No serviceman today will diminish the service, sacrifice, or achievements of our World War II heroes. After all, they were our fathers, uncles, brothers, or maybe even our grandfathers. What they accomplished in Defending America, under the most difficult of circumstances between December 1941 through September 1945, should cause every one of us to stand in honor of their presence. They are entitled to our deepest respect.
And yet, to claim that one generation of American warrior is “greater” than any other is grossly inaccurate. I have never heard a veteran of World War II proclaim themselves as such. The phrase, as one might expect, originated with a journalist by the name of Tom Brokaw who used that phrase in the title of his book. It was later borrowed by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in several films recreating events in World War II. Neither Brokaw, Spielberg, nor Hanks ever served their country in uniform —so I suspect they wouldn’t have any first-hand knowledge about combat, or what actually defines a “greatest” generation.
Tens of thousands of Americans served in the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Some of these men and women also lived during the Great Depression, experiencing tough times in the 1930s and 1940s. It is certainly true that our Iraqi and Afghan war veterans grew up at a different time, but these men and women stepped up to serve; some gave all they had to give. Most of our latest greatest volunteered for military service; all of them had to leave behind a loved one to worry about them over many months. Do they not also count as among America’s greatest generation(s)?
In World War II, ten million Americans were conscripted into military service; another 3 million were volunteers. Of these, 407,316 US servicemen gave up their lives. An additional 671,846 received serious wounds. In the Korean War, the United States drafted 1.5 million men, with a much smaller number volunteering to fight. In total, 326,823 Americans served in Korea; of these, 33,651 Americans laid down their lives. In Vietnam, 2.2 million Americans were forced to serve; only a quarter of these people actually served in Vietnam. We lost 58,318 Americans in Vietnam; an additional 303,656 received combat wounds.
Do the Americans who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars deserve as much respect as those who served in World War II —particularly since neither of these conflicts received the popular support of the American people?
Of course, they do …
Yet, today, people who never once placed themselves in harm’s way will argue that the modern battlefield is far less demanding than those of earlier wars. I suspect that our Iraqi and Afghan War veterans will disagree. To begin with, while there does continue to be a draft registration, today’s military is an all-volunteer force. These are America’s true warrior class citizens. There is as much (or more) courage displayed on the battlefields of today as in our previous three conflicts. What does stand out is that veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars received fewer combat awards than those in previous eras. There are several reasons for this, but none of them related to any lack of courage among our modern-day warriors.
For those who think that the Iraq and Afghan Wars were “long distance” engagements, think again. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once said, “Our enemy generally use weapons at a distance from us, so there’s less hand-to-hand or in-close combat than there has been in previous years.” Mr. Gates probably never met Corporal Clifford Wooldridge, United States Marine Corps.
On 17 June 2010, Cpl. Wooldridge was riding in a convoy when the vehicles came under heavy enemy fire from a group of Taliban fighters in Helmand Province , in Afghanistan. The story of Wooldridge’s heroism is told in the following award presentation:
Navy Cross Citation:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Corporal Clifford M. Wooldridge, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Vehicle Commander, Combined Anti-Armor Platoon White, Weapons Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2, FIRST Marine Division (Forward), I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) Afghanistan, on 18 June 2010 in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. When their mounted patrol came under intense enemy fire, Corporal Wooldridge and his squad dismounted and maneuvered on the suspected enemy location. Spotting a group of fifteen enemy fighters preparing an ambush, Corporal Wooldridge led one of his fire teams across open ground to flank the enemy, killing or wounding at least eight and forcing the rest to scatter. As he held security alone to cover his fire team’s withdrawal, he heard voices from behind an adjacent wall. Boldly rushing around the corner, he came face-to-face with two enemy fighters at close range, killing both of them with his M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon. As he crouched back behind the wall to reload, he saw the barrel of an enemy machine gun appear from around the wall. Without hesitation, he dropped his empty weapon and seized the machine gun barrel. He overwhelmed the enemy fighter in hand-to-hand combat, killing him with several blows to the head with the enemy’s own machine gun. His audacious and fearless actions thwarted the enemy attack on his platoon. By his bold and decisive leadership, undaunted courage under fire, and total dedication to duty, Corporal Wooldridge reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.
I feel privileged to have been part of our country’s naval establishment.In my years as a Marine, I have known and worked with superb Navy officers.So, I enjoy relating stories about the best of the lot, as opposed to officers (of any service) who allowed politics to interfere with their obligations as officers: we have had too many instances of this in our history going all the way back to the Revolutionary War—some of these more recent.
In my opinion, one of the great Naval officers in our history was Bowman Hendry McCalla (1844-1910), a man who was not only proficient in the application of naval power, but also one who demonstrated personal courage in the face of the enemy, and an officer who knew how to best utilize his Marines.He wasn’t a perfect man; he made mistakes, as we all have from time to time, but he was a good man who did his best to serve the United States of America.
McCalla was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in November 1861.At that time, the USNA was temporarily located at Newport, Rhode Island (note 1).In November 1864, young McCalla graduated fourth in his class.After graduation, he was assigned to the South Atlantic Blocking Squadron.
Following the Civil War, McCalla served successively with the South Pacific Squadron, the Home Squadron, and the European Squadron through 1874.Within this ten year period, McCalla was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.Upon completion of his tour with the European Squadron, he was assigned to serve as an instructor at the US Naval Academy.He afterward served as the Executive Officer (second in command) of the steamer USS Powhatan, and from 1881 to 1887, as assistant bureau chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation.He first came to public notice in April 1885 when he led an expeditionary force of Marines and Sailors in Panama to protect American interests during an uprising against Colombian control.
From 1888 to 1890, then Commander McCalla served as Commanding Officer, USS Enterprise, which was then part of the European Squadron.Known as a strict disciplinarian, McCalla crossed the line in his dealings with subordinates and, as a result, faced a highly publicized court-martial upon his return to the United States.Among other charges, he was accused of striking an enlisted man.Convicted of all charges, McCalla was suspended from duty for three years, which caused him to lose several numbers on the navy’s seniority (lineal precedence) list.He was restored to duty in 1893 and served three years as the equipment officer at the Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco, California —it was not a great assignment, but McCalla had to demonstrate that he had learned his lesson.
In 1897, Commander McCalla assumed command of the Montgomery-class cruiser USS Marblehead (note 2).With the beginning of the Spanish American War, McCalla was placed in command of Navy Forces blockading Havana and Cienfuegos, Cuba.He shelled the port city of Cienfuegos on 29 April 1898.Then, on 11 May, members of the ship’s crew, along with sailors from the USS Nashville, cut two of the three telegraph cables located at Cienfuegos.McCalla later made arrangements with local Cuban insurgents regarding ship-to-shore communications, but he erred in failing to so inform his superiors.This oversight caused a significant delay in Commodore Winfield Scott Schley’s ability to blockade the enemy’s naval forces, then under the command of Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete at Santiago de Cuba.
USS Marblehead participated in the blockade before being detached to reconnoiter and seize Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba.McCalla bombarded Spanish positions there on 7 June, capturing the outer harbor for use as a supply base for the American blockading squadron.He then provided material support to the amphibious assault by the 1st Marine Battalion on 10 June.With the Marblehead, McCalla remained on station while the Marines solidified their positions, and, having done so, taking an instrumental part in the effective bombardment of a Spanish fort at Cayo del Toro in Guantanamo Bay.In appreciation of his actions, the Marines honored the commander by naming their encampment after him —Camp McCalla.
Owing to his courage in the face of the enemy, McCalla was advanced six numbers in grade, restoring him to the seniority he had held before his court-martial.
McCalla was promoted to Captain in 1899 and ordered to assume temporary command of the Norfolk Navy Yard; he assumed command of the USS Newark in September for service on the Asiatic Station.Arriving on station, McCalla participated in the naval campaign against Filipino insurgents during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).It was during this time that Newark was directed to provide reinforcements and needed supplies to the American Legation in Peking.
Captain McCalla afterward led 112-sailors and Marines, reinforcing the Seymour Expedition; as senior US Naval officer, Vice Admiral Seymour appointed McCalla to serve his deputy commander.Confronted by overwhelming Chinese forces, the Seymour Expedition was unsuccessful in reaching Peking, but during a series of engagements, Captain McCalla was cited for displaying calm and steady courage under fire despite being wounded.Captain McCalla was later commended for bravery by the Congress of the United States, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and King Edward VII of Great Britain.
McCalla completed his sea service as Commanding Officer of the battleship USS Kearsarge and, as an additional duty, serving as Chief of Staff to the Commander, North Atlantic Squadron.He was then assigned to command the Mare Island Navy Yard.Promoted to Rear Admiral on 11 October 1903, McCalla oversaw the Navy’s immediate response to the San Francisco earthquake in April 1906 —which involved ordering ships, sailors, and Marines to aid the stricken city.
Rear Admiral McCalla retired from active naval service in June 1906.He remained in the San Francisco area after retirement; in 1908, he helped welcome the ships of the Great White Fleet to San Francisco Harbor.
Admiral McCalla passed away in Santa Barbara, California on 6 May 1910.
Blow, Michael. A Ship to Remember: The Maine and the Spanish-American War, Morrow, 1992
Coletta, Paolo. Bowman Hendry McCalla: A Fighting Sailor, University Press of America, 1979
Feuer, A.B. The Spanish American War at Sea: Naval Action in the Atlantic, Praeger, 1995
Marine Corps Museum, Manuscript Register Series No.1, Register of the Henry Clay Cochrane Papers (1809-1957)
Trask, David F. The War with Spain in 1898, University of Nebraska Press, 1996.
Tucker, Spencer C., Ed. Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, ABC-CLIO LLC 2009
1Following the Baltimore Riot on April 19, 1861, pro-Confederate Marylanders took action to stop the movement of Union volunteers through the city on their way to Washington. Telegraph wires were cut, and railroad bridges were destroyed.USNA Superintendent George S. Blake, who was concerned about the possibility of a Confederate attempt to occupy the Naval Academy, decided to relocate the school to Newport, Rhode Island on 25 April 1861.
2USS Marblehead was an unprotected cruiser commissioned on 2 April 1894.She was decommissioned on 21 August 1919.An unprotected cruiser was in common use during the late Victorian period; she was little different from a large gunboat.
The United States’ first interest in China was demonstrated in 1784 when an American flagged merchant ship departed from New York bound for Canton, China. Denied access to British markets, which, given the number of ports then controlled by Great Britain, had a stifling effect on an emerging American economy. Americans went to China looking for new markets to buy goods. They were well received by the Chinese, and in fact some historians have suggested that the Chinese preferred dealing with Americans who wanted to purchase Chinese made goods, while the European nations were only interested in selling to the Chinese.
By the mid-1800s, Sino-American relationships had grown. The interest in markets continued, but so too did an interest in converting millions of Chinese to the Christian faith. Christian missionaries were among the first Americans to study Chinese language, culture, and history—and it was these missionaries that helped to shape America’s overall perceptions of Imperial China.
As for the Chinese, America was seen as a land of opportunity. Thousands of Chinese migrated to the United States during the California gold rush, and labor was in high demand to help build transcontinental railway systems. Some Chinese leaders were so inspired by the American political system that they sought to model a new China on the American Republic.
Thus, for much of America’s history, relationships between the United States and China were positive. In the late Nineteenth Century, however, European powers and Imperial Japan were expanding their colonial interests. Some of these wanted to break China up into colonies, each of these controlled by one European power or another.
Discontent with foreigners had been on the rise in China since 1898, when the “I Ho Ch’uan Society” (Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) began gaining popularity in northwest China. This group, commonly referred to as Boxers, opposed foreign influence and developed strong opposition to Christian missionaries. As the Boxers became better known, their ranks swelled with farmers and laborers who were adversely affected by droughts that had come on the heels of devastating floods. The Boxers believed that these misfortunes were the result of foreigners and Christian missionaries.
Over time, Boxer activity spread to additional provinces; provincial leaders, as well as the Imperial Court were inconsistent in their stand relative to the issues. On some occasions, Chinese authorities sought to protect foreigners and Christians. At other times, these same officials stood by and watched the resentment escalate. Tzu Hsi, the empress dowager of the Manchu Dynasty, was publicly anti-Boxer, but privately she encouraged the Boxers.
In the fall of 1899, the United States was a late arrival in China. Nevertheless, the US wanted to maintain what Secretary of State John Hay called an “open door” policy in China. That is to say, a proposal that China keep its door open to foreign trade, but at the same time barring any foreign nation from controlling the internal affairs of China. If the Boxers succeeded in pushing the United States and other foreign countries out of China, this newly opened door could soon be shut. Secretary Hay maintained that it was in America’s best interests to maintain an independent China. Nevertheless, maintaining an open door in China was a challenge, since nations seeking to colonize and control China pursued their own interests irrespective of what the United States thought.
In the next year, a crisis erupted in China as Boxers increased their resistance to foreign influence and presence. This increased violence served as an impetus to the alliance of eight nations: Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, Japan, and the United States. Each of these nations maintained legations in Peking. As the Boxers became progressively violent, hundreds of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians began flocking into that city asking for the protection of the foreign legations.
On 28 – 29 May 1900, Boxers burned several strategically placed railroad stations. Receiving word of this, the foreign legations wisely suspected that they were being systematically isolated, and it wasn’t long before they telegraphed for help. The 8-nation alliance responded immediately.
On 31 May, Captain John Twiggs Myers, USMC  arrived in Peking in overall command of two ship’s detachments of American Marines. This newly formed Legation Guard consisted of Myers’ twenty-five Marines from the USS Oregon along with Captain Newt Hall, USMC and twenty-three marines, five sailors, and an assistant surgeon from the USS Newark. Also arriving in Peking were 350 sailors and naval infantry from other foreign nations.
A second multi-national force was organized on 10 June under the command of British Vice Admiral Sir Edward Seymour —the largest contingent of which were British, with but 112 American sailors and Marines. US Navy Captain Bowman McCalla  was detailed to serve as Admiral Seymour’s second in command. The Seymour Expedition traveled north, rebuilding the railroad line as they went—and did so with the Chinese government’s authorization. The Chinese government knew that the railway lines between Tianjin and Peking had been severed —in fact, had ordered it done. It was a set up.
In Peking, the first Boxer was seen in the Legation Quarter on 11 June 1900. The German Minister, Clemens von Ketteler, ordered his soldiers to capture the Boxer, who was but a young lad. Inexplicably, Ketteler ordered the boy’s execution. The boy’s death served as the catalyst of a massive attack by thousands of Boxers into the walled city, who commenced a systematic campaign of pillaging and burning Christian churches and cathedrals. Captured Christians (foreign or Chinese) were burned alive. American and British missionaries took refuge inside the Methodist Mission and an attack there was repulsed by US Marines.
The blood-letting continued as soldiers at the British and German Legations shot and killed several Boxers, further alienating the Chinese population, and the effect of which nudged the Qing government toward supporting the Boxers. Vengeance-seeking Moslems soon joined the Boxers in attacking and killing Chinese Christians.
Seymour received news about the Chinese attacks on foreign legations on 18 June; he decided to continue his advance. The expedition had come within 25-miles of Peking when it was set upon by overwhelming Chinese forces. By the next day, Chinese resistance was so severe that Seymour was forced to withdraw. Two-hundred of his men had been either killed or wounded. The expedition was low on food, ammunition, and medical supplies. It was at this point that the expedition discovered a cache of munitions at an arsenal. Seymour captured the arsenal, occupied it, and decided to wait for reinforcements.
Also on 18 June, the Chinese government informed the foreign ministers that a state of war would soon be in effect, unless the legations withdraw from China within the next 24-hours. As a plum, the Chinese government promised safe passage as far south as Tientsin. On the following day, the foreign ministers announced that they had no intention of leaving China. Thus, on 20 June 1900, as promised, the empress dowager issued her declaration of war that included praise for the Boxer insurrectionists. A siege of the city began on that very day.
Chinese artillery and small arms fire became a constant form of harassment, although initially, there were no organized attacks against the foreign legations, but each agreed to form pro-active, mutually supporting military defense. On 25 June, Marines placed themselves at a critical position on the Tartar Wall—otherwise, the entire legation would have been subjected to devastating fires from the Chinese rebels.
The Boxers constructed barricades some distance from the front of the Marine position. During the night of 28 June, Private Richard Quinn reconnoitered one of these barricades by crawling on his hands and knees to the Chinese position, and in so doing, gathered vital intelligence about Boxer activities. Each day, the Chinese moved their barriers closer to the Marine position on the Tartar Wall and by 2 July, these barricades had become unacceptably close to the Marine position.
Captain Myers responded by attacking the Chinese barricade. At a time when the Chinese least expected it, Myers led an attack against the barricades on the Tartar Wall. The Chinese fell back to another barricade hundreds of yards further on. During the engagement, two Marines were killed, and Myers received a serious wound to his leg from a Chinese lance. With Myers seriously wounded, Captain Hall assumed command of the Guard. An informal truce was made on 16 July, although Chinese harassment continued until the foreign legations were relieved on 14 August 1900.
American Marines participated in several actions after Myers’s force reached Peking. After the failure of the Seymour Expedition, the United States quickly scrambled additional troops to help end the siege of Peking. Two separate detachments of Marines left Cavite in the Philippine Islands and joined up near Taku, China. The first detachment consisted of 107 Marines from the 1stMarines, who left Cavite on USS Solace. A second detachment of thirty-two marines sailed from Cavite aboard USS Nashville. These two detachments were combined to form a battalion under the command of Maj. Littleton W. T. Waller. On 20 June, the Marine battalion, augmented by approximately four hundred Russian soldiers engaged the Chinese near Tientsin.
Although the marines served as the spearhead of the American-Russian attack, they had scant success against the greater Chinese force. Following an overwhelming counterattack, Waller decided to withdraw. The Marines formed the rear guard of the retreat, in which they were pursued for four hours, ending up where they started, suffering three killed and seven wounded.
Two days later, Waller’s battalion and the Russian force were strengthened to two thousand men with the arrival of British, Russian, German, Italian, and Japanese troops. This enlarged force went on the offensive the next day and took all but the inner walled city of Tientsin. On 28 June, the international force relieved Seymour’s expedition, which had been held up for a month at the Hsi-Ku Arsenal north of Tientsin.
The 9thUS Infantry arrived on 6 July, joining the allied force near Tientsin. The number of Marines serving in China increased when 318 men under the command of Colonel Robert L. Meade arrived on 10 July from the Philippines. Meade’s Marines moved from the coast to Tientsin, where it joined Waller’s battalion with Colonel Meade assuming command of the all Marine forces.
The next day, the allied force launched an attack against Tientsin to rid the walled inner city of any remaining Boxer forces. The attacking force, commanded by a British general officer, included American Marines, the 9th US Infantry, British, French, German, Japanese, and Russian infantry. Fighting took place most of the day, but there was little to show for it. Of the 451 Marines engaged in this action, seventeen enlisted men and four officers became casualties. A Japanese night attack finally broke through the Chinese defenses, which allowed the international force to enter the walled city of Tientsin.
On July 30, US Army General Adna R. Chaffee  arrived in Tientsin and assumed command of all US forces in China. Arriving with Chaffee was another battalion of Marines under the command of Major William P. Biddle , two battalions of the 14thUS Infantry, the 6thUS Cavalry, and one battery from the 5thUS Artillery.
The mission of the China Relief Expedition was to relieve the legations in Peking and protect American interests in China. On 4 August 1900, the international force of approximately 18,000 combat troops left Tientsin for Peking. Chaffee’s force of 2,500 Americans included 482 Marines.
On 5 August, Japanese infantry engaged and defeated a Chinese force at Pei-tsang. The next day, Marines fought successfully at Yang-stun. The international force reached Peking and relieved the foreign legation on 14 August but experienced several casualties from heat exhaustion during the 85-mile march to Peking.
Upon reaching Peking, Marines aggressed the north gate to destroy Chinese snipers and set up an observation post. Two enlisted men, along with First Lieutenant Smedley D. Butler, were wounded in the assault. By the time the siege was lifted, the Legation Guard suffered eighteen casualties: 7 were killed, 11 wounded, which included Captain Myers and the assistant surgeon.
Marines advanced to the Imperial City on the next day, but light resistance to the presence of foreign military forces continued throughout China for several months. A Boxer Protocol was finally signed in September 1901. Afterwards, US Marines returned to their former assignments and locations.
Of those who served during the Boxer Rebellion, 33 enlisted men were awarded the Medal of Honor, including the first posthumous award of the Medal of Honor: Private Harry Fisher was killed on 16 July while engaged in combat on the Tartar Wall. Private Dan Daly received his first Medal of Honor for heroic action on the night of 15 July.
At this time, military officers were not eligible for the award of the Medal of Honor; instead, those noted for courage under fire were distinguished by advancement of numbers in grade, or on occasion, they were awarded brevet rank . Captain John T. Myers was brevetted Major; First Lieutenant Butler was advanced to brevet captain, and First Lieutenant Henry Leonard was advanced two numbers in grade. Three officers who served during the Boxer Rebellion would become commandants of the United States Marine Corps.
In its aftermath, there was an unfortunate downside to the Boxer Rebellion. A few civilians and members of the news media  first claimed and then reported that Captain Newt Hall was “over cautious” in the defense of the legation by abandoning the barricades —the suggestion being that in doing so, he jeopardized the safety of members of the legation . The fact was that Captain Hall was a somewhat taciturn individual who was not especially liked by members of the legation, whereas Captain Myers was both personable and popular. With his name sullied and given the competitive nature of service in the Marine Corps, Captain Hall demanded a court of inquiry.
Captain Bowman McCalla, USN, who, according to Marine Corps historian Colonel Robert Debs Heinl, Jr., was “neither fool nor faint of heart,” unreservedly recommended Hall for a brevet promotion for his conduct under fire in Peking .
Captain Hall’s court of inquiry convened on 1 March 1901 in Cavite, Philippine Islands. It cleared Captain Hall of any malfeasance, but the wording of the court noted that he was not charged “for the reasons that he has already suffered enough for the worldwide publication and criticism for his conduct in Peking.” This was clearly a case of damnation by faint praise.
The Secretary of the Navy further confounded the issue when he approved brevet promotions for Myers and Hall but, in advancing Captain Myers four numbers in grade for eminent and conspicuous conduct, failed to give a similar compliment to Hall.
Nevertheless, Captain Hall served a full and distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps, retiring in grade of Colonel in 1929.
 McCalla, later to serve as a Rear Admiral, was cited for conspicuous gallantry during this expedition.
 Adna Romanza Chaffee (April 14, 1842 – November 1, 1914) played a key role in the US Civil War, the Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, and the Boxer Rebellion. He rose to the rank of lieutenant general, United States Army and served as Chief of Staff from 1904 to 1906.
 William P. Biddle served as a United States Marine from 1875 to 1919. He participated in the Spanish-American War, Battle of Manila Bay, Boxer Rebellion, China Relief Expedition, Philippine-American War, and World War I. He was the 11th Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps from 1910 to 1914.
 A warrant that gave commissioned officers a higher title in rank in recognition for gallantry or meritorious conduct in battle without conferring authority, precedence, or pay of actual rank/promotion. An officer so promoted was referred to as Brevet Major or other ranks. An officer so promoted would be noted as Bvt. Major Harold Jones.
 G. E. Morrison, The London Times, as one of the complainants.
 The late Marine historian, retired Colonel Robert Debs Heinl Jr., in Soldiers of the Sea, wrote, “Other charges circulated that Hall had hesitated to lead his men forward over the barricade on the final day when relief was in sight. Ugly talk it was,” noted Heinl. The talk came to the attention of U.S. Army Major General Adna R. Chaffee, who commanded all U.S. forces in China. He detailed Captain William Crozier, who had distinguished himself in the relief column, to look into it. Crozier found that virtually all the complaints were from civilians (who would not know courage if it bit them on the leg) and recommended no further action.
 It was at about this same time that Century Magazine published a slanderous, attack on Hall by a civilian named W. N. Pethick, who had been at Peking during the siege.
The Marine Corps Brevet Medal, also known as the Brevet Medal, was a military decoration of the US Marine Corps, created in 1921. Its purpose was to to recognize living Marine Corps officers who had received a brevet rank during their term of active duty service. It’s significance in history is that it was only issued/presented to twenty-three officers from its date of issuance to the date it ceased to exist as a recognition of intrepidity in combat.
The Articles of War adopted in 1776 (revised, 1806) created the use of brevet rank as a reward for especially meritorious service or conduct in time of war. A brevet promotion entitled an officer to be recognized at the higher grade, but with limited effect. The promoted officer was not entitled to higher pay, nor did it allow him to be considered for a higher command unless the promotion was ordered by the President of the United States, did not affect the officer’s overall seniority in the service or his permanent rank. In 1818, brevet commissions also required senate confirmation in the same manner as regular officer promotions.
Brevet promotions were first used by the US Army during the Revolutionary War. The justification for such promotions was that the Continental Congress could not find suitable positions for foreign officers seeking commissions. Most of these at the time were from France. In the 19thCentury, brevet promotions were common in the US Army because of the increasing numbers of frontier forts and the demand for higher ranking officers to command these establishments. Because each service had an assigned ceiling on the number of officer’s commissions by rank, brevet promotions were always intended as temporary advancements—lasting until either an authorized position became available, or the officer was reassigned from a position that required a higher rank.
During the Civil War, almost all senior Army officers received brevet promotions. In most cases, the brevet came in recognition for gallantry or meritorious service. In 1863, Congress authorized brevet promotions to officers of the United States Volunteers , which resulted in more frequent use of brevet ranks throughout the US Army. The Confederate States Army, while providing for the use of brevet ranks did not actually use them at all during the war between the states. The U. S. Marine Corps also used brevet promotions during the Civil War; it’s Brevet Medal was issued to living officers who had received brevet promotions between 1861 and 1915.
In 1921, then Commandant of the Marine Corps Major General John A. Lejeune requested that a Marine Corps Brevet Medal be authorized; after it was approved and created, the decoration was given to the last 20 living Marine Corps officers who received brevet promotions. Three officers who were designated to receive this medal passed away before they could be presented.
The Marine Corps Brevet Medal was considered to be more or less equivalent to the Navy Cross medal, which today is the second highest recognition for bravery in combat for members of the US Navy and Marine Corps. The medal was designed by Sergeant Joseph A. Burnett, USMC.
Why was the Brevet Medal phased out? There were two reasons. First, in 1870 Congress passed a law stating that no officer could wear, nor be addressed by their brevet rank. Thus, brevet promotions became an honorary designation only. Because of this new law, the last nine brevet promotions awarded by the Marine Corps occurred during the Boxer Rebellion. On 7 June 1921, Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby approved the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ request for a medal denoting the holder of a brevet promotion to be issued. Accordingly, Marine Corps Order #26 was issued on 27 June 1921, authorizing the medal to be ordered and by November 10, 1921 the medals had been created. This decoration was justified on the grounds that, until 1915, Marine Corps officers were not eligible to receive the Medal of Honor. Second, Congress changed the rules for awarding the Medal of Honor, allowing both officers and enlisted men to receive it.
In 1940 the Marine Corps declared the Brevet Medal obsolete and the medal was never again issued. The concept of brevet commissions was phased out of the US Armed Forces and was replaced by temporary and field promotions, which were actually awarded more frequently than brevet ranks.
Of the twenty-three officers designated to receive the Brevet Medal, several of these are already known to my regular readers. A few are not well known, so let me briefly tell you about them.
Colonel Philip Michael Bannon, from Jessup, Maryland, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1895. He accepted a Marine Corps commission to Second Lieutenant on 1 July 1897. During the Battle of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bannon distinguished himself in combat, receiving brevet promotion to First Lieutenant on 13 June 1898. This promotion qualified him for the award of the Brevet Medal. Later participating in the Boxer Rebellion, then Captain Bannon led a company of Marines that marched to Tientsin to join the International Relief Force. During this engagement, Bannon was cited for gallantry, meritorious, and courageous conduct on 13 July 1900. He retired from the U. S. Marine Corps in 1928 and passed away on 25 June 1940.
Colonel Carl Gamborg-Andresen was Norwegian-born, immigrating to the United States, and, gaining a commission in the U. S. Marine Corps, participated in the Boxer Rebellion. Cited for distinguished conduct and public service in the presence of the enemy during the Boxer Rebellion, he was brevetted to Captain on 13 July 1900.
Colonel Allan Cunningham Kelton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 24 June 1846. He was cited for distinguished conduct and public service in the presence of the enemy at Guantanamo, Cuba and brevetted to Major on 11 June 1898. Kelton retired from the U. S. Marine Corps in 1909 and passed away on 22 November 1928.
Two Marine Corps officers selected to receive the Brevet Medal were subsequently appointed to serve as Commandants of the Marine Corps: William Phillips Biddle, and Wendell Cushing Neville.
 United States Volunteers were separate from the regular Army; such designation was the federal government’s primary means of raising large forces of citizen-soldiers that were needed in time of war to augment a small regular army. It was the forerunner of the National Army during World War I and the Army of the United States in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam conflicts.
Here 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.
On 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.
For 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 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.
World War I ended 100 years ago today —at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month 1918.
Below, you will find two poems that define the war’s impact upon those who served then. None of us should ever forget their sacrifices, and if there were to be a fitting memorial to those sacrifices, it would be that there would never again be a war of any kind. Sadly, none of our politicians are very bright, so we must gird ourselves for more of the same.
For the Fallen
Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) was moved by the opening of the Great War and the already high number of casualties of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. In 1915, despite being too old to serve in the military, Binyon volunteered at a British hospital for French soldiers. He returned in 1916 to help care for soldiers wounded during the Battle for Verdun.
Within this poem is the Ode of Remembrance (the third and fourth stanzas). This poem is recited during the United Kingdom’s annual observance, on Remembrance Day. Note: If you have never seen the annual Remembrance Day observance in the United Kingdom, you owe it to yourself to view it. You can find it at You Tube.
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
In Flanders Field
LtCol John McCrae (1872-1918) was a Canadian Army medical doctor. Colonel McCrae died of pneumonia near the end of the war.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.