Another Good Read

The First Marine Division is the ground combat element of the I Marine Expeditionary Force; the same division that had fought on Guadalcanal, at Khe Sanh, and in the retaking of Kuwait. In 2003, the 1stMarDiv was assigned to participate in the invasion of Iraq and the taking of its capital city, Baghdad. The March Up (to Baghdad) would take these Marines 740 miles across a hot and dangerous desert —they would do it in record time. Speed, as one expert noted, was the division’s best tool in overwhelming the enemy. Telling the story of The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the United States Marines are two contract writers who had unprecedented access to Marines and their commanders —both of whom are retired Marines: Colonel Bing West and Major General Ray L. Smith.

Francis J. “Bing” West served as an infantry officer during the Vietnam War, first as the platoon leader of a mortar platoon, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, later with a Combined Action Platoon that fought for 485 days in a remote village, and also as a member of the Marine Corps reconnaissance team that initiated “Operation Stingray”: initiating small unit attacks behind enemy lines. Colonel West also served as Under Secretary of Defense (International Security) in the Reagan Administration. He has been to Iraq and Afghanistan numerous times and has written nine books about his experiences as a US Marine.

General Smith also served in Vietnam, and since then commanded infantry units at all levels. He is entitled to wear the Navy Cross, Silver Star (2 awards), Bronze Star, and Purple Heart Medal (3 awards). While on active duty, General Smith served as Executive Officer 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, Deputy Commander, Marine Corps Base, Japan, and Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division.

The March Up takes the reader directly to front line action as the Marines, under the leadership of a man West describes as a werewolf on the battlefield, (then) Major General James A. Mattis, attempts to achieve their objectives before the Iraqi Army can organize a cogent defense. West and Smith use the Army command’s order to halt in place for resupply as a primary example of the cultural differences between the two services. General Mattis didn’t have time for stacking BBs; what he needed in terms of logistics support, he carried with him.

The sixty or so years of combined military experience enable authors West and Smith to understand the strategy and tactics of the Marine advance. They tell us what went right, and what went wrong. No other journalists had such unfettered access to infantry leaders; no one else had the mobility to cover the entire battle area. No other writers had as sophisticated an understanding of what was unfolding before them. Throughout the march to Baghdad, West and Smith observed eighteen separate combat units in the 1stMarDiv, and this enabled them to capture a dramatic and personal account of how the Marines fought this battle.

West Smith CoverThey also tell us of the unspeakable cruelty of war. Struggling to cross the Diyala River, the Marines find their first significant opposition. The number of bridges is limited; the Marines need pontoon crossings to help propel them forward. Searching for type equipment, the Marines encounter an Iraqi tanker truck and fire upon it, killing its operators, only to discover later that the Iraqi men were unarmed. The authors want us to understand that senseless tragedies are all too common in war; what happened there is emblematic of what is meant by the term, “fog of war.” Combat troops don’t know what they don’t know —but their lives depend on making snap decisions.

The March Up is about war, and death: the death of the enemy and the innocent. It is about death by lethal fire, and death by accident. How do our warriors deal with this day after day? How do Marines deal with the killing of carloads of civilians, who in their enthusiasm to get out of the way of clashing forces, race their family sedan toward Marines barricades, forcing the Marines to “open up” on them? Knowing what happened today, how do our Marines prepare themselves for the next day’s operations?

The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the United States Marines —only $11.00 on Kindle, or free in your local library.

6 thoughts on “Another Good Read

  1. That issue of innocents being killed is one of the the things I think about often. It’s inevitable and cannot be prevented. My concern is with the way our troops are treated after such incidents. All too often it seems that they’re hung out to dry. I have stories…

    I will add this to my reading list. I can only read a book like this now and then. They tend to haunt me. One of the most powerful books I read about a group of Marines was written by a Vietnam veteran about his time there. It’s called First Force Recon Company, Sunrise at Midnight by Dr. Bill Peters.

    I have another book, that isn’t very engaging in the way some of the books are, but a chapter of it details the circumstances (fire fight) around the death of a particular Recon man in Vietnam. I have a photo of that Marine and his friend (sitting together in Vietnam) in my office. It was given to me by his brother. Neither he nor his friend made it back. I look at that photo every day…It’s one of the more powerful objects in my life (along with a $3.00 Marine Corps/American flag pin that was also a gift).

    Anyway…I’ve gone way off topic…but I guess all that was to say that I appreciate greatly that some are willing and able to tell of their experiences. There is much to learn and to think about in all of them. I consider stories like this national treasures and it’s good of you to pass this one on. Thank you.

    • I am not an avid reader, Dr., but when the Colonel recommends a book about this kind of topic, I usually get it. My hardcopy from Amazon arrived yesterday (about $10). Although I have a Kindle, I prefer paper. The result? I couldn’t put it down. While my daily schedule is not as packed as yours nor filled with workouts, I finished it in less than 24 hours. I also recommend it.

    • Well…that’s it! I’ll order it today. I like “real” books more than electronic books too. When I first got my Ipad, I bought a few books on it . I ended up liking them so had to go get hard copies at the regular book store. I ended up paying for them twice. Now I only buy them for the Ipad if I’m going on vacation or something and they’re the “inconsequential” type of book….like Love In The Checkout Lane. Ha…

  2. I have long meant to read this book. A quick note: the title, “The March Up,” seems to be a reference to a work by the 5th-4th century BCE Greek soldier Xenophon. His “Anabasis” or “Going Up” chronicles his own flight with an army of Greeks from the pursuing Persians.

  3. A friend passed along a first hand story from his friend who was working a Marine checkpoint in Iraq. A bus full of women was blasting toward them and refused to yield after warning shots so they were forced to take the bus out with a .50. Upon examination there were no explosives or anything that indicated the bus would have been a threat other than barreling through the checkpoint. This man wept when he told my friend the story. No doubt it will be with him forever. Hell, I’ve got memories that aren’t even measurable compared to that which will haut me forever.

    So many ways to offer compassion to these men and women in combat service.

  4. There is no shortage of bravery under fire with the 1st Marines… nor with any other Marine outfit. Chesty, Basilone, Mad Dog… I shall order it on Kindle. You’ve never steered me wrong.

    Indeed, the fog of war. People die in wars. If anybody should feel guilty about civilian casualties, it should be the failed political leadership that put the Marines into the line of fire in the first place…and the civilians. I feel great sorrow for those in battle if a civilian life is taken; that Marine may battle it for the rest of their lives.

    I loved your last story, by the way.

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