All about honor

TPhoenix 001ed Kobayashi was tall for a Japanese, typically thin, gray haired, a bit stooped over, and one thing that really stood out was the fact that his English was flawless.  He worked in the Manpower Management section of the Personnel Department at Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan.  I was privileged to serve as Assistant Director.

The Manpower Management section had undertaken a study of the efficiency of several of our air station support departments, and so I hardly ever saw Ted except when he was en route to, or returning from one of his assessments.  One day I asked him to tell me what he was doing, and he just looked at me with a slight smile and said, “Well, of course I am a Japanese employee of the Marine Corps Air Station, and so my primary purpose here is to make the American civil service employee—my boss, look good.  If I do that, then I can work here for one thousand years.

I laughed because I knew right away that Ted was a straight shooter.  I’ve always appreciated people who weren’t full of their own importance.  I have to say that insofar as most cultures are concerned, I only met a few Japanese who were full of self.  They are mostly down to earth people, humble, and yet —proud at the same time.

Ted helped to extract me from a problem that I created for myself.  I had been working on a report that needed to be completed and forwarded up the chain of command and my Japanese secretary was giving me fits; too many typographical errors.  So when they were corrected, she brought the report back and we discovered new errors.  This went on for a while and then, in frustration, I looked at her and said, Now Fumiko-san … if we cannot fix these errors without making new ones, I may have to order you to commit seppuku.  She bowed as low as I had ever seen her bow before the rushed out of my office.

A few minutes later, Ted came over and said, “May I sit down?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Major, the one thing you have to know about your Japanese secretary is that she is not entitled to have a sense of humor.  Your secretary is convinced that you will order her to commit seppuku if she brings in one more mistake.”

“I was only kidding, Ted.”

“Yes, I told her that … but please, no more joking because you know, she might go and do it, and then how would you feel?”

I could feel the color drain from my face.  “I would feel like shit.”

“Exactly right.  Okay problem solved.  Thank you for offering me coffee …” he was smiling when he left my office.  In one morning, I learned that the Japanese did not understand the American concept of situational humor, or joking, and also that I was a terrible host.  I never joked with Fumiko-san again, and I always made a point of asking Ted if I could get him a cup of coffee.  He never accepted, of course … it was all about being polite.

One day I caught Ted sitting in his office and so I took two cups of coffee and helped myself to a chair next to his desk.  As I set one of the cups in front of him, he smiled and said, “For me?  How nice.”

He sat next to a large window that overlooked the front of the headquarters building.  He’d worked at the Air Station for over 40 years.  He was then in his 60’s and I asked him about retirement.  Most Japanese employees retired at age 55.  He told me he had pulled strings to stay on past his normal retirement age.  He wasn’t interested in retirement.

I think Ted liked the attention I gave him.  Or maybe it was the respect.  He really was a nice man.  He was intelligent, had a dry sense of humor, even if somewhat sarcastic, and an encyclopedia of information; all one had to do to get that information was ask politely.  So when I asked him how in the world he spoke such flawless English, he looked at me for a long moment and he said, “In 40 years, you are the first officer to ask me that.  If you want to know, I’ll tell you.”

I wanted to know.

Ted was born and raised in Southern California.  When he graduated from high school in the summer of 1941, and as he was getting mentally prepared to attend university there, his parents, who had migrated to the United States in the early 1900s, decided that it would be best for Ted to travel back to Japan and pay respect to his grandparents, whom he had not seen in many years.  “I was not too happy with this request, but I had no choice but to do as my parents wanted,” he said.

Once in Japan, however, the Kempeitai would not allow him to leave.  Japan was preparing for war.  Ted was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army.  “I could have refused,” he told me.  “But it would have been a self imposed death sentence after much suffering.”

I was stunned.  He smiled at me and said, “Close your mouth, major.”

Because he was well educated, Ted was put to work in the supply corps.  “I never once fired my weapon at an American,” he said.  But they did send him to one of the Pacific islands: Guam.  That’s where he was captured and interned as a POW.

“I kept my mouth real shut during those days,” he told me.  “I never revealed that I could speak English or understood what was being said around me.  I just smiled a lot, and bowed a lot.  Eventually, I was sent back to Japan after the war was over.”

Art by Lua Sieryu
Art by Lua Sieryu

He told me, “I could not return to America —I had served in the Army that was the enemy of my countrymen.”  I noticed that his eyes were watery.  “No,” he continued, “I could not go back to America.  I have been here ever since.  I never saw my parents again.  Of course, they were interned during the war.  I never revealed my English speaking ability to any American until I was looking for work at the Air Station.  I’ve been here ever since.  And now, I have married and had children here, and grand children … and I have this excellent job working for Americans.

Ted Kobayashi’s story was one of the saddest tales I have ever heard in my life.  I could not imagine being placed in a similar predicament.  Ted was also one of the most honorable men I ever knew.  I respected him, and I enjoyed his friendship.

American Warriors, Past and Present

Greatest Generation WeissWe can thank Tom Brokaw for the term, “Greatest generation.”  It first appeared in his 1988 book of that title, accompanied by his declaration, “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”  He is, of course, writing about Americans who grew up in the United States during the deprivation of the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II.

I wonder, though … is this true?  What makes Mr. Brokaw the expert, to make such a determination?  He has no advanced degrees; he worked most of his life in television journalism, participating in three televised “news” programs with NBC.  He was, like Walter Cronkite, a newsreader.  Unlike Cronkite, Brokaw never buried himself in the carnage of combat journalism.  When other up and coming journalists went to cover the war in Southeast Asia, Tom Brokaw accepted a position with KNBC Los Angeles.

So once again, what makes Tom Brokaw the expert?  I am asking because it seems to me that there were other generations that we might regard as the greatest, and no one knocked on my door to ask me for my opinion.

Air Cav 001No surprise, Hollywood has picked up on Brokaw’s theme: the big money moguls such as Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks … and it was used quite liberally in the hullaballoo leading up to the film Saving Private Ryan, a fictional story written by Robert Rodat and several books written by the plagiarist and fictionalist Stephen Ambrose.  Just for the sake of argument, contrast anything written by Ambrose or Rodat with the actual account of heroism under fire written by Joe Galloway and Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore (We Were Soldiers Once … and Young).

What is my point?

Vietnam WallMy point is that Tom Brokaw and others of his ilk offer an unforgivable insult to those fine Americans who fought in America’s other wars, both before and after World War II, by claiming that another group were the greatest generation.  Brokaw in effect has informed the young soldier of today that while having lost his or her legs, it was not enough to be regarded by Brokaw as part of this country’s greatest generation; and not only to the soldiers, but also to their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, children, and sweethearts.  This pronouncement is, in my view, utterly profane and foolish.

My next question is for everyone else: why do those of us who claim to value the heroic service of our citizen warriors, both past and present, allow the likes of Tom Brokaw and Steven Spielberg —neither of whom ever served in uniform, to define the value of our veteran’s service to the United States of America?

Real Heroes Don’t Wear Capes

Navy Cross MedalWhile assigned to Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, (then) Corporal Clifford M. Wooldridge (Port Angeles, Washington) distinguished himself in the service to his country while serving in Afghanistan on 18 June 2010.  When his 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, Wooldridge led one of his fire teams across open ground to flank the enemy, killing or wounding eight of them, 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 his weapon, 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 weapon.Navy Cross

Wooldridge’s audacious and fearless actions thwarted the enemy attack on his platoon.  By his bold and decisive leadership, undaunted courage under fire, and his total dedication to duty, (now) Sergeant Wooldridge reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval service.

American Marines —beating the akbar out of the enemy with their own weapons since the days when Jefferson was president.

Tommy, by Rudyard Kipling

 A Separator 001

Kipling 001Tommy

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,

The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”

The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,

I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:

O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;

But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,

The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,

O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,

They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;

They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,

But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;

But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,

The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,

O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep

Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;

An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit

Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.

Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”

But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,

The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,

O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,

But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;

An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,

Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;

While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,

But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,

There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,

O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:

We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.

Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face

The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”

But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;

An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;

An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

A Clash in the Mountains

In the summer and fall of 1966, the Marines and the North Vietnamese had clashed in the mountains northwest of Dong Ha.  Soon afterwards, the Marine command placed a company of grunts at Khe Sanh to “monitor” the mountain infiltration routes into South Vietnam.  In the spring of the next year, these grunts attracted two regiments of NVA soldiers into the hills around the isolated outpost.  In April and May 1967, the grunts rushed in reinforcements and had attacked the entrenched enemy northwest of Khe Sanh.  After those brutal battles, commonly called “the hill fights,” the North Vietnamese had withdrawn and the grunts retained only a token force at the Khe Sanh outpost.

Khe Sanh 002The small airstrip had always been the lifeline to Khe Sanh.  In the fall of 1967, engineers had flown into the outpost and had spend almost three months laying crushed rock, asphalt, and steel Marston-matting on the airstrip.  When finally reopened in late October, the new 3,900 foot long runway could handle VFR and IFR landings by any aircraft up to the size of a C-130 turboprop.

The first new alarm signals began in the late fall of 1967.  Helicopters routinely dropped recon teams into the hills, and they began making some startling discoveries.  New trails crisscrossed the mountains and scores of NVA troops columns were spotted as they methodically converged on the plateau.  Often the recon teams accidently landed near these NVA units and had to call the helicopter pilots back for an emergency evacuation.  Looking down from above, pilots saw that new roads had been hacked out of the jungle.  The columns of enemy trucks and troops were all headed for Khe Sanh.

Khe Sanh 001In response to the massive enemy buildup, the grunts raced in reinforcements.  Soon, the entire 26th Marines would be airlifted to the small garrison, marking the first time since Iwo Jima in World War II that all of its battalions had deployed for combat together.  More helicopters flew in to bolster the garrison.  Huey gunships squatted between new protective revetments, and H-46’s stood ready to haul recon teams into or out of the surrounding hills.  Pilots and air crewmen spent their time digging deeper bunkers and waiting for the enemy onslaught that everyone predicted would come.

“Somewhere Out There, within artillery range of the Khe Sanh Combat Base … concealed and silent and ominous, lay five full divisions of North Vietnamese regulars.”  —Michael Herr (Dispatches)

Bonnie-Sue: A Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron in Vietnam

Marion F. Sturkey, U. S. Marine Corps

We Call Him Chesty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Puller passed away in 1971.