A Damn Fine Pilot

EGA 1868Here is the story of an exceptional Marine who enlisted when he was still very young —17-years of age.  I find it interesting that no matter what part of the country these young men and women come from, they all have similar reasons for “joining up.” If you asked these young people why they decided to enlist, I believe their answers would be remarkably consistent. The number one response, I believe, would be “opportunity.”  Most enlistees come from modest environments.  They probably did well enough in school but are not ready to continue with higher education.  Perhaps they can’t afford to attend college; military service will help with that. Maybe they have a sense of adventure; military service will help with that, too.  Possibly, they sense a need for some discipline in their lives; the military will definitely help with that.  Other reasons might include dismal job prospects after high school, to obtain top-notch training, gain a sense of accomplishment, a desire to travel or more simply, to get out of the house.

No matter what their reasons, they come to us by the thousands.  I do not intend to in any way degrade any of the other services, but the fact is that very few applicants have what it takes to become a United States Marine. Getting into the Marines is difficult —getting through basic training is even more difficult— and intentionally so.

Here we have a young man by the name of Kenneth Walsh. He was born on 24 November 1916. He came from Brooklyn, New York graduating from Dickinson High School, Jersey City, New Jersey in 1933.  He was probably a smart kid, graduating at the age of 17 years —about a year ahead of his peers.  Within a few months of his graduation, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He attended recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina.  Afterwards, he trained to become an aircraft mechanic and a radioman.  He served at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia.  Then, in 1936, he entered naval flight training at NAS Pensacola, Florida.  His rank upon entering flight school was private.  Upon obtaining his gold wings as a naval aviator, he was promoted to corporal.

He was assigned to fly scout-observation aircraft and over the next four years, he served on three aircraft carriers.  He was subsequently assigned to Marine Fighter Squadron 121 in North Carolina.  At the time of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Walsh was serving as a master technical sergeant.  He was appointed as a Warrant Officer (designated a Marine Gunner) on 11 May 1942. A year later he was commissioned a First Lieutenant.

What made Walsh unique at this point was that he was among only a handful of Marine Corps officers who were qualified to serve as landing signal officer aboard U. S. Navy aircraft carriers.  He was also one of the most experienced Marine Corps pilots at the time.  Remaining assigned to VMF-124, Walsh flew the Vought F4U Corsair.  This aircraft was distributed to VMF-124 beginning in October 1942.  Marines found that these aircraft needed a few important refinements.  It was also a difficult aircraft to fly, but the refinement/learning curve was short.  The F4U aircraft had the range that the Pacific theater Grumman F4F Wildcats didn’t have.  Only the P-38s and F4U’s had the required combat range.  The fact was that these men and their flying machines were needed in the Pacific theater yesterday.

VMF-124’s Corsairs were sent to Espiritu Santo in the jeep carrier USS Kitty Hawkin January 1943. Upon arrival, VMF-124 was sent immediately to Guadalcanal, arriving on 12 February 1943.  The aircraft landed and while they were being refueled, their pilots were getting their first combat brief.  The mission: to escort a PBY Catalina which was assigned a search and air rescue mission for downed Wildcat pilots in hiding on Vella Lavella. On their first day in combat, the pilots logged 9 flight hours.

What Ken Walsh and his squadron mates wanted most was to familiarize themselves with the air combat area: islands, enemy locations, weather patterns.  They wouldn’t get the time for this.  The next day, Lieutenant Walsh led a four-plane element escorting B-24s to Bougainville —300 miles up the slot.

Another day, another mission.  Walsh had his first exposure to actual combat on 14 February. Again, his section was assigned to escort B-24’s to Bougainville … but this time, Japanese Zeros were waiting for them.  The Japanese had their own coast watchers.  The Americans lost eight aircraft that day; the Japanese lost three.  The incident was dubbed “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

As one of the first Corsair squadrons, VMF-124 was anxious to establish a tactical doctrine that later arriving squadrons could build upon. This is how things are done in Marine aviation.  VMF-124 pilots turned to an experienced Wildcat pilot for his advice.  “What is the best way to approach combat with the Japanese?”  His answer was simple:  “You gotta go after them.”  The Corsair had an advantage over the Zero; it was something Walsh learned early on: altitude.  He also learned to avoid slow speed engagements because the Zero had superior maneuverability at speeds below 260 knots.

On 1 April 1943, Walsh was on patrol over the Russell Islands.  The Corsairs circled their assigned area quietly for two hours and then were relieved by a section of P-38 Lightening’s.  No sooner had the Corsairs departed the pattern, Zeros jumped the P-38’s. Walsh alerted his flight to return to assist the P-38s.  A wild melee was taking place and at first, the Zeros didn’t notice the Corsairs. Walsh lined up one Zero for a deflection shot but missed.  His wingman scored the kill.  They approached a second Zero; Walsh splashed him.

Walsh scored three more kills on 13 May 1943.

On 10 August, Walsh’s aircraft had been badly shot up. The plane was on fire, and Walsh had limited ability to control flight.  A Zero lined up to finish him off, but Walsh’s wingman splashed him, saving Walsh’s life.  Walsh managed to reach an emergency strip at New Georgia, but his landing was shoddy. He crashed into another Corsair on the line, but he survived.

By mid-August, VMF-124 had been moved to Munda, a recently captured Japanese airstrip.  Walsh was flying CAP over the invasion beaches at Vella Lavella when the flight director warned him of inbound bogeys.  Some Zeros and Vals (Aichi D3A Type 99 Carrier Bombers) soon arrived. Walsh shot down two before a Zero clobbered him, hitting his starboard wing tank.  The plane could still fly, and Walsh headed for home and ended up landing safely.  Battered, yes, but the Corsairs had prevented the Vals from reaching their airfield. By this time, Walsh had increased the number of his victories to 10.

WALSH - FDR 001On 30 August, Walsh fought an incredible battled against fifty Japanese aircraft, destroying four enemy fighters before he had to ditch his damaged Corsair.  Next, assigned to escort bombers headed toward Bougainville, Walsh’s plane developed engine problems.  He made an emergency landing at Munda and secured a replacement Corsair and soon went off to rejoin his section —flying alone.  From his vantage point, he saw Zeros attacking the B-24s.  Walsh shot down two of these.  On his return to base, he picked up a message from other B-24’s in trouble over Gizo.  He flew off to help, again downing two Zeros—but not before he was hit himself. He was forced to ditch off Vella Lavella.  It was his third water landing in six months.

Ultimately, Ken Walsh score 21 kills, 17 of which were Zeros —second only to Colonel Greg Boyington in air combat victories.  He lost five aircraft.  He was shot down on three occasions.  He ended his first combat tour in September 1943.  On 8 February 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Captain Walsh with the Medal of Honor.

Citation:

USN MOH 001For extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron 124 in aerial combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area.  Determined to thwart the enemy’s attempt to bomb Allied ground forces and shipping at Vella Lavella on 15 August 1943, First Lieutenant Walsh repeatedly dived his plane into an enemy formation outnumbering his own division 6 to 1 and, although his plane was hit numerous times, shot down 2 Japanese dive bombers and 1 fighter.  After developing engine trouble on 30 August during a vital escort mission, First Lieutenant Walsh landed his mechanically disabled plane at Munda, quickly replaced it with another, and proceeded to rejoin his flight over Kahili.  Separated from his escort group when he encountered approximately 50 Japanese Zeros, he unhesitatingly attacked, striking with relentless fury in his lone battle against a powerful force.  He destroyed 4 hostile fighters before cannon shellfire forced him to make a dead-stick landing off Vella Lavella where he was later picked up.  His valiant leadership and his daring skill as a flier served as a source of confidence and inspiration to his fellow pilots and reflect the highest credit upon him and the United States Naval Service.

Walsh K A 001Walsh returned for a second combat tour with VMF-222 flying the advanced F4U.  Between 28 April and 12 May 1945, Walsh was awarded seven (7) Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism during service in the Philippine Islands.  He scored his last victory on 22 June 1945 downing a Kamikaze over northern Okinawa.  Following the US victory over Imperial Japanese forces, Walsh was assigned to duty as the MAG-14 Assistant Operations Officer on Okinawa.  He returned to the United States in March 1946.

During the Korean War, Walsh served as a C-54 (transport) pilot with VMR-152 (15 July 1950 to November 1951).  He was promoted to Major in 1955, and to Lieutenant Colonel in 1958.  Having completed thirty years of honorable and faithful service, Colonel Walsh retired from the United States Marine Corps on 1 February 1962.

Colonel Walsh passed away on 30 July 1998, aged 81 years.  He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

Marine Raiders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

[6] Meaning teamwork

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

[8] Now known as Butaritari Island

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

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

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

 

Pearl Harbor Day

John F. Kennedy once reminded us, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

America has revealed itself.

Pearl HarborWe used to recall 7 December as Pearl Harbor Day, but this, along with so many other memorials to past conflicts, has ceased to be a day of national remembrance.

I personally believe that President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted the Japanese to attack the United States; it was the only way he could convince the American people to support US involvement in another world war[1].  Roosevelt miscalculated, however.  He expected the Japanese to direct their efforts toward the Philippine Islands; instead, they broke down our door in the Hawaiian Islands —and this was a complete surprise to the Roosevelt Administration.

Approaching the Hawaiian Islands from the northwest, six Japanese aircraft carriers launched torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and fighters toward military targets early in the morning of 7 December 1941.  Their goal was to destroy the US Navy Fleet at Pearl Harbor —but the engagement also necessitated pre-emptive attacks upon all military air bases as well.  The attack came shortly before 0800; more than 90 US ships were anchored in the harbor, but what the Japanese wanted most were the eight battleships and aircraft carriers.

The Japanese attack was relentless for two full hours.  Japanese air forces involved 321 attack aircraft; 39 fighters were employed as protective air cover.  The costs to the Pacific Fleet were enormous: 21 ships were sunk or damaged, 347 aircraft were destroyed or damaged, two-thousand servicemen were killed, another one-thousand military and civilian personnel seriously wounded.  When it was all over, Roosevelt had the excuse he needed to enter into World War II.

In spite of the resulting damage at Pearl Harbor and at other locations in Hawaii, the courage and tenacity of our troops while attempting to defend themselves through several waves of air attack was of the highest order.

The initial attack was directed at six bases around the island of Oahu.  Navy patrol bombers were caught in the water at Kaneohe Naval Air Station.  At the Army’s airbases at Wheeler and Hickam Air Fields, the Marine airfield at Ewa, and the Navy’s Ford Island Air Station, rows of closely parked aircraft, concentrated to protect them from the possibility of sabotage, were transformed into heaps of useless wreckage.  The attack on the airfields had barely started before the first bombs and torpedoes were loosed against the sitting targets of battleship row.  Within minutes most of the battleships at the Ford Island moorings had been hit by one or more torpedoes and bombs.  Even if the Japanese had withdrawn within an hour after the commencement of their attack, the damage inflicted would still have been awful.

The Americans took a licking, but not without one hell of a fight.  Boatswains sounded “Call to Arms,” and “General Quarters;” Navy crewmembers responded immediately, reporting to their battle stations.  Fire control parties immediately began to fight the fires, gun crews began to return fire with everything available to them, in some cases, even as the ships sunk to the bottom of the harbor.  Some men died even before they realized that their ship was under attack.

Ashore, the Americans responded just as quickly as their sea-based counterparts, but had far less weaponry to defend themselves.  There were no pre-staged anti-aircraft gun emplacements, no ready ammunition, and rifle fire, in most instances, was ineffective against flying aircraft.  Trucks rushed to armories and munitions depots, and machine guns were set up spontaneously.

Every Marine airplane was knocked out of action in the first attack upon the Marine Corps Air Station, Ewa.  Two Japanese squadrons swept in from the northwest at one-thousand feet, raking aircraft parked near runways.  Pilots and aircrew dashed to their planes, but the Japanese returned again and again to complete their mission of destroying all aircraft.

Marines of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) —21 quickly recovered from their initial surprise and fought back with what few rifles and automatic weapons they had.  Weapons were stripped from damaged planes and set up with improvised mounts.  MAG-21’s commander was Lieutenant Colonel Claude Larkin; he was wounded in the first Japanese pass, but continued to coordinate the efforts of his men to meet the enemy head-on.

At Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers dropped fragmentation bombs on Marine positions.  They were replaced by fighters seeking to suppress American fires and prevent any counter-attack.  Marine machineguns accounted for one enemy plane.  Three Marine airmen were killed during the attacks, a fourth died of wounds.  Thirty-three of 47 Marine aircraft were destroyed; all but two suffered major damage.

Ford Island’s seaplane ramps and runways literally became a shamble of wrecked and burning aircraft.  Marines of the air station’s guard detachment used their rifles and machine guns to beat off further enemy thrusts, but the dive bombers had done their job well and there was no need for subsequent sorties.  The focus of all subsequent attacks became the larger ships in the harbor.

The air raid drew instinctive reactions from the few Marines in the navy yard who saw the first enemy planes diving on the ships.  While the guard bugler mustered a majority of the men at the barracks and detachments of the 1st and 3d Defense Battalions, the early risers were already running for the armories and gun sheds.  Within six minutes of the attack, Colonel Harry K. Pickett[2] ordered his defense battalions to man machine-guns; eight of the guns had already been set up —and as more machine guns were hastily added to the defensive effort, men were sent to obtain the ammunition needed to operate them.  Rifle cartridges were distributed to hundreds of men assembled at the parade ground.  Colonel Pickett ordered the employment of 3-inch antiaircraft guns, dispatched trucks and working parties of the 2d Engineer Battalion to Lualualei, some 27 miles up in the hills, in order to obtain necessary munitions.  Colonel Pickett also directed Marine engineers to clear the runways at Hickam Airfield.

Twenty-five minutes after the initial attack, the Marines had thirteen machine guns in action and were able to claim their first enemy dive bomber.  In the next hour, twenty-five more machine guns were added to the mix.  Two more enemy planes fell victim to the 30 and 50-caliber weapons.  Colonel Pickett molded all Marine Corps personnel at the Navy Yard into a defense force, including an infantry reserve force, transport and supply sections.

In the course of the Japanese attack on battleship row and ships dry dock, 9 Marines at the Barracks were wounded; these and other casualties received treatment at dressing stations organized by Colonel Pickett, which included wounded Marines from ship’s detachments.  One-hundred eight sea-going Marines lost their lives during the attack, 49 more were wounded in action.

In total[3], Navy and Marine Corps forces lost 2,086 officers and men killed in action.  Army losses were 194 killed in action.  Of all the services, 1,109 officers and men survived their wounds.  Mr. Kennedy was right: a nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

Notes:

[1] Anyone believing otherwise would have to admit that Mr. Roosevelt, his entire cabinet, and the leadership of both houses of Congress were all unaware of Japan’s history dating back to the late 1890s.  Sneak attack is what the Japanese were known for in their every military effort.  Who in their right mind could have discounted another “surprise” attack after 1940?

[2] Major General Harry K Pickett, USMC was born in South Carolina; he graduated from the Citadel in 1911, accepted a Marine Corps commission in 1913, and had the distinction of war time service on the first day of two world wars.  In 1939, he was charged to survey the defenses of the Pacific Islands (Midway, Wake, Johnston, and Palmyra); he recommended enhancement of the defensive posture of these islands, which was undertaken before the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.  On 7 December 1941, Pickett was assigned as the Commanding Officer, Marine Barracks, Hawaii.  He also served collateral duties as Commander, Marine Forces, 14th Naval District, and Assistant Operations Officer under Admiral Kimmel.  General Pickett passed away aboard RMS Caronia in India in 1959.

[3] Japanese loses were considerably lighter.  Enemy carriers recovered all but 29 aircraft.  The Japanese lost five midget submarines and no more than 100 men killed in action.

A bucket of shrimp

They say old folks do strange things. At least, I think that is what young people say about us when they talk about us at all —which isn’t all that often. I think this is because we old folks are a bother. I think this must explain why younger people want to place us in nursing homes.

In any case, this story unfolded every Friday evening, almost without fail, when the sun resembled a giant orange and was starting to dip into the wide blue ocean.

Seagull Feeding 001Old Ed would come strolling along the beach to his favorite pier.  Clutched in his bony hand was a bucket of shrimp.  Ed walked out to the end of the pier, where it seemed he almost had the world to himself.  The glow of the sun was a golden bronze; except for a few joggers on the beach, everyone had gone.  Standing at the end of the pier, Ed stood alone with his thoughts —and his bucket of shrimp.

It was not long before Ed was no longer alone.  Up in the sky a thousand white dots came screeching and squawking, winging their way toward that lanky frame standing there on the end of the pier.  Dozens of seagulls enveloped him, their wings fluttering and flapping wildly.  Ed stood calmly tossing shrimp to the hungry birds.  As he fed the birds, if you listened closely, you could hear him say, “Thank you. Thank you.”

The bucket was empty in a few short minutes, but Ed did not immediately leave; he stood there lost in thought, as if transported to another time and place.

When Ed finally turned around for his walk back to the beach, a few of the birds would hop along behind him.  Old Ed then quietly made his way down to the end of the beach and onward home.

If you were sitting there on the pier with your fishing line in the water, Ed might seem like ‘a funny old duck, or to onlookers, just another old codger lost in his own weird world. Imagine, feeding the seagulls with a bucket full of shrimp.

Eddie RickenbackerTo casual observers, rituals such as this can look very strange. They can seem altogether unimportant —perhaps even nonsensical. Most people would probably write Old Ed off, down there in Florida —and that would be too bad. They would have done well to know him better.

His full name was Edward Vernon Rickenbacker. In World War I, he won the Medal of Honor, eight distinguished service crosses, the French Legion of Honour, and three awards of the Croix de Guerre. He was America’s first fighter ace, with 26 victories. After the war, he started an automobile company. He purchased and operated the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In the 1930s, he clashed with Franklin D. Roosevelt —he thought Roosevelt was a socialist, and bad for America. It turns out he was right about that.  Oh, and he also founded Eastern Airlines.

During World War II, Rickenbacker supported the war effort as a civilian. In 1942, he toured training bases and offered suggestions about training, air operations, and equipment.  In October 1942, President Roosevelt sent him on a mission across the Pacific. After leaving Honolulu in a B-17D Flying Fortress, the aircraft drifted off course and had to ditch into the sea.  Miraculously, although suffering injuries, all of the men survived the initial crash.  They crawled out of the plane, and climbed into a life raft.

Rickenbacker and the crew floated for days on the rough waters of the Pacific.   They fought the sun.  They fought sharks.  Most of all, they fought hunger and thirst.  After three days, they ran out of food and water.  They were hundreds of miles from land, and no one knew where they went down, or even if they were still alive.  The men needed a miracle.

On the eighth day at sea, the men held a simple devotional service and prayed for that miracle.  They tried to nap in order to conserve energy.  Eddie leaned back and pulled his military cap over his nose to snooze.  All he could hear was the slap of the waves against the raft.

Suddenly, Eddie felt something land on the top of his cap.  It was a seagull!

Old Ed would later describe how he sat perfectly still, planning his next move. With a flash of his hand and a squawk from the gull, he managed to grab it and wring its neck.  He tore the feathers off, and he and his starving crew made a meal of it —actually, a small meal for eight men.  Then they used the bird’s intestines for bait.  With it, they caught fish, which gave them food and more bait . . . and the cycle continued.  With that simple survival technique, they were able to endure the severities of the sea until found and rescued off the island of Tuvalu after 24 days at sea.

Eddie Rickenbacker lived many years beyond that ordeal, but he never forgot the sacrifice of that first life-saving seagull. He never stopped saying, “Thank you” for that miracle. That is why almost every Friday night he would walk to the end of the pier with a bucket full of shrimp and a heart full of gratitude.

Odd old duck? I don’t think so …

Who Was Willoughby?

In February 1942, General Douglas MacArthur (shown left) (who formerly served as Army Chief of Staff and then after retirement, as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army) scampered away from the Philippine Islands and headed toward Australia, thereby avoiding capture by a massive Japanese invasion of the Philippines.  He did this at the direction of the President of the United States (Franklin D. Roosevelt).  When he departed aboard U. S. Navy patrol/torpedo boats and seaplanes, MacArthur took with him his family, his personal staff, and his intelligence officer —Colonel Charles Willoughby, Army of the United States (AUS)[1].  Willoughby continued to serve on MacArthur’s staff until that fateful day on 10 April 1951 when President Harry S. Truman relieved MacArthur of his position as Supreme Allied Commander, Far East and sent him into retirement.

Charles Andrew Willoughby (depicted right), born on March 8, 1892, died October 25, 1972, eventually served as a Major General in the United States Army.  He was born in Heidelberg, Germany as Adolph Karl Weidenbach, the son of Baron T. Tscheppe-Weidenbach—but this was disputed by a New York Journal reporter in 1952[2].  Some uncertainty remains about who this man was, as well as his family lineage.  What we are certain about is that Willoughby migrated from Germany to the United States in 1910.

In October 1910, Willoughby enlisted in the U. S. Army, and over the next three years he served with the US Fifth Infantry Division, rising to the rank of sergeant.  In 1913, he was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army and attended college at Gettysburg College.  Having already attended three years at the University of Heidelberg and the Sorbonne (Paris), Willoughby enrolled as a senior, graduating in 1914.  Actually, we do not know for certain that he actually did attend Heidelberg University, or the Sorbonne.  In any case, Willoughby received a commission to second lieutenant in in the officer’s volunteer reserve, U. S. Army, in 1914.  At this juncture, his name was Adolph Charles Weidenbach[3].  He spent three years teaching German and military studies at various prep-schools in the United States, and then on 27 July 1916 he accepted a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant; he was advanced to the rank of first lieutenant on the same day.  He rose to the rank of captain in 1917 and served in World War I as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Willoughby later transferred from the infantry to the US Army Air Corps; his training as a pilot was conducted by the French military.  After some involvement with a French female by the name of Elyse Raimonde DeRoche, who was later shot as a spy, Weidenbach was recalled to Washington and asked to account for his pro-German sentiments.  He was eventually cleared of suspicions in this regard.

Following World War I, Willoughby/Weidenbach was assigned to the 24th Infantry in New Mexico from 1919 to 1921, and was then posted to San Juan, Puerto Rico where he served in military intelligence.  He subsequently served as a Military Attaché in Ecuador and for unclear reasons, Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government (shown right).  Beginning in the 1920s, Willoughby became an ardent admirer of Spanish General Francisco Franco, whom he referred to as the greatest general in the world[4].

In 1929, Willoughby/Weidenbach received orders to the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  He became an instructor there in 1936, and received his promotion to lieutenant colonel.

Throughout World War II, the occupation of Japan, and the Korean War, Willoughby served as MacArthur’s chief of intelligence.  MacArthur is said to have jokingly referred to Willoughby as “My pet fascist”.  He is also quoted as having said of Willoughby, “There have been three great intelligence officers in history: mine is not one of them.”

Author John Robert Ferris (Intelligence and Strategy: selected essays) stated that MacArthur’s pronouncement could be a gross understatement.  He described Willoughby as a candidate for the worst intelligence officer in the Second World War.  As an example, in early 1944, in the largest landing of the Pacific war to that date, four infantry divisions were employed in the taking of Hallandia, Dutch New Guinea.  Willoughby had reported sizable Japanese forces there.  Accordingly, the entire Pacific Fleet stood out to sea to screen the landing.  Surrendering to this mighty force were two thousand frightened Japanese warehouse and supply troops.  The operation was completely in line with MacArthur’s policy of “hitting them where they ain’t,” and so Willoughby’s misappraisal was conveniently filed and forgotten.

Willoughby was temporarily promoted to major general on 12 April 1945.

After the war, Willoughby was instrumental in arranging the exoneration of a Japanese war criminal by the name of Lieutenant General (Medical) Shirõ Ishii[5] (Unit 731) in exchange for information about biological warfare.  This was not his only debacle:

Willoughby (apparently with the approval of MacArthur) made a weak grab for the US counterintelligence effort.  Counterintelligence was not under Willoughby’s umbrella, but he and MacArthur had been stonewalling the OSS since the beginning of World War II.  What we can say with certitude, however, is that the inadequacy of US counterintelligence in Japan can be attributed to either Willoughby’s (or MacArthur’s) incompetence or his professional negligence.  When US forces occupied Japan, there was no counterintelligence effort.  One news reporter discovered the Japanese Foreign Office, Radio Tokyo, and various military offices openly burning classified documents in the middle of the street, denying this information to the occupying force.  There were no counterintelligence officers present in Japan to stop them.

Commanding the 8th US Army, General Robert Eichelberger lacked the benefit of counterintelligence advice when he welcomed the commander of the Japanese Army in Yokohama.  General Kenji Doihara was also Japan’s top intelligence officer; it was he who had engineered in 1931 the incident leading to Japan taking over Manchuria.  Eicrhelberger thought that Doihara was a “splendid little fellow.”  It was only the next day after Eicrhelberger this meeting was reported through intelligence channels to Washington DC that MacArthur ordered Doihara’s arrest.

Not long after the US occupation began, military police arrived at the Marunouchi Hotel looking for black-market operators.  What they found was Major General Willoughby having dinner with the stranded Italian Fascist Ambassador to Japan and members of his staff[6].  Naturally, Willoughby vented his anger at the military police, who were only doing their jobs.

Willoughby’s service in Japan lacks clarity unless it also reveals his vendetta against critics, or those guilty of lèse-majesté toward MacArthur.  Consequently, Willoughby spent as much time and energy to his dossiers on newsmen and military heretics as he did to reports on enemy dispositions.  William Costello from CBS decided that he much preferred digging up his own material about the Japanese rather than using handouts supplied by MacArthur’s headquarters.  How did Willoughby deal with this situation?  He sent people around to discuss with Costello what might happen if his communist membership card from the 1930s became public knowledge.  Costello was underwhelmed; he had never been a communist.  Digging in, Costello became a one-man anti-Willoughby campaigner, telling anyone and everyone who would listen what a creep Willoughby was.  By 1948, Costello was winning this war; so much so, in fact, that MacArthur invited him to a stag party.  If Costello ever attended the party, let’s hope he kept his clothes on.

Leopards never change their spots.  During the Korean War, Willoughby intentionally distorted, if not suppressed intelligence estimates that resulted in the death, injury, or captivity of thousands of American military personnel.  He did this, it is argued, to better support MacArthur’s horribly negligent (or grossly incompetent) assertion that the Chinese Army would never cross the Yalu River … and in doing so, allow MacArthur a much freer hand in his prosecution of the Korean campaign —by keeping the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington DC (and the President) in the dark.

As writer/historian David Halberstam[7] reminded us, “Control intelligence, you control decision making.”  Halberstam argues that Willoughby was appointed head of intelligence for Korea due to his sycophancy toward MacArthur and points out that many veterans of the Korean War, enlisted and officer, believed that the lack of proper intelligence led field commanders to develop inadequate employment plans such that they could not provide combat support to one another.  Entire Chinese infantry divisions passed through the gaps that existed between forward deployed American units.

In late 1950, Lieutenant Colonel John Chiles served in the operations section of the US 10th Corps.  He later stated that because MacArthur did not want the Chinese to enter the war, Willoughby falsified intelligence reports so that they wouldn’t enter the war.  “He should have gone to jail,” Chiles said.

Willoughby never went to jail, however.  He retired from the Army in grade of major general on August 31, 1951.  In retirement, he lobbied for Generalissimo Francisco Franco … true colors.

True to form, Willoughby launched a broadside in Cosmopolitan after his retirement against certain correspondents and commentators critical of MacArthur’s strategy. His targets included Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, one of the most able war correspondents and a Pulitzer Prize winner; Hal Boyle, front-line correspondent for the Associated Press; Hanson Baldwin, military specialist of the New York Times; Joseph Alsop, syndicated columnist; and Drew Pearson, columnist and radio commentator.

There was nothing diplomatic in Willoughby’s handling of MacArthur’s critics.  He called them rag-pickers of American literature, men who were addicted to yellow journalism, sensationalists, men whose reporting provided aid and comfort to the enemy.  The newsmen replied to Willoughby with equal vigor, but the mildest reply was offered by Hanson Baldwin: “As an intelligence officer, General Willoughby was widely and justly criticized by Pentagon officials as well as in the papers. His . . . article is as misleading and inaccurate as were some of his intelligence reports.”  Gordon Walker, correspondent and later an assistant foreign editor of the Christian Science Monitor, said: “There is strong evidence . . . that General MacArthur’s staff withheld intelligence information on Chinese intervention —from the President and from front-line corps and division commanders— Frontline commanders who ordered their troops into battle without prior knowledge that they faced overwhelming odds…”

Willoughby reminds us of several things: first, more important than what a man says is what he does.  We cannot claim that integrity is one of Willoughby’s virtues.  Neither does a man become a saint simply because he wears an American military uniform.  Willoughby died on 25 October 1972 —just in time for dia del diablo.  To our everlasting shame as a nation, we buried him in Arlington National Cemetery.

Notes:

[1] The Army of the United States is the legal name of the “land forces of the United States” (United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 and United States Code, Title 10, Subtitle B, Chapter 301, Section 3001) and has been used in this context since at least 1841, as in the title: General Regulations for the Army of the United States. The Army, or Armies of the United States includes the Regular Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve (as well as any volunteer or conscripted forces).  Someone receiving an officer’s commission into the Army of the United States holds a temporary appointment and serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

[2] The Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Briefadeligen, a standard catalogue of German gentry, does not help to clear up this matter.  According to this document, General Franz Erich Theodor Tülff von Tschepe und Weidenbach lacked the title “Freiherr” and never received letters of patent from Emperor Wilhelm II entitling him to use the surname “von Tschepe und Weidenbach” until 1913.  By this time, he had five children; none of them were born in 1892.

[3] At some point before 1930, Weidenbach changed his name to Charles Andrew Willoughby, which is a loose translation of Weidenbach, German meaning Willow-brook.  In any case, Willoughby was fluent in English, Spanish, German, French, and Japanese.

[4] I can only imagine what MacArthur later thought about such intense feelings toward some other general.

[5] Responsible for the death and suffering of more than 10,000 allied military personnel during World War II.

[6] Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government in the 1930s.

[7] The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

The Bravest Marine …

EGA BlackWhen the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Chew-fen Lee was a high school student who answered to the name Kurt. He had voluntarily associated himself with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). In 1944, the 18-year old engineering student joined the United States Marine Corps. Standing barely 5’6” tall, weighing only 130 pounds, Lee made sure he measured up to the high standards for U. S. Marines by working harder than everyone else; he transformed himself into a wiry, muscular leatherneck. After graduating from boot camp, the Marine Corps assigned Lee to Japanese Language School. After graduating from the school, the Marine Corps retained him as a language instructor. By the end of the war, Lee had earned promotion to sergeant and was accepted to attend officer training school.

Major Chew-fen Lee USMCFrom October 1945 to April 1946, Lee attended The Basic School for newly commissioned Marine Corps officers. Upon graduation, Second Lieutenant Lee became the first non-white officer and the first Asian-American officer in Marine Corps history. At this time, Lieutenant Lee deployed to Guam and China to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war.

At the beginning of the Korean War, First Lieutenant Lee commanded 1st Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment commanded by Colonel Homer Litzenberg at Camp Pendleton, California. In late August 1950, the 7th Marines received a warning order to prepare to move out; Lieutenant Lee decided to set an example for other Chinese Americans to follow. He later recounted, “I wanted to dispel the notion about Chinese being meek and obsequious.” He did not expect to survive the Korean War.

The 7th Marines shipped out on 1 September 1950; while aboard ship, Lieutenant Lee drilled his Marines night and day on the main deck —enduring derision from his contemporary lieutenants. After arriving in Japan, Lee’s superiors attempted to assign him as a staff officer handling translation duties, but Lee insisted he was there to fight communists and he retained command of his platoon.

Navy Cross MedalThe 1st Battalion, 7th Marines landed at Inchon, Korea on 21 September 1950. The 7th Marines joined up with the 1st and 5th Marines in their northward movement, forcing the North Korean army into a retreat. Lieutenant Lee and his Marines endured vicious street fighting in Seoul as part of operations Hook, Reno, and Vegas. Subsequently, the Marines were withdrawn from Soul, re-embarked aboard shipping, and made another amphibious landing at Wonsan, along the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula.

By early November, the communist Chinese decided to augment withdrawing Korean forces. On the night of 2-3 November in the Sudong Gorge, Chinese forces attacked Lee’s unit. Lee kept his men focused by directing them to shoot at the enemy’s muzzle flashes. Lee single-handedly advanced upon the enemy’s front and attacked their positions one at a time to draw fire and reveal their positions. Lee’s men fired at the muzzle flashes and inflicted heavy casualties. This action forced the Chinese to retreat. Lee, shouting to the Chinese in Mandarin, confused them and at this time, he attacked the Chinese with hand grenades and gunfire. This action earned Lieutenant Lee the Navy Cross medal for heroism under fire. The lieutenant suffered gunshot wounds to his left knee and right arm.

Five days later, the hospitalized Lieutenant Lee learned that the Army intended to send him to Japan for recuperation; he and another Marine stole an Army jeep and drove back to his unit on the front at the Chosin Reservoir. Upon arrival, Lee’s battalion commander assigned him command of the 2nd Platoon, Company B. Lee commanded his platoon while his arm was in a sling.

Late on 2 December, Lieutenant Lee was ordered to spearhead a 500-man thrust against the Chinese forces in an effort to relieve a vastly outnumbered Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines at a place called Toktong Pass —a strategic location controlling the main road to the Chosin Reservoir. Lee’s platoon, weighted down with heavy equipment, advanced through -20° temperatures and under limited visibility due to blizzards and darkness. Lee’s battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis, had no special instructions for Lee—other than to stay off the roads and avoid heavily defended roadblocks.

Silver Star MedalLieutenant Lee placed himself at the point of his platoon and used only his compass to guide the battalion in a single file over treacherous terrain. Suddenly, heavy enemy fire pinned Lee down below a rocky hill. Refusing this delay, Lee directed his men to attack the hill with “marching fire,” a stratagem used by George S. Patton in which troops continue to advance as they apply suppression fires against the enemy. Upon reaching the rocky hill, Lee and his men attacked the Chinese in their foxholes. Lee, with his arm still in a plaster cast, shot two communists on his way to the apex of the hill. When he reached the top of the hill, he saw that the Chinese foxholes were all constructed facing the other way, where the Chinese expected the Marines to attack. The foxholes were all empty, however. Lieutenant Lee’s attack had driven the Chinese into retreat.

Following this success, 1/7 established communications with Fox Company and Lieutenant Lee led Baker Company forward in an attack that forced a path to the beleaguered Fox. During this attack, Lee received another wound in the upper part of his right arm, above his cast. Undeterred, Lee regrouped his company and led them in several more firefights against pockets of enemy resistance. On 8 December, a Chinese machine gun wounded Lee seriously enough to end his Korean War service. Lee received the Silver Star medal for his attack against superior numbers of Chinese regulars. For his wounds, he received two Purple Heart medals.

During the Vietnam War, Major Lee served as the 3rd Marine Division combat intelligence officer; he retired from active duty in 1968. In 2000, then retired General Ray Davis described Kurt Lee as, “… the bravest Marine I ever knew.” One would expect that the Marine Corps would promote Lee above the rank of Major, and many attribute this to his “pugnacious” nature when dealing with superior officers, who continually criticized him for his aggressive “chip on the shoulder” demeanor. Major Lee’s response was truculent. “My chip is a teaching tool to dispel ignorance.”

UPDATE

Major Lee passed away at his home on 3 March 2014.  He was 88 years old.  Semper Fidelis, Major Lee —I have admired your courage and your example to all Marines.