Soutra’s bedside.  If Soutra has his way, his German Shepherd hero, now buried in his heart, will one day be buried with him — so that they’ll always be together.

Semper Fi, Posha.

Endnotes:

[1] The Continental Congress did vote to award George Washington, Horatio Gates, and John Paul Jones with gold medallions in recognition for their efforts in defeating the British forces, but none of these were awarded until after the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1790.

[2] The information gathered by Sergeant Bissell helped the Continental Army prepare for an attack on the British in New York City.

[3] Navy and Marine Corps officers were not eligible to receive the Medal of Honor until 1915.

[4] Later restored.

[5] Many European nations had a well-established custom of decorating servicemen for various levels of courage in the face of the enemy.


From Across the Sea

Introduction

Nearly everyone recalls that the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763) was a global conflict that involved most of Europe’s great powers.  It was primarily fought in Europe, in the Americas, and the Asian Pacific — but there were concurrent conflicts that included the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763), the Carnatic Wars (a series of conflicts in India’s coastal Carnatic region, 1744 – 1763), and the Anglo-Spanish War (1762 – 1763).

Opposing European alliances were led by Great Britain and France, both of which were seeking to establish global pre-eminence at the expense of the other.  France and Spain opposed Great Britain in Europe and overseas with land armies, naval forces, and colonial forces.  Great Britain’s ally, Prussia, sought territorial expansion in Europe and consolidation of its power.  Great Britain also challenged France and Spain in the West Indies — with consequential results.  Prussia wanted greater influence in the German principalities, and Austria wanted to regain control of Silesia and contain Prussian influence.

The conflict forced the realignment of traditional alliances (known as the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756), where Prussia became part of the British coalition (which included a long-time competitor of Prussia, the principality of Hanover — which was in personal union with Britain).[1]  At the same time, Austria ended centuries of conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg families by aligning itself with France, Saxony, Sweden, and Russia.  Spain also aligned with France (1761).  Smaller German states joined the war or supplied mercenaries to the parties involved.

Additionally, Anglo-French conflicts broke out in their North American colonies in 1754, when British and French colonial militias and their respective Native American allies engaged in small skirmishes and later full-scale colonial warfare.  These colonial conflicts became a theatre of the Seven Years’ War when war was officially declared two years later.  In the end, France lost most of its land on the Continent.  Some historians claim that it was the most important event to occur in North America during the 18th century — prior to the American Revolution.[2]

Spain entered the war on the side of France in 1762, but the effort to invade British ally Portugal was unsuccessful.  As it turned out, Spain’s alliance with France was a disaster because the British gained footholds in Havana, Cuba, and in Manila, The Philippines.

Inside Europe, the area that generated most of the conflict was Austria’s desire to recover Silesia from Prussia.  This contest was resolved in 1763, but more importantly, the war’s end signaled the beginning of Great Britain’s rise to become the world’s foremost colonial and naval power.  Until after its revolution, France had no chance of becoming a supreme power.  Prussia confirmed its status as a great power and, in doing so, altered the balance of power in Europe.

New Beginnings

What most people do not realize, however, is that The Seven Years’ War marked a new beginning in the art and science of warfare.  Frederick the Great embarked on land campaigns that later influenced Napoleon’s field commanders.  Such terms as command and control and maneuver warfare both belonged to Frederick the Great.  At sea, the British Royal Navy committed to decisive action under the leadership of Admiral Horatio Nelson.  His innovations gave us Rule Britannia and the British Way of War.

What sets the Seven Years’ War apart from all prior Anglo-French experiences is not in the evolution of its transatlantic maritime conduct but in the innovation of a distinct military theory: amphibious operations.

Central to this doctrinal leap was Sir Thomas More Molyneux’s 1759 masterpiece, titled Conjunct Expeditions.  It begins: “Happy for that People who are Sovereigns enough of the Sea to put [Littoral War] in Execution.  For it comes like Thunder and Lightning to some unprepared Part of the World.”

Sir Thomas was an Oxford-educated guards officer serving on half-pay and a member of Parliament.  His masterpiece was a unique addition to existing professional military literature.  But while certain accomplishments were recognized for their importance as strategic blows, Quebec for example, none have become as studied or analyzed as Molyneux’s dissertation on amphibious warfare.  The doctrine belongs to him alone. 

There were indeed insulated instances of tactical flag signals and landing schemes that pre-date Molyneux’s Conjunct Expeditions, but his effort was the first to codify methods for employment by both land and sea forces.

Although he was writing primarily for a military audience (his training was Army, after all) rather than to a naval assembly, he sought to reduce, “if possible, this amphibious kind of warfare to a safe and regular system and to leave as little as we can to fortune and her caprices.”  Sir Thomas was a brilliant man, an instinctive thinker who understood that every new expedition will, in all probability, produce some new improvement.  He knew that while theory informs practice, its execution demands good judgment.  His brilliance is illustrated by the fact that he placed “doctrine” second to the objectives and aims of the nation.  The purpose of doctrine was to serve the national interests — as was a knowledge of geography, proper utilization of resources, galvanized political will, individual courage, and devotion to the success of such operations. 

His understanding of the relationship between political ends and military means elevated his work to the level of that of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, who much later developed treatises on military theory incorporating the moral, psychological, and political aspects of war.  Molyneux understood the importance between strategic intent and doctrinal capability.  He knew that the disconnect between the two, or a failure to adapt to an evolving situation, brings forth the likelihood of defeat.  Such principles are observable during The Seven Years’ War: Great Britain adapted its war aims and methods — France did not.

Evolutionary Challenges

The world’s vast oceans presented Great Britain’s navy with significant challenges beyond navigation and regular seamanship.  There was a question of how best to project the Royal Navy’s power from sea to shore — a challenge that lasted two-hundred years.  Today, naval and military war planners give as much thought and consideration to warfare in the littoral (nearshore) regions as they do the deep blue sea.  But close-to-shore operations offer complex challenges that no one thought of in 1754.  And opportunities that no one imagined.  Molyneux indeed put in writing concepts that had never before been put to paper, but amphibious operations (without doctrine) had been a fact of warfare for three-thousand years.  It had simply not reached its full potential.

We believe that the ancient Greeks were the first to use amphibious warfare techniques.  This information was passed to us from Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey.  It is, of course, possible that such an operation may have occurred at an earlier time, at a different place, but was simply not recorded in history.  Still, according to the Iliad, Greek soldiers crossed the Aegean Sea and stormed ashore on the beaches near Troy, which began a siege lasting ten years.[3]  Then, in 499 B.C., the Persians launched a waterborne attack against the Greeks.  At the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Persian forces established a beachhead in their attempt to invade Greece.  They employed ships specifically designed for off-loading ships near shore, and while the Persians successfully executed their amphibious operation, the Greeks defeated the Persian armies as they moved inland.

At the beginning of 56 B.C., Caesar split his army up and sent them out from their winter quarters to the various corners of Gaul.  He dispatched his lieutenant in charge of cavalry, Titus Labienus, to Belgae to fend off German tribalists at the Rhine.  To Quintus Titurius Sabinus and three legions, he assigned responsibility to pacify the Venelli on the northern coast.  He directed Publius Crassus to lead twelve cohorts to southeast Aquitania near Hispania to pacify the ancient Basque.  Caesar’s plan was intended to prevent rebellious tribes from joining forces against Roman authority.

In the winter of 57 BC, the tribes inhabiting the northern coast of Gaul surrendered their allegiance to Rome — and then, almost immediately raised an insurrection against their Roman governor, Julius Caesar.  The insurrection was led by Veneti (modern-day Brittany) and Venelli (modern-day Normandy).  There was no formal Roman government to rebel against, but as a matter of principle, the tribalists felt obliged to rebel against Roman authority.

With his remaining four legions, Caesar himself moved east from Belgae territory toward the Veneti on the eastern coast of Gaul.  In fear of Rome’s infantry, the Veneti began abandoning their villages to set up fortified strongholds along rivers and tributaries where tides made passage difficult.  None of those conditions stopped the Romans, however.  Having seized the Veneti strongholds, Caesar forced them toward the sea, where the rebels had collected a large naval force from among their fleets docked between Gaul and Britannia — about two hundred and twenty ships strong.

Caesar had no intention of allowing the Veneti to succeed in their rebellion.  He ordered assistance from the Roman navy in building ships, a project that took all summer.  A member of Brutus’s family was placed in command of this fleet while Julius Caesar stood aground with his land force on the coastline to observe the fight.

The challenge facing the Romans was not the size nor the skill of the enemy but the construction of their ships.  Roman ships were lighter with deeper hulls — ill-suited to traverse the rocky, shallow coastline.  The Veneti’s ships were constructed of heavy oak, flat-bottomed, and suitable for nearshore operations.  The strength of the oak and its thickness made the Roman technique of ramming ineffective.  But the Veneti ships were also slower.  The Romans were engineers.  They developed a long pole with a large hook fastened to its tip, which would be shot at the yards and masts of the Gallic ships.  The effect of such hooks destroyed the sails of the Veneti ships while keeping them afloat in the water.  The device used to project these poles was re-engineered ballistae.  After encircling the Veneti boats, Roman marines boarded them and put the crew to the sword.  From this experience, the Romans learned how to utilize boats to land on Britannia’s shore.  However, as a historical footnote, the tribes in Gaul were not, as they say, very fast learners.  See also: Mare Nostrum.

Beginning around 800 A.D., the Norsemen (Vikings) began their raids into Western Europe via major rivers and estuaries.  The people living along these rivers were so terrified of these raiders that even the lookout’s shout was enough to cause cardiac arrest in some people.  In 1066, William the Conqueror successfully invaded England from Normandy, and he successfully imposed his will upon the Angles and Saxons then living in what became known as Angle Land (England).  But other efforts to force a sea-to-shore landing weren’t as successful.  Spain’s Armada came to a disastrous result while attempting to land troops in England in the year 1588.

The Marines and their Corps

The first U.S. Navy amphibious landing occurred during the American Revolution when in 1776, sailors and Marines stormed ashore in the British Bahamas.  The Nassau landing wasn’t much to brag about (back then or now), but it was a start.  Among the more famous amphibious raids conducted by Marines assigned to ship’s detachments occurred during the Barbary Wars.

While Marines did conduct ship-to-shore raids during the American Civil War, the Union Army conducted most amphibious raids because, in those days, the principal mission of American Marines was to serve aboard ship, not conduct raids ashore.  Following the civil war, however, in the 1880s and 1890s, Navy squadron commanders occasionally dispatched their Marine Detachments ashore (augmented by ship’s company (called Bluejackets)) to emphasize Navy power in connection with U.S. gunboat diplomacy.  The reader will find an example of such “amphibious operations” in the story of Handsome Jack.

U.S. Marines became serious students of amphibious warfare beginning with the landing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1898 — by every measure, a complete success and a demonstration to the nation that the Navy and Marine Corps had a unique skill set that might prove useful in future conflicts.  In 1910, the Marines moved one step closer to forming a Fleet Marine Force organization with its creation of an Advanced Base Force — a concept seeking to provide an adequate defense of naval bases and installations within the Pacific Rim.[4] 

Other countries attempted to employ amphibious operations, but mostly with disastrous results — such as during the Crimean War (1853) and the debacle at Gallipoli (1915 – 1916).  As a consequence of the Gallipoli disaster, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps began studying Amphibious Warfare in earnest in the 1920s and 1930s.

During the inter-war period (between world wars), international committees met to discuss how to achieve world peace.  Among the recommendations was an agreement to impose a reduction to naval armaments.  This effort was an unqualified disaster (and probably did as much to ignite World War II as the Allies’ unreasonable demand for reparations in 1919), but while government leaders hemmed and hawed, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps proceeded with the development of specialized amphibious warfare equipment and doctrine.

Additionally, new troop organizations, landing craft, amphibious tractors that could travel on water and land, and landing tactics were devised, tested, re-examined, and retested.  Training exercises emphasized using naval artillery and carrier-based aircraft to provide close fire support for assault troops.  Combat loading techniques were developed so that ships could quickly unload the equipment required first in an amphibious landing, accepting some reductions in cargo stowage efficiency in return for improved assault capabilities.

To facilitate training for officers and NCOs in these newly acquired capabilities, a Marine Corps School was established at Quantico, Virginia — where subject matter could not only be taught but rehearsed, as well.  In 1933, the Navy and Marines established the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) concept from what had been known as the Advance Base Force. The FMF became America’s quick-reaction force and became the standard vehicle through which emerging ideas about amphibious warfare could be tested through annual fleet landing exercises.

By 1934 Marine tacticians had developed effective amphibious techniques, and it was in that year the Marine Corps published its Tentative Landing Operations Manual, which today remains an important source of amphibious warfare doctrine.  These preparations proved invaluable in World War II when the Marines not only spearheaded many of the attacks against Japanese-held islands in the Pacific War but also trained U.S. Army divisions that also participated in the Atlantic theater as well as the island-hopping Pacific Campaigns.

After a succession of U.S. defeats by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the tide of war turned.  At Coral Sea in the southwest Pacific and Midway in the central Pacific, U.S. aircraft carriers stopped the Japanese advances in history’s first carrier-versus-carrier battles.  Quickly taking the initiative, the United States began its offensive campaigns against the Japanese when, on 7 August 1942, the 1st Marine Division assaulted Tulagi Island and invaded Guadalcanal in the southwest Pacific.  For an account of this engagement, see the series: Guadalcanal: First to Fight.

In the European-Mediterranean theaters, the distances were shorter from allied bases to the assault beaches, but the demand for amphibious expertise was equally high.  Allied naval forces scrambled to secure amphibious shipping and landing craft to support the Atlantic-Mediterranean war effort.  Senior Marine officers assigned to Naval Planning Staffs played an important role in the success of the invasion of North Africa (1942), Sicily, and Salerno (1943).  The Atlantic War was challenging from several different aspects, and some of these efforts weren’t revealed until well after the end of the war.  Colonel Pierre Julien Ortiz served with the OSS behind the lines, and Hollywood actor Sterling Hayden served as a U.S. Marine captain with the OSS in the Aegean Sea.

When Germany surrendered to the allied powers on 7 May 1945, Pacific War planners were putting the final touches on their invasion plan for mainland Japan.  They were also awaiting the arrival of additional shipping and manpower from the European Theater.  No one with any brains was enthusiastic about the idea of having to invade Japan.

The Battles for Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa established one painful reality: an invasion of mainland Japan would be costly.  Allied war planners had learned an important lesson from the Japanese during their island-hopping campaigns.  The Japanese were using a suicidal defensive strategy.  They realized they could not stop the Allied juggernaut — but they could certainly kill a lot of allied troops in their “defense in depth” strategy.  This fact led allied war planners to envision another one million allied infantry dead before Japan finally capitulated — that is … unless a miraculous alternative somehow presented itself.

And one did

Much has been written about the decision to drop (two) atomic bombs on Japanese cities.  Even General MacArthur argued that the Japanese were already beaten — that there was no justifiable reason to drop “the bomb.”

One can argue that General MacArthur was in a position to know whether atomic warfare was necessary, but in 1945, General MacArthur was 65 years old.  He was from the “old school” American military.  He did not believe that dropping nuclear weapons on innocent citizens was a moral course of action — and this was a fine argument.  But then, neither was sending another million men into harm’s way when there was an alternative course of action.  And, in any case, the Japanese themselves — by adopting their defense-in-depth strategy — signaled their understanding that they could not win the war.  If the Japanese had to die in the war, then by all means, take as many Allied troops as possible along.  This appalling (and incomprehensible) attitude pushed allied war planners into making that horrendous decision.

Two significant facts about this decision stand out.  First, Japanese arrogance did not allow senior Japanese officials to admit they were beaten.  They were happy to “fight on” until every Japanese man, woman, and child lay dead on the Japanese archipelago.  Second, it took two (not one) atomic bombs to convince the Japanese they were beaten.  Two.  There was no need for two, but the Japanese would not capitulate until the bombing of Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima.[5]

When the Japanese finally did surrender, on 2 September 1945, World War II ended.  The suffering of the Japanese people, however, continued for many years.  Between 1945 – 1948, thousands of people died from starvation or exposure to frigid weather every single night for nearly three years.  While this was happening, Allied forces had to manage the repatriation of Japanese Imperial forces throughout the Far East.  In 1946, the Chinese civil war resumed and continued through 1949.  In the face of all this, President Truman set into motion the deactivation of America’s wartime military (even though some of these men were still in harm’s way in China).

Following hostilities, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) reviewed all after-action reports from amphibious operations.  As expected, many landing craft and amphibious-vehicle casualties were due to enemy action — but many were also related to problems with tidal waves and rip currents caused by undersea mountains that contributed to capsizing, swamping, or broaching landing craft.

For example, the analysis revealed flaws involving amphibious boats and tracked vehicles operating on confined landing areas, the slope of the beach, water levels, and soil.  ONR found that saturated sand near the water’s edge would liquefy (and trap) landing vehicles due to the vibrations produced by an overabundance of vehicular traffic.  One of the reasons allied forces continued to conduct training exercises on war-torn beaches (such as Iwo Jima) was to observe these conditions in detail and prepare findings that would improve the capabilities of U.S. amphibious assault vehicles.

Truman’s Folly

When the Korean War exploded late in June 1950, America’s military hierarchy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), had already made up its mind that amphibious warfare was a relic of the past.  They could not have been more wrong about that.  The North Korean attack was lightning quick, overwhelming, and entirely the fault of Mr. “The Buck Stops Here Truman.”  The poorly trained South Korean military was swept aside like a pile of autumn leaves — and the small American military advisory group with it.  Nor were any of General MacArthur’s occupation forces serving in Japan any help.  The only two services ready for this event were the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps — but only barely.

The North Korean Army was stopped in August 1950, but it was an awful bloody event that Truman somewhat dismissively linked to police action.  It raged for three years and set into motion a series of armed conflicts that lasted twenty-five years.  What turned this looming disaster around was an amphibious assault — one that General Omar Bradley, the JCS Chairman, said couldn’t be done.  It took a Marine Corps two-star general to prove Bradley wrong.[6]  While the North Korean Army began its stranglehold of the Pusan Perimeter, Major General Oliver P. Smith was planning the invasion of Inchon, Korea.  On 16 September 1950, the amphibious assault that couldn’t be done had become a matter of history.

Following the Korean War, the United States permanently assigned naval task forces to the western Pacific and Mediterranean areas.  In each of these strategically vital locations, one or more reinforced Marine infantry battalions served as the special landing force within the fleet amphibious ready group.  The ARG/SLF provided quick responses to crises in Lebanon (1958), Laos (1961), Thailand (1962), the Dominican Republic (1965), and the Republic of Vietnam (1965).

More recently, 45 amphibious ships carried Marines to the Middle East and supported them in the late 1980s and 1990s — essentially, 75% of the Navy’s total active fleet.  Before 1991, generally regarded as the Cold War period, U.S. Marines responded to crises about three to four times a year.  Following Operation Desert Storm, the Marine Corps’ amphibious capabilities were called on roughly six times a year.  Why?  Because it is more cost-effective to maintain a rapid reaction force of Marines than to maintain the costs of maintaining American military bases overseas.

Today, the U.S. Marine Corps maintains three Marine Expeditionary Forces to respond to any crisis — no matter where in the world it might occur.  Each MEF, working alongside a U.S. Navy Fleet command, can deploy any size combat structure from battalion landing teams and Marine Expeditionary Units (air, ground, logistics support capabilities) to expeditionary brigades and reinforced MEFs.

During the Vietnam War, III MEF became the largest Marine Corps combat command in the entire history of the Corps — exercising command authority over 80,000 Marines assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Division, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the Force Logistics Command, and numerous U.S. Army and Vietnamese infantry organizations and their supporting elements.  Over a period of more than six years, III MEF participated in 400 combat operations.  Each Marine Expeditionary Force has the same quick-reaction capability.

No matter where these Marines might originate, there is one guarantee: when they arrive at their destination, they will be ready to fight a sustained engagement.  At that instant, when they bust down the enemy’s front door, the enemy will know that these Marines have come from across the sea — just as Sir Thomas More Molyneux envisioned that they should.

Sources:

  1. Anderson, F.  The War that Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War.  Penguin Books, 2006.
  2. Baden, C.  The Ottoman Crimean War (1853 – 1856).  Brill Publishing, 2010.
  3. Blanning, T.  Frederick the Great: King of Prussia.  Yale University, 2016.
  4. Fehrenbach, T. R.  This Kind of War.  Brassey’s Publications, 1963.
  5. Fowler, W. H.  Empires at War: The Seven Years’ War and the Struggle for North America.  Douglas & McIntyre, 2005.
  6. Heck, T. and B. A. Friedman, Eds., On Contested Shores: The Evolving Role of Amphibious Operations in the History of Warfare.  Marine Corps University, 2020.
  7. Marine Corps Publication: III Marine Expeditionary Force: Forward, Faithful, Focused, (2021).
  8. Ricks, T. E.  The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today.  Penguin Press, 2012.
  9. Savage, M.  U.S. Marines in the Civil War.  Warfare History Network, 2014.
  10. Taylor, A. J. P.  The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848 – 1918.  Oxford Press, 1954.
  11. Vego, M. (2015) “On Littoral Warfare,” Naval War College Review: Vol. 68 : No. 2 , Article 4. Available at: https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/nwc-review/vol68/iss2/4
  12. Willmott, H. P.  The Last Century of Sea Power: From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894 – 1922.  Indiana University Press, 2009.

Endnotes:

[1] “Personal Union” simply means that two countries share the same head of state — in this case, the monarch, George II.

[2] Anderson, F.  Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766.  Random House, 2007.

[3] The ancient city of Troy was called Ilion (hence, the poem called Iliad).  The city actually existed around 1,400 years B.C., and although the poem was believed written down around 800 B.C., it was carried down from one generation to the next as part of an oral tradition for several hundred years.  Homer, of course, receives credit as its author.  

[4] After full and frank discussions between the War and Navy departments, the Navy decided (and the War Department agreed) that there was no significant role for the U.S. Army in the matter of defending advanced naval bases/coaling stations in the Pacific Rim.  For one thing, the Navy envisioned a defense force that it actually owned/controlled.  That would be the Marines, of course.  For another (as reflected in the Army’s rather poor showing during the Spanish-American War), the Army is simply too large/too heavy to operate as a strike force.     

[5] For many years after the war, Japanese officials complained that ground zero at Nagasaki was an orphanage.  This may be true.  There were no “surgically precise” bombs in World War II.  On the other hand, why did it take two atomic bombs to convince Japanese officials that the war was over?  

[6] In 1946, General Bradley also predicted there would never again be a need for an amphibious operation. 


Marine Corps Artillery — Part 4

Post-Korea and Beyond

Post-Korea Reorganization

For U.S. Marines, the Korean Peninsula wasn’t the only dance hall. No sooner had HQMC directed the transfer of three battalions of the 10th Marines to the 11th Marines, than the rebuilding of the 10th Marines with new recruitments and artillery training began.  In the mid-1950s, the 10th Marines played a pivotal role in the Lebanon Emergency, fleet training exercises, and deployments supporting NATO exercises in Norway, Greece, Crete, Gibraltar, the Caribbean, and West Indies. The Cold War was in full swing.

Between 1955 and 1965, Marine Corps artillery battalions trained with new weapons and maintained their readiness for combat.  No one in the Marine Corps wanted to return to the bad old days of the Truman administration.  Should the plague of war revisit the United States, the Marine Corps intended to meet every challenge by maintaining a high state of combat readiness.  Artillery Battalions trained to support infantry regiments and, as part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, firing batteries frequently deploy with battalion landing teams (BLTs).  In 1957, new tables of organization increased the size of artillery battalions by adding a 4.2-inch mortar battery.  A new mortar was introduced in 1960, called the “howtar.”  The new M30 4.2-inch mortar was a rifled, muzzle-loading, high-angle weapon used for long-range indirect fire support.  In addition to other “innovations,” cannon-cockers participated in (helicopter-borne) vertical assault training, which given the weight of artillery pieces, was not as simple as it sounds.  The howtar, while still in service, is (to my knowledge) no longer part of the USMC weapons inventory.

Back to East Asia

In the early 1960s, the Cold War showed signs of easing.  The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963) seemed to foreshadow a period of détente after the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The hope for world peace fell apart with incidents in Asia, Africa, and Latin America — of which the war in Vietnam was an extraordinary event.  From 1954 to 1975, nearly half a million Marines fought in the jungles of Vietnam (See also: Viet Nam: The Beginning).

In 1962, all Marine ground units began counterinsurgency training, which was mostly exercises designed to improve small unit combat patrols and area security operations.  In June, the 11th Marines went through another re-organization.  The 1st and 4th 155-mm Howitzer Batteries, Force Troops, FMF became the 4th Battalion, 11th Marines.  Marine Corps Base, Twenty-nine Palms became the permanent home of the 4th Battalion because its weapons demanded more area for live-firing exercises.

In late July 1964, the US Seventh Fleet assigned the destroyer, USS Maddox, to perform a signals intelligence mission off the coast of North Vietnam.  On Sunday, 2 August, the ship was allegedly approached by three North Vietnamese Navy (NVN) motor patrol boats.  The official story of this incident is that after giving the NVN a warning to remain clear of the ship, the patrol boats launched an assault on Maddox.  Nothing like that actually happened, but it was enough to give President Lyndon Baines Johnson a war in Indochina.[1]

Following this incident, Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Commander, US Pacific Fleet, activated the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (9thMEB).[2]  Brigadier General Raymond G. Davis, who was at the time serving as Assistant Division Commander, 3rd Marine Division, was named to command the Brigade.[3]

9thMEB formed around the 9th Marine Regiment (9thMar), including the regimental headquarters (HQ) element and three battalion landing teams (BLTs) —in total, around 6,000 combat-ready Marines.  When the Maddox incident faded away, the US Pacific Fleet ordered the 9thMEB to establish its command post at Subic Bay, Philippine Islands, with its BLTs strategically distributed to Subic Bay, Okinawa, and “afloat” at sea as part of the Special Landing Force (SLF), Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), US Seventh Fleet.

Between 28 December 1964 — 2 January 1965, North Vietnamese Army (NVA)/Viet Cong (VC) forces overwhelmingly defeated a South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) battalion and its US military advisors at Binh Gia.  It was a clear demonstration to the Americans that the ARVN could not defend the Republic of Vietnam (RVN).[4]

Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch assumed command of 9thMEB on 22 January 1965. At that point, President Johnson ordered the Marines into Da Nang — their specific mission was to secure the airfield against enemy Viet Cong (VC) intrusions. In late February, VC forces assaulted the US base at Pleiku, killing 9 Americans, wounding 128 others, and damaging or destroying 25 military aircraft. Karch led the 9thMAB ashore on 7 March 1965.  In addition to BLTs 2/9 and 3/9, 9thMEB also absorbed Marine Aircraft Group 16 (MAG-16), which was already conducting “non-combat” ARVN support missions at Da Nang (See also: Vietnam, the Marines Head North).

Fox Battery, 2/12, attached to BLT 3/9, was the first Marine Corps artillery unit to serve in the Vietnam War.  The arrival of additional artillery units prompted the formation of a Brigade Artillery Group, which included Alpha Battery, 1/12, Bravo Battery, 1/12, and Fox Battery, 2/12.  These firing batteries employed 105-mm howitzers and 4.2-inch mortars.  The arrival of Lima Battery, 4/12, added a 155-mm howitzer battery and an 8-inch howitzer platoon.[5]  As the number of Marine infantry units increased in Vietnam, so did the number of artillery units.  The I Corps Tactical Zone (I CTZ) was further divided into Tactical Areas of Responsibilities (TAORs) and assigned to the 3rd Marine Division (from Okinawa) and 1st Marine Division (from Camp Pendleton, California).

In the summer of 1965, most of the 11thMar departed Camp Pendleton and moved to Camp Hansen, Okinawa.  Within mere days of their arrival, 3/11 and Mike Battery, 4/11 proceeded to RVN.  Assigned to Chu Lai to support the 7th Marines, elements of both regiments went immediately into Operation Starlight.  During August, 1/11 moved to Okinawa.  Alpha Battery went ashore in Vietnam with the Special Landing Force (SLF) in December.  HQ 11th Marines arrived in Chu Lai in February 1966, joined by 2/11 from Camp Pendleton.  The battalions of the 11thMar supported infantry regiments, as follows: 1/11 supported the 1stMar; 2/11 supported the 5thMar, and 3/11 supported the 7thMar.  4/11 served in general support of the 1st Marine Division.

The I CTZ was the northernmost section of South Vietnam.  It consisted of five political provinces situated within approximately 18,500 square miles of dense jungle foliage.  The area of I CTZ was by far larger than any two infantry divisions could defend or control, so the Marine Corps developed a tactical plan that assigned its six available infantry regiments to smaller-sized TAORs.  These TAORs were still too large, but it was all the Marines could do under the rules of engagement dictated to them by the US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (USMACV).  The relative isolation of combat units created a dangerous situation.  Marine artillerists were no exception

Although two artillery regiments operated in Vietnam, they were not equal in size or mission.  By 1967, the 12th Marine Regiment was the largest artillery regiment in Marine Corps history — task organized to support a larger number of infantry units within a much larger TAOR.  All artillery units were assigned to support infantry units throughout the I CTZ; tactical commanders placed these artillery units where they were most effective — fire support bases (FSBs) at strategic locations.

Although originally conceived as a temporary tactical arrangement, several FSBs became long-term (semi-permanent) operating bases.  They were quite literally blasted into existence from heavily forested hilltops.  For as much as possible, the FSB system provided mutually supporting fires, but this was not always possible.  The size of FSBs varied according to the size of the units assigned.  Typically, an FSB hosted a single firing battery (six 105mm or 155mm howitzers), a platoon of engineers, field medical and communications detachments, helicopter landing pads, a tactical operations center, and an infantry unit for area security.  Larger FSBs might include two firing batteries and a BLT.[6]

Beyond their traditional tasks, Marine artillerists were often required to provide for their own defense against enemy probes and outright assaults.  FSBs were also the target of enemy mortar and artillery fires.  When infantry units were unavailable, which was frequently the case in Vietnam, artillerists defended themselves by manning the perimeter, establishing outposts, and conducting combat/security patrols.  VC units foolish enough to assault an FSB may very well have spent their last moments on earth contemplating that extremely poor decision.  The only thing the NVA/VC ever accomplished by shooting at an American Marine was piss him off. Every Marine is a rifleman.

In 1968, the VC launched a major assault on all US installations in Vietnam.  It was called the Tet Offensive because it took place during the Vietnamese new year (Tet).  The tactical goal was to kill or injure as many US military and RVN personnel as possible — playing to the sentiments of the anti-war audience back in the United States and discrediting the US and ARVN forces in the eyes of the Vietnamese population.  Marine artillery played a crucial role in defeating attackers from multiple regions within I CTZ, but the offensive also changed the part of Marine artillery after 1968.  Before Tet-68, supporting fires were routine, on-call, and a somewhat minor factor during USMC ground operations.  After Tet-68, artillery took on a more significant fire support role.  1968 was also a year of innovation as Marine artillery units incorporated the Army’s Field Artillery Digital Computer Center (FADAC) (which had been around since 1961) and the new Army/Navy Portable Radio Communications (25).[7]

In addition to providing tactical fire direction and support to Marine Corps infantry units, USMC artillerists also provided fire support to US Army and ARVN units operating in the I CTZ.  Following the communist’s failed Tet-68 offensive, the Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division (Major General Raymond G. Davis) initiated an offensive campaign to diminish or destroy NVA/VC units operating within I CTZ and demilitarized zones (DMZ).  Marine artillery units joined with Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force attack aircraft, B-52 bombers, and naval gunfire from the U.S. Seventh Fleet to destroy enemy sanctuaries and artillery positions within the DMZ and Laos.  These overwhelming bombardments allowed infantry units to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses, reduce the size of their forces, destroy enemy defensive fortifications, and disrupt their logistics efforts.  What transpired within I CTZ was an impressive demonstration of inter-service cooperation that gave US forces the upper hand in RVN’s northern provinces.

Conclusion

Marines continue to learn essential lessons from their many past battles and conflicts.  For example, the Small Wars Manual, 1941, is still used by Marines as a resource for certain types of operations.  The expression Every Marine is a Rifleman is as true today as it was in 1775 — Marine artillerists are no exception.  During Operation Enduring Freedom, Golf Battery, BLT 1/6 performed several essential combat functions, which in addition to fire support missions, included humanitarian assistance, convoy security, area security for Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ripley, UN Team security, prisoner security, and its transition into a provisional rifle company.[8]  Given the diverse range of military occupational specialties involved, making that transition was a challenge for Battery officers and NCOs.

Marines representing a wide range of occupational specialties within a firing battery, from cannon-cockers and lanyard snappers to FDC operations specialists, motor transport drivers and mechanics, cooks, and communicators molded themselves into cohesive fire teams, rifle squads, platoons, and ultimately, a responsive and highly lethal infantry company.  The effort and result were the embodiment of task force organization.  Golf Battery formed three fully functional infantry platoons (two rifle and one weapons platoon), each containing the requisite number of radio operators and a medical corpsman.  The effort was fruitful because the individual Marine, adequately led and motivated, is innovative, adaptable, and resourceful in overcoming any challenge.

Sources:

  1. Brown, R. J.  A Brief History of the 14th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1990
  2. Buckner, D. N.  A Brief History of the 10th Marines.  Washington: US Marine Corps History Division, 1981
  3. Butler, M. D.  Evolution of Marine Artillery: A History of Versatility and Relevance.  Quantico: Command and Staff College, 2012.
  4. Emmet, R.  A Brief History of the 11th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1968
  5. Kummer, D. W.  U. S. Marines in Afghanistan, 2001-2009.  Quantico: U.S. Marine Corps History Division, 2014.
  6. Russ, M.  Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950.  Penguin Books, 1999.
  7. Shulimson, J., and C. M. Johnson.  US Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1978.
  8. Smith, C. R.  A Brief History of the 12th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1972.
  9. Strobridge, T. R.  History of the 9th Marines.  Quantico: Gray Research Center, 1961, 1967.

Endnotes:

[1] On 7 July 1964, the US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized President Johnson to take any measures he believed were necessary to retaliate against North Vietnam’s aggression and promote peace and security in Southeast Asia.

[2] The 9thMEB was later deactivated and its units absorbed into the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF).  In March 1966, the brigade was re-activated as the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (9thMAB) reflecting its primary special landing force mission under the US Seventh Fleet.

[3] General Davis (1915-2003) served on active duty in the US  Marine Corps from 1938 to 1972 with combat service in World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War.  Davis was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as CO 1/7 during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.  He was also awarded the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart Medal.  General Davis’ last assignment was Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[4] RVN had been in political turmoil since November 1963 when President John Kennedy authorized the CIA to orchestrate the removal of Ngo Dinh Diem as President of South Vietnam.  Diem and his brother were assassinated on 2 November; Kennedy himself was assassinated on 22 November 1963.

[5] The 8-inch howitzer is a 203-mm gun with a range of 20.2 miles; the 155-mm howitzer has a range of 15.3 miles.

[6] Fire Support Base Cunningham at one time hosted five artillery batteries (2 105-mm, 2 155-mm, 1 4.2-inch mortar).

[7] Also, AN/PRC-25 (Prick 25) was a lightweight, synthesized VHF solid-state radio offering 2 watts of power, 920 channels in two bands with a battery life of about 60 hours.  The term “lightweight” was relative.  The radio added 25-pounds to the radioman’s usual combat load.  The PRC-25 was a significant improvement over the PRC-10.  It has since been replaced by the PRC-77.

[8] The official US designation for the War on Terror (7 Oct 2001-28 Dec 2014).


By Presidential Decree — Part II

America in 1940

Following the Meiji Restoration in Japan and a devastating economic recession, people began migrating from the Japanese Islands because they needed jobs.  Between 1869 and 1924, some 200,000 Japanese arrived in the Hawaiian Islands.  An additional 180,000 migrated to the US mainland and the majority of those settled on the West Coast.  Many of these people started small businesses and farms.  Most arrived on the mainland before 1908.  In that year, the United States banned the immigration of unskilled workers.  A loophole in the law allowed the wives of men living in the United States to join their husbands — from this, the practice of women marrying by proxy and immigrating to the US, which resulted in a significant increase in the number of picture brides.

The increase of Japanese living in California resulted in steady resistance by European-Americans living on the West Coast.  It was purely and simply racialism, as evidenced by the Asiatic Exclusion League, California Joint Immigration Committee, and Native Sons of the Golden West — all organized in response to the so-called “yellow peril.”  These groups quite effectively influenced politicians to restrict Japanese immigrants’ property and citizenship rights in a manner similar to anti-Chinese migration.  The Immigration Act of 1924 restricted the Japanese in the same way as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

One effect of the 1924 ban is that it produced unusually well-defined generational groups within the Japanese-American community.  The Issei, for example, were exclusively those who immigrated before the ban, some of whom elected to return to Japan.  Because the United States placed a moratorium on Japanese immigration.  Within Japanese-American communities, they were called Nisei.  They were distinct from the Issei cohort — generally 15-20 years older than their wives.

Nisei were English speakers; Issei were generally not.  Because the 1924 law prohibited Japanese immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens, the Issei became dependent upon their children whenever they rented or purchased property. By 1940, most Nisei had married and started their own families.  Despite these handicaps, Japanese-Americans made significant contributions to California agriculture (and in other Western states), but overt racism forced them into establishing unique communities.  The communities were, in turn, divided into Japanese prefecture groups.  They also created Buddhist women’s associations, set up businesses to provide loans and financial assistance, and started Japanese language schools.

The rise of fascism in Japan in the 1930s prompted the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) to begin monitoring and surveilling Japanese-American communities in Hawaii.  In 1936, under the direction of Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the ONI began compiling “suspect lists” of Japanese-Americans — citizens of the United States whom Roosevelt intended to place in “concentration” camps in the event of war with Imperial Japan.

The FBI began working with ONI in 1939.  FDR commissioned a Detroit businessman named Curtis Munson to coordinate these efforts.  In 1941, Munson informed the President that the so-called Japanese-American problem was “non-existent.”  He reported “an extraordinary” degree of loyalty to the United States within Japanese-American communities.  ONI Director Kenneth Ringle made a similar report to the President in 1942.

Still, six weeks after Japan’s “sneak attack” on Pearl Harbor, Army Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt openly questioned the loyalty of Japanese-Americans and proclaimed, “A Jap’s a Jap.”  The State of California vigorously joined DeWitt in questioning Japanese-American loyalty by claiming that persons of Japanese ancestry were “totally unassimilable.”

FDR’s Executive Order 9066 (signed on 19 February 1942) authorized military commanders to designate military exclusion zones at their discretion.  DeWitt did precisely that on 2 March 1942, ordering all Japanese-Americans living within those zones to depart immediately.  Within a few weeks, however, DeWitt reversed himself.  After that, he prohibited Japanese-Americans from leaving these exclusion zones, imposed curfews, and placed restrictions on their freedom of movement.

Only one civilian official protested this treatment: Colorado governor Ralph Lawrence Carr.[1]  Meanwhile, DeWitt issued more than a hundred exclusion orders over the next five months.  By August 1942, federal officials moved American citizens of Japanese ancestry to far distant/remote locations.[2]

Toward the end of the war, the relocation centers began to close.  Of more than 70,000 Japanese-American internees, only three (3) challenged the constitutionality of Roosevelt’s order.  

America Today

Threats to American Constitutional guarantees and liberties continue today.  If the reader believes these historical examples were severe, some today argue that it’s getting even worse.  Certain political groups, activists, and other morons demand restrictions on freedoms of speech, association, and pamphleteering.  Political militants aside, there is no more significant threat to individual liberty than that imposed by the United States government, which conspires to undermine the rights and privileges of American citizenship.

The government’s intrusion into our private lives, as demonstrated by the so-called Patriot Act, the creation of secret courts, the policy of intercepting, reading, and storing data obtained from electronic media, and the government dictate that we (a free people) remain under arrest in our quarters — threatens our American Republic.  The preceding “case histories” serve as warnings to us about presidents and their henchmen who not only think they have extraordinary power over us — they do.

The Supreme Court may safeguard the Constitution, but it does nothing to safeguard the rights of citizens who became victims of the government’s unconstitutional overreach.  It did nothing to free those who sat in isolated cells while remaining uncharged, unindicted, and untried by a jury of their peers.  The high court did not prevent Woodrow Wilson from targeting Americans for expressing their dissenting opinions, and it did nothing to protect Japanese-Americans from President Roosevelt’s Gestapo.

We know what the federal government is capable of doing.  With this knowledge, every American must view politicians, bureaucrats, and government policy with deep suspicion.  No government is trustworthy.  After all, the government reintroduced blacks to the slavery of low expectation and government subsidy; in the same way, the government destroyed the American Indians.  It remains up to people who value their liberty to refuse to relinquish their human rights, their rights as citizens.  No one in the government will protect us.  Preserving our freedom is OUR duty.

Sources:

  1. Connell, T.  America’s Japanese Hostages: The US Plan for a Japanese Free Hemisphere.  Praeger-Greenwood, 2002.
  2. McGinty, B.  The Body of John Merryman: Abraham Lincoln and the Suspension of Habeas Corpus.  Harvard University Press, 2011.
  3. Hall, K. L. (Ed.)  The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Oxford University, 1992.
  4. Lewis, W.  Without Fear or Favor: A Biography of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney.  Houghton Mifflin, 1965.
  5. Robinson, G.  By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.  Harvard University Press, 2009.

Notes:

[1] Carr also lost his bid for reelection because of his stance.

[2] Tule Lake, California, Minidoka, Idaho, Manzanar, California, Topaz, Utah, Jerome, Arkansas, Heart Mountain, Wyoming, Poston, Arizona, Granada, Colorado, and Rohwer, Arkansas.

My thanks to Mr. Koji KANEMOTO for his much-valued assistance and participation in the research, preparation, and editing of this post.


Nawzad —2008

Some Background

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

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

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

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

Gladius Hispaniensis

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

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

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

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

U.S. Marine Corps bayonet

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

In Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helmand Province in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Endnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marine Raiders

American Marines have long resisted referring to themselves, or any unit in the Marine Corps, as “commandos.”  By definition, a commando is a military unit or individual specifically trained and organized to conduct raids into enemy territory.  The Marine Corps is an elite combat force with specific expertise in amphibious operations, including over-the-horizon vertical assault.  Raiding coastlines is what we do for a living.  Our purpose is to project naval power ashore, so senior Marine Corps officials did not see an advantage of re-designating some Marine Corps units as “commando” units.

When this subject first came up at the beginning of World War II, creating a specialized elite force within an elite force seemed to many senior Marine officers as counter-intuitive —yet, that is exactly what transpired.

Holcomb 001President Franklin D. Roosevelt (whose son James [1] was a Marine Corps officer) expressed interest in creating an American counterpart to the British Commandos [2].  In the president’s mind, the U. S. Marine Corps was the natural place for a commando organization.  Where the president got this idea was from proposals co-authored by then-Major Evans Carlson, USMC and Colonel William J. Donovan [3].  Then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Major General Thomas Holcomb (pictured right) disagreed with the Carlson-Donovan proposal.  He didn’t think that an elite combat force like the Marine Corps needed a specialized subset organization.

Nevertheless, the debate over the creation of these elite units came to a climax when the newly-appointed commander of the Pacific Fleet requested “commando units” for raids against lightly defended Japanese-held islands [4].

Overruled by President Roosevelt, Holcomb maintained his resistance to calling these organizations “commandos.”  In his view, “Marine” was sufficient to signify a well-trained soldier of the sea who ready for duty at sea and in the field at any time and at any place.

Holcomb re-designated the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (then commanded by LtCol Merritt A. Edson) as the 1st Separate Battalion.  Roosevelt wanted two battalions, however.  General Holcomb then created a 2nd Separate Battalion, which at the president’s direction, would be commanded by Evans Carlson [5].  In one amazing turn of events, Major James Roosevelt USMCR was appointed as Carlson’s executive officer.

General Holcomb finally agreed to call these two organizations “Raider” battalions.  LtCol Edson retained command of the 1stRaider Battalion, and LtCol Carlson assumed command of the 2nd Raider Battalion.

Marine raider battalions were provided with the best available equipment in 1942.  The Marines selected to serve in these battalions were hand-picked from among solicited volunteers.  However, organizationally, the two formed battalions were as dissimilar as night and day. Carlson organized his battalion around the Chinese communist model of egalitarianism.  He treated his officers and enlisted men with minimal regard for their rank as leaders and fighters.  He also employed ethical indoctrination sessions, describing to each man what he was fighting for, and why.  He incorporated the Chinese phrase “Gung Ho” [6] as a motivational slogan.  Rather than organizing his battalion according to approved Marine Corps table of organization, he formed six rifle companies of two platoons each, and each of these with three-man fireteams.

Edson 001Both raider battalions went into action at about the same time.  In early August 1942, Colonel Edson’s battalion (assigned to the 1stMarine Division) landed on Tulagi in the British Solomon’s; it was the opening phase of the campaign for Guadalcanal.  After the capture of Tulagi, 1stRaiders were moved to Guadalcanal to defend Henderson Field and, in fact, one of their most notable engagements occurred during the Battle of Edson’s Ridge [7].  Here, 1stRaider Battalion, attached elements of the 1stParachute Battalion, and 2ndBattalion, 5thMarines soundly defeated Imperial Japanese forces on the night of 13-14 September.  (Pictured right, Col. Edson)

Carlson 001In mid-August 1942, 2nd Raider Battalion embarked aboard two submarines (Nautilus and Argonaut) and conducted a raid on Makin Island [8].  During this raid, eighteen Marines and one Navy corpsman were killed in action (see notation, below[9]).  The night raid was disorganized and chaotic.  Marine dead were left behind on the island as the raiders withdrew back into the sea.  A Butaritari man managed to hide the bodies of these dead servicemen from the Japanese; he carefully buried them on this island.  The US Armed Forces did not recover their bodies until December 1999. See also: video posted earlier.  Carlson (Pictured right) also unintentionally left nine men alive on the island, all of whom were captured and beheaded by the Japanese.

Following the Battle of Savo Island in the Solomon’s, 1,400 Marines in various support units of the 2nd Marine Regiment —yet to land on Tulagi— were returned to Espiritu Santo on transport ships withdrawn from Guadalcanal by Admiral Richmond K. Turner.  Believing that regimental and larger sized Marine Corps units were not suitable for amphibious operations, Turner decided to form these Marines into a 2ndProvisional Raider Battalion —but did so without consulting with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who as might be expected, was not a happy man.  Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, Commander, Naval Forces South Pacific, rescinded Turner’s order.  Turner’s desire that all Marine battalions be re-formed as raider battalions caused Marine Corps headquarters to take a dim view of the entire raider concept.

Marine Raider 001Nevertheless, two additional raider battalions were created.  3rd Raider Battalion in Samoa, commanded by LtCol Harry B. Liversedge, and 4thRaider Battalion, commanded by the newly promoted LtCol James Roosevelt.  Both of these battalions distinguished themselves in heavy combat in the 1943 campaigns.  In March 1943, the four raider battalions were organized into the 1st Marine Raider Regiment; Colonel Liversedge was named Commanding Officer with Evans Carlson serving as his executive officer.  LtCol Alan Shapley [10] was appointed to command the 2nd Raider Battalion a week later and he promptly re-organized the unit into a standard (American Marine) battalion configuration.

Under Colonel Liversedge, the Raider Regiment enforced a common table of organization among the four battalions.  Each battalion consisted of four rifle companies of three rifle platoons each, and a weapons platoon, and each battalion had a weapons company to provide general support to the battalion.  These changes reflected both Edson’s and Carlson’s ideas about organizing fireteams and platoons and were later adopted by the Marine Corps: highly trained, lightly equipped, conventional forces.

During the New Georgia campaign, the 1st Marine Raider Regiment was task-organized for a new mission with the 1st and 4th Raiders, and two battalions of the US 37th Infantry Division, commanded by Liversedge.

At the same time, the 2nd and 3rd Raider Battalions were temporarily attached to the 2nd Provisional Raider Regiment under Colonel Shapley for the invasion of Bougainville.  This would be the final combat assignment of the Marine Raiders before their disbandment.

In December 1943 command of the 1st Raider Regiment passed to Lieutenant Colonel Samuel D. Puller.  The regiment left New Caledonia on 21 January and landed at Guadalcanal three days later.  It was here that the 2nd Provisional Raider Regiment was disbanded and folded into the 1st Raider Regiment; Colonel Shapley was assigned as Commanding Officer with Puller serving as the executive officer.

Early in 1944, the Marine Corps fielded four combat divisions with two more in the process of formation.  Even with a half-million young Americans serving as Marines, there was insufficient manpower to operate  two new infantry divisions.  Large numbers of Marines were serving in defense battalions, parachute battalions, raider battalions, and amphibian tractor battalions.  With no further expansion of the Marine Corps being anticipated, the only way the Marine Corps could man these new divisions was to reorganize existing units.  The need for additional commando type organizations had not, by this time, materialized.  Technological development of amphibious tractors and improved fire support methods ended the need for specialized light assault units.

In effect, Marine Raiders performed the same missions as regular infantry battalions; the juxtaposition being that either the Raiders were wasting much needed infantry assault assets, or that, in lacking firepower, senior leadership were exposing the Marine Raiders to the possibility of unacceptably high casualties.

Also, at this time, there was considerable opposition to maintaining a commando force within the Marine Corps.  Simply stated, the Raiders weren’t cost effective.  The newly appointed Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Alexander Vandegrift (having commanded the 1stMarine Division on Guadalcanal) and General Gerald C. Thomas, the newly appointed Director of Plans and Policies at Headquarters Marine Corps, decided to disband the Marine Raiders.  This decision was supported by Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations.  The Raider battalions were ordered deactivated on 8 January 1944 with their manpower being re-directed to the forming new divisions.

On 1 February 1944, the 1stRaider Regiment was redesignated as 4thMarine Regiment and folded into the 6thMarine Division.  The 1st, 4th, and 3rd Raider Battalions were re-designated as the first, second, and third battalions of the 4th Marines.  The 2nd Raider Battalion was re-designated as Weapons company, 4th Marines.  Nevertheless, Marines who had previously served as raiders served with distinction in later engagements; Sergeant Michael Strank, for example, formerly a raider, was one of the six Marines that participated in the flag raising at Iwo Jima.

During World War II, more than 8,000 men served with Marine Raider battalions.  Of these, seven raiders were awarded medals of honor [11], and 136 were awarded the Navy Cross.

The United States military has fielded special forces organizations since colonial times.  After the onset of World War II, these units supported combat operations within a specified theater of operations and were organic to and in general support of the major commands they served.  Examples include, Marine raiders, the First Special Service Force (Devil’s Brigade), Colonel Wendall Fertig’s Philippine Scouts, US Army Rangers, US Navy Underwater Demolition Teams (now called Navy SEALS), US Army Airborne and Special Forces regiments.

At no time prior to the 1975 Mayaguez Incident, however, did US Armed Services cross-train for the conduct joint special forces operations.  Following the 1980 disaster of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue American diplomats during the Iran Hostage Crisis, the US Department of Defense began to re-evaluate its joint services special operations capabilities. In 1984, the Department of Defense established the Joint Special Operations Agency, but the agency exercised neither operational or command authority over any US special operations forces.  Readiness, capability, or joint-service policy and procedure remained insufficient to real-world contingency planning.

Creation of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) was not an easy undertaking, or rapid.  Nevertheless, the Defense Appropriations Bill of 1987 was signed into law in October 1986.  It was the intent of Congress to force the executive administration (and its DoD) to face up to the realities of past failures and emerging threats.  Moreover, the law required inter-service cooperation and established a single commander of all special operations forces with control over its own resources.

In 2005, the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) was established at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina as a component command of the US Special Operations Command.  It is the Marine Corps’ contribution to the Special Operations mission of the Department of Defense.  MARSOC capability includes direct action, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense missions, and counter-terrorism operations.  Initially, subordinate organizations were designated the 1st and 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalions, with personnel drawn from the Marine Corps’ Force Reconnaissance community.

 Marine Raider 002In August 2014, the Commandant of the Marine Corps announced that all Marine Corps units within MARSOC would henceforth be known as Marine Raiders.  Today, the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command consists of the Marine Raider Regiment.  Organic to the regiment is a headquarters company and three (3) Marine Raider Battalions (based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and Camp Pendleton, California), the Marine Raider Support Group (at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) with a headquarters element and three Raider Support Battalions, and the Marine Special Operations School, (located at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina).  The base unit of MARSOC is a fourteen-man Marine Corps Special Operations Team (MSOT).  These teams are commanded by a captain, who is assisted by a Team Chief in the rank of master sergeant.  Each team consists of two identical squads (referred to as tactical elements), each of which is led by a gunnery sergeant as Element Leader.

I suppose that it is at this point that Marine Raiders might parrot Arnold Schwarzenegger in his role as the Terminator by saying, “We’re Back!”

Notes:

[1] Soon after FDR’s reelection in 1936, James Roosevelt was given a direct commission as a lieutenant colonel in the U. S. Marine Corps.  This caused public controversy for its obvious political implications.  In October 1939, after World War II broke out in Europe, James resigned his lieutenant colonel’s commission and was instead offered a commission to captain in the Marine Corps Reserve.  He went on active duty in November 1940 and was transferred to the Marine Raiders in January 1942.

[2] In 1940, Winston Churchill called for a force that could carry out raids against German-occupied Europe.  Commandos were initially formed within the British Army from individual volunteers for the Special Service Brigade (SSB). Eventually, British Commandos would include members of all branches of the British armed forces.  During World War II, the SSB reached a wartime strength of 30 units in four assault brigades.  After World War II, most commando units were disbanded, leaving only 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines with a commando role.

[3] Donovan became the director of the Office of Strategic Services (fore-runner of the Central Intelligence Agency) during World War II.

[4] It is interesting to me that Admiral Nimitz’ request for “commando units” came after the Carlson-Donovan proposal was submitted to President Roosevelt.

[5] Evans Carlson had nothing if not a colorful military career, which began prior to World War I.  He saw service in both the U. S. Army and the Marine Corps.  Having achieved the rank of captain in the Army field artillery, he resigned in 1921 and enlisted as a private in the Marine Corps in 1922. Eleven years later, Captain Carlson served as executive officer of the Marine Detachment at President Roosevelt’s vacation retreat at Warm Springs, Georgia where he became closely associated with the president and his son James.  Over time, Carlson developed far-left political views —which made him a lover of everything Chinese.  Carlson in fact organized and modeled his 2ndRaider Battalion on that of communist Chinese armies he had observed while stationed in China.  A famed Marine officer by the name of David M. Shoup once said of Carlson, “He may be a red, but he isn’t yellow.”

[6] Meaning teamwork

[7] Two medals of honor were awarded from this battle; one to Colonel Edson and the other to Major Kenneth D. Baily, commanding Company C, 1stRaider Battalion.

[8] Now known as Butaritari Island

[9] Captain Gerald P. Holtom, USMC; Sergeant Clyde Thomason, USMC (Posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor); Field Medic First Class Vernon L. Castle, USN; Corporal I. B. Earles, USMC; Corporal Daniel A. Gaston, USMC; Corporal Harris J. Johnson, USMC; Corporal Kenneth K. Kunkle, USMC; Corporal Edward Maciejewski, USMC; Corporal Robert B. Pearson, USMC; Corporal Mason O. Yarbrough, USMC; PFC William A. Gallagher, USMC; PFC Ashley W. Hicks, USMC; PFC Kenneth M. Montgomery, USMC; PFC Norman W. Mortensen, USMC; PFC Charles A. Selby, USMC; Private Carlyle O. Larson, USMC; Private Robert B. Maulding, USMC; Private Franklin M. Nodland, USMC; Private John E. Vandenberg, USMC

[10] Lieutenant General Alan Shapley (February 9, 1903 – May 13, 1973) survived the sinking of USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He served with distinction in the Pacific theater and in the Korean War.  He was awarded the Silver Star Medal for gallantry on 7 December 1941, the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in the Battle of Guam, and ended his career as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.

[11] Major Kenneth D. Baily, USMC; Corporal Richard E. Bush, USMC; Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers, USMC; Colonel Merritt A. Edson, USMC; Private First Class Henry Gurke, USMC; Sergeant Clyde A. Thomson, USMC; Gunnery Sergeant William G. Walsh, USMC; First Lieutenant Jack Lummus, USMC