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.

Notes:


[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, 36 soldiers assigned to Company C, 9th US Infantry then stationed in Balangiga, were killed during a surprise attack by Filipino insurrectos.  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.”

Notes:


[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.

Notes:

_____________________________

[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.

We Call Him Chesty

In my younger years, conventional parents and teachers encouraged boys and girls to read stories written about famous Americans.  I recall reading about William Penn, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, George Custer, Ulysses Grant, and Robert E. Lee.  They weren’t academically vetted manuscripts, of course —they were intended for elementary aged children, after all.  It is also true that some of these stories contained as much myth as fact, but it was the reading of these stories that gave children heroes —people who were, according to pre-communist educators, worthy of emulation.

VMI 1917I am not alone, apparently.  Another young man was exposed to these kinds of stories.  His name was Lewis Burwell Puller.  He was born in West Point, Virginia on 26 June 1898 —making him a little more than 8 years younger than my grandfather.  He grew up reading the same kinds of stories as I did more than 50 years later, but he also grew up listening to the tales of civil war veterans as they recalled the great confederate generals: Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart.  Puller attempted to join the Army in 1916 to fight in the border war with Mexico, but he was too young and his mother refused to sign his enlistment papers.

In 1917, Puller attended the Virginia Military Institute, but left at the end of his first year because World War I was still going on; he said he wanted to go to the sound of the guns.  By this time, the tales of the 5th Marine Regiment at Belleau Wood had inspired Puller to enlist in the U. S. Marine Corps, which he did in 1918.  Private Puller was shipped off to boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.

Puller never saw combat during World War I, but the Marine Corps was expanding; not long after graduating from boot camp, Puller was sent to NCO School and subsequently, Officers Candidate School (OCS).  On 16 June 1919, Puller received a commission to Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve.  A year later, large-scale military deactivations led to his release from active duty.  Puller was placed on inactive status and assigned the rank of corporal.

Banana Wars 001During the years progressives refer to as the banana wars, Marine Corps Noncommissioned Officers were often commissioned as officers in the military of public safety services of foreign countries.  It was thus that Corporal Puller received orders to serve in the Gendarmerie d’Haiti in the rank of lieutenant.  US occupation of Haiti began in 1915 and lasted until 1934.  Woodrow Wilson first sent the Marines to Haiti resulting from a series of political assassinations carried out by peasant brigands called Cacos.  For more than five years, Puller participated in 40 operations against the Cacos and in 1922, served as an adjutant to Major Alexander Vandegrift.  Major General Vandegrift would later command the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal, win the Medal of Honor, and accept appointment as Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Puller CaptainPuller was re-commissioned a second lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps in 1924.  After attending service schools and two assignments at Marine security barracks, Puller was assigned in 1928 to duty with the Nicaraguan National Guard detachment.  During his service in Nicaragua, Puller was awarded two Navy Cross medals, representing the nations second highest award for valor.

By the time Puller was promoted to major, he had additionally served with the American Legation in China on two occasions, two sea duty tours aboard USS Augusta, and instructor duty at the Marine Corps basic school for officers.  In August 1941, Puller was assigned to command the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, which was at the time stationed at New River, North Carolina.  The base was later renamed Camp Lejeune.

x-defaultDuring World War II, Puller commanded Marines on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Pelélieu, and various elements of the 7th Marines, 5th Marines, and 1st Marines.  During the Pacific Campaign, Puller received a Bronze Star Medal, his third and fourth award of the Navy Cross, the Legion of Merit, and a promotion to Colonel.

At the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, Puller was again assigned to command the 1st Marine Regiment.  He participated in the landing at Inchon, the 1st Marine Division’s advance to the Chosin Reservoir, and its retrograde below the 38th parallel.  During this period, Puller was awarded the Silver Star medal, a second Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Cross, and an unprecedented fifth award of the Navy Cross.  It was during this time that Puller is quoted as saying, “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now.  We’ve finally found him.  We’re surrounded.  That simplifies things.”

Puller 001Puller was promoted to Brigadier General in January 1951 and was assigned as Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Marine Division.  Although promoted successively to Lieutenant General, Puller’s health forced him to retire in 1955 with 37 years of service.  In addition to the awards already mentioned, Puller received the Purple Heart Medal, and three awards of the Air Medal.  It is believed that General Puller remains the most highly decorated Marine in the history of the United States Marine Corps.

General Puller passed away in 1971.

Captain Hulbert of the Old Breed

Hulbert 001Henry Lewis Hulbert (12 Jan 1867—4 Oct 1918) was one of those Marines of the “old breed” I enjoy reading about. He was the first born of a prosperous Kingston-Hull, Yorkshire, England family, and this enabled him to attend Felsted School in Essex and later, to enter the British Colonial Service. His first appointment was in Malaya, where he married Anne Rose Hewitt, but a subsequent scandal and divorce led him to leave Malaysia for the United States.

At the age of 31, Hulbert enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps (1898) and completed boot camp at Mare Island, California. His initial line assignment placed him in the company of 200 fellow Marines in a joint British-American intervention expedition to Samoa. During the Second Samoan Civil War, then Private Hulbert distinguished himself in combat and was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor due to his gallantry and intrepidity under fire.

Hulbert 002

By the time the United States entered World War I, Hulbert was serving at the highest enlisted rank.  Sergeant Major Hulbert served on the staff of Marine Corps Commandant, Major General George Barnett. Then, just prior to America’s entry into the war, Hulbert was appointed as the first Marine Corps Gunner (warrant officer) and was reassigned to the Fifth Regiment of United States Marines on 27 March 1917.  Hulbert was five months past his 50th birthday.  As the United States began to prepare for war, senior officers realized that the Corps was significantly short of company grade offers —those who ordinarily command platoons and companies.  As a consequence, the Marine Corps promoted Gunner Hulbert (and others) to the rank of second lieutenant (temporary).

During World War I, Lieutenant Hulbert participated in the Battle of Belleau Wood, and during this battle was recognized several times for courage under fire.  He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and recommended for a battlefield commission to Captain.

At the Battle of Soissons, Hulbert distinguished himself further but was killed in action on 4 October 1918 at Mont Blanc Ridge.  He was posthumously promoted to the rank of captain, and awarded the Navy Cross, Purple Heart, and Croix de Guerre (France). A U. S. Navy destroyer (DD-342) was named in his honor and was commissioned from 1920 to 1945.

My friend, Henry

Years ago I had the privilege of meeting an elderly gentleman who I will call Henry. Henry lived alone in a modest Air Stream trailer in Central Florida. He needed the company, and I enjoyed hearing his stories from his younger days. He spent most of his adult life working on the railroad, although I can no longer remember which one—it was up north, though. I found his stories fascinating because when I was a youngster, I loved trains and thought that perhaps one day I would become a train engineer.

WW I USMC 002Apparently, Henry and my grandfather had something in common. Both were U. S. Army veterans of World War I. As I never knew my grandfather, Henry’s stories fascinated me. My grandfather was a regular soldier; Henry had been drafted into the Army in early 1917. In those days, not too many people volunteered for military service. Listening to Henry describe his experiences in basic training took me back to my own experience at Parris Island, South Carolina 46-years later. How many hours did we sit on buckets and clean our weapons? It seemed like thousands of hours … and it seemed like that to Henry, too.

Suddenly, basic training was over. The United States was gearing up to enter the war, but there was some confusion about how to do that. The allied powers had to come to some agreement about whose flag American troops would fight under, and under whose command. Since the battlefields were in France, the French wanted all allied forces fighting under their command. This makes perfect sense: economy of force and unity of command are important concepts, but no American politician was going to send in an American to fight under some other country’s flag. As the heavyweights dickered back and forth, the foot soldier performed close order drill, and he sat on his bucket and cleaned his piece.

Henry told me, “One day this fella approached our sergeant, who was not an altogether friendly sort, and after a few moments the sergeant ordered us to ‘listen up’ to what this fellow had to say. Well, this fellow was a major, so we all paid attention. He told us the Army was moving away from using horses in combat to those new-fangled automobiles. Called them trucks, but the way he explained it, they was automobiles that the Army was converting to vehicles that could carry cargo, including men. He was looking for soldiers who wanted to learn about these trucks.

“Well, I raised my hand because I was tired of sitting on my damn bucket. The sergeant gave me this dirty look, but the major was happy to have me and one other fella. Shortly after that, we got orders and found ourselves on the other side of the base at Fort Monmouth and we were learning about trucks. For two full weeks, we learned about how these machines worked, then we drove them for another week, and then finally we were designated motor transportation men.

Ford Runabout“Come time to leave for Europe and we all crowded on transport ships. This was no fancy cruise. They had us stacked on that ship, and as soon as one fella got seasick, so did a few more and let me tell you, it was a mess. In any case, in due time, we arrived in France and we went through several days of fooling around trying to figure out which way was which … and then finally a sergeant told me to report over to this captain who was in charge of transportation. So that’s what I did.

“I reported to the top sergeant and he said to wait to see the captain. So I waited around until the captain was ready to see me and then I reported to him. And he asked me, ‘Well son, what can you do?’

‘I know about trucks,’ I told him.

‘Trucks?’

‘Yes sir, I can drive ‘em, and I can fix ‘em, if it don’t take much.’

‘Well, what in the hell is a truck?’

“So I explained that they was automobiles that could carry cargo and such. He laughed and said, ‘Well okay young man … we don’t have any of those trucks, but I’ll tell you want we do have. We have mules. You go on over to see Sergeant McKinley, and you tell him that you know how to fix trucks.’

EGA Grunt“So that’s what I did. And during the Great War, Sergeant McKinley had me shoveling mule shit. But I’ll tell you, it was a damn sight better than that hell that was the front line war.”

Of course, the amazing thing about Henry’s story is that the personnel classification and assignment policies of the modern day military in the early 1960s were not much different from what he experienced. If you’re out there Henry, I remember and relish the memory of our time together.

Semper Fi …

Courage Under Fire

WW I USMC 001I came across a story not long ago that I thought worthy of recounting here.  The author is a World War I Marine by the name of Elton Mackin (1898-1974).  This is his story, contained in a book entitled, Suddenly We Didn’t Want to Die, Presidio Press, 1996.

“The skipper [1] made it a practice to travel well supplied with good cigars, and when things were hot we’d see him with a strong cheroot clamped in the corner of his mouth, barking orders like the noncom [2] he had been in other days.

“Walking but a few steps away, I was with him when he first was hit.  He had just finished saying, ‘Bring a Hotchkiss [3] over here.’

“The bullet caught him in the muscles of his neck and scarcely made him stagger.  I swear he didn’t even stop puffing on that big old black cigar.  He stood there flat-footed and serene, as though it were a matter of everyday occurrence, while the rest of us sought shelter.  He reached up to unsnap the collar of his blouse, opened his shirt, and turned the collar down, thrusting an exploratory finger into the wound along the side of his neck.  After a little prodding, he flipped the blood from his fingertips and gingerly took apart his first-aid kid, then wrapped the bandage in it ‘round and round’ his throat, reminding me of a man having difficulty with his necktie.  Finishing that, he buttoned up his blouse again and went on being the skipper.

“Following men like these is what makes tradition for the fighting men.  In the Marine Corps, for the most part, we followed real soldiers.  There are a few advantages in serving with the Marines in time of trouble, most of them having to do with the type of men you soldier with and take orders from.  The vast majority of our line officers came from the ranks.  They understood the soldier kind because in their day, their time, they had worn the harness and felt the lash—the harness being the burden of the pack equipment carried, the lash being the harsh discipline meted out and the unquestioning response expected.

“We didn’t ordinarily have to soldier under the rich man’s son for whom father or some handy politician wangled a commission on account of the family, although there were and are rich men’s sons wearing the Marine Corps’ forest green.  But the man in the ranks has the advantage of knowing that, rich or poor, gentleman or otherwise, the man who leads him out to die, for the most part, has a code of his own—apart of the tradition that says he shall not send men where he dares not go himself.  The skipper and most of the officers I soldiered under were men who adhered strictly to that code.

“Later that same day a bit of shrapnel hit him where it hurt a bit, in such a way as to bother him and interfere with sitting down.  Neither of these wounds was serious, but according to all the rules of the game he should have gone immediately to the rear when first wounded.  Now, with the second wound, and remaining very much the company commander, he made himself as comfortable as possible, lying on his side beneath a tree and trusting to his noncoms and runners to keep him posed as to the goings on of the day.

“When morning came, he was still on duty and suffering—and not only from his hurts.  He had a small pad and on it, sheet by sheet, was entering the names of men gone down in action.  I watched him grow older as he wrote.

“Later than day a shell exploded near him, a fragment penetrated the muscles at the back of his shoulder, and he lost a lot of blood.  After getting bandaged he proceeded to make himself comfortable again, insofar as possible, showing no intention of going to the rear.

“A half-spent machine gun bullet got the captain’s runner through the fleshy portion of the thigh and seemed to break his nerve.  He whined and cried and didn’t take it as the other wounded lying nearby were trying to do.

“It is probable that the skipper’s nerves were worn somewhat thin by then, because in all his pain he fished around and took a bar of chocolate from his pack and tossed it over to the wounded runner, saying, ‘Here, son, suck on this.  Maybe it will stop your damn noise.’

“At about the same time, stretcher bearers showed up at the captain’s side.  These were escorted by First Lieutenant Gear, the second in command [4].  On seeing them, the skipper said, ‘I’ll not be hauled away on that damn thing, lieutenant.’

“I shall always remember Gear’s reply.  ‘I’m running this show now,’ he said.  ‘You can’t fight this whole damn war alone.  Now, climb on that stretcher or I’ll throw you on it—you’re going out!’

“Resignedly, with the grimness of the grim, the skipper crawled aboard the stretcher and the twenty-odd of us who were left of his old company felt lost and left alone.”

Although the book indicates that Macklin became “a sergeant of battalion runners,” his rank at the time of his discharge from the Marine Corps is unclear.  For his service in World War I, Macklin received the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, and two awards of the Silver Star.

__________

[1] In the Navy and Marine Corps, an officer serving in the rank of captain

[2] Noncommissioned Officer (NCO)

[3] Hotchkiss Machinegun

[4] Also known as the Executive Officer, Exec, or XO