Small Wars

I was talking to someone the other day and mentioned the Marine Corps Small Wars Manual, initially published in 1940. The gentleman with whom I was speaking looked at me and asked, “Small Wars Manual … are you kidding me?”

No, I was not kidding. When some future date arrives and people think of me at all, a sense of humor may not immediately come to mind.

Marines Korea 1890Today, the manual is part of the Fleet Marine Force Reference Publications library. It was, and continues to be one of the finest books on military operations in peacekeeping and counterinsurgency operations ever published. That said, however, context is important. The Small Wars Manual depicted pre-World War II operations.

Admittedly, “Small Wars Manual” seems a bit vague for any one of a large variety of military operations. As it applied to the Marine Corps, small wars were operations undertaken by the direction of the President of the United States in matters he believed were issues of national interest. Individuals who fancy themselves as historians will continue to debate whether this is true.

The Small Wars Manual propagated the notion that military force is only effective when combined with diplomatic pressure on the affairs of another state, whose government is unstable, inadequate, or unsatisfactory[1].

During the pre-War years, US military assistance provided to other nations could vary from completely benign acts, such as offering bureaucratic assistance, which certainly has no overt military connection, to the establishment of a military government supported by an active combat force. Between these extremes, we may identify a large number of involvements. One example of an intervention at the beginning of the Twentieth Century was the so-called Perdicaris Affair, which involved (then) Captain John Twiggs Myers. Hollywood’s fictional account of this incident was at least entertaining.

Marines HaitiSmall wars vary in degrees, from the simple to the exceedingly complex, short of general war. They are not limited in size, in the extent of their theater of operations, nor in their property or human costs. The essence of a small war is its purpose and the circumstances surrounding its inception.

The ordinary Marine Corps expedition does not involve a major effort, such as might be discovered in general war against a first-rate power—it was rather created to address the normal type of duty or operations assigned to Marines. It is interesting to note that by the time of its publication, the Marine Corps had engaged in small wars throughout the world. Between 1800 and 1934, American Marines landed on foreign shore 180 times, and in 37 different countries. In every year between 1898 and 1940, Marines engaged in active field operations. In 1929 alone, higher authority directed the employment of two-third of the entire Marine Corps in various expeditionary or sea duty outside the United States.

It is impossible to undertake complex operations at sea and on foreign shore without a solid foundation of Marines, both officer and enlisted, capable of examining the complexities of military operations, and devising solutions to very complex problems. Marines are always questioning things: Why are we doing this, when we could be doing it another way? Time after time, Marines epitomize the notion, improvise, adapt, overcome. We have been doing this now since 1775 and the truth is, we are good at it. Small wars, large wars … the American people know that they can always count on their Marines.

EGA Flags




[1] This could easily describe the US government under Barack Obama

Brigadier General Hanneken

Hanneken_HHThe number of colorful, legendary figures of the United States Marine Corps is amazing. One of these legends was Herman Henry Hanneken, who hailed from St. Louis, Missouri —born there on 23 June 1893. He enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps in 1914 at the age of 21 and after serving five years attained the rank of sergeant.

The United States invaded the island of Haiti in 1915, ultimately maintaining a military presence there for 19 years. The initial invasion encountered armed resistance by rebel bandits called Cacos under the leadership of Charlemagne Masséna Péralte (1886-1919). For four years, the Marines chased Péralte from one end of Haiti to the other, but by his clever use of mountainous terrain and his popularity among local populations, Péralte was able to elude them. Péralte was much like a ghost: he was everywhere; he was nowhere. The Marines finally concluded that no progress could be made to pacify the rebels until they tracked Péralte down and killed him.

This task landed on the desk of Sergeant Herman Henry Hanneken, who was then serving as a captain of the Haitian Gendarmerie. Hanneken knew that the problem wasn’t going to be killing Péralte; the problem would be finding him. He hatched a plan to do exactly that.

Hanneken ordered black gendarmes Jean-Baptiste Conzé and Jean-Edmond François to defect and join Péralte’s forces. Hanneken fully realized that Péralte was no dummy, however, and in order to bolster the story of Conzé, Hanneken arranged a successful attack against U. S. forces, and an astounding victory. Hanneken himself appeared in public as a seriously wounded and grateful survivor of the attack —with the assistance of some quantity of red ink.

In this way, Péralte was convinced to lead an attack against an American position at Grand Rivière de Nippes on 31 October 1919; finally the door of opportunity was finally opened to locate and destroy the rebel bandit.

As the battle raged through the night, Hanneken and another white Marine blackened their faces with charcoal and, armed with the passwords provided to them by Conzé, infiltrated the Cacos perimeter. After a nerve-racking penetration of the enemy line, Hanneken reached Péralte’s own camp and lost no time locating Péralte and gunning him down. Miraculously, Hanneken and his accomplice made it back to their own lines undiscovered. For his role in locating and destroying Péralte, Hanneken earned a commission to 2nd Lieutenant and the Medal of Honor:

Medal of HonorFor extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in actual conflict with the enemy near GRANDE RIVIERE, Republic of Haiti, on the night of October 31st-November 1st, 1919, resulting in the death of Charlemagne Péralte, the supreme bandit chief in the Republic of Haiti, and the killing, capture, and dispersal of about 1,200 of his outlaw followers. Second Lieutenant Hanneken not only distinguished himself by his excellent judgment and leadership, but unhesitatingly exposed himself to great personal danger, and the slightest error would have forfeited not only his life but the lives of the detachments of Gendarmerie under his command. The successful termination of his mission will undoubtedly prove of untold value to the Republic of Haiti.

Six months later, Hanneken was again cited for extraordinary heroism, receiving his first (of two) Navy Cross citations:

Navy Cross MedalThe President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant Herman Henry Hanneken, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism displayed on the night of March 31 – 1 April 1920, by advancing into the camp of Osiris Joseph, a notorious bandit leader, while serving with the First Provisional Brigade of Marines (Gendarmerie d’Haiti). With admirable disregard of danger, Lieutenant Hanneken, leading a small detail, advanced to within about fifteen feet of Osiris Joseph, who was surrounded by his followers, shot and killed him, thereby ridding the country of a bandit who had long terrorized Northern Haiti. In addition to the courage displayed, the resourcefulness shown, and the careful planning necessary to accomplish his mission are worthy of the highest praise.


The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant Herman Henry Hanneken, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary achievement, zeal untiring and most successful efforts during active service in the Northern Area of the Republic of Nicaragua from 11 December 1928 until 30 June 1929. In command of a combined Marine and Nicaraguan Voluntario combat patrol First Lieutenant Hanneken had many successful contacts with the bandits during which he distinguished himself by his gallantry. His courage and ability are exceptional and his operations against bandits were of great value in the suppression of banditry in this area.

Lieutenant Hanneken continued to serve during the so-called Banana Wars through the 1920s. In the following decade, Hanneken served at various posts and stations throughout the Corps, attended grade-level professional schools, and in 1936 was advanced in grade to Major. From 1939 to 1940, he served as Commanding Officer, Marine Barracks, Naval Ammunition Depot, Hingham, Massachusetts and was subsequently ordered to command the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Harry Lee.

Hanneken 003In June 1941, LtCol Hanneken reported to the 1st Marine Division where he served in various assignments. While commanding the 7th Marines on Guadalcanal, he received the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy. During the Peleliu campaign he received Legion of Merit, and during the Cape Gloucester operation, he received the Bronze Star Medal, with combat “V” device.

Colonel Hanneken concluded his 34 years of Marine Corps service in 1948. Having been specially decorated for heroism in combat, Colonel Hanneken was advanced to Brigadier General on the Retired List. He passed away on 23 August 1986 at the age of 93. He was accorded full military honors at his interment at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.





Handsome Jack of the Marines

Myers John Twiggs 001John Twiggs Myers (29 January 1871—17 April 1952) was the son of Colonel Abraham C. Myers, for whom Fort Myers, Florida is named, the grandson of Major General David E. Twiggs, and the great grandson of General John Twiggs, a hero of the American Revolutionary War.  Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, Handsome Jack graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1892 and received an appointment as Assistant Engineer two years later. In March 1895, Myers was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps.

In spite of the fact that few people know of John Twiggs Myers, he has been portrayed in two Hollywood films that incorporate his service as a U. S. Marine officer. The first film was titled 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston in the role of Myers, a chap named Major Matt Lewis commanding the Marines during the Boxer Rebellion. In the second film, titled The Wind and the Lion, Steve Kanaly plays the role of Captain Jerome, which in the actual event, was John Twiggs Myers.

Completing his studies at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, Myers was ordered to active duty at the outbreak of the Spanish American War. He led a Marine detachment that participated in the capture of Guam from its Spanish garrison, and then later sailed with the USS Charleston to the Philippine Islands, then being attached to the USS Baltimore.

During the Philippine-American War, Myers led several amphibious landings against Filipino insurgents in 1899, including the Battle of Olongapo and the Battle of Zapote River, gaining recognition for his heroic conduct. He was promoted to captain some time in 1899.

In May 1900, Myers was sent to China aboard the USS Newark and put ashore in command of a detachment of 48 Marines (including then Private Dan Daly) and 3 sailors to protect the American Legation in Peking. Myers and his Marines were assigned the most vulnerable section of the compounds defenses, the Tartar Wall. The Tartar Wall rose to a height of 45 feet, and was about 40 feet wide, forming a bulwark that over looked the foreign legation. Should this edifice fall into Chinese hands, the entire foreign legation would be exposed to the Boxer’s long rifle fires. Each day, the Chinese Boxers erected barricades, inching ever closer to the German position (on the eastern wall), and the American position (on the western approach).

Inexplicably, the Germans abandoned their position, and their American counterparts, leaving the Marines to defend the entire section. At 2 a.m. on the night of 3 July 1900, Captain Myers, while supported by 26 British Marines and 15 Russians, led an assault against the Chinese barricade, killing 20 Chinese and expelling the rest of them from the Tartar Wall. Myers received a serious spear wound to his leg. As a result of his courage under extremely dire conditions, Myers was advanced to the rank of Major, later receiving the Brevet Medal (See notes), which was the equivalent of the Medal of Honor for officers who, at that time, were ineligible for receive the Medal of Honor.

Brevet Medal 001Upon recovering from his wounds, Myers served as Provost Marshal on American Samoa, and was thereafter assigned to command the Marine Barracks, Bremerton, Washington.

In 1904, Myers led the detachment of Marines that accompanied the USS Brooklyn to Tangier, Morocco during the Perdicaris Incident. After the incident was concluded, Myers completed the Naval War College, commanded the NCO School at Marine Barracks, Washington, D. C., and later commanded the Barracks for several months.  In August 1906, Major Meyers assumed command of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Philippines until, in 1907 he was assigned to the USS West Virginia as Fleet Marine Officer of the Asiatic Fleet.  In 1911, Meyers completed the U. S. Army Field Officer’s School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Army War College, graduating in 1912.  In that year, Meyers commanded a battalion with the Second Provisional Brigade at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and in the following year commanded the Marine Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 1916, then Lieutenant Colonel Meyers commanded the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines until assigned as Fleet Marine Officer, U. S. Atlantic Fleet where he served until August 1918.  He then assumed command of the Marine Barracks at Parris Island, South Carolina through November 1918.

In 1921, Myers was appointed Inspector General of the Department of the Pacific, serving in that position for three years, and from 1925-1928, he commanded the 1st Marine Brigade stationed in Haiti. After service as Commanding General, Department of the Pacific, Myers retired from active service in 1935 having achieved 46 years of service. In 1942, in recognition of his distinguished service, he was advanced to the grade of lieutenant general on the retired list.

John Twiggs Myers passed away at the age of 81 at his home in Coconut Grove, Florida on 17 April 1952. He was the last living recipient of the Brevet Medal.



1. Myers was one of only 20 Marine Corps officers to receive this medal.

Sergeant Major Quick

John Henry Quick
John Henry Quick

Marine Corps chronicler John W. Thomason wrote of the “old breed” with considerable reverence, as well he should.  “And there were also a diverse people who ran curiously to type, with drilled shoulders, and bone-deep sunburn and an intolerant scorn of nearly everything on earth.  They were the leathernecks, the old breed of American regular, regarding the service as home.  And they transmitted their temper and character and viewpoint to the high-hearted mass, which filled the ranks of the Marine Brigade.”

Now a point of clarification: in today’s parlance, the Old Breed refers to Marines of the 1st Marine Division who fought the island battle of Guadalcanal in World War II.  To John Thomason and other Marines of his time, the term old breed referred to the Marines prior to World War I.

Additionally, Thomason’s reference to “leatherneck” refers to American and British Marines who wore a leather stock [1] around their necks (1798-1840, 1899-1902).  One stock was issued to each Marine annually, and it is a tradition that continues today, represented by the standing collar of the Marine Corps dress blue uniform.  Marines reintroduced the leather stock for use during the American-Philippine War (1899-1902) to protect against decapitation from Filipino machetes; in Thomason’s day, these were the old salts of the Corps.

In Thomason’s view, Old Corps Marines stood head and shoulders above most of the soldiery of his day; he believed these old salts laid the foundation for what the Marine Corps would one day become.  By passing these long-time traditions down from one generation of Marine to the next, the old breed of Marine became the cement of our tradition and the genesis of much of our lore.  They served as models for such now-famous personages of World War II fame as John Basilone, Lou Diamond, and Bob McTureous.

One of these old regulars was a man named John Henry Quick, whose exploits over more than 26 years of service would inspire the imaginations of many Marines after 1898.  Quick was born in Charles Town, West Virginia in 1870.  He enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps on August 10, 1892 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which made him a six year veteran by the time war broke out with Spain in 1898.

During the morning of 14 June 1898, two companies of Robert W. Huntington’s battalion and fifty additional Cubans moved through the hills to seize Cuzco Well, the main water supply for the Spanish garrison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The USS Dolphin (PG-24) moved east along the shore ready to furnish naval gunfire support upon call.  The Spanish detected the Marines’ movements and alerted their main body near Cuzco Well.  The Marines occupied the hill overlooking the enemy’s position, but were immediately exposed to long rifle fire directed upon them by the Spanish garrison.  Captain George F. Elliott [2] signaled the Dolphin to shell the Spanish position, but because the sender of the message was not clearly visible to the ship, the vessel began dropping fire on a detachment of Marines who were en route to join the battle.

Sergeant Quick quickly arose, announced to his captain that he was a signalman, and was able to produce from somewhere a blue polka-dot neckerchief as large as a quilt.  Security the scarf to a long crooked stick, he rushed to the top of the ridge and, turning his back to the Spanish long rifles, began to send his message to the Dolphin causing them to cease-fire.  At this time, a war correspondent named Stephen Crane was with the Marines.  He later reported, “I saw Quick betray only one sign of emotion during his heroic action.  As he swung his clumsy flag to and fro, an end of it once caught on a cactus pillar, and he looked sharply over his shoulder to see what had it.  He gave the flag an impatient jerk.  He looked annoyed.”

Navy Medal of Honor (1862)
Navy Medal of Honor (1862)

As soon as the Dolphin answered his signal, Quick retrieved his service rifle and rejoined the firing line.  Dolphin shifted her fire, and within a short time, the Spanish vacated their position.  For Quick’s gallant and selfless conduct, Quick was awarded the Medal of Honor.

During the Philippine-American War, Quick served as a Gunnery Sergeant under Major Littleton W. T. Waller and the campaign across Samar.  During the Battle of Sohoton Cliffs, Quick’s direction of concentrated fires dislodged well-entrenched Filipino insurrectos, which enabled the Marines to capture the leading Filipino general and several of his lieutenants.

During the military expedition to Vera Cruz (1914) Quick was again cited for valor during the assault of the city, for which he was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, as follows: “He was continually exposed to fire during the first two days of the operation and showed coolness, bravery, and judgment in the prompt manner in which he performed his duties.

Sergeant Major John Quick sailed to France as part of the 6th Marine Regiment in 1917.  During the Battle for Belleau Wood, Quick was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross for delivery of much needed supplies over a fire-swept field.  Quick continued to distinguish himself through every battle fought by the Marines in France, including Verdun, Aisne-Marne (Soissons), the Marbache Sector near Pont-a-Mousoon, the St. Mihiel Offensive, the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  Sergeant Major Quick was additionally awarded the 2nd Division Citation and the French fourragere of the Croix de Guerre.

Sergeant Major Quick retired from active serve in November 1918, but was briefly recalled to active duty from July to September 1920.  He passed away in St. Louis, Missouri on 9 September 1922.

He was 52 years old.


[1] The stock, usually black, was a stiff leather collar measuring from 3 to 3 ½ inches in width and containing two metal clasps, worn around the neck.  The device was designed with a two-fold purpose: its construction restricted movement and therefore improved the military bearing of Marines, and it protected the area of the neck and throat from blows of sword or thrust of dirk.

[2] Commandant of the Marine Corps, 1903-1910

Major Waller’s Court

OLD EGA 001Last week, I wrote about Major Littleton W. T. Waller’s march across Samar.  It was an event encompassing great courage, substantial challenges, and much suffering.  I suspect many lessons were learned from this tragedy—including the effect on morale when casualties are abandoned along the trail.  I also hope there were lessons learned about the importance of logistics, but I think history will show that this lesson was one of the more difficult over all.  It appears we are learning it still.

But Waller’s trials on the march across Samar were only the beginning of his unhappy experience in the Philippines.

After the Balangiga Massacre, Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith, U. S. Army requested assistance from the Navy-Marine Corps in the Philippines to subdue insurrectionists on the island of Samar.  As part of his order to Waller, Smith said, “I want no prisoners.  I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me.  I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.”

Waller requested clarification about the age limit to General Smith’s order, and Smith replied “Ten years.”

Waller persisted, “Persons of ten years and older are those designated as being capable of bearing arms?”

“Yes,” said Smith.

Major Waller largely ignored these illegal orders, but it did become necessary for Major Waller to order the summary execution of eleven native carriers when they mutinied against the Marines in the field, stole their rations, and attacked them at their weakest moments.  After the execution, Major Waller duly reported the incident to his superior, Brigadier General Smith.

General Smith passed Waller’s report of the executions to his superior, General Adna R. Chaffee, U. S. Army.  Chaffee decided to investigate these executions, despite General J. Franklin Bell, U. S. Army having purportedly carried out similar executions on a much larger scale only a few months before —albeit with no subsequent investigations.  As a result, Major Waller was brought up on charges of murder in ordering the execution of the Filipino porters.

A court-martial was convened on 17 March 1902, consisting of 7 Army officers, 6 Marine Corps officers, and the presiding officer in the person of General William H. Bisbee, USA.  The prosecutor assigned to the case was Major Henry P. Kingsbury, U. S. Army, who read the formal charges:

CHARGE: murder, in violation of the 58th Article of War.

Specification: In that Major Littleton W. T. Waller, United States Marine Corps, being then and there detached for service with the United States Army, by authority of the President of the United States, did, in time of war, willfully and feloniously and with malice aforethought, murder and kill eleven men, names unknown, natives of the Philippine Islands, by ordering and causing his subordinate officer under his command, John Horace Arthur Day, First Lieutenant, U. S. Marine Corps, and a firing detail of enlisted men under his said command, to take out said eleven men and shoot them to death, which said order was then and there carried into execution and said eleven natives, and each of them, were shot with rifles from the effects of which they then and there died.  This at Basey, Island of Samar, Philippine Islands, on or about the 20th of January 1902.

Major Waller’s attorney was Commander Adolf Marix, U. S. Navy.  He first argued unsuccessfully that the Army had no jurisdiction over Waller, as he was again under Marine Corps command, no longer attached to an Army command.  Marix argued that since the Army did not charge Waller while he was still attached to the army for service, their authority over him had expired.

Colonel Bisbee noted the plea as follows: “The plea is that the defendant is not subject to the jurisdiction of this court.  Therefore, we want to know whether there is any possible written, or other evidence from the President of the United States, placing him on detached duty with the Army, and thereby placing him within the province of this court.”

The next morning, Major Kingsbury provided a series of telegrams between Admiral Rogers and General Chafee in which the offer of 300 Marines was made, and accepted.  “The Marines were serving in Samar by order of the President, the Secretary of War, and the Secretary of the Navy—and they were there,” he said.

Commander Marix argued further, “Legal proceedings are defined clearly … the accused has a right to be present, the witnesses sworn, and be represented by counsel.  Nothing of the kind happened in this case.  An inspector of allegations is not a judicial officer.”

General Bisbee ruled that the court was without jurisdiction in the case, but he left open the possibility of reversing himself if instructions were received from the office of the Adjutant General of the Army.

On 21 March, the instructions arrived.  The Assistant Adjutant General noted that the Commanding General of the Philippine Department (General Arthur MacArthur, Jr.[1]) had ordered a preliminary examination of the case, with a view to legal action, before Waller was relieved of duty with the Army.  Waller assisted in Major Getty’s investigation, and was questioned by him, so he had to know that he was a party to the proceedings.  Besides, a “brief lapse of jurisdiction” cannot mitigate a murder charge.

General Bisbee was then obligated to decide that his court did have jurisdiction over Major Waller, and ordered the trial to proceed.

Waller 001Major Waller thereafter entered his plea: “To the specification, guilty —except to the words ‘willfully and feloniously and with malice aforethought, murder, and …’ to those words, not guilty.  To the charge, not guilty.  At no time did Major Waller use General Smith’s orders, “I want all persons killed” to justify the execution of the Filipinos.  He instead relied exclusively on the rules of war and provisions of a Civil War General Order Number 100 that authorized “exceeding force,” much as J. Franklin Bell had successfully done in the preceding months.  Waller’s defense thus rested.

The prosecution then called General Smith as a rebuttal witness.  On 7 April 1902, in sworn testimony, Smith denied that he had given any special verbal orders to Waller.  This testimony obliged Waller to produce three officers who corroborated Waller’s version of the Smith-Waller conversation, and he submitted copies of every written order he had received from Smith.  Waller informed the court that he had been directed to take no prisoners, and to kill every male Filipino over the age of ten.

The court martial board voted 11-2 for acquittal of Waller.  Later, the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General dismissed the entire case, agreeing that a Marine Corps officer was not subject to an Army court.  Back home, the press labeled Waller as “The Butcher of Samar,” and even though Waller was eventually promoted to Major General, the court martial kept him from an appointment as Commandant of the Marine Corps.

As the result of evidence introduced at the Waller trail, General Smith was himself court-martialed, convicted, admonished, and forced into retirement.

Post script: Many of us like to think that the military services rely heavily upon honor, personal and professional integrity, but the fact is that there are some who disgrace themselves and the uniforms they wear.  Smith was such a person, who lied in court about the orders he issued, but continued to benefit from his status as a former brigadier general in the United States Army.  We have situations even today where there is a question of the veracity of senior officers, from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, to others who seem unable to control their libido.  Our troops deserve much better than this.

What should Waller have done?  He would have been prudent to make his report to the senior Army commander, and turned his prisoners over to that officer, for his adjudication.


[1] Father of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur

He Served on Samar

Samar Map 001For a period of about two years following the end of hostilities with Spain in the Philippines, various local groups numbering perhaps five percent of the total population of the Philippine Islands (7 million, approximately) challenged the occupying Army of the United States.

The island of Samar had become the centerpiece for resistance to American occupation following the Spanish-American War.  On 28 September 1901, 48 soldiers assigned to Company C, 9th US Infantry then stationed in Balangiga, were killed during a surprise attack by Filipino townspeople.  An additional eight soldiers died due to wounds received during the attack; 22 were wounded.  Of the total number of soldiers, only 4 escaped unharmed.

The day following the attack, Captain Edwin V. Bookmiller, the commander in Basey, sailed with Company G, 9th US Infantry for Balangiga aboard a commandeered coastal steamer, named Pittsburgh.  Upon arrival, Captain Brookmiller discovered the town abandoned.  The dead soldiers were buried and the wounded cared for as best as could be done.  This event became known as the Balangiga Massacre.

Back in the states, word of the massacre enraged the public, with US newspapers equating the massacre to that of George Armstrong Custer and the 7th US Cavalry in 1876.  Major General Adna R. Chaffee, military governor of the Philippines, received orders from President Theodore Roosevelt to pacify Samar.  To this end, he appointed Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith to Samar in order to accomplish this task.  General Smith requested reinforcements to complete his mission and it was this call for help that brought in the Marines.

On 24 October 1901, Major Littleton W. T. Waller [1], commanding a battalion of approximately 300 Marines arrived in Samar at the direction of Rear Admiral Frederick Rodgers, who commanded the Asiatic Squadron.  Although the Marines were placed under the command of Brigadier General Smith to reinforce and cooperate with the U. S. Army on Samar, it was also contemplated that Major Waller’s movements should be supported, as far as possible, by a vessel of the U. S. fleet, to which he should make reports from time to time, and through which supplies for his battalion were to be furnished.

Waller 001Major Waller disembarked at Basey with his headquarters element and two companies of Marines and relieved some elements of the 9th Infantry.  The remainder of Waller’s battalion, consisting of approximately 159 men, proceeded to Balangiga (along the southern coast of Samar) under the command of Captain David D. Porter [2], who was ordered to begin operations immediately to pacify the rebels.  Porter’s company relieved elements of the 17th US Infantry.  At this time, Waller received orders from Brigadier General Smith, as follows:  “I want no prisoners.  I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me.  The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.”

As a consequence of this order, Smith became known as “Howling Wilderness Smith.”  He further ordered Waller to have all persons killed who were capable of bearing arms, and in actual hostilities against the United States.  Waller queried Smith further regarding the age of those persons.  General Smith replied that the limit was ten years old.

The operating area assigned to the Marines included the entire southern part of Samar.  The Marines began patrolling immediately at Basey and Balangiga—small expeditions designed to clear the country of guerillas, which were operating under the command of General Vicente Lukban who refused to surrender to US authority.  The Marines learned that General Lukban and his insurgents occupied a fortified defense on the Sohoton Cliffs, near a river of the same name.  Three columns of Marines marched into the Sohoton region to attack this stronghold in mid-November.  Major Waller, Captain Porter, and Captain Hiram I. Bearss [3] each commanded one of these three columns.  Porter and Bearss marched on shore; Waller and his Marines went up the river in boats.  The initial plan called for a combined attack on Lukban on 16 November 1901.

Captain Porter and Captain Bearss struck the enemy’s trail and soon came upon a number of bamboo guns—one of these placed to command the trail and upon discovery, had a lighted fuse.  One Marine ran forward and pulled the fuse away from the gun, thereby disarming it.  The arrival of the Marines surprised the insurgents, and they were easily driven from their initial positions.  In the second phase of the attack, the Marines had to scale 200-foot cliffs; hovering above them were large nets filled with rocks that the insurgents intended to use against the Marines.  However, withering and accurate rifle fire directed upon them by Gunnery Sergeant John H. Quick [4], prevented them from doing so.  The Marines successfully scaled the cliffs and drove the insurgents out of their defenses.  Had Major Waller’s boats not been delayed, the results for his detachment might have been disastrous.

No Marines were killed or wounded during the attack, but 40 insurgents were killed and General Lukban and his lieutenants were captured and taken into custody. Major Waller’s decision not to immediately pursue the insurgents is a lesson in logistics.  The Marines were out of rations, the men were exhausted, and some of the Marines were ill.  The volcanic rocks had cut the Marine’s shoes to pieces, many were bare footed and their feet severely damaged.

On or about 5 December 1901, Brigadier General Smith directed Major Waller to march his Marines from Basey, across the island of Samar to Hernani, for the purpose of selecting a route for constructing a telegraph system connecting the east and west coast.  Three days later, two columns of Marines left Basey for Balangiga—one under the command of Major Waller, and the other under Captain Bearss.  Stores were sent ahead by naval vessel.  Although the Marines did not encounter armed resistance, the natural obstacles proved deadly.  The March across Samar had begun.

Waller decided to begin his march from Lanang, work his way up the Lanang River as far as possible, and then march to the vicinity of the Sohoton Cliffs.  Before beginning his trek, Waller was cautioned not to make the attempt, but he later recalled in his report, “Remembering General Smith’s several talks on the subject and his evident desire to know the terrain, and run wires across … I decided to make the trial with 50 men and necessary carriers.”

This journey began on 8 December 1901 and included Waller, Porter, Bearss, three lieutenants (including an Army aide to Smith), 50 Marines, and 33 native porters.  The boats were abandoned at Lagitao due to the fact that they could not penetrate the rapids, so the remainder of the trip was made on foot.  The Marines soon found it necessary to cross, and re-cross swollen rivers and dangerous rapids.  Within a scant few days, it became necessary to reduce rations; Waller was not yet aware that the native carriers were stealing food rations.

Within a week, the Marines were becoming ill, food rations were critically short, their clothing in tatters, their feet were swollen and bleeding, and the trail was lost.  After some conference with his officers, Waller decided to take Lieutenant Halford and 13 Marines who were in the best condition, and push forward as rapidly as possible.  They would send back a relief party for the main column, which was placed under the command of Captain Porter.  Porter’s instructions were to follow in trace slowly.

On January 4, Major Waller’s party rushed a shack and captured five natives, including a man and a boy who stated that they knew the way to Basey.  After crossing the Sohoton River, the famous Spanish trail leading from the Sohoton caves to the Suribao River was discovered and followed.  The party crossed the Loog River and proceeded through the valley to Banglay, on the Cadacan River.  Near this point the party came upon the camp, which Captain Dunlap had established to await their arrival.  Major Waller’s party went aboard Captain Dunlap’s cutter and set off for Basey, where they arrived on January 6, 1902.  Concerning the condition of the men of his party, Major Waller wrote:

“The men, realizing that all was over and that they were safe and once more near home, gave up.  Some quietly wept; others laughed hysterically —most of them had no shoes.  Cut, torn, bruised and dilapidated, they had marched without murmur for twenty-nine days.”

Immediately after the arrival of the detachment at Basey, Major Waller led a relief party back to locate Captain Porter’s party.  After nine days of searching, there was no sign of Captain Porter.  The floods were terrific and Waller discovered that several of the former campsites several feet under water.  The members of the relief party began to break down, due to the many hardships and the lack of food, forcing the party to return to Basey.  Upon arrival, Major Waller was taken sick with fever.

Meanwhile Captain Porter had decided to retrace the trail to Lanang and ask for a relief party to be sent out for his men, most of who were unable to march.  He chose seven Marines who were in the best condition and with six natives, set out January 3 for Lanang.  He left behind Lieutenant Williams in charge of the remainder of the detachment with orders to follow, as the condition of the men would permit.  Captain Porter’s return to Lanang was made under difficulties many times greater than those encountered during the march to the interior.  Food was almost totally lacking, and heavy rains filled the streams making it almost impossible to follow down their banks or cross them as was so often necessary.

On January 11, Captain Porter reached Lanang and reported the situation to Captain Pickering, the Army Commander at that place.  A relief expedition was organized to go for the remainder of the Marines but it was unable to start for several days because of the swollen Lanang River.  Without food, yet realizing that starvation was certain if they remained in camp, Lieutenant Williams and his men slowly followed Captain Porter’s trail, leaving men behind one by one to die beside the trail when it was no longer possible for them to continue.  One man went insane; the native carriers became mutinous and some of them attacked and wounded Lieutenant Williams with bolos.  After having left ten marines to die along the trail, Lieutenant Williams was finally met by the relief party on the morning of January 18 and taken back to Lanang.

Williams later testified that the mutinous behavior of the natives left the Marines in daily fear of their lives; the porters were hiding food and supplies from the Marines and keeping themselves nourished from the jungle while the Marines starved.  As a result, 11 porters were placed under arrest following Williams’ testimony.

After an investigation of the facts and circumstances of these events, Waller ordered the summary execution of the eleven Filipino porters for treason, theft, disobedience, and general mutiny.  Ten were shot in groups of three (one had been gunned down in the water attempting to escape).  Waller later reported the executions to General Smith, as he had reported every other event.  “It became necessary to expend eleven prisoners; ten who were implicated in the attack on Lt. Williams and one who plotted against me.”

The full circumstances of Lieutenant Williams’ attempt to extricate his exhausted men from the midst of that wild tropical jungle is one of the most tragic, yet one of the most heroic episode in Marine Corps history.  The entire march across Samar was about 190 miles.  Major Waller’s march, including his return with the party searching for Captain Porter, totaled 250 miles.

For many years after, officers and men of the United States Marine Corps paid a traditional tribute to the indomitable courage of these Marines by rising in their presence with the following words of homage: “Stand, gentlemen: he served on Samar.”


[1] Brevet Medal; Retired in grade of Major General

[2] Brevet Medal; Medal of Honor; Retired in grade of Major General; son of LtCol Carlisle Porter, grandson of Admiral David D. Porter, great-grandson of Commodore David Porter

[3] Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Distinguished Service Cross, retired in grade of Colonel (1919), advanced to Brigadier General in retirement

[4] Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star; retired in grade of Sergeant Major

Old Gimlet Eye

Butler 001Smedley Darlington Butler may not be a name most parents would choose for their first-born son, and it is certainly not a name that most people are familiar with —and yet, next to “Chesty” Puller, Smedley Butler remains one of the most colorful officers in the history of the United States Marine Corps.

Smedley was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania on 30 July 1881—the eldest of three sons.  His father, descended from Quaker families, was a lawyer, a judge, and for 32 years, a congressman and Chair of the House Naval Affairs Committee during the Harding and Coolidge administrations.  His grandfather was Smedley Darlington, a Republican congressman from 1887 to 1891.

Butler attended The Haverford School, a secondary academy popular among upper class Philadelphia families.  He was a Haverford athlete, becoming captain of the baseball team, and quarterback of the football team.  Against the wishes of his father, he left the school a few weeks before his 17th birthday to offer his services to the Marine Corps during the Spanish-American War; nevertheless, Haverford awarded him his high school diploma.

On the day of this moments decision, Butler went directly to the Marine Corps headquarters where he was able to see the Colonel Commandant Charles Heywood [1], and thereupon applied for a commission as a second lieutenant.  Colonel Heywood looked steadily at Butler and said, “I spoke with your father the other day, and he told me you are only 16 years of age.”  Butler replied, “He often gets me and my brother confused sir.  I’m actually 18 years old.”  Heywood continued to eye the young man but then finally relented.  “Okay, we’ll take you.”  Both of these men knew that one of them was lying.

Butler trained at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC.  In July 1898, he went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba arriving shortly after its invasion and capture.  His company soon returned to the United States and, after a short break, Butler was assigned to the armored cruiser USS New York for a period of about four months.  He was mustered out of the Marine Corps in February 1899, but in April of that year, he was offered and accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the regular Marine Corps.

Brevet Medal 001After service in the Philippines (1899-1900), Butler was assigned to a company commanded by the famous Littleton Waller whose orders were to proceed to China and relieve the siege of Peking.  It became known as the Boxer Rebellion.  Butler was ordered to Tientsin, where he served with honor and received his first gunshot wound.  Since at that time officers could not receive the Medal of Honor, Butler was promoted to Captain by brevet for distinguished conduct and public service in the presence of the enemy.  He was later awarded the Brevet Medal, one of only 20 Marines to receive it.

From 1901 to 1912, Butler served at various post in the United States, in Puerto Rico and Panama.  Afterward, he commanded an expeditionary battalion in Nicaragua and several other locations during the so-called Banana Wars.  In 1914, Butler participated in the pacification of Vera Cruz, Mexico, form which he became eligible for and received his first Medal of Honor, “For distinguished conduct in battle, engagement of Vera Cruz, 22 April 1914.  Major Butler was eminent and conspicuous in command of his battalion.  He exhibited courage and skill in leading his men through the action of the 22nd and in the final occupation of the city.”  Butler returned the medal to Marine headquarters, explaining that he had done nothing to earn it, but the medal was returned to him with terse order to retain the medal, and to wear it.

Medal of HonorButler was awarded his second Medal of Honor (the only Marine officer to receive two) for “extraordinary heroism in action while serving as Commanding Officer” of detached companies in Haiti on 17 November 1915.

During World War I, Butler commanded the 13th Regiment in France, from which he was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the French Order of the Black Star.

Upon return to the United States in 1919, Butler was promoted to Brigadier General and served as Commanding General, Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia until 1924.  In 1924, Butler was granted a two-year leave of absence from the Marine Corps to accept the post of Director of Public Safety in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He resumed his duty at Quantico in 1926 until assuming command of the 3rd Marine Brigade in China, 1927 through 1931.  Upon return to the United States, he retired upon his own application after 33 years of active duty service.

Butler 002After retirement, Major General Butler became outspoken against war profiteering—for sending young Americans out to die to further corporate interests.  He was also opposed to Herbert Hoover, who directed Douglas MacArthur to disperse the so-called bonus army.  The veterans, he argued, had as much right to petition congress as did any American corporation.

In November 1934, Butler reported to members of congress the existence of a conspiracy by prominent capitalists, including JP Morgan, DuPont, and Goodyear Tire, to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt and install in place of duly elected government, a fascist regime headed by Hugh S. Johnson, a former official in the National Recovery Administration.  A special committee of the House of Representatives was convened, headed by Representative John W. McCormack [2] (D-MA), and Samuel Dickstein [3] (D-NY) who took General Butler’s testimony in secret.  The principal organizer of this movement was said to be Grayson Murphy [4].  The committee’s initial report stated that General Butler’s statements could not be confirmed.  No prosecutions or further investigations followed Butler’s testimony and the press made great light of Butler’s story and did what they could to discredit him.  However, the committee’s final report credited much of Butler’s testimony as “alarmingly true.”  Still, no one was ever prosecuted for conspiracy to overthrow the U. S. government.

General Butler died from what might have been pancreatic cancer at his home on 21 June 1940.  He was 58 years old.



[1] Heywood was promoted to Brigadier General in March 1899; he later became the first Marine officer promoted to major general.

[2] 53rd Speaker of the House, 1962-1971

[3] According to Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev in 1999, records of the USSR reflect that Dickstein was a paid employee of the NKVD, precursor of the KGB.  An article in the Boston Globe stated, “Dickstein ran a lucrative trade in illegal visas for Soviet operatives before brashly offering to spy for the NKVD, in return for cash.”  His NKVD nickname was “Crook.”

[4] Grayson Mallet-Prevost Murphy (1878-1937) was head of a private banking concern and a director of Anaconda Cooper Mining Company, Guaranty Trust Company, New York Trust Company, Bethlehem Steel, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, New York Railways, Fifth Avenue Coach and Chicago Motor Coach.

[5] Special annotation: there are conflicting accounts about how Butler earned the nickname “Old gimlet eye.”  Two of these accounts suggest the possibility that he suffered from malaria (although at two different locations and at different times: Honduras 1903 and Nicaragua 1912).  Another supposition is that Butler suffered from jaundice, one indicator of a diseased liver.  Still another theory retains the liver as the source of his red, bloodshot eyes, suggesting it cause was related to too much alcohol consumption.