Saturday, August 30, 2003


Do Marines Surrender? A controversial subject.

Now and then this question comes up, but usually Marines seem to have little in the way of facts for their assumptions and their assertions that "Marines Don't Surrender" --but the fact is Marines have surrendered. Nor is there a complete summing up of the subject in any one book under one title; but the info is out there, though somewhat piecemeal. George Smith's book, "Carlson's Raid," devotes an entire chapter, for instance, to the surrender note controversy regarding Carlson's alleged attempted surrender during the Makin Raid of 17-18 August 1942.

Yes, Marines have surrendered. It's just one more reality, for some, in the profession of arms.

Most notably, there have been occurances of surenders for the Marine Corps in the opening days of World War Two's Pacific war at Guam, the Phillipines, Wake Island, and China. And then there was the little-known, for many years, alleged surrender attempt during the Makin Island Raid, already mentioned above.

Later, in Korea, 1950 there was a surrender that occurred at Hell Fire Valley during the Chosin Reservoir operation.

There were also Marine surrenders that occurred even further back through Marine Corps history during the 1700s and civil war times. (See Nofi's Book of Lists.)

Most Marines prefer not to discuss Marine surrenders nor to admit that there have ever been such.

Here is one remark from LtCol Evans F. Carlson himself, famed leader of Carlson's Raiders, as found in Gen. Peatross's book, "Bless 'Em All."

"...While discussing the various aspects of the raid,the only critique of the operation there would ever be Carlson suddenly had paused and, almost self critically and apropos of nothing, interjected: No commander ever expects to fail in an operation, but he should have a plan ready, ...."

Is it dishonorable for a Marine to surrender under extreme conditions when they no longer have the means to resist? It would appear it might well be dishonorable if he were not prepared to consider surrender, under some conditions.

In addition to the above topic, there are various other points of usually accepted Marine Corps history that people are either entirely ignorant of, and/or prefer to disregard or deny entirely. For instance, the phony red NCO/Officer stripe story regarding Chapultapec; Tun Tavern vs. Conestoga Wagon as the birthplace of the Corps, etc. Gen Simmons goes so far as to write that July 11, 1798 is the true birthday of the Corps.

Marine Corps historians, including BGen Edwin Simmons, have brought examples of these things out in their published writings, yet erroneous teachings continue. Why? As I've now come to mention often, I, not too long ago received an e-mail from a Marine colonel (retired), in response to his reading of some of my writings on topics like these, suggesting he didn't give a rat's ass about facts, tradition was all that counted w/him. People just don't want to hear what they don't want to hear.

Well, we all choose our own medicine--myself, I have a lousy memory, and I find it easier to believe and pass on the available facts that are not difficult to remember. Facts don't change, but opinions, stories, and perceptions do.

Semper Fidelis
Dick Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Marines Sites & Forums

Friday, August 29, 2003



Chevron is a French word meaning rafter or roof, which is what a chevron looks like; two straight lines meeting at an angle just as rafters do in a roof. It has been an honourable ordinarie in heraldry since at least the Twelfth Century. Ordinaries are simple straight line forms that seem to have originated in the wood or iron bars used to fasten together or strengthen portions of shields. Other ordinaries include the cross, the diagonal cross or "x," the triangle, the "y," and horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. The chevron was a basic part of the colorful and complicated science of heraldry. It appeared on the shields and coats-of-arms of knights, barons and kings.

Chevrons were thus easily recognized symbols of honor. That might by why French soldiers started wearing cloth chevrons with the points up on their coat sleeves in 1777 as length of service and good conduct badges. Some British units also used them to show length of service. In 1803 the British began using chevrons with the points down as rank insignia. Sergeants wore three and Corporals two. Perhaps they wore them with the points down to avoid confusion with the earlier length of service chevrons worn with the points up. Some British units also used chevrons of gold lace as officers' rank insignia. British and French soldiers who served in our Revolutionary War wore chevrons as did some American soldiers. In 1782 General George Washington ordered that enlisted men who had served for three years "with bravery, fidelity and good conduct" wear as a badge of honor "a narrow piece of white cloth, of angular form" on the left sleeve of the uniform coat.

In 1817 Sylvanus Thayer, the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, used chevrons to show cadet rank. From there they spread to the rest of the Army and Marine Corps. From 1820 to 1830 Marine Captains wore three chevrons of gold lace with points down on each sleeve above the elbows of their dress uniforms. Lieutenants wore one or two gold lace chevrons depending on whether they were staff or command officers. Marine Noncommissioned Officers started wearing cloth chevrons with the points up as rank insignia in 1836. They had been wearing them for three years as length of service badges. In 1859 they began wearing chevrons in about the same patterns they do today.

Starting in 1820 Army company grade officers and Sergeants wore one chevron with the point up on each arm. The officers' chevrons were of gold or silver lace, depending on the wearer's branch of service. Captains wore their chevrons above the elbow while Lieutenants wore theirs below. Sergeant Majors and Quartermaster Sergeants wore worsted braid chevrons above the elbow while other Sergeants and Senior Musicians wore theirs below. Corporals wore one chevron on the right sleeve above the elbow. By 1833 the Army and Marine company grade officers had stopped wearing chevrons and returned to epaulettes as rank insignia. Sergeants of the Army dragoons then began wearing three chevrons with points down and Corporals two. All other NCOs wore cloth epaulettes to show their rank. From 1847 to 1851 some Army NCOs wore chevrons with the points up on their fatigue uniform jackets but still used cloth epaulettes on their dress uniforms. After 1851 all Army NCOs wore chevrons with points down until 1902 when the Army turned the points up and adopted the patterns used today, two chevrons for Corporals, three for Sergeants and combinations of arcs and other devices beneath the chevrons for higher grades of Sergeants.

The stripes worn by Air Force members date from 1948. The basic design was one of several presented to 150 NCOs at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington D.C., in late 1947 or early 1948. Some 55 percent of the NCOs preferred that design so on March 9, 1948, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, then the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, accepted their choice and approved the design. Naturally, it took some time to obtain and distribute the new stripes so it could have been a year or more before all Air Force members got them.

Whoever designed the stripes might have been trying to combine the shoulder patch worn by members of the Army Air Forces during World War II and the insignia used on aircraft. The patch featured wings with a pierced star in the center while the aircraft insignia was a star with two bars. The stripes might be the bars from the aircraft insignia slanted gracefully upward to suggest wings. The silver grey color contrasts with the blue uniform and might suggest clouds against blue sky.

Most enlisted service members wear chevrons or stripes to show their ranks. The exceptions are the lowest three grades of Navy and Coast Guard Seamen and the Army Specialists. The Seamen wear one, two or three diagonal stripes or "hashmarks" on their sleeves. These stripes first appeared on the cuffs of sailors' jumpers in 1886. Petty Officers and Seamen First Class wore three stripes, Seamen Second Class two stripes and Seamen Third Class one stripe. Shortly after World War II the Navy moved the stripes to its Seamen's upper arms, as did the Coast Guard. Army Specialists wear an insignia that combines a spread eagle and, depending on the pay grade, arcs--sometimes called "bird umbrellas." The eagle and arcs are mounted on a patch that suggests inverted chevrons. The badge appeared in 1955 as part of an effort to differentiate between the Army's technical or support specialists who were not NCOs and the NCOs.

Why is the Colonel Called "Kernal"?
The Origin of the Ranks and Rank Insignia Now Used by the United States Armed Forces

by Raymond Oliver, Museum Curator for McClellan Aviation Museum
Published by the Office of History, Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan AFB CA 95652, August 1983 [This hard to find publication is an excellent introduction to origins of naval and military ranks.]


Thursday, August 28, 2003


("Before The Goddamned Marines Get All The Credit")

General Patton's Address to the Troops

Part I

The Background Research

Anyone who has ever viewed the motion picture PATTON will never forget the opening. George Campbell Scott, portraying Patton, standing in front of an immensely huge American flag, delivers his version of Patton's "Speech to the Third Army" on June 5th, 1944, the eve of the Allied invasion of France, code-named "Overlord".

Scott's rendition of the speech was highly sanitized so as not to offend too many fainthearted Americans. Luckily, the soldiers of the American Army who fought World War II were not so fainthearted.

After one of my lectures on the subject of General Patton, I spoke with a retired Major-General who was a close friend of Patton and who had been stationed with him in the 1930's in the Cavalry. He explained to me that the movie was a very good portrayal of Patton in that it was the way he wanted his men and the public to see him, as a rugged, colorful commander. There was one exception, however, according to the Major General. In reality, Patton was a much more profane speaker than the movie dared to exhibit.

Patton had a unique ability regarding profanity. During a normal conversation, he could liberally sprinkle four letter words into what he was saying and the listeners would hardly take notice of it. He spoke so easily and used those words in such a way that it just seemed natural for him to talk that way.

He could, when necessary, open up with both barrels and let forth such blue-flamed phrases that they seemed almost eloquent in their delivery. When asked by his nephew about his profanity, Patton remarked, "When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. It may not sound nice to some bunch of little old ladies at an afternoon tea party, but it helps my soldiers to remember. You can't run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn't fight it's way out of a piss-soaked paper bag."

"As for the types of comments I make", he continued with a wry smile, "Sometimes I just, By God, get carried away with my own eloquence."

When I appeared on a local San Diego television show to discuss my Patton Collection a viewer living in a suburb of San Diego, was very interested for personal reasons. Her husband had been a lieutenant assigned to General Patton's Third Army Headquarters, code named "Lucky Forward" and he had known General Patton quite well.

He had recently died and had left to his wife a box that he had brought home with him from the European Theater of Operations.

The lady invited me to her home to inspect the box to see if there was anything in it that might be useful to me in my search for "collectibles".

Opening the box, I immediately thanked her. Inside was one of only a couple hundred copies printed of the Official United States Third Army After-Action Reports. It is a huge two volume history of the Third Army throughout their 281 days of combat in Europe. She said that she had no use for it and that I could have it. I left with my new treasure.

When I arrived at my office and removed the foot-thick, oversized books from the box, I had an even greater surprise. Under the Reports lay a small stack of original Third Army memos, orders, AND a carbon copy of the original speech that had been typed by some unknown clerk at Lucky Forward and had been widely distributed throughout Third Army.

A few years earlier, I had discovered an almost illegible xerox of a carbon copy of a similar speech. This one came from the Army War College and was donated to their Historical Library Section in 1957.

I decided to do some research on the speech to obtain the best one possible and to make an attempt to locate the identity of the "unknown soldier" who had clandestinely typed and distributed the famous document. I began by looking in my collection of old magazines, newspapers, books that have been written about Patton since his death, and dozens of other books which had references to Patton and his speech.

I discovered some interesting facts. The most interesting probably being that George C. Scott was not the first actor to perform the speech.

In 1951, the New American Mercury Magazine had printed a version of the speech which was almost exactly the same version printed by John O'Donnell in his "Capitol Stuff" column for the New York Daily News on May 31, 1945. According to the editors of the New American Mercury, their copy was obtained from Congressman Joseph Clark Baldwin who had returned from a visit to Patton's Headquarters in Czechoslovakia.

After publication, the magazine received such a large reader response asking for reprints of the speech that the editors decided to go one step further.

They hired a "famous" actor to make an "unexpurgated" recording of the Patton speech. This recording was to be made available to veterans of Third Army and anyone else who would like to have one. The term "famous" was the only reference made by the editors about the actor who recorded the speech. In a later column they explained, "We hired an excellent actor whose voice, on records, is almost indistinguishable from Patton's, and with RCA's best equipment we made two recordings; one just as Patton delivered it, with all the pungent language of a cavalryman, and in the other we toned down a few of the more offensive words. Our plan was to offer our readers, at cost, either recording."

Unfortunately, a few years ago, their was a fire in the editorial offices of the magazine which destroyed almost all of their old records. The name of the actor was lost in that accident.

Only one master recording of the speech was made. The magazine Editors, not wanting to offend either Mrs. Patton or her family, asked for her sanction of the project. The Editors explained the situation thusly, "While we had only the master recordings, we submitted them to our friend, Mrs. Patton, and asked her to approve our plan. It was not a commercial venture and no profits were involved. We just wanted to preserve what to us seems a worthwhile bit of memorabilia of the Second World War. Our attorneys advised us that legally we did not need Mrs. Patton's approval, but we wanted it."

"Mrs. Patton considered the matter graciously and thoroughly, and gave us a disappointing decision. She took the position that this speeches was made by the General only to the men who were going to fight and die with him; it was, therefore, not a speech for the public or for posterity."

"We think Mrs. Patton is wrong; we think that what is great and worth preserving about General Patton was expressed in that invasion speech. The fact that he employed four letter words was proper; four letter words are the language of war; without them wars would be quite impossible."

When Mrs. Patton's approval was not forthcoming, the entire project was then scrapped, and the master recordings were destroyed.

Patton always knew exactly what he wanted to say to his soldiers and he never needed notes. He always spoke to his troops extemporaneously. As a general rule of thumb, it is safe to say that Patton usually told his men some of his basic thoughts and concepts regarding his ideas of war and tactics. Instead of the empty, generalized rhetoric of no substance often used by Eisenhower, Patton spoke to his men in simple, down to earth language that they understood. He told them truthful lessons he had learned that would keep them alive.

As he traveled throughout battle areas, he always took the time to speak to individual soldiers, squads, platoons, companies, regiments, divisions or whatever size group could be collected. About the only difference in the context of these talks was that the smaller the unit, the more "tactical" the talk would be. Often he would just give his men some sound, common sense advice that they could follow in order to keep from being killed or maimed.

The speech which follows is a third person narrative. From innumerable sources; magazine articles, newspaper clippings, motion picture biographies and newsreels, and books, I have put together the most complete version possible that encompasses all of the material that is available to date.

Part II

The Speech

Somewhere in England

June 5th, 1944

The big camp buzzed with a tension. For hundreds of eager rookies, newly arrived from the states, it was a great day in their lives. This day marked their first taste of the "real thing". Now they were not merely puppets in brown uniforms. They were not going through the motions of soldiering with three thousand miles of ocean between them and English soil. They were actually in the heart of England itself. They were waiting for the arrival of that legendary figure, Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. Old "Blood and Guts" himself, about whom many a colorful chapter would be written for the school boys of tomorrow. Patton of the brisk, purposeful stride. Patton of the harsh, compelling voice, the lurid vocabulary, the grim and indomitable spirit that carried him and his Army to glory in Africa and Sicily. They called him "America's Fightingest General". He was no desk commando. He was the man who was sent for when the going got rough and a fighter was needed. He was the most hated and feared American of all on the part of the German Army.

Patton was coming and the stage was being set. He would address a move which might have a far reaching effect on the global war that, at the moment, was a TOP-SECRET in the files in Washington, D.C.

The men saw the camp turn out "en masse" for the first time and in full uniform, too. Today their marching was not lackadaisical. It was serious and the men felt the difference. From the lieutenants in charge of the companies on down in rank they felt the difference.

In long columns they marched down the hill from the barracks. They counted cadence while marching. They turned off to the left, up the rise and so on down into the roped off field where the General was to speak. Gold braid and stripes were everywhere. Soon, company by company, the hillside was a solid mass of brown. It was a beautiful fresh English morning. The tall trees lined the road and swayed gently in the breeze. Across the field, a British farmer calmly tilled his soil. High upon a nearby hill a group of British soldiers huddled together, waiting for the coming of the General. Military Police were everywhere wearing their white leggings, belts, and helmets. They were brisk and grim. The twittering of the birds in the trees could be heard above the dull murmur of the crowd and soft, white clouds floated lazily overhead as the men settled themselves and lit cigarettes.

On the special platform near the speakers stand, Colonels and Majors were a dime a dozen. Behind the platform stood General Patton's "Guard of Honor"; all specially chosen men. At their right was a band playing rousing marches while the crowd waited and on the platform a nervous sergeant repeatedly tested the loudspeaker. The moment grew near and the necks began to crane to view the tiny winding road that led to Stourport-on-Severn. A captain stepped to the microphone. "When the General arrives," he said sonorously, "the band will play the Generals March and you will all stand at attention."

By now the rumor had gotten around that Lieutenant General Simpson, Commanding General of the Fourth Army, was to be with General Patton. The men stirred expectantly. Two of the big boys in one day!

At last, the long black car, shining resplendently in the bright sun, roared up the road, preceded by a jeep full of Military Police. A dead hush fell over the hillside. There he was! Impeccably dressed. With knee high, brown, gleaming boots, shiny helmet, and his Colt .45 Peacemaker swinging in its holster on his right side.

Patton strode down the incline and then straight to the stiff backed "Guard of Honor". He looked them up and down. He peered intently into their faces and surveyed their backs. He moved through the ranks of the statuesque band like an avenging wraith and, apparently satisfied, mounted the platform with Lieutenant General Simpson and Major General Cook, the Corps Commander, at his side.

Major General Cook then introduced Lieutenant General Simpson, whose Army was still in America, preparing for their part in the war.

"We are here", said General Simpson, "to listen to the words of a great man. A man who will lead you all into whatever you may face with heroism, ability, and foresight. A man who has proven himself amid shot and shell. My greatest hope is that some day soon, I will have my own Army fighting with his, side by side."

General Patton arose and strode swiftly to the microphone. The men snapped to their feet and stood silently. Patton surveyed the sea of brown with a grim look. "Be seated", he said. The words were not a request, but a command. The General's voice rose high and clear.

"Men, this stuff that some sources sling around about America wanting out of this war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bullshit. Americans love to fight, traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. You are here today for three reasons. First, because you are here to defend your homes and your loved ones. Second, you are here for your own self respect, because you would not want to be anywhere else. Third, you are here because you are real men and all real men like to fight. When you, here, everyone of you, were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big league ball players, and the All-American football players. Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American."

The General paused and looked over the crowd. "You are not all going to die," he said slowly. "Only two percent of you right here today would die in a major battle. Death must not be feared. Death, in time, comes to all men. Yes, every man is scared in his first battle. If he says he's not, he's a liar. Some men are cowards but they fight the same as the brave men or they get the hell slammed out of them watching men fight who are just as scared as they are. The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared. Some men get over their fright in a minute under fire. For some, it takes an hour. For some, it takes days. But a real man will never let his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood. Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base. Americans pride themselves on being He Men and they ARE He Men. Remember that the enemy is just as frightened as you are, and probably more so. They are not supermen."

"All through your Army careers, you men have bitched about what you call "chicken shit drilling". That, like everything else in this Army, has a definite purpose. That purpose is alertness. Alertness must be bred into every soldier. I don't give a fuck for a man who's not always on his toes. You men are veterans or you wouldn't be here. You are ready for what's to come. A man must be alert at all times if he expects to stay alive. If you're not alert, sometime, a German son-of-an-asshole-bitch is going to sneak up behind you and beat you to death with a sockful of shit!" The men roared in agreement.

Patton's grim expression did not change. "There are four hundred neatly marked graves somewhere in Sicily", he roared into the microphone, "All because one man went to sleep on the job". He paused and the men grew silent. "But they are German graves, because we caught the bastard asleep before they did". The General clutched the microphone tightly, his jaw out-thrust, and he continued, "An Army is a team. It lives, sleeps, eats, and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is pure horse shit. The bilious bastards who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don't know any more about real fighting under fire than they know about fucking!"

The men slapped their legs and rolled in glee. This was Patton as the men had imagined him to be, and in rare form, too. He hadn't let them down. He was all that he was cracked up to be, and more. He had IT!

"We have the finest food, the finest equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world", Patton bellowed. He lowered his head and shook it pensively. Suddenly he snapped erect, faced the men belligerently and thundered, "Why, by God, I actually pity those poor sons-of-bitches we're going up against. By God, I do". The men clapped and howled delightedly. There would be many a barracks tale about the "Old Man's" choice phrases. They would become part and parcel of Third Army's history and they would become the bible of their slang.

"My men don't surrender", Patton continued, "I don't want to hear of any soldier under my command being captured unless he has been hit. Even if you are hit, you can still fight back. That's not just bull shit either. The kind of man that I want in my command is just like the lieutenant in Libya, who, with a Luger against his chest, jerked off his helmet, swept the gun aside with one hand, and busted the hell out of the Kraut with his helmet. Then he jumped on the gun and went out and killed another German before they knew what the hell was coming off. And, all of that time, this man had a bullet through a lung. There was a real man!"

Patton stopped and the crowd waited. He continued more quietly, "All of the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters, either. Every single man in this Army plays a vital role. Don't ever let up. Don't ever think that your job is unimportant. Every man has a job to do and he must do it. Every man is a vital link in the great chain. What if every truck driver suddenly decided that he didn't like the whine of those shells overhead, turned yellow, and jumped headlong into a ditch? The cowardly bastard could say, "Hell, they won't miss me, just one man in thousands". But, what if every man thought that way? Where in the hell would we be now? What would our country, our loved ones, our homes, even the world, be like? No, Goddamnit, Americans don't think like that. Every man does his job. Every man serves the whole. Every department, every unit, is important in the vast scheme of this war. The ordnance men are needed to supply the guns and machinery of war to keep us rolling. The Quartermaster is needed to bring up food and clothes because where we are going there isn't a hell of a lot to steal. Every last man on K.P. has a job to do, even the one who heats our water to keep us from getting the 'G.I. Shits'."

Patton paused, took a deep breath, and continued, "Each man must not think only of himself, but also of his buddy fighting beside him. We don't want yellow cowards in this Army. They should be killed off like rats. If not, they will go home after this war and breed more cowards. The brave men will breed more brave men. Kill off the Goddamned cowards and we will have a nation of brave men. One of the bravest men that I ever saw was a fellow on top of a telegraph pole in the midst of a furious fire fight in Tunisia. I stopped and asked what the hell he was doing up there at a time like that. He answered, "Fixing the wire, Sir". I asked, "Isn't that a little unhealthy right about now?" He answered, "Yes Sir, but the Goddamned wire has to be fixed". I asked, "Don't those planes strafing the road bother you?" And he answered, "No, Sir, but you sure as hell do!" Now, there was a real man. A real soldier. There was a man who devoted all he had to his duty, no matter how seemingly insignificant his duty might appear at the time, no matter how great the odds. And you should have seen those trucks on the rode to Tunisia. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they rolled over those son-of-a-bitching roads, never stopping, never faltering from their course, with shells bursting all around them all of the time. We got through on good old American guts. Many of those men drove for over forty consecutive hours. These men weren't combat men, but they were soldiers with a job to do. They did it, and in one hell of a way they did it. They were part of a team. Without team effort, without them, the fight would have been lost. All of the links in the chain pulled together and the chain became unbreakable."

The General paused and stared challengingly over the silent ocean of men. One could have heard a pin drop anywhere on that vast hillside. The only sound was the stirring of the breeze in the leaves of the bordering trees and the busy chirping of the birds in the branches of the trees at the General's left.

"Don't forget," Patton barked, "you men don't know that I'm here. No mention of that fact is to be made in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell happened to me. I'm not supposed to be commanding this Army. I'm not even supposed to be here in England. Let the first bastards to find out be the Goddamned Germans. Some day I want to see them raise up on their piss-soaked hind legs and howl, 'Jesus Christ, it's the Goddamned Third Army again and that son-of-a-fucking-bitch Patton'."

"We want to get the hell over there", Patton continued, "The quicker we clean up this Goddamned mess, the quicker we can take a little jaunt against the purple pissing Japs and clean out their nest, too. Before the Goddamned Marines get all of the credit."

The men roared approval and cheered delightedly. This statement had real significance behind it. Much more than met the eye and the men instinctively sensed the fact. They knew that they themselves were going to play a very great part in the making of world history. They were being told as much right now. Deep sincerity and seriousness lay behind the General's colorful words. The men knew and understood it. They loved the way he put it, too, as only he could.

Patton continued quietly, "Sure, we want to go home. We want this war over with. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the bastards who started it. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we can go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. And when we get to Berlin", he yelled, "I am personally going to shoot that paper hanging son-of-a-bitch Hitler. Just like I'd shoot a snake!"

"When a man is lying in a shell hole, if he just stays there all day, a German will get to him eventually. The hell with that idea. The hell with taking it. My men don't dig foxholes. I don't want them to. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving. And don't give the enemy time to dig one either. We'll win this war, but we'll win it only by fighting and by showing the Germans that we've got more guts than they have; or ever will have. We're not going to just shoot the sons-of-bitches, we're going to rip out their living Goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We're going to murder those lousy Hun cocksuckers by the bushel-fucking-basket. War is a bloody, killing business. You've got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours. Rip them up the belly. Shoot them in the guts. When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt off your face and realize that instead of dirt it's the blood and guts of what once was your best friend beside you, you'll know what to do!"

"I don't want to get any messages saying, "I am holding my position." We are not holding a Goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy's balls. We are going to twist his balls and kick the living shit out of him all of the time. Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy. We are going to go through him like crap through a goose; like shit through a tin horn!"

"From time to time there will be some complaints that we are pushing our people too hard. I don't give a good Goddamn about such complaints. I believe in the old and sound rule that an ounce of sweat will save a gallon of blood. The harder WE push, the more Germans we will kill. The more Germans we kill, the fewer of our men will be killed. Pushing means fewer casualties. I want you all to remember that."

The General paused. His eagle like eyes swept over the hillside. He said with pride, "There is one great thing that you men will all be able to say after this war is over and you are home once again. You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you WON'T have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, "Well, your Granddaddy shoveled shit in Louisiana." No, Sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say, "Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a-Goddamned-Bitch named Georgie Patton!"

Return to Headquarters
For Other Writings On Patton...
SEE ALSO: Memories Of George C. Scott, Sgt USMCR

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Marines Sites & Forums

By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Semper Fidelis

Wednesday, August 27, 2003


A Deadly Day For Charlie Company
By Rich Connell and Robert J. Lopez, Times Staff Writers
(2003-08-26) The convoy rumbled north, through the heart of the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. It was the fourth day of the war, and the men of Charlie Company had orders to capture the Saddam Canal Bridge on the city's northern edge.

The Marines were taking heavy fire. Then there was an ear-splitting blast. A rocket-propelled grenade ripped open one of the amphibious assault vehicles, lifting it off the ground.

A thick, dark cloud filled the vehicle's interior. Some of the Marines donned gas masks, fearing a chemical attack. Screams pierced the smoke:

We got a man down! We got a man down!

The Marines' light armor had been pierced, and with it any illusion that this would be easy. They would take the bridge, but at a cost. Eighteen men from a single company were killed that day and 15 wounded, making it the deadliest battle of the war for U.S. forces.

Public attention, briefly riveted on the fighting in Nasiriyah, has since moved elsewhere. The struggle to rebuild Iraq and contain mounting guerrilla violence now occupies center stage. But the Marines of Charlie Company, now back home, are not ready to put that Sunday in March behind them.

They want to know why commanders sent them into an urban firefight without tanks, without protective plating for their vehicles and with only half the troops planned for the mission.

They want to know why an Air Force fighter strafed their positions as they struggled to hold the bridge, killing at least one Marine and possibly as many as six.

Five months later, the U.S. Central Command is still investigating the "friendly fire" episode. The Marine Corps has conducted its own review of the battle but said it will not release its findings until the other investigation is finished.

The Times reconstructed the battle from interviews with 11 Marines who fought that day. Their accounts paint a gory and chaotic picture of ground combat that contrasts with the many images of U.S. forces using precision bombs and long-distance weaponry against an enemy that quickly abandoned the fight.

In Nasiriyah, Iraqis stood their ground and threw all they could muster at the leading edge of the American forces. By day's end, the price of controlling the road to Baghdad had become gruesomely clear to both sides.

Charlie Company had reached Nasiriyah after pushing up 85 miles from Kuwait. Another Marine unit had seized a bridge leading into the city over the Euphrates River.

Charlie Company's mission on March 23 was to take a second bridge three miles north. Controlling both spans was crucial to moving a massive Marine Expeditionary Force to Baghdad.

Had things gone as planned, the 200 Marines in their lightly armored vehicles would have avoided the densely populated heart of Nasiriyah, a city of 500,000. They were supposed to take a roundabout route to the north bridge, swinging east of the city behind a dozen M1-A1 Abrams tanks and a second Marine unit, Bravo Company.

But Bravo Company's vehicles sank several feet deep in mud flats east of Nasiriyah. Its 200 men could not help take the bridge.

The tanks were also out of the fight, diverted on a rescue mission. The Army's 507th Maintenance Company had taken a wrong turn that morning and been ambushed near the city. Eleven soldiers were killed and seven captured, including Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

The Marines' tanks rushed to retrieve survivors, burning their fuel in the process. When they returned, they were sent to the rear to refuel just as Charlie Company was preparing to push north.

"Where the hell are the tanks going?" Cpl. Randy Glass recalled thinking. "Why the hell aren't the tanks in front of us?"

Despite the lack of armor and the stranding of Bravo's men, Charlie Company was ordered to take the north bridge and to get there by the most direct route -- a three-mile stretch of highway lined by buildings and alleyways. Some intelligence reports called it "Ambush Alley."

Lt. Col. Rick Grabowski, the battalion commander, said that going ahead made sense at the time. Though concerned about Ambush Alley, commanders did not anticipate a tough fight for the bridge, he said: "None of us really knew what was on the northern side of the city."

And time was of the essence. If they waited for the tanks to return or for troop reinforcements, the Marines risked fighting for the bridge in darkness, Grabowski said.

There was another factor driving the Marines forward that day. It reflected a state of mind as much as the state of the battlefield. "Keep moving" was the motto of Charlie Company's battle regiment.

"Once we were in the city and we made contact," Grabowski said, "there wasn't going to be any backing down."

When he got the order to move into the city, Sgt. William Schaefer thought he'd heard wrong.

"Say again," he called into his radio.

Schaefer was a commander at the head of Charlie Company's 11 amphibious assault vehicles.

The men inside were from the beach towns of Southern California, the hamlets of upstate New York and many places in between. One planned to enroll at Rutgers University in New Jersey when he got home. Another wanted to be a Reno cop. Some were immigrants. Others were from proud military families.

They were part of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and had shipped out in January from their base at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Their tub-shaped assault vehicles, called "tracks," are a 30-year-old design made for taking and holding beachheads. They are 26 feet long, carry up to 20 Marines each, and are armed with .50-caliber machine guns and grenade launchers.

Their reinforced-aluminum skin is vulnerable to artillery and rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs -- unlike the heavy armor on tanks. Thick steel plating can be attached to the tracks, but none was available to outfit Charlie Company's vehicles when they reached the war zone, the Marines said.

"Eight Ball, Oscar Mike," Schaefer barked into the radio, and with that signal the company was on the move.

The tracks crossed the Euphrates on the bridge captured earlier and moved single file up Ambush Alley. It was a little before noon. On both sides, a dense warren of mud-colored buildings pressed up against the road.

At first, the Iraqis seemed to welcome the Marines. A few waved white flags. Then, in a breath, the convoy was under attack from all directions. Iraqis were firing from rooftops, from around corners, from machine-gun nests hidden in side streets.

"We saw women shoot at us with RPGs.... We saw children shoot at us," recalled the company commander, Capt. Daniel J. Wittnam. "We never saw one person in uniform."

Returning the fire, Schaefer alternated between his machine gun and grenade launcher, working a foot pedal that spun his turret right, then left.

Schaefer, 25, of Columbia, S.C., said the Marines tried to distinguish between Iraqi fighters and noncombatants. "But at that point, it was hard."

The enemy, the Marines learned later, was a combination of Iraqi army soldiers, Fedayeen Saddam militiamen and Baath Party loyalists.

One man knelt and aimed an RPG at Schaefer's track. A burst of .50-caliber fire cut off the top half of the Iraqi's body.

"Pieces of people were all over the street," said Lance Cpl. Edward Castleberry, 21, who was at the wheel of Schaefer's vehicle.

Near the rear of the convoy, Sgt. Michael E. Bitz, 31, of Ventura was driving a track crowded with more than 20 Marines. Bitz and his crew had picked up extra men when the company's 12th track broke down outside town. Men were crammed on bench seats amid boxes of ammunition. Several were riding atop the vehicle.

In the middle of the column, Marines on another track shouted for more firepower to answer the torrent of incoming rounds. Lance Cpl. Eric Killeen, 22, a weightlifter from Florida's Gulf Coast, popped out of the hatch with his 15-pound squad automatic weapon, a machine gun that can spray 1,000 rounds per minute.

Killeen poured fire down side streets, into doorways, at second-story windows.

"My adrenaline was pumping so high," Killeen said. "Every emotion you can imagine was running through your body."

Castleberry, a Seattle snowboarder who'd joined the Marines the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, steered the lead vehicle with one hand and fired his M-16 rifle with the other.

"I figured one more gun couldn't hurt," he said.

The convoy pushed north, the tracks pausing and pivoting at times to allow gunners a better view. They were almost through the gantlet of Ambush Alley. Their objective, the Saddam Canal Bridge, was a few hundred yards away.

Inside Bitz's overcrowded track, it was dark and noisy. The air reeked of diesel fumes. Marines were on top of one another. Some stood on the shoulders of their comrades, firing M-16s from a hatch near the rear.

Glass, a 20-year-old from Pennsylvania who had joined the Marines hoping to see combat, was sharing a menthol cigarette with Sgt. Jose Torres when an explosion lifted the 28-ton vehicle into the air. "Immediately, I went deaf," Glass recalled.

An RPG had punctured the track's aluminum body -- and with it the Marines' faith in their technological edge. Their tubs were not meant for this kind of fight -- especially without the bolt-on armor plating.

"My eyes! My eyes!" shouted Torres, temporarily blinded.

"Glass is dead!" someone screamed in the chaos.

Glass wasn't dead, but his left leg was a bleeding mass.

Up top, the explosion had torched rucksacks tied to the track, turning them into balls of fire.

Bitz drove the burning vehicle forward. This was no place to stop.

"Keep it tight! Keep it tight!" Schaefer shouted into the radio, not wanting any stragglers left behind.

The tracks finally crossed the Saddam Canal Bridge, a nondescript concrete span over an irrigation channel. Though it seemed an eternity, the trip had taken only a few minutes. On each side were swampy irrigation ditches and brush. Beyond was open flatland. The road was raised, and Charlie Company was an easy target.

The tracks fanned out over a quarter-mile-wide area. Marines in charcoal-lined chemical suits and Kevlar flak vests poured out of the vehicles and sought cover on both sides of the road.

They had taken the bridge. Holding it was another matter. Small-arms fire exploded from the fields to the east and west and from the city to the rear.

Marines scrambled out of Bitz's burning track. A release on the rear loading ramp didn't work, so the men piled out through a small hatch, climbing over the wounded.

Schaefer helped carry out Glass, whose left leg had been tied with a tourniquet.

Bitz was carrying injured Marines to cover when a shell exploded, spraying him with shrapnel. Blood streamed from his face and back as he continued hauling the wounded to safety.

"He was acting like nothing was wrong," Schaefer said.

A plume of black smoke rose from Bitz's track. Mortar shells landed on each side. The Iraqis quickly adjusted their aim and slammed the vehicle.

Burning ammunition began punching out the track's sides.

Cpl. William Bachmann, 22, a New Jersey skateboarder, was wedging his lanky frame into a nearby depression when he saw a flash of light from the vehicle. A large-caliber round flew past him. "If I was standing up," he said, "I would have been hit."

Cpl. Randal Rosacker of San Diego set up his machine gun, providing cover for other Marines. His is a military family; his father is chief of boat on a Navy submarine. Rosacker, 21, was cut down by an Iraqi artillery round or mortar shell, said Wittnam, the company commander. He was one of the first Marines to die that day.

The company's 15-man mortar squad set up a row of launchers on the east side of the road.

The squad had no time to dig foxholes. The Marines worked three launchers furiously, knocking out Iraqi mortar positions across the canal. They fired so many rounds so quickly that their mortar tubes were glowing, almost translucent. "They were pretty much melting their tubes," said Castleberry.

Outnumbered by the Iraqis' mortar positions, the squad was a prime target. Incoming shells were landing closer and closer. Finally, the Iraqi mortars found their mark. Nine members of the squad would die before the battle was over.

Second Lt. Frederick Pokorney Jr., a 6-foot-7-inch former basketball player, tried to call in artillery strikes on the Iraqis. A 31-year-old father from Nevada, he was the company's forward artillery observer. He had trouble getting through on his field radio and moved to higher ground for better reception.

An RPG hit him in the chest, fatally wounding him.

As the casualties mounted, Wittnam wanted helicopters to evacuate the wounded. But there was "no way in hell" they could land, he said. "It was too hot."

Navy Corpsman Luis Fonseca, 22, was giving morphine to Glass and another wounded Marine in one of the tracks. With a black marker, he scrawled "1327" on Glass' head, indicating the time the painkiller was administered.

The medic ran up and down the road looking for wounded when he saw Wittnam. "We're starting to win this battle," Fonseca recalled the captain saying.

Fonseca wasn't convinced. "I know there's a bullet with my name on it," he recalled thinking. "I'm gonna do my job until I get hit."

Machine gunners needed more ammunition. Sgt. Brendon C. Reiss, 23, a squad leader, and Cpl. Kemaphoom Chanawongse, 22, a Thai immigrant from Connecticut, ran to get more ammo boxes from one of the vehicles.

An artillery round exploded, killing Chanawongse and fatally wounding Reiss.

Around 1:30 p.m., Schaefer decided to evacuate the wounded, even though it meant going back through Ambush Alley. All 11 tracks had made it across the bridge. Schaefer lined up six of them in a column to head south.

"I was willing to take a chance because we had guys bleeding to death," he said. "I was tired of seeing people getting killed."

Bachmann and Lance Cpl. Donald Cline, 21, a former surfer raised in La Crescenta, were firing from behind a mound of earth. Word came that volunteers were needed to load the wounded onto the vehicles.

"I'm going to help," Cline said, running toward the tracks spread out north of the bridge. It was the last time Bachmann saw his friend alive.

The Marines heard the plane before they saw it. The Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt, known as the Warthog, flies ground-support missions, using its heavy gun.

Cpl. Jared Martin, 29, a former high school wrestler from Phoenix, was outside Schaefer's track when he heard the growl of the jet fighter's twin engines. Its 30-millimeter cannon, which can shoot 3,900 rounds per minute, whipped up dense clouds of sand.

"He was low," Martin said. "He was coming right toward us. The next thing I know I'm feeling a lot of heat in my back."

Blood streamed from his right knee and left hand. A piece of shrapnel lodged below his eye. "My fingers, they were pretty much dangling," Martin said.

Lance Cpl. David Fribley, 26, of Florida, was just steps from the cover of Schaefer's vehicle when rounds from the A-10 tore into his chest. "I wore what was inside of his body on my gear for a couple of days," Martin said.

To ward off the friendly fire, the Marines shot flares, which streaked the sky with green smoke.

The Marines said the A-10 made several strafing runs before it broke away.

Schaefer hoisted a U.S. flag on his turret. He hoped the Warthog pilot would see it and hold his fire. He also wanted the tracks behind to be able to keep him in sight. "Watch for the flag," he radioed to the convoy of six vehicles heading south with the wounded.

As the column started back toward Ambush Alley, one of the tracks exploded. Inside another track, Marines heard bullets bouncing off the aluminum skin. Glass, who had already been in one track that broke down, turned to Cpl. Mike Meade, whose leg was also injured.

"This track stalls and we're getting out," Glass said. "It's a death trap." A minute later, the vehicle stopped. Glass and Meade struggled out.

Fonseca, the medic, heard the whistle of incoming shells and shoved a sergeant on top of Glass and another injured Marine. Then he piled on top to give added protection. Three RPGs flew by and exploded about 100 feet away.

"I need to save these boys," he recalled thinking. "I need to take them back home."

Glass saw an A-10 fire on one of the tracks. It's unclear whether it was the same jet that had flown over earlier. Two of the aircraft appeared to be operating in the area, Marines said.

"The A-10 came down hard and lit the track up," Glass said. "There's no mistake about it."

Torres was lying nearby when he saw the jet bearing down on him. "It was slow motion," he said. "I turned at the last moment to avoid a direct hit."

Still, the Warthog's rounds tore through his left side. "When he pulls the trigger," Martin said of the pilot, "it's just a wall of blood."

Grabowski, the battalion commander, said that as many as six Marines may have been killed by A-10 fire. Wittnam believes it was one.

Schaefer's convoy, now down to five vehicles, was crossing the bridge. In front, a track that normally carried the mortar squad had several Marines inside. As the track came off the bridge, an Iraqi shell dropped down the left-side cargo hatch, ripping the vehicle in half.

"A hand and arm bounced across the front of my vehicle," said Schaefer. The remaining vehicles raced around the burning track.

The rear of one track was crushed by an Iraqi shell, killing the wounded Bitz. The driver kept going.

The four surviving tracks made it to Ambush Alley. They were met by gunfire from all sides.

Bullets ripped through Schaefer's transmission fluid tank, and Castleberry felt the steering wheel freeze. "Hold on!" he shouted over the intercom as the track careened toward a light pole.

Castleberry gunned the 525-horsepower diesel engine, hoping to knock down the pole. But the track slammed to a halt, swinging to the left toward a two-story concrete house.

An RPG blew away the track's front hatch, six inches above Castleberry's head. Stunned, his face and hair singed, he jumped into the street. Schaefer radioed to the three surviving tracks: "Don't stop. Keep going."

Inside the disabled track, a dozen Marines grabbed ammunition containers and the wounded and headed for the house.

Schaefer and two other Marines, one injured, were pinned down outside the track. "Then all hell broke out," Schaeffer said. "They just started coming out of nowhere, hundreds of them."

Iraqis were charging the Marines. Schaefer aimed his M-16 and quickly used up two 29-round clips as he killed some of the attackers and forced others to take cover.

"When you're scared," he said, "you pull your finger pretty fast."

Two of the other Marines, meanwhile, scaled an 8-foot wall and went into the house. An Iraqi man and woman ran out the back door.

The Marines hoisted the wounded over the wall and put them inside. The windows of the house were hidden by piles of sandbags and sacks of flour. In one room were pictures of Saddam Hussein and a man who looked like Jesus.

Out on the street, Schaefer and the two other Marines were holding off the advancing Iraqis.

Then the driver and a crewman from the track that had been ripped in half at the bridge appeared in the street. One was blinded. The other was limping.

"We're laying cover fire for them," Schaefer said, "and they hobbled inside."

Schaefer was on his last magazine clip. This is it, he recalled thinking: They're going to overrun me.

Then he heard the roar of a track driven by Cpl. Michael Brown. He had disregarded Schaefer's instructions to continue and had turned around. Scooping up the three Marines, Brown took off in a rain of enemy fire.

"He saved my life," Schaefer said.

About seven Marines took up positions on the roof of the house. Martin, his wounds patched up, spotted two men peeking around a corner with an RPG. He fired and they fell.

Martin looked at his watch. It was about 3 p.m. "We have about two hours before the sun goes down," he thought. "Then we're gonna be real screwed."

The man who lived in the house burst through the back door yelling. He entered the room where the wounded were being guarded, Castleberry said, and was shot dead.

A lance corporal with the only operable radio called other units at the south end of the city for help. But the battery was low, and he couldn't tell whether the message was getting through.

With Iraqis now 20 yards from the building, the Marines on the roof were going through hundreds of rounds. Castleberry had fired so many grenades from his M-16 that the plastic hand grip on his launcher was melting.

Two Iraqis sped by on a motorcycle, the passenger firing an AK-47. On a second pass, one Marine hit the driver, spilling the bike. As the gunman tried to escape on the motorcycle, Castleberry unleashed another grenade. He saw a flash and the man's body blew apart.

The ammunition was running low. Castleberry and another Marine dashed to the disabled track, grabbing antitank missiles and crates of bullets as they dodged enemy rounds.

On the roof, Martin and other Marines were trying to use shards of broken glass to reflect sunlight and get the attention of U.S. Cobra helicopter gunships overhead.

Below, Iraqi fighters were trying to reach the abandoned track, with its load of weapons and ammunition. "We're hitting them," Martin recalled, "watching them drop."

He remembers a strange sensation. "Your body and brain ain't working like a normal person's would. Some people will snap. Some people will go off the edge. Everyone reacts differently," Martin said. "I was having fun."

Marines at the south bridge had picked up the radioed pleas for help and organized a rescue party.

The first vehicle to arrive was a Humvee carrying a grizzled gunnery sergeant from another company. He was firing a pump-action shotgun out the passenger window as Marines on the roof sprayed cover fire.

"What do you need?" he shouted.

Water and radio batteries, the Marines answered.

"I'll be back," the sergeant said.

An M1-A1 tank arrived soon after and took away the wounded. The gunnery sergeant returned with Humvees to rescue the remaining Marines.

As the vehicles unleashed heavy fire in several directions, forcing the Iraqi fighters to take cover, the sergeant stepped onto the street and lit a cigarette.

"God, I hate this ... place," he said. "Let's get the hell out of here."

Part of Charlie Company was still pinned down at the north bridge.

Lance Cpl. Killeen, the Florida weightlifter, and his platoon were in the swamp near the span. He could hear enemy soldiers nearby.

"I thought they were going to sandwich us," Killeen said. "I figured my life was all over."

It was nearing 4 p.m. and the sun was getting low.

The ground rumbled and Killeen climbed toward the bridge. If Iraqi tanks were coming, then the company was almost certainly lost, he recalled thinking.

As the tanks neared the canal, he saw they were American. These were the tanks that had spent their fuel retrieving members of the Army maintenance company that had been ambushed. Refueling had taken longer than expected because the pumps malfunctioned; it had to done by hand.

When they learned that Charlie Company was taking a pounding, the tank crews cut short the refueling and rushed back to Nasiriyah.

Now they were firing their 120-millimeter guns at Iraqi positions.

"It was the best feeling in the world," Killeen recalled.

As the Marines prepare for a memorial service today at Camp Lejeune, many are trying to recover from wounds both mental and physical.

Glass, recuperating in his hometown of Bethlehem, Pa., has had 11 surgeries to remove shrapnel, dead muscle and metal pins from his leg, wounded by an Iraqi RPG. His fibula has been removed and he's had several skin grafts. He'll be on crutches at least two more months.

Martin had eight chunks of shrapnel from the A-10 removed from his hands and legs on the battlefield. Two additional pieces were removed from his arm in June on a Navy ship returning him to North Carolina. He's awaiting plastic surgery to remove another piece below his right eye.

Torres, who was also hit by the A-10, walks with the help of crutches as he recovers from shrapnel wounds to his right leg and left side. He was recently released from the Bethesda naval hospital in Maryland and is working to regain movement in his left foot.

"I'm still here," he said. "That's all I thank God for."

Some of the Charlie Company Marines prefer not to talk about what happened that day. Others break down as they recall how the men around them fell. Castleberry still pictures the faces of the youngest Iraqi fighters. Some looked to be 12 years old.

"It was kind of sad," he said. "You see these kids who don't know anything getting shot to pieces because they're trying to shoot at you."

Others talk about waking up in the night, the battle for the bridge playing over and over in their heads.

"We all have nightmares every night. We're in some combat scenario and it's always the same guys getting killed," Schaefer said. "Your memory's just like a damn camera. Especially when you're alone."


On March 23, the fourth day of the Iraq war, 18 Marines died fighting to take a bridge in Nasiriyah. Nine served in a mortar squad that came under intense Iraqi bombardment.

Sgt. Michael E. Bitz, 31, of Ventura drove an amphibious assault vehicle, or track. He was wounded helping injured Marines and was killed by an Iraqi shell.

Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Blair, 24, of Broken Arrow, Okla., was part of an air-defense team. He disappeared in the fighting and was later confirmed as killed in action.

Lance Cpl. Brian R. Buesing, 20, of Cedar Key, Fla., was in the mortar squad. His grandfather served in the same squad in the Korean War and won a Silver Star.

Pfc. Tamario D. Burkett, 21, of Buffalo, N.Y., was a poet, an artist and the oldest of seven children. He was with the mortar squad.

Cpl. Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, 22, of Waterford, Conn., a Thai immigrant, was a crew commander. He was hit by artillery fire while trying to retrieve ammunition.

Lance Cpl. Donald J. Cline Jr., 21, of Sparks, Nev., was a rifleman. He said he was going to help wounded Marines and was not seen again. He was later confirmed dead.

Lance Cpl. David K. Fribley, 26, of Fort Myers, Fla., joined the service after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was killed by friendly fire from an Air Force A-10 fighter.

Cpl. Jose A. Garibay, 21, of Costa Mesa, a Mexican immigrant, was part of the mortar squad. A shell destroyed a vehicle evacuating him and other wounded Marines.

Pvt. Jonathan L. Gifford, 30, of Decatur, Ill., an outdoorsman, was a member of the mortar squad.

Cpl. Jorge A. Gonzalez, 20, of El Monte wanted to become a police officer. He was with the mortar squad.

Pvt. Nolen R. Hutchings, 19, of Boiling Springs, S.C., enlisted in the Marines after high school. He was with the mortar squad.

Staff Sgt. Phillip A. Jordan, 42, of Enfield, Conn., had served 15 years in the Marines. He was with the mortar squad.

2nd Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney Jr., 31, of Tonopah, Nev., was a forward artillery observer. He died trying to call in artillery strikes on Iraqi positions.

Lance Cpl. Patrick R. Nixon, 21, of Gallatin, Tenn., came from a family whose members had served in every major conflict since World War I. He was with the mortar squad.

Sgt. Brendon C. Reiss, 23, of Casper, Wyo., was a squad leader who had recently reenlisted. He was running to get more ammunition when he was hit.

Cpl. Randal K. Rosacker, 21, of San Diego was a machine gunner who was providing cover fire after the Marines crossed the bridge. He was one of the first Americans killed.

Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Slocum, 22, of Thornton, Colo., was in the hatch of a vehicle taking wounded Marines to the rear when he was hit.

Lance Cpl. Michael J. Williams, 31, of Phoenix gave up a flooring business to join the Marines. He was with the mortar squad.

Copyright (c) 2003 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

© Copyright 2003, Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, August 26, 2003


Via: Milinet
"Reprinted from Proceedings with Permission -
Copyright © 2003 U.S. Naval Institute."

August 2003


Where Are My Leaders?

Sgt. Dugald M. Tonn, USMC

This is a situation report from the most important part of the Marine
Corps-the "trenches," where the glamorous plans created at higher
headquarters are executed. Here, at the bottom, is reality.

Down here there is no time for politics. There is no brain-warping
terminology for every different mission undertaken, and every confrontation
is "high intensity," whether termed a low-intensity conflict or a military
operation other than war.

I know I need to be trained hard, realistically, and thoroughly to survive
and accomplish my mission. I must be led from the front by example-not by
intimidation or edict. My fellow noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and I have
to be trained and tempered to develop the leadership qualities needed on
lethal battlefields. Regrettably, this is not what we see down here.

Although it looked at first glance as if the Corps was shucking its
peacetime shackles and readjusting to the deadly business of war fighting in the
aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks, there was insufficient combat
training. It was peacetime business as usual: for example, energetically
issued orders from higher headquarters that reflective belts be worn while
running during periods of reduced visibility, and mandated classes on drunk
driving and the effects of sexually transmitted disease. Before the dust
from the collapsed World Trade Center towers had settled, my unit-which has
no women assigned to it-had to complete Defense Advisory Committee on Women
in the Service questionnaires on equal opportunity. True resurgence of
preparation for combat never happened. Down here, we were stunned.

It seems the priorities and focus of most officers and staff NCOs have
changed. Could it be that leaders are so worried about how they look on
paper they have been overcome by risk aversion? Is a leader's tour of duty
successful if it is uneventful? From where I stand, risk aversion has become
the defacto benchmark for today's careerists. Training too often is watered
down to ensure nothing goes awry-not for troop safety, but for protecting
careers. Tough training for war often is overcome by administrative events.

Rather than empowering NCOs, the micromanagement of attrition warfare
remains the norm. The three-block war, where small-unit leaders are expected to make
judgment calls and decisions that would give pause to seasoned company-grade
officers, is not being practiced. Leaders fear NCOs will make mistakes that
cause the leaders to look bad. But NCOs cannot learn to make decisions by
reading books and listening to lectures. They need to soak up lessons
learned through trial and error, so that one day, in the heat of future
combat, they can make decisions that bring their Marines home victoriously
and safely.

Bureaucratic demands have produced mind-numbing rules and regulations that
make perfect paperwork more important than effective training. Formatted
briefs and planning guidelines are tools to use in building good habits and
ensuring nothing is omitted. They are not the main goal. Today's leaders,
however, train to craft perfect plans on paper and make the prettiest
presentations with all the computer support imaginable. Substance has been
superceded by form.

Careerism hazards the bond of trust between the leader and the led. A good
Marine will follow orders. Whether he follows willingly, however, depends on
that bond. If the leader shows he cares more about himself and his career
than his troops, there will be no bond-and, in my view, that bond is not
down here. Other than formal room inspections, I never have seen a staff NCO
or officer in any unit to which I have been assigned visit the barracks
after hours or on weekends to see how his Marines live, what they are doing, and what they are
thinking. Were such visits part of the "old Corps" that has gone by the wayside?

The fact we are warriors appears to have been forgotten. Regardless of
politically correct polishing of mission statements and warfighting
publications, the harsh nature and stark reality of war remains. My leaders
seem almost embarrassed by this, as if training to attack and kill the enemy
is somehow wrong. Sessions on consideration of others, equal opportunity,
and sexual harassment may be personnel management priorities in peace time,
but they must not become the Marine Corps' point of main effort. Management
should not supplant leadership.

Fancy technology, transformational equipment, and modernized weapons are
important. Leadership by example is vital-and down here, we will return 110%
on that investment.

Sergeant Tonn, a reconnaissance team leader in the 2d Reconnaissance
Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, recently returned from deployment
with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.


Sunday, August 24, 2003


Gone, but not forgotten by Marines: Family of Medal of Honor recipient visits Pless Hall
Submitted by: MCB Hawaii
Story Identification Number: 2003822171857
Story by Sgt. Joe Lindsay

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii(Aug. 22, 2003) -- The annals of Marine Corps history are filled with many heroes, and though it would perhaps be unwise to compare their valor and sacrifice, it would be safe to say that Maj. Stephen W. Pless, the first and only Marine aviator to receive the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, was as brave as they come.

Pless, a Newnan, Ga., native, who survived 780 combat helicopter missions in Vietnam, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in Pensacola, Fla., on July 20, 1969, just six months after being presented with the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon Baines Johnson at a White House ceremony.

Pless was survived by his pregnant wife, Jo Ann, (who had their fourth child two months after his death); mother, Nancy; and older brother Travis. Also surviving Pless was his first cousin, Ken Ray, who was more like a brother than a cousin to Pless, as the two were often raised together in the same house.

Recently, Ray, a native of Decatur, Ga., and his wife, Dina, a native of Lake Jackson, Texas, visited MCB Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, to see the installation where Pless was once stationed. They especially were interested in visiting Pless Hall, the building named for Ray's cousin, which now serves as home to the Base Thrift Shop.

"It means an awful lot for me to visit here," said Ray, who now, along with his wife, calls Jackson, Miss., home. "Stephen and I grew up together, and it has always been a dream of mine to visit Kaneohe Bay and see the hall named after him. His memory is very special to our entire family."

That memory is especially strong to Ray's aunt Nancy (Pless's mother). She requested that her nephew come back home with photos of the hall.

"Ever since Stephen's death, the Marine Corps has stayed in touch with Nancy," said Ray. "It just shows that when the Marine Corps says things like 'Once a Marine, Always a Marine,' and 'Semper Fi,' that these are not just catch phrases, but that there is real meaning and merit behind the words.

"The Marine Corps is like a family, and they don't forget their own. That has meant so much to our family over the years."
The Rays recently had twin sons, the oldest (albeit by two minutes) they named Aidan Stephen.

"I never knew Steve, but I've heard so much about him," said Dina, her voice drifting off into tears. "Now that we have a child named after him, his legacy means so much personally to me now.

"I want my sons to know all about him, and what he did for his country," she said.

One place where little Aidan Stephen could learn more about his famous cousin when he gets older would simply be from asking any Marine he might run into, as Pless remains one of Corps' greatest legends.

"In boot camp, we learn about all the heroes of the Marine Corps," said Cpl. Steven Jenkins, a Headquarters Bn., MCB Hawaii, administrative clerk. "Of course, Chesty Puller, Dan Daly and Smedley Butler always jump to a Marine's mind, but Major Stephen Pless is one Marine that always stands out for me.

"For one, he basically went on a suicide mission to save those men in Vietnam," Jenkins explained. "He had to know there was probably no way he was going to survive, but he refused to leave American fighting men behind.

"Somehow he survived and got them all to safety. That's why Marines fight so hard, because they know there are men like Major Pless who've got their backs. That's why Marines are called a brotherhood.

"Major Pless is the poster of what you would want a Marine to be."

Indeed, Pless had a storied military career, Medal of Honor notwithstanding. When he was promoted to the rank of major, Pless became the youngest Marine officer of that rank in the Marine Corps.

Among his medals and ribbons - which are far too numerous to mention in their entirety - are the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Navy Commendation Medal with Combat V and the Purple Heart.

"Stephen started out as an enlisted man, and had great aspirations," said Ray. "He had it in his mind that he was going to be commandant some day. There were no selfish motives behind his dream; he was just a goal setter. He was an inspiration.

"God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and I think Stephen was an example of that," added Ray. "He was my hero long before he became a hero in the war. He always will be."

Photos included with story:

for service as set forth in the following

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a helicopter gunship pilot attached to Marine Observation Squadron Six in action against enemy forces near Quang Ngai, Republic of Vietnam, on 19 August 1967.

During an escort mission Major (then Captain) Pless monitored an emergency call that four American soldiers stranded on a nearby beach, were being overwhelmed by a large Viet Cong force. Major Pless flew to the scene and found 30 to 50 enemy soldiers in the open. Some of the enemy were bayoneting and beating the downed Americans. Major Pless displayed exceptional airmanship as he launched a devastating attack against the enemy force, killing or wounding many of the enemy and driving the remainder back into a treeline. His rocket and machine gun attacks were made at such low levels that the aircraft flew through debris created by explosions from its rockets.

Seeing one of the wounded soldiers gesture for assistance, he maneuvered his helicopter into a position between the wounded men and the enemy, providing a shield which permitted his crew to retrieve the wounded. During the rescue the enemy directed intense fire at the helicopter and rushed the aircraft again and again, closing to within a few feet before being beaten back. When the wounded men were aboard, Major Pless maneuvered the helicopter out to sea. Before it became safely airborne, the overloaded aircraft settled four times into the water.

Displaying superb airmanship, he finally got the helicopter aloft. Major Pless' extraordinary heroism coupled with his outstanding flying skill prevented the annihilation of the tiny force. His courageous actions reflect great credit upon himself and uphold the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.


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Wednesday, August 20, 2003


Why America Lost the "Civil War"

contributed by Nat G. Rudulph
Selma, Alabama

"Civil War" is at best a misleading name for that conflict. Many Southerners avoid using it because of the implication that there were factions in every locality. "Civil" means "relating to the people within a community." The term describes only one aspect of the event, and subtly discredits Southerners defending home and country, rather than fomenting a political coup. The typical Southern community was not divided at all. Dixie was that community, and the consensus in Dixie was to defy strangers and meddlers from the North who insisted on ruling and intended to invade. The typical Southerner fought for independence. There were (and still are) more differences between Yankees and Southerners than between Yankees and English-speaking Canadians.

It was a civil war, but not on the battlefield. It was a civil war in New York City when a draft protest turned into a rampaging mob of 70,000. That civil war lasted four days because all the available troops were at Gettysburg, fighting soldiers from another land. It was a civil war when they returned and fired into this New York crowd, killing nearly 2,000 of their own divided "community."

It was a civil war when Illinois' Governor Yates reported an "insurrection in Edgar County. Union men on one side, Copperheads on the other. They have had two battles." It was a civil war for the Union Army when the 109th Illinois had to be disbanded because its men were Southern sympathisers. It was a civil war in Indiana when thousands of draft resisters hid in enclaves. From the governor: "Matters assume grave import. Two hundred mounted armed men in Rush county have today resisted arrest of deserters . . . southern Indiana is ripe for revolution."

The governors of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York reported that they could not enforce the draft without 10-20,000 troops in each state. Violent opposition struck in Wisconsin and Michigan. Four thousand Pennsylvanians refused to march south. Sherman wrote: "Mutiny was common to the whole army, and it was not subdued till several regiments, or parts of regiments had been ordered to Fort Jefferson, Florida, as punishment."

It was not a civil war in those parts of the South removed from the border regions. Had it been a civil war, Lincoln's government could have leveraged local support to subdue those states brutally, as it did in Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia. Union policy was to treat border state combatants as renegades under martial law instead of as legitimate armed forces.

Marylanders were similar to Virginians strongly Southern, but cautious. However, when Lincoln called for troops to coerce the states, Virginia seceded. Immediately, Lincoln moved to secure Maryland. Habeus corpus was suspended and Southern sympathisers arrested in Baltimore. General Banks dissolved the Baltimore police board. Secretary of War Cameron wrote him: "The passage of any act of secession by the legislature of Maryland must be prevented. If necessary all or any part of the members must be arrested." Arrests were sufficient to prevent a vote. The mayor of Baltimore, most of the city government, and newspaper editors were jailed. One of those editors was the grandson of the author of The Star Spangled Banner. Francis Key Howard wrote of his imprisonment:

When I looked out in the morning, I could not help being struck by an odd and not pleasant coincidence. On that same day forty-seven years before, my grandfather, Mr Francis Scott Key, then prisoner on a British ship, had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry. When on the following morning the hostile fleet drew off, defeated, he wrote the song so long popular. . . . As I stood upon the very scene of that conflict, I could not but contrast my position with his, forty-seven years before. The flag which he had then so proudly hailed, I saw waving at the same place over the victims of as vulgar and brutal despotism as modern times have witnessed.

Documents of the period show more than 38,000 political prisoners in northern jails. In The Life of William H. Seward, Bancroft wrote: The person "suspected" of disloyalty was often seized at night, borne off to the nearest fort. . . . Month after month many of them were crowded together in gloomy and damp casemates, where even dangerous pirates captured on privateers ought not to have remained long. Many had committed no overt act. There were among them editors and political leaders of character and honour, but whose freedom would be prejudicial to the prosecution of the war.

Lincoln suspended habeas corpus everywhere, arrested candidates, and banished Ohio congressman Vallandigham from the country. More than 300 newspapers were closed. Secretary of War Stanton told a visitor, "If I tap that little bell, I can send you to a place where you will never again hear the dogs bark." Neither habeas corpus nor freedom of the press were ever suspended in the South, even in the most desperate of times. The Raleigh News and Observer wrote after the war "It is to the honour of the Confederate government that no Confederate secretary could touch a bell and send a citizen to prison."

Yankee power was most unrestrained in Missouri. From its initial defiant movement of troops, the Union routinely escalated hostilities. They encouraged atrocities, insidiously veiled behind a facade of inept negligence. They exhibited arrogance and contempt for law, their own constitution, Southerners, and life itself.

The authorities entered private homes without warrant or provocation, seizing arms and other properties. They required written permits for travel. Random "drive-by" shootings of citizens from trains by soldiers were commonplace. Citizens were fined, jailed, banished, and even executed for as little as expressing dissent, or upon the accusation of a government informer. Authorities called citizens to their door in the middle of the night and shot them or took them away. Amnesty was promised to partisans, but many who attempted to surrender were executed. Men like Frank and Jesse James witnessed these things and vowed never to accept a pardon from such a government.

Senator Jim Lane, known as "the grim chieftain of Kansas," ravaged Missouri. Halleck wrote McClellan: "I receive almost daily complaints of outrages committed by these men in the name of the United States, and the evidence is so conclusive as to leave no doubt of their correctness . . . Lane has been made a brigadier-general. I cannot conceive of a more injudicious appointment . . . offering a premium for rascality and robbing." McClellan gave the letter to Lincoln. After reading it, Lincoln turned it over and wrote on the back, "An excellent letter, though I am sorry General Halleck is so unfavourably impressed with General Lane."

September 1862 brought executions for refusing to swear allegiance to the U.S. In October at Palmyra, Missouri, ten political prisoners and POWs were executed because a Union informer disappeared. Soon afterwards, Lincoln promoted to brigadier-general the man responsible.

In 1863 General Ewing imprisoned as many wives, mothers, and sisters of Quantrill's Confederate partisan band as could be found. The building housing most of them collapsed in August, killing many. Ewing had been warned that the building was in danger of collapse, and the guerrillas believed that it had been deliberate. In retaliation Quantrill sacked and burned Lawrence, Kansas. Ewing then issued an order forcing all persons in four counties of western Missouri living more than a mile from a military base to leave the state. They were forced from their homes at gunpoint and escorted away. Then all property was destroyed. Cass County, which had a population of 10,000 was reduced to 600 by this "ethnic cleansing." Union Colonel Lazear wrote his wife that the ensuing arson was so thorough that only stone chimneys could be seen for hundreds of miles. "It is heart sickening to see what I have seen since I have been back here. A desolated country, men, women, and children, some of them almost naked. Some on foot and some in wagons. Oh God."

Loyalty oaths and bonds were required of all citizens. If guerrillas attacked, property in the area was confiscated and sold at auction. Suspects were imprisoned and by 1864 the mortality rate of Union-held prisoners had reached fifty percent. Union Surgeon George Rex reported: Undergoing the confinement in these crowded and insufficiently ventilated quarters are many citizen prisoners, against whom the charges are of a very trivial character, or perhaps upon investigation . . . no charges at all are sustained.

The Union implemented Sherman's philosophy of war against civilians. He wrote: "To the petulant and persistent secessionist, why, death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better. . . . There is a class of people . . . who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order." To General Sheridan, Sherman wrote: ". . . the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright rather than in conquest of territory. . . a great deal of it yet remains to be done, therefore, I shall expect you on any and all occasions to make bloody results." To General Kilpatrick he wrote: "It is petty nonsense for Wheeler and Beauregard and such vain heroes to talk of our warring against women and children. If they claim to be men they should defend their women and children and prevent us reaching their homes." In a moment of candour he wrote Grant: "You and I and every commander must go through the war justly chargeable with crimes."

While ransacking Georgia, Sherman removed two thousand women, children, and elderly to Ohio where they were forced to work in Union war factories. Families were separated, property confiscated, and even wedding bands taken from their hands. The U.S. never tried to reunite them.

Crimes were committed on both sides, but the Confederate offenses were a fraction of the Federals'.

The Southern leadership spoke and acted against abuses, while Lincoln ran a "loose ship" of administration, under which authorities could tacitly countenance abuses while professing to be against them. Lincoln once asked McClellan if he could get close enough to Richmond to shell the civilian population of the city. When Jefferson Davis was urged to retaliate in kind, and adopt a cruel war policy like the U.S., cabinet member Judah P. Benjamin said "he was immovable in resistance to such counsels, insisting that it was repugnant to every sentiment of justice and humanity that the innocent should be made victims for the crimes of such monsters."

America lost the "civil war" because she lost her soul. You opine that those were necessary war measures? Then why were they never employed by the Confederacy even in the dark days of imminent defeat? It was because the South still adhered to the transcendence of principle. The South did not believe that the end justified the means. Most Southerners believed that right and wrong and truth were God-given, and not man's creation. Therefore, man had to submit to them. It was not man's place to decide that principles could be abandoned when expedient. Robert E. Lee said it best: "There is a true glory and a true honour; the glory of duty done the honour of the integrity of principle."

Transcendence means "above and independent of, and supreme." To recognise the transcendence of principle is to recognise that there are absolutes, and that absolutes must come from a Creator. It is to acknowledge that these absolutes are not social constructs that have evolved over time or situational posits that can be altered when fashionable. This humility leads men to respect authority, honour their heritage, and submit to the wisdom that has preceded them, acknowledging their own dependence, and not imagining that they are autonomous, without accountability.

It is chiefly social and familial accountability, enabled by the presence of law written in the conscience of humanity, which restrains the evil that is present within man, thereby establishing civilisation. The reality of evil within humanity is evident in the corrupting effect of power, since power is of itself neither good nor evil. Power, in its simplest form, is the lack of restraint, while restraint is accountability in some form. Enduring and benevolent civilisations have recognised this and embraced restraints to ensure that human power would not be concentrated to their detriment. The Constitution was a codified restraint of this kind.

Restraints on the central government are as necessary to protect us from tyranny as the balance between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The limits are proportional to the power retained by the states, because the states are the only entities capable of enforcing meaningful restraint upon the federal government. Although they originally delegated limited power to that government, it has usurped all the power. That usurpation became unstoppable after the South lost, because the tenth amendment became a dead letter, and all the states lost. The possibility of secession was the only deterrent sufficient to guarantee states the sovereignty necessary to hold the central power accountable.

The victors justified themselves to the world and history by brute force and sly obfuscation. The elimination of slavery was trumpeted as the justifying crown of victory. As to saving the Union, is that not like preserving a marriage by beating the wife into submission?

The result is the humanist monster-state, and activist judges who reinvent what the constitution means. They have lost the ability to understand and receive it, since they have abandoned the transcendence of principle. They will always find a way to make themselves the final authority. New amendments designed to strengthen the plain intent of the Founding Fathers will eventually fail, because no loophole can be drawn so tight as to eliminate a scoundrel.

Both sides lost. The U.S. lost its character and began the abandonment of transcendent foundations. Dixie lost its will to live. Yet where principles remain- under cold ashes, deeply buried remains an ember of hope. And where there is a smouldering hope, the fire may yet burn again.

Mr Rudulph is the SL Southwest Alabama District Chairman.

DixieNet™ is maintained by Apologia Services © Copyright 1995-1998, The League of the South, Inc., Tuscaloosa, Alabama, CSA. All rights reserved. Last revised on Tuesday, 03 November 1998.
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By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)

Monday, August 18, 2003


Reprinted from
From the Shores of Parris Island
Phil Brennan
Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2003 Sixty years ago today, Nov. 5, 1943, I went over to New York with my 14-year-old brother. I was 17 years old and about to embark on that sea of uncertainty known as adulthood, which lapped the shores of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, S.C., my destination that day.

We stood around having an awkward conversation of the kind one has with his kid brother when neither of you knows what to say, as the time for saying goodbye approached. When it came, we shook hands and Jim turned and headed for home.

As he slowly faded from sight down Lexington Avenue, what was happening suddenly rolled over me like an onrushing Sherman tank and I thought, "What in God's name have I done?"

Then I boarded the bus that would take me and a few dozen other Marine Corps recruits to the train station where the journey south – and the end of my sheltered youth – would begin.

Sometimes I try to reflect on the meaning of it all. Why did I cut the closest – and most comfortable – of family ties on what was essentially a spur-of-the-moment impulse? What did I learn as a result of that impulse? How much of what happened during the next three years helped shape the man I am today? And a lot of the answers still largely elude me.

It's easy to say that I came into the Corps as a kid and emerged as a man, but that begs the question: What kind of a man? Moreover, what kind of experiences went into the making of the man?

Boot camp was cruel. I was ill prepared for it. I had lived what was very much a sheltered, almost pampered existence surrounded by people who thought as I did, and had been raised as I had been and in the same environment. I can't say it was a closed society, but it came damned close to it.

We lived in Brooklyn in the fall, winter and spring months, went to the same parochial grammar schools and the same Jesuit prep schools, and spent magical glorious summers on that part of Long Island that was, in those days, largely a summer resort.

It was a tight, Victorian, Irish Catholic, upper middle class society rooted in the certitudes of Western Christian civilization best exemplified by the Roman Catholic Church and the United States of America.

In other words, the world of my childhood and teen years lacked – and I hate to use this hateful Marxist word – diversity. Sure, there were friends, classmates, acquaintances who didn't share our advantages – but in the main, they shared our beliefs and our attitudes.

On Parris Island I found myself in a very different world, surrounded by people whose backgrounds were as alien to mine as mine was to theirs, and making the transition was anything but easy.

The people around me spoke one language and I spoke another. It was a melting pot and the process of being melted down to become one part of a homogeneous whole was anything but pleasant. And I had the bruises to prove it.

In the end, however, that homogeneous whole, thanks to the geniuses who designed the system of making Marines at Parris Island, was the United States Marine Corps, and whatever else we had been before joining the Corps we were now what we would be for the rest of our lives: members of a storied elite – United States Marines.

I think that recognition, that somehow I had become a member of a famously elite organization, more than anything else, helped shape me into the man I eventually became. But I was still very much the product of my upbringing – what I was had simply been poured into the Marine Corps mold, strengthened, disciplined and made purposeful.

A lot of what I learned in my years in the Corps was good, and a lot of what I learned was not so good.

What was good was the complete acceptance of the fact that I had obligations to my God, to my country, to my fellow Marines and to the people around me, that simply needed to be fulfilled at all costs. If I had a job to do, it had to be done. No shirking. No excuses. Just do it, or die trying.

That stays with you for the rest of your life. Try to evade it and you'll hear the harsh voice of a phantom top sergeant – one of your guardian angels – shouting the Corps' patented obscenities at you.

What was also good, was the recognition that it didn't matter what your opponents did to you or said about you. What mattered was how you stood up to them without flinching or backing down. When you knew that you were acting in good conscience and good faith, nothing else mattered, even if it created the most serious consequences for you. It's called sticking to your guns.

What was not so good were the lessons I learned that taught you how to get around certain tasks and obligations by being fast on your feet.

I recall being sent down to the docks in San Pedro to help load the ship we would be boarding for our excursion into the Pacific war zone. There was a lot of heavy lifting to be done, and this 130-pound, skin-and-bones Marine was not at all enthralled with the idea of doing it.

So I found a clipboard and toted it around, making imaginary entries on a sheet of paper and (fortunately for my physical well-being) nobody questioned me. Everybody thought I was doing an assigned task.

In the latter part of my time in the Corps I got around a lot of things I should have done by using similar tactics. I had learned how to turn the system – the one described as having been designed by geniuses for execution by idiots – against itself.

There was a lot of smug satisfaction in getting away with it, but I finally understood that the real victim of my contempt for the rules and regulations and those who established them was my self-respect. I was, in short, acting like a liberal. I now realize the truth of what somebody once said: "Character is what you do when nobody is looking."

The older I get – and I've managed to get pretty damned old – the more I recognize the traits instilled in me by the Corps. And I see them in a lot of the mail about my columns I get from fellow Marines, past and present.

We seem to think a lot alike on most of the issues of the day. We are, for the most part, strongly conservative, both politically and in our personal lives, proudly patriotic and exuberantly proud of our Marine Corps heritage.

That can't be a coincidence. What we have become began on that first day on Parris Island, and I thank God I was there to begin the process.

Semper Fi.

* *

Phil Brennan is a veteran journalist who writes for He is editor & publisher of Wednesday on the Web (>) and was Washington columnist for National Review magazine in the 1960s. He also served as a staff aide for the House Republican Policy Committee and helped handle the Washington public relations operation for the Alaska Statehood Committee which won statehood for Alaska. He is also a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

He can be reached at

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By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
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