Leading from the Front

EGA BlackThe post-World War II period was no easy time for the American people.  At the conclusion of the war, Americans were exhausted. They needed a normal economy; they needed peace; they wanted to get on with their lives.  President Harry Truman, in seeking cost-cutting measures, ordered a one-third reduction of the Armed Forces.  Between 1945-50, Washington, D. C. was a busy place.  War veterans were expeditiously discharged, the War Department became the Department of Defense, the Navy Department was rolled into DoD, the US Army Air Force became the United States Air Force, and the missions and structures of all services were meticulously re-examined. In terms of the naval establishment, about one-third of the Navy’s ships were placed into mothballs; in the Marines, infantry battalions gave up one rifle company  —Marine Corps wide, this amounted to a full combat regiment.

There was more going on inside the Truman administration, however.  In 1949, Secretary of State Dean Acheson produced a study titled United States Relations with China with Special Reference to the Period 1944-1949.  The short title of this document was the China White Paper.  It took Acheson 1,000 pages to explain how America’s intervention in China was doomed to failure.  China’s premier, Mao Zedong was overjoyed to hear of this.  Then, on 12thJanuary 1950, Acheson addressed the National Press Club; in his discussion of the all-important defense perimeter, Mr. Acheson somehow failed to include the Korean Peninsula and Formosa as being places that the United States was committed to defend.  Upon learning of this, North Korea’s premier Kim Il-sung called Moscow and requested a meeting with Joseph Stalin.

Thus, when North Korea launched their attack on South Korea on 25th June 1950, no one in America was prepared to defend our South Korean ally.  There had been no money for combat training, insufficient munitions for live-fire training, not enough fuel for military aircraft, and no replacement parts for military vehicles.  It was a situation that affected every military command, no matter where it was situated.

In Japan, the US military maintained its occupation forces throughout the main islands.  It was good duty: there was no training, only limited flying, and only rudimentary vehicle maintenance.  There were plenty of personnel inspections, though, and lots of liberty for the troops. Senior military officers played golf, company officers learned how to keep out of sight, and unsupervised NCOs engaged in black market activities.  As for the troops, they were content with drinking Japanese beer and chasing skirts (or, if you prefer, kimonos).

As with the Marines, Army units were understrength.  Unlike the Marines, the Army’s rolling stock was inoperable and senior divisional staff were either incompetent or lazy in the execution of their duties.  Quite suddenly, the US was once more at war and the ill-trained occupation forces were rushed into a North Korean Army meat-grinder in South Korea.

In South Korea, American military units were also understrength.  Units located in and around Seoul were mostly administrative, communications, or military police units. Eighth US Army, headquarters in Taegu, included three infantry divisions: 24th, 25th and 1st Cavalry.  All of these units were lacking in men, equipment, and combat experience. Most of the troops were conscripts. Junior officers were a puzzle. Senior officers were hoping to bide their time until retirement.  The Army of the Republic of Korea (ROKA) had a force of about 58,000 men when the North Koreans launched their invasion.  ROKA was ineffective in stopping the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) for several reasons.  These soldiers were armed but had no infantry training; their officers lacked leadership, and every time the ROKA confronted the NKPA, they were soundly defeated.

When the NKPA invaded South Korea, American military units and personnel stationed in Seoul  hightailed it south to avoid capture.  Elements of the 24th Division, fed piecemeal into South Korea, were chewed up almost as soon as they arrived.  No US Army unit was prepared to confront the 80,000-man NKPA invading force, which included ten mechanized infantry divisions.  In mid-July, NKPA forces mauled and routed the 24th Division at the Battle of Hadong, which rendered the 29th Infantry Regiment incapable of further combat service.  NKPA forces also pushed back the 19th Infantry Regiment, which opened up a clear path to Pusan in southern South Korea.

At Camp Pendleton, California, the 1st Marine Division received a warning order.  A regimental combat team was quickly organized around the Fifth Marine Regiment (5th Marines): three understrength battalions under Lieutenant Colonel (Colonel select) Ray Murray.  Marine Aircraft Group 33 was attached as the air element, forming the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Edward Craig.  Craig’s deputy was Brigadier General Thomas H. Cushman, who also headed the reinforced air group.

As the brigade made sail on 14 July 1950, the balance of the 1st Marine Division was rapidly reorganizing: Marines were ordered to immediately report from the 2nd Marine Division, various Marine Corps bases and stations. Recruitment staffs were reduced. Reserve units were activated and dispatched to Camp Pendleton.  Many reserve units included men who had yet to attend recruit training.  The Seventh Marine Regiment (7th Marines) was reactivated.  Marines from all across the United States streamed in to find their slot in either the 1st Marines or 7th Marines.

The Brigade (with its full complement of equipment) arrived in South Korea on 2 August 1950.  Before the end of the day, General Craig led his infantry to establish the 8th US Army reserve at Changwon, 40 miles northwest of Pusan. On 6th August, the 5th Marines were attached to Major General William B. Kean’s 25th Infantry Division and moved an additional 13 miles southwest to Chindong-ni.  On that very night, Company G, 3/5 was rushed forward to defend Hill 342.  The Marines lost 11 men that night but inflicted 30-times that number of enemies killed.  The NKPA suddenly realized that there was a new sheriff in town.

Eighth Army units began to attack but were frequently overrun by counter-attacking NKPA forces.  Whenever this happened, the Marines were sent in to repel the NKPA, seal the gap in the lines, and restore American control over that sector.  This happened so frequently that Marine grunts developed a sense of contempt for the Army.  This attitude wasn’t entirely fair, but completely understandable.  The Marines began calling themselves “the Fire Brigade.”  The fact was that two-thirds of Marine officers and mid-to-senior NCOs in the 5th Marines had served during World War II.  They knew how to fight —they knew how to win battles.

They added to that experience between 15 August and 15 September; the 5h Marines were engaged in bloody combat almost from their first week in South Korea.  Commanding the 1st Marine Division, Major General Oliver P. Smith [1] arrived in theater at the end of August and began planning for an amphibious invasion of Inchon.  It was an audacious plan because of erratic tidal conditions in Inchon.  The Marines would have only so many hours to force their landing, and it would have to be carried out in increments —which meant that the lead units would be without reinforcements for between 12-20 hours.  General Craig’s Brigade was folded back into the 1st Marine Division.  BLT 3/5 under Lieutenant Colonel Bob Taplett spearheaded the Division assault.

After the 1st Marine Division and 7th Infantry Division knocked in the door to Inchon, Eighth Army tasked the Marines with clearing operations inside Seoul.  Urban warfare at its worst.  No sooner had this mission been accomplished, MacArthur placed the 1st Marine Division and the 7th Infantry Division under Major General Edward Almond, US Army, commanding X Corps.  The Marines landed at Wonson on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on 26 October 1950; 7th Infantry Division landed at Iwon in early November.  Smith’s orders were to establish a base of operations at Hungnam.  For an account of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, click here.

As with many young men of his day, Stanley J. Wawrzyniak dropped out of school to pursue adventure in the US military.  He initially joined the U. S. Navy with service as a hospital corpsman.  As it turned out, the Navy wasn’t Wawrzyniak’s cup of tea, and so he accepted discharge at the end of his enlistment and joined the Marines.  He was serving with the 5th Marines on 25 June 1950. He was one of 2,300 Marines sent to square away the South Korean peninsula.  Since few people could pronounce his Polish last name, everyone just called him “Ski.”

The Silver Star Medal

Silver Star 001On 28 May 1951, while serving with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Staff Sergeant Wawrzyniak’s platoon assaulted a well-defended Chinese communist position.  Without regard for his own personal welfare, while under heavy enemy fire, Wawrzyniak moved forward shouting words of encouragement to his men as they advanced against the hail of enemy mortar and small-arms fire to gain the enemy position.  Although painfully wounded in the assault, Sergeant Wawrzyniak refused first-aid in order that he might remain to supervise the treatment and evacuation of other wounded Marines.  The initiative and aggressiveness displayed by Sergeant Wawrzyniak reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service. 

The Navy Cross [2]

Navy Cross 001On 19 September 1951, Staff Sergeant Wawrzyniak, while serving as Company Gunnery Sergeant, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, led an assault in his company’s final push against a heavily fortified and strongly defended enemy hill-top position.  During the assault, Sergeant Wawrzyniak courageously exposed himself to enemy small-arms and grenade fire while moving and maneuvering his force and marking enemy positions and targets.  As the squad neared the crest of the hill, Wawrzyniak observed an enemy position that threatened the squad’s entire left flank.  Wawrzyniak single-handedly charged the emplacement, killed all of its occupants, and although painfully wounded, he immediately rejoined the attack. Seizing an automatic rifle from a fallen comrade when his own ammunition was exhausted, he aggressively aided the squad in overrunning the enemy position, directed the pursuit of the fleeing enemy, and consolidated the ground position.  By his daring initiative, gallant determination, and steadfast devotion to duty in the face of hostile opposition, Staff Sergeant Wawrzyniak served to inspire all who observed him, contributing materially to the successes achieved by his company, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

The Navy Cross (Second Award) [3]

Gold Star 001On 16 April 1952, while serving with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, an outnumbering enemy force launched an assault upon an outpost position.  The outpost commander and his immediate squad were cut off from friendly lines by intensive hostile fire.  Technical Sergeant Wawrzyniak unhesitatingly assumed command of the remaining Marines and promptly organized an effective defense against fanatical attackers.  With the position completely encircled and subjected to extremely heavy enemy machine-gun, recoilless rifle, mortar, and small-arms fire, Wawrzyniak repeatedly braved the hail of blistering fire to reach the outpost, boldly led the men back into the defensive perimeter, replenished their supply of ammunition, and encouraged them while directing fire against close-in enemy assaults. Although painfully wounded, Wawrzyniak refused medical treatment for himself and aided medical personnel in treating and dressing the wounds of his Marines.  By his outstanding courage, inspiring leadership, and valiant devotion in the face of overwhelming odds, Technical Sergeant Wawrzyniak upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

After the Korean War, Master Sergeant Ski was recommended for a commission as a Marine Corps officer.  In subsequent years, his reputation as a combat Marine followed him from post to station.  He somehow managed to add to his colorful legend with each successive assignment.

In 1960, Ski attended training at the Marine Corps Cold Weather Training Center.  While practicing a glacier rescue technique, he was accidently dropped by his belayer into a crevasse.  The fall caused serious internal injuries.  The only route out of the crevasse required a descent of 2,000 feet and traversing some 3-miles over extremely rough terrain.  Refusing to be carried out, Ski walked the entire way carrying his own rucksack.  During rest stops, Ski urinated blood.  When he later learned that his belayer was being blamed for the injury, Ski defended him, stating, “It wasn’t his fault; it was my fault for not making sure he was ready.”

Some months later, Ski was assigned as a student at the Escape, Evasion, and Survival Training Course.  Ski was assigned to lead an evasion team … which promptly disappeared and was unobserved by any instructor for four days. Ski’s team finished in first place for this training exercise, but then … Ski was used to finishing in first place. In his mid-30’s, he finished first at the Army’s Airborne and Ranger schools.  He didn’t brag about his accomplishments; he simply believed that an older, more experienced Marine ought to have finished first.

One of the duties of an adjutant is to communicate the orders of the commanding officer at assembled formations.  In one instance, Ski was ordered to read a letter of censure aloud at morning formation so that a Marine could be properly chastised for breaking the rules.  The problem was that the words used in the construction of this letter were a bit more than most of the assembled Marines could understand.  Realizing this, Ski shoved the letter into the hand of the Marine being chastised, telling him: “Here—you take this damn thing, read it, and don’t screw up again.”

As Ski was promoted through the ranks, it became a bit obvious to others that his career might be limited.  He was serving as a field grade officer, without a college education.  He also a bit profane; he spoke in a way that one might expect from a company gunnery sergeant, but not from a field-grade officer.  This was never a problem among his enlisted Marines but was a handicap when among senior officers, who regularly complained about Ski’s colorful language.

Typically, general officers like to be pampered —perhaps thinking that having made it all the way to flag rank, they’re somehow entitled to having everyone of lesser grade kiss their ass.  Ski didn’t kiss ass.  How he ever wound up being assigned as the Protocol officer at Marine Corps Base, Camp Butler, Okinawa confused almost everyone who knew him.  It was during this assignment that Ski managed to offend a visiting senior officer.

It was during the Viet Nam War and at that time, Okinawa camps served as staging and transit facilities for combat replacements.  Not to put too fine a point on it, Ski’s boss wasn’t too pleased when this VIP expressed his displeasure over something Ski had (or had not) done.  The Commanding General called Ski in to his office for one of his “get closer to Jesus” moments.  The General pointedly told Ski that if he ever screwed up another senior officer visit, he’d find himself in Viet Nam.  Major Ski could hardly wait for the next general officer visit.

The Bronze Star Medal

Bronze Star 001In Vietnam, Ski was assigned to serve as Executive Officer, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.  During this assignment, Ski was awarded two Bronze Star medals and his fourth Purple Heart.  Ski was always “at the front.”  Why? Because that’s where leaders are supposed to be.  Even as a battalion XO, he would somehow manage to involve himself in such things as security patrols [4].  Ski would never re-enter friendly lines until he was certain that every Marine on patrol had been accounted for.  At the conclusion of one of these missions, an NCO told him, “Sir … you’ve got more balls than brains.”

I served under in Wawrzyniak in 1972-73. He commanded Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, which at the time was located on Okinawa.  In this assignment, Ski wore three hats: Battalion Commander, Division Headquarters Commandant, and Area Commander for Camp Courtney, Okinawa.  I was one of the 1,700 Marines assigned to Wawrzyniak’s battalion, at the time a staff sergeant.  In addition to my regular duties, he assigned me as a platoon commander in the 3rd Marine Division honor guard, which also supported the co-located Headquarters of the III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF).  Colonel Wawrzyniak always provided feedback after an honor guard detail.  It was either “Good fucking job, Marine,” or “Ya fucked up, didn’t ya?  Get your shit together.”

At this time, III MAF was commanded by Lieutenant General Louis Metzger [5] (who was known by some as Loveable Lou). General Metzger was a no-nonsense general officer under whom I had previously served when he commanded the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade.

Metzger 001A World War II Era Marine, (then) Brigadier General Metzger demanded perfection from his officers.  His demeanor was gentlemanly, but direct.  He spoke with a baritone voice.  He never spoke at anyone, but rather engaged them in conversation.  Of course, throughout the conversation, he also engaged you with his eyes.  You knew that he was listening carefully to what you had to say —and he knew when someone didn’t know what they were talking about.  Whenever General Metzger asked a question, he expected a frank, honest, and well-thought-out response.  If one happened not to know the answer, all you had to do was say so and then go find out what he wanted to know.  If someone tried to bluff his way through a conversation with Lou Metzger, he’d eat you alive.  He always asked challenging questions —not to embarrass anyone, but because he expected a person of some position to know the answers to such questions..

During the Viet Nam War, 9th MAB had several important missions beyond providing the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with battalion landing teams.  One of these was the continual review of contingency operational plans —necessary at a time when the world situation was in a state of continual flux.  The General also had a photographic memory and the ability to speed read, comprehend, and analyze complex battle plans.  In this process of review, General Metzger wasn’t particularly pleasant whenever a staff officer knew less about these plans than he did —hence the label “Lovable Lou.”  Beyond his directness and his no-nonsense approach to serious matters, Metzger was an exceptional general officer.  One always knew where you stood with him.

Wawrzyniak 001A few years later as a lieutenant general in command of III MAF, Metzger was the senior-most officer of the “general mess,” the dining facility [6] for all officers serving in the 3rd Marine Division Headquarters and III MAF at or above the rank of colonel.  The General Mess included three general officers and around 15 or so colonels.  The only lieutenant colonel permitted to dine in the general mess was the Headquarters Commandant, who was also responsible for managing it.  One night at dinner, a somewhat grumpier than usual General Metzger had taken but a few bites of his salad when he threw his fork down on the table, looked down toward the end of the table where sat LtCol Wawrzyniak and said, “Damn it, Ski … why can’t we ever have fresh vegetables?”

Ski’s reply stunned everyone into silence.  “General, there aren’t any fucking fresh vegetables … so if you don’t like the fucking vegetables, then don’t eat the fucking vegetables.”  No one spoke to General Metzger in such a crude and insubordinate manner.  After what seemed like a very long pause Metzger said, “Okay, Ski … no need to get testy.”

Two very fine Marine Corps officers … both of whom it was my privilege to serve; two legendary Marines now long deceased.  These are the kinds of Marines who most effectively lead Marines to win battles. I think of Metzger and Wawrzyniak often, which in my own mind means that they live still.  How grand it would be to “return” to an earlier time and serve alongside them once more.

Few senior officers today are capable of filling either of these men’s combat boots —which is disturbing to me because our Marines deserve the best leaders— and these were two of the very best in their own unique style of leadership.  What Major Anthony J. Milavic once said about Ski is absolutely true: “Ski was a leader of Marines who knew each of us; communicated to each of us; and, each of us knew that he cared about us.  If he sometimes cursed at us, that was okay because he was always with us: at physical training, climbing a mountain, falling off a cliff, or in a combat zone —always  at the front— he was always with us.

Ski and Metzger are still with us … well, they’re with me anyway.  Memories.

Endnotes:

[1] See Also: Scholar-Warrior.

[2] United States’ second highest award for courage under fire in time of war.

[3] Ski was initially recommended for award of the Medal of Honor for this action.

[4] Security patrols are dispatched from a unit location when the unit is stationary or during a halt in movement to search the local area, detect the presence of enemy forces near the main body, and engage and destroy the enemy within the capability of the patrol.  It is standard to send out such patrols when operating in close terrain where there are limitations of observation and concentrated fires.

[5] Awarded two Navy Cross medals for exceptional courage under fire during World War II; Legion of Merit; two awards of the Bronze Star Medal.

[6] Military officers pay for their meals and other consumables at the end of each month.  Mess bills cost senior officers more than junior officers.

Behind the Lines

Two awards of the Navy Cross; a Legion of Merit; two Purple Heart medals; Officer Order of the British Empire; Chevalier du Legion of Honor; Medaille Militaire, three Croix de Guerre; Order of Quissam Alaoouite.  These were the personal decorations of one Marine during his service in World War II representing the gratitude of three allied nations.

ORTIZ PJ 001Friends and enemy alike called him Peter.  His eventual rank was colonel, but long before he arrived at that point, he was in the trenches, behind the lines in German-occupied North Africa and France.  His full name was Pierre Julien Ortiz (5 July 1913—16 May 1988) and he was a U. S. Marine attached to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Born in New York, his mother was an American of Swiss descent, his father a French-born Spaniard.  Educated in Europe, Peter spoke ten languages fluently.  There was a reason for this—at the age of 19, on 1 February 1932, Peter enlisted in the French Foreign Legion for a period of five years. He was assigned to North Africa and received his initial training at Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria.  While serving in Morocco, he was promoted to corporal (1933) and sergeant (1935).  He received two awards of the Croix de Guerre during a campaign against the Rif [1].  During his service as an “acting lieutenant,” Peter was awarded the Médaille militaire [2].  The Legion offered Peter a commission as a second lieutenant, but he instead opted to accept his discharge in 1937.

With the outbreak of World War II and the neutrality of the United States at the time, Peter re-enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in October 1939; he was reappointed to the rank of sergeant.  In May 1940, he received a battlefield commission.  During the Battle of France, Peter was wounded during the process of blowing up a German fuel dump and was taken captive by the Germans.  He escaped in 1941 and made his way back to the United States.  On 22 June 1942, Peter enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps.  His previous training and experience prompted the Marines to commission him a second lieutenant after only 40-days service.  In December 1942, Peter was advanced to the rank of captain and placed in the service of the OSS.

With his in-depth knowledge of the region, with the cover of his assignment as Assistant Naval Attaché, Tangiers, the OSS sent him to North Africa, where he performed behind-the-lines reconnaissance operations.  According to Kermit Roosevelt [3], in his official history of OSS operations in World War II, “In War Report of the OSS and an official history of OSS operations in World War II, “Participation in this British operation constituted the first OSS experience in sabotage and combat intelligence teams in front areas and behind enemy lines.  That the jobs actually done by the handful of OSS men who joined the SOE Tunisian campaign were not typical of future activity was due as much to the exigencies of the battle situation as to the misunderstanding of their function by the British and American Army officers whom they served.” In other words, rather than conducting intelligence collection and sabotage missions, staid military officers ordered these men to locate and destroy Germans.  Highly qualified intelligence operatives were being under-utilized.

In February 1943, Peter Ortiz witnessed the American disaster at Kasserine Pass [4].  Ortiz found himself traveling alone across the battlefield area, observing the panicked flight of American soldiers.  Ortiz briefly fought alongside a British armored reconnaissance unit and then attached himself to an element of the US 1stArmored Division.  In this capacity, Ortiz fought a desperate action near Pichon.

In March, Ortiz was handed a series of deep-penetration missions.  One of these was launched on 18 March supporting General Robinett’s Combat Command Bravo.  Ortiz almost lost his life.  After setting up a base camp in the dead of night, Ortiz struck off alone in search of indications of the presence of enemy forces.  The weather was horrible, the knee-deep mud from days of rain hampered Ortiz’ progress. He was about to turn back when a burst of automatic fire shattered his right hand and wounded him in the leg. Ortiz fell to the ground and spotted a machine gun and vehicle thirty or so yards distant.  With his good left hand, he tossed a sticky bomb and scored a direct hit.  Avoiding further enemy fire, Ortiz managed to crawl back to his camp, despite his loss of blood and suffering from shock.  Ortiz was airlifted to the United States and assigned to Washington DC during convalescence.

When Peter was back on his feet, the OSS sent him for training in preparation for his new assignment with the Jedburgh Group [5].  His training was completed at the end of December 1943.  In early January 1944, Ortiz air-dropped into the Haute-Savoie region of the Alps, along with British SOE colonel H. H. A. Thackthwaite and French Colonel Pierre Fourcaud [6] of the French Secret Serviceas part of Operation Union I.  Their mission was to assess the capabilities of the maquis units operating in SavoieIsere, and Drome, and assist them in organization and supply.  After landing, Thackthwaite and Ortiz changed from the covert clothing into their military uniforms —thus becoming the first allied officers to appear in uniform in occupied France since 1940.  In Ortiz’ case, he wore his U. S. Marine Corps service uniform with American and French decorations and badges, which was designed to impress the French resistance. Colonel Thackthwaite later wrote of this: “Ortiz, who knew not any fear, did not hesitate to wear his Marine Corps uniform into town, which cheered the French, but alerted the Germans and the mission was constantly on the move.”

ORTIZ PJ 002
Peter Ortiz, behind the lines. Picture by Raymond Bertand.

The Union I team soon discovered that the French Resistance, while willing to fight, lacked everything needed in order to do that: arms, ammunition, radios, money, and clothing.  The team quickly organized base camps, medical facilities, and for the families of French fighters to receive stipends.  Morale among these men dramatically improved.  Then, as war materials arrived, the team began to train the resistance in their use.  While wearing his Marine Corps uniform, Ortiz helped to lead covert missions; he believed that his uniform would give courage to the resistance.

(Then) Captain Ortiz was also instrumental in helping downed airman evade German capture and reach the safety of neutral Spain. His role in rescuing four RAF flight officers in February 1944 resulted in his spectacular act of theft, one that infuriated the Gestapo, and led to the award of the Order of the British Empire.  In his citation, we can read: “In the course of his efforts to obtain the release of these officers, he raided a German military garage and took ten Gestapo vehicles, which he used frequently.  He procured a Gestapo pass for his own use, even though he was well-known by the enemy.”

During this same period, Ortiz (by now notorious in his reputation with the Germans) committed an even greater act of daring: A group of officers from the German 157th Division, which had previously suffered at the hands of Ortiz and his resistance, were drinking in a local bar … one that Ortiz regularly visited.  They were loudly cursing the “American Marine,” President Roosevelt, and the United States Marine Corps.  Sitting at a table in the bar was Ortiz dressed in civilian attire.

He soon returned to his safehouse, changed into his Marine Corps Uniform, armed himself with two .45 pistols, pulled on his civilian raincoat, and returned to the bar.  Ortiz ordered drinks for the German officers and when all had been served, Ortiz removed his raincoat, revealing his Marine Corps uniform with accoutrements. The German officers were stunned into silence.  Ortiz then produced the sidearms and said in German, “A toast to the President of the United States.”  When the Germans downed their drinks, Ortiz ordered another round.  “Gentlemen, a toast to the United States Marine Corps.”

The story has more than one version.  In one of these, following the German toast to the U. S. Marine Corps, Ortiz then shot all the officers, killing them.  Ortiz claimed that he didn’t shoot anyone.  He left them alive because, by letting them live, the story of his action would boost even more his legend and further erode German morale.  The story is true, even if it would make one of the greatest of all Marine Corps sea-stories, and so too is the account of Ortiz wearing his uniform throughout all of his “covert” operations (See picture of Ortiz, above).

The Union I team was evacuated to England to await reassignment on 20 May.  In England, Ortiz was promoted to major and awarded his first Navy Cross.  In August 1944, Ortiz returned to the Haute-Savoie as the leader of Union II.  He was supported by Gunnery Sergeant Robert LaSalle, Sergeant Charles Perry, Sergeant John Bodnar, Sergeant Fred Brunner, Sergeant Jack Risler, USAAF Captain John Coolidge, and a Free French officer named Joseph Arcelin.  Arcelin carried papers that identified him as a US Marine.  This mission reflected the OSS’ change in priorities in the post-D-Day period: readiness for Operation Dragoon and the Allied landings in southern France.  Union II was an operational group: heavily armed and capable of direct action against retreating Germans.

In addition to acts of sabotage, Union II resistance units were ordered to seize and hold key installations and, if possible, prevent their destruction by the Germans.  In spite of this increased activity, the Germans were not intimidated.  On 14 August, Ortiz and his men found themselves in unfamiliar territory and they narrowly avoided capture.  Ortiz’ luck finally ran out two days later when his team encountered a German troop convoy near the village of Centron.  The fighting was intense, and significantly outnumbered, mindful of German reprisals against innocent civilians, Ortiz consulted with his team and they agreed to surrender.

An officer named Major Kolb commanded the German force.  Ortiz spoke to Kolb in German, saying that he and his men would surrender provided that Kolb give his word as an officer and a gentleman that none of the villagers would be harmed.  Kolb, thinking that he opposed a company sized unit, agreed to these terms.  Kolb was furious when only Sergeants Bodnar and Risler emerged from cover.

Ortiz remained in German custody until April 1945, when he and three other prisoners escaped while being transported to another camp.  After ten days without food, the three men returned to their old POW camp, only to discover that the prisoners had taken control.  The camp was liberated by allied forces on 29 April.

In 1946, Peter Ortiz was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and released from active duty.  From 1946 on, Peter worked in Hollywood as an actor and advisor to such film directors as John Ford.  He appeared in a number of films, not all of them credited.  He played a supporting role in the 1950 Ford production of Rio Grande, which starred John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr., Chill Wills, and Victor McLaglen.  Ortiz played the part of Captain St. Jacques.

According to Peter’s son, who also served as a U. S. Marine, “My father was an awful actor, but he had great fun appearing in movies.”  Two Hollywood films were based on Peter’s exploits during World War II: 13 Rue Madeleine (1947), directed by Henry Hathaway, starring James Cagney and Richard Conte, and Operation Secret (1952), directed by Lewis Seiler, starring Cornel Wilde, Steve Cochran, and Karl Malden.  He  participated in several additional films, although not always in a credited role: Task Force (1949), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Sirocco (1951), Flying Leathernecks (1951), What Price Glory (1952), The Desert Rats (1953), and The Wings of Eagles (1957).

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Ortiz, Sr., retired from the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1955.  In recognition of his extraordinary combat service, he was advanced to the rank of colonel upon his retirement.  Ortiz passed away in 1988 at the age of 74 years. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sources:

  1. Lacy, L. H. As a Young Man and Legionnaire, Ortiz: To Live a Man’s Life.  Phillips Publications, 2014
  2. Edwards, H. W. A Different War: Marines in Europe and North Africa.  USMC Training and Education Command, Quantico, Virginia, 2010
  3. Zimmerman, D. J. The Incredible Saga of OSS Colonel Peter J. Ortiz in World War II.  Defense Media Network, 2014.

Endnotes:

[1] A Berber speaking people of Northwestern Africa who derive their name from the Riff region in the northern edge of Morocco.  They belong to six separate tribal groups and five tribal confederacies.

[2] A decoration awarded for acts of bravery by the French Republic, the third highest decoration in France but the most senior award for military service.

[3] Highly energetic, unquestionably courageous, psychologically fragile son of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States.

[4] The battle was the first major engagement between American and Axis forces in World War II. Inexperienced and poorly led American soldiers suffered many casualties and were quickly pushed back over 50 miles from their positions west of Faïd Pass.

[5] A clandestine group consisting of American, British, French, Dutch, and Belgian personnel whose mission was to collect intelligence, conduct sabotage, form and lead local resistance groups against German forces.

[6] Fourcaud (1898-1998) was among the first in France to rally to Charles de Gaullein 1940. He was prominent in the creation of the French Secret Service of post-War France, the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE).

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 …