He Served on Samar

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

The island of Samar had become the centerpiece for resistance to American occupation following the Spanish-American War.  On 28 September 1901, 36 soldiers assigned to Company C, 9th US Infantry then stationed in Balangiga, were killed during a surprise attack by Filipino insurrectos.  An additional eight soldiers died due to wounds received during the attack; 22 were wounded.  Of the total number of soldiers, only 4 escaped unharmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:


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

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

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

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

Old Gimlet Eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

_____________________________

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

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

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

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

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

The First Epistle of the Carrier Pilot

Naval Aviation 001

1. Verily I say unto all ye who wouldst fain operate the great bent wing bird from the tilting airdrome: for it doth require great technique, which cometh to no man naturally. Yea verily, it is acquired only by great diligence and perseverance, and great faith in the Father Almighty.

2. Hearken ye unto the Centurion: for he speaketh from vast wisdom and great knowledge. He hath experienced a vast number of cat shots and traps, and hence is a sadder and wiser man than thee.

3. Heed ye not those who speaketh of the romance and glamour of the high seas, be ye not swayed and when they extol the sting of the salt spray upon thy lips and the roll of a stout deck beneath thy feet and the exotic peoples of foreign lands.

4. Verily, it shall come to pass: that the salt spray windeth up in thy joe, and the roll of the stout deck wilt send thee to the fantail with a retching of thy belly.

5. He wouldst remove thee far from thy loved ones, and cast thee amonst the riff-raff of all nations: who shall then approach thee with an extended hand and open palm.

6. Turn thee a deaf ear unto all these things, for he speaketh as a man with a head full of missing buttons and his mouth quoteth from recruiting pamphlets.

7. Beware of the sadistic inhabitant in the land of Fly One, and regard him with exceeding wariness. For while he bringeth thee up to the spot, and his visage smileth confidently at thee, he concealeth a serpent in his breast, and plotteth all manner of evil against thee.

8. He smileth not for thee, but smirketh at thy youth and helplessness. He dines lustily upon the nugget and gloateth greatly at his power over thee. The manner of torment, which he inflicteth on thee, is great.

9. Heed ye his signals promptly, else he windeth thee up mightily and sendeth thee off whilst thou art still checking thy gauges or whilst the bow goeth down into the depths of a wave. For he is a man of great imagination and enjoyeth a jest mightily. His cunning knoweth no bounds.

10. Know ye well the officer called “landing signal,” and trust him not; for he is a doltish oaf and is poorly coordinated. Verily, whilst he also doth wear the wings of gold, he is a prodigal, and his judgments are untrue.

11. He has eyes with which to see, but they are weak; he distinguisheth day from night with exceeding difficulty.

12. Yea, he waveth off Angel Donald, saying, “Land ye not on a pass which is so long in the groove.

13. Make him thy friend. When ye doth engage in a game of chance, calleth not his two little pair with thy full house, for he prizes a winning hand above all things, and he will love thee.

14. Incite him not to anger, else he bringeth thee in low and slow, and spinneth thee into the spud locker.

15. Cursed be he who dost tarry long in the wires after his trap; he causeth his wingman to be waved off on a roger pass, and the next man to become long in the groove.

16. He fouleth up the pattern mightily, and given the Air Boss all manners of gastric disorders.

17. He is thrice damned, and all people, even unto the Yellow Shirts, shall revile him and use strong language in his behalf, for he is indeed a plumber and plague upon the Air Group.

18. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. As the two-finger turn-up is the signal to fly, so to is the cut the signal to land.

19. Therefore, I say unto you, holdeth yet not after the cut; for whosoever floateth into the barriers soweth great anguish in the breast of the Maintenance Officer and causeth a blue cloud to form at the bridge.

20. The wise pilot engageth a three wire smartly, but the fool shall dwell in the pattern forever.

21. Hell hath no fury like a Catapult Officer scorned. Therefore treat him with great kindness and speak ye unto him soft and tender tones.

22. Verily I say unto thee: whosoever shall arouseth the wrath of the Catapult Officer wilt soon receive a cold shot, and his next of kin shall know great anguish and sorrow

23. Hearken unto his teachings, and heed his signals with great diligence; for he is a man of great and unnatural cunning.

24. He windeth thee up mightily, and faileth to fire when thou art ready. He then shooteth thee off when thou art not, and into the mouth of the deep.

25. Beware ye of the Old Man, and regard him highly, for unto thee he is not unlike the Almighty. When he approacheth, linger ye not in Flight Deck Control, for he falleth like a whirlwind upon the idle and laucheth upon JO’s without compassion.

26. He regardeth the newly made major with raised eyebrow.

27. Ye shall remain out of his sight, and let him not know thee by name: for whosoever shall arouse the ire of the Old Man shall go many times to the Chaplain.

28. Give ye heed unto all these things for they are the bitter fruits of those who hath proceeded thee, so shall your words be as blessings unto those who shalt follow thee, and the Carrier Pilot shall live forever and ever.

Note: The foregoing was written by Captain Milton V. Seaman, USMC while serving aboard the USS Leyte (CV-32) while deployed to the Mediterranean Sea in 1949 with Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) —223. It was dedicated to the squadron commander, Major Darrell D. (Slim) Irwin, USMC.

Source:

Major Paul Webb Chapman, USMC (Retired)

“Playboy 37”

Someone has to know how …

Lejeune 001Last Sunday, my good friend Z published a quote by Marine Corps Major General John A. Lejeune, the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, who wrote eloquently of the spiritual in time of war.  “Miracles must be wrought if victories are to be won, and to work miracles, men’s hearts must be afire with self-sacrificing love for each other, for their units, for their divisions, and for their country.”

Americans do not go to war lightly for everyone realizes that war is a serious business.  Neither do they go to fight because they want to; no one who is sane enjoys war.  Americans go to war because they must.

There is nothing clean and simple about the battlefield.  It is both horrible, and complex—and this means that in order to succeed, someone has to know how to do it.  Someone must know of its horrors in order to prepare the uninitiated for the ordeal that awaits them.  This is the task we assign to our regular forces—the career NCOs and officers who are responsible for making sure that our military services maintain their ability to defend our nation.  Each of our military services has distinguished themselves through their own combat history, their own service traditions, and the mission assigned to them by the Congress of the United States.

Daly 001In 1918, Captain John Thomason described the Marine Corps as follows:

“There were north westerners with straw colored hair and delicately spoken chaps with the stamp of eastern universities on them.  There were large boned fellows from Pacific Coast lumber camps, and tall, lean southerners who swore amazingly in gentle drawling voices.  There were husky farmers from the Corn Belt, and youngsters who had sprung to arms from the necktie counter.  And there were also a diverse people who ran curiously to type, with drilled shoulders, and bone-deep sunburn and an intolerant scorn of nearly everything on earth.  They were the [professional] leathernecks, the old breed of American regular, regarding the service as home.  And they transmitted their temper and character and viewpoint to the high-hearted mass, which filled the ranks of the Marine Brigade.

Thomason 1918-3“There’s nothing particularly glorious about sweaty fellows going along to fight.  And yet, they represent a great deal more than individuals mustered into a Division.  There is also what is behind those men.  The old battles, long forgotten, that secured our nation.  Traditions of things endured, and things accomplished, such as regiments hand down forever — and that abstract thing called patriotism, which I have never heard combat soldiers mention.  All this … passes into the forward zone to the point of contact where war is grit with horrors and where common men endure these horrors and overcome them, along with the insistent yearnings of the belly and the reasonable prompting of fear.  And in this, I think, is glory.”

It remains thus to this very day …

Where Marines Go

I think it is absolutely true that most Marines “go home” after their service in the Corps, whether that is at the end of their first enlistment, or at some future intermediary period, or upon retirement.  By “home,” I mean the environment that is most familiar and comfortable to them.  This could mean back home with Mom and Dad, or it could be the hometown of the girl or guy they married.  For some Marines, home becomes the area nearest their last duty station before retirement.

Not all Marines go back home, though.  Some Marines never really had a home.  Rather than loving parents, they had a working mother who did the best she could for them; a woman who was relieved when their child finally found a place where they could excel.  For many Marines, the Corps became their family —their home became a spotlessly clean barrack at any number of Marine Corps posts or stations.

This has been true for a very long time —perhaps even for as long as we’ve had a United States Marine Corps.  Colonel John Thomason wrote about some of these people in his book, Fix Bayonets (after which I named this blog).  Thomason was born in Huntsville, Texas in 1893, joined the Marine Corps on 6 April 1917, and served until his death in March 1944 achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.

China Marine MountedDuring World War I, Thomason served as the Executive Officer (second in command) of the 49th Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.  He was awarded the Navy Cross for his sustained courage and leadership throughout America’s participation in the war.  Following the war, Thomason served in Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, China and in California.  He commanded the Horse Marines at the American Legation in Peiping and later commanded the 38th Company, 4th Marines, the Marine Detachment aboard USS Rochester (CA-2), and the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines.  Before the outbreak of war with Japan, Thomason was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence.  In 1942, he was assigned to Admiral Nimitz’ staff in Hawaii.

Thomason tells of one Marine, who he refers to as Sergeant Bridoon of the Horse Marines at the American legation in Peiping.  The sergeant was a fine leader of men who had become romantically attached to an American missionary woman.  As he was nearing retirement, the Marine Corps decided to return Sergeant Bridoon to the United States where he would be processed for separation.  The problem was that his fiancé, “Miss Jones” would not return to the States; she had important work to do in China.  Bridoon would not leave her, and so on the eve of his retirement, Sergeant Bridoon deserted.

Years later, while conducting a “survey” of the Far East —by which I mean spying on the Japanese during their unofficial Sino-Japanese War, Lieutenant Colonel Thomason made his way to Mongolia via Kalgan and Mukden where he joined an assortment of international journalists, which included a few Japanese reporters.  Finally the unseemly group arrived near the Khingan Mountains.  Thomason wrote of approaching a Japanese brigade:

“As we came down the last slope toward them, we saw cavalry and armored cars moving to the left of the main column —about two squadrons of mounted men and fifteen to twenty vehicles. …  They were tired.  I’d say they had marched all night, and possibly the day before, with not much rest or food.  Now they drew off the road, stacked arms, and lay down … but I noticed that each unit disposed itself in such cover as there was, taking full advantage of ditches and gullies and the thin mountain scrub; a very disciplined, orderly command.  At intervals there were machine guns laid for antiaircraft fire, and their crews were alert.  The equipment was good, and the whole look of them soldierly. “

Colonel Thomason then described how the Japanese brigadier prepared to serve lunch and tea to the unexpected journalists as the mixed brigade moved off to confront their enemy within the Mongolian valley.  It was now time for the Japanese troops to do their work, but Colonel Thomason and the journalists never had their lunch …

“The advance companies disappeared as if they had never been, and half a mile ahead of us, in the low road and in the dry stream bed, the closed battalions and the horse batteries were floundering and writhing in a confusion of tormented yellow dust.  One minute, they went in progression as orderly symbols on a map; the next, they were disintegrating.  The gun teams reared and plunged, and the rifle battalions tried to shake themselves out into combat groups, and the agitation around the guns was stilled, and the troop formations shredded away into shapeless crawling masses, from which detached units milled hopelessly —and you heard the frantic human cries, and the animal sounds men make in despair— all strained out fine by distance…”

“Peering over a shoulder of our ridge, I saw an armored car burning, and saw some running horses.  And there were revolver shots around me.  I suspect what they were for, but I do not know —the headquarters group was not there any more.  I remember an orderly carefully stowing teacups in a wicker basket, and I remember the brigadier drawing his samurai sword and plunging down the hill, two or three officers with him.  I never saw the Japanese journalists again, or the Chinese.  My Danish colleague was beside me, stretching his neck and sputtering, when something hit him; he sat down, folding his hands in front of his stomach, then stretched himself out on his back, dug at the ground with his heels, and died.

“I got myself behind the most substantial tree I could find and lay myself down…”

Colonel Thomason described how on the slope where once stood the field headquarters of a Japanese brigade there suddenly appeared strange looking men, some of them standing, others mounted on shaggy ponies —huge, inhuman looking people dressed in the round cloth caps of the Chinese armies, assorted patterns of steel helmets, fur caps, and a variety of uniform items.  But they all had weapons and they seemed to know how to use them, and as a Mongolian soldier took Thomason captive and began to search his person, he wondered if his bones would ever see the burial ground at Arlington.

In China - Thomason 002“…  A man on a woolly buckskin stallion reined in beside me and shouted at my captors and they stood away from me.  The mounted man and I stared at each other.  He was obviously an officer of some consequence.  He wore an American steel helmet, a Russian blouse, whipcord breeches, and soft black boots which must have belonged to a Japanese once.  Belted on him was one of our service automatics, and he carried in his right hand a very elegant Mongol riding-whip, the handle fashioned from an antelope’s foot, and the loop of braided silk.  He stared at me for some seconds, straightened himself in the saddle and saluted me with precision … I knew that leathery face under its larding of dust.  It was Bridoon, late sergeant of the Mounted Detachment of the Peiping Guard.”

Not every deserter becomes a general in the Chinese army, not every sergeant a tactical or a strategic genius.  I cannot even say that every sergeant is an outstanding leader of men.  What I can say, however, is that some extremely interesting personalities have worn the uniform of the United States Marine.  They may have been misfits “back home,” and they may not even have amounted to very much beyond our Corps … but we remember them fondly, and we pray for them dearly.  They were we …

Today, we continue to find our former comrades living in far off lands: Japan, on Okinawa, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and in Vietnam.  Where do Marines go?  They go to places where they can discover their own niche in a complex, often unforgiving world.  Ultimately —and I have this on good authority— they will one day guard the streets of Heaven.

Raw Courage

John J. McGinty III
John J. McGinty III

Born in Boston, Massachusetts on 21 January 1940, John J. McGinty III was raised in Louisville, Kentucky where he enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve in February 1957.  Following his initial training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, McGinty received advanced infantry training at the 1st Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and subsequently served with the 7th Infantry Company in Louisville until March 1958.

PFC McGinty reenlisted into the regular Marine Corps in March 1958 and was ordered to Camp Pendleton, California where he attended the NCO Leadership Course and was subsequently ordered to duty at Marine Barracks, Kodiak, Alaska until May 1959.  While stationed in Alaska, he was promoted to corporal.

In late 1959, then Corporal McGinty transferred to the 1st Marine Division, where he served as a squad leader in Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.  McGinty was subsequently promoted to sergeant and ordered to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina where he served as a drill instructor until 1964.  Between 1964 and 1965, he served as a brig warden at Marine Barracks, Norfolk, Virginia.

In 1965, Sergeant McGinty was ordered to the West Coast for pre-deployment training and assignment to the Far East with the 3rd Marine division.  Arriving in Vietnam in April 1966, McGinty was further assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines where he served first as a platoon sergeant, and then later as a platoon commander.

Medal of Honor“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Acting Platoon Leader, First Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, Third Marine Division, in the Republic of Vietnam on 18 July 1966.  Second Lieutenant (then Staff Sergeant) McGinty’s platoon, which was providing rear security to protect the withdrawal of the battalion from a position, which had been under attack for three days, came under heavy small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire from an estimated enemy regiment.  With each successive human wave, which assaulted his thirty-two-man platoon during the four- hour battle, Second Lieutenant McGinty rallied his men to beat off the enemy. In one bitter assault, two of the squads became separated from the remainder of the platoon.  With complete disregard for his safety, (then) Staff Sergeant McGinty charged through intense automatic weapons and mortar fire to their position. Finding twenty men wounded and the medical corpsmen killed, he quickly reloaded ammunition magazines and weapons for the wounded men and directed their fire upon the enemy.  Although he was painfully wounded as he moved to care for the disabled men, he continued to shout encouragement to his troops and to direct their fire so effectively that the attacking hordes were beaten off.  When the enemy tried to out flank his position, he killed five of them at point-blank range with his pistol.  When they again seemed on the verge of overrunning the small force, he skillfully adjusted artillery and air strikes within fifty yards of his position.  This destructive firepower routed the enemy, who left an estimated 500 bodies on the battlefield.  Staff Sergeant McGinty’s personal heroism, indomitable leadership, selfless devotion to duty, and bold fighting spirit inspired his men to resist the repeated attacks by a fanatical enemy, reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

Following this action, McGinty was subsequently assigned to the 3rd Battalion headquarters where he served as the Operations NCO, and then later he served as the Regimental Intelligence Officer, 4th Marine Regiment.  Upon his return to the United States in 1967, Staff Sergeant McGinty served a second tour of duty at MCRD Parris Island until commissioned to Second Lieutenant on 8 August 1967.  Captain John J. McGinty retired from active duty in October 1978.  He passed away at his home in Beaufort, South Carolina on 17 January 2014.

Semper Fidelis — Esse apud Deum

A Visit to the Wall

USN F-4J 001I recall visiting with three old friends, a few years back, at a park in the nation’s capital.  It seems like only yesterday that we were all together, but actually, it has been 42 years.  There was a crowd at the park that day, and it took us a while to connect, but with the aid of a book, we made it.  I found Harry, Bruce, and Paul.  In 1970-72 we were gung-ho young fighter pilots on the USS America and USS Constellation off the coast of Vietnam, the cream of the crop of the U.S. Navy, flying F-4J Phantoms.

Now their names are on that 500-foot-long Vietnam War Memorial.  I am hesitant to visit the wall when I am in Washington DC because I do not trust myself to keep my composure.  Standing in front of that somber wall, I tried to keep it light, reminiscing about how things were back then.  We used to joke about our passionate love affair with an inanimate flying object-we flew.  We marveled at the thought that someone actually paid us to do it. We were not draftees but college graduates in Vietnam by choice, opting for the cramped confines of a jet fighter cockpit over the comfort of corporate America.  In all my life, I’ve not been so passionate about any other work.  If that sounds like an exaggeration, then you’ve never danced the wild blue with a supersonic angel.  To fight for your country is an honor.

I vividly remember leaving my family and friends in San Diego headed for Vietnam.  I wondered if I would live to see them again.  For reasons I still do not understand, I was fortunate to return while others did not.

Once in Vietnam, we passed the long, lonely hours in Alert 5, the ready room, our staterooms, or the Cubi Point O’Club.  The complaint heard most often, in the standard gallows humor of a combat squadron, was, “It’s a lousy war, but it’s the only one we have.”  There is a more ribald version of this, not suitable for mixed company.  We sang mostly raunchy songs that never seemed to end; someone was always writing new verses-and, as an antidote to loneliness, fear in the night and the sadness over dead friends, we often drank too much.

At the wall, I told the guys only about the good parts of the years since we’ve been apart.  I talked of those who went on to command squadrons.  Those who made Captain and flag rank.  I asked them if they have seen some other squadron mates who have joined them.

I did not tell them about how ostracized Vietnam vets still are.  I did not relate how the media had implied we Vietnam vets were, to quote one syndicated columnist, “either suckers or psychos, victims or monsters.”  I didn’t tell them that Hanoi Jane, who shot at us and helped torture our POWs, had married one of the richest guys in the United States.  I didn’t tell them that the secretary of defense they fought for back then has now declared that he was not a believer in the cause for which he assigned them all to their destiny.  I did not tell them that our commander-in-chief avoided serving while they were fighting and dying.

And I didn’t tell them we “lost” that lousy war.  I gave them the same line I have used for years: We were winning when I left.  I relived that final day as I stared at the black onyx wall.  After 297 combat missions, we were leaving the South China Sea…heading east.  The excitement of that day was only exceeded by coming into the break at Miramar, knowing that my wife, my two boys, my parents and other friends and family were waiting to welcome me home.

I was not the only one talking to the wall through tears.  Folks in fatigues, leather vests, motorcycle jackets, flight jackets lined the wall talking to friends.  I backed about 25 yards away from the wall and sat down on the grass under a clear blue sky and midday sun that perfectly matched the tropical weather of the war zone.  The wall, with all 58,200 names, consumed my field of vision.  I tried to wrap my mind around the violence, carnage, and ruined lives that it represented.  Then I thought of how Vietnam was only one small war in the history of the human race.  I was overwhelmed with a sense of mankind’s wickedness balanced against some men and women’s willingness to serve.

Before becoming a spectacle in the park, I got up, walked back the wall to say goodbye, and ran my fingers over the engraved names of my friends —as if I could communicate with them through some kind of spiritual touch.

I wanted them to know that God, duty, honor, and country will always remain the noblest calling.  Revisionist histories from elite draft dodgers trying to justify and rationalize their own actions will never change that.

USS Constellation, CV-64
USS Constellation, CV-64

I believe I have been a productive member of society since the day I left Vietnam.  I am honored to have served there, and I am especially proud of my friends-heroes who voluntarily, enthusiastically gave their all.  They demonstrated no greater love to a nation whose highbrow opinion makers are still trying to disavow them.  I hope to find their names also in the Book of Life.

____________

Note: a retired Navy pilot wrote this piece

Hat tip: Koji-san