In the history of our Corps

Marine Corps SealI have been somewhat remiss in publishing “In the History of our Corps,” but I will try to do better in the future. Here is the scoop for the month of May, courtesy as always from the Marine Corps Historical Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps.

2 May 1946: Marines from Treasure Island Marine Barracks, under the command of Warrant Officer Charles L. Buckner, aided in suppressing the three-day prison riot at Alcatraz Penitentiary in San Francisco Bay. WO Buckner, a veteran of the Bougainville and Guam campaigns, ably led his force of Marines without suffering a single casualty.

5 May 1983: In Beirut, Lebanon, a UH-1N helicopter carrying the commander of the American peace-keeping force, Colonel James Mead, was hit by machine gun fire. The six Marines aboard escaped injury. Colonel Mead and his crew had taken off in the helicopter to investigate artillery and rocket duels between rival Syrian-backed Druze Moslem militiamen and Christian Phalangists that endangered French members of the multinational force.

8 May 1995: In the wake of the most devastating storm to hit the New Orleans area in more than 200 years, a group of Marines and sailors from Marine Forces Reserve demonstrated the quick response synonymous with the Navy/Marine Corps team. Within 24 hours of being called, Marines assisted in the evacuation of 2,500 civilians, and Navy corpsmen treated scores of flood victims.

10 May 1945: The 22d Marines, 6th Marine Division, executed a pre-dawn attack south across the Asa River Estuary and seized a bridgehead from which to continue the attack toward Naha, the capital of Okinawa.

15 May 1862: Corporal John Mackie, the first Marine to earn the Medal of Honor, was commended for service in the USS Galena during action against Confederate shore batteries at Drewry’s Bluff which blocked the James River approaches to Richmond.

16 May 1945: The 22d and 29th Marines continued the attack against Half Moon Hill, a day characterized by the 6th Marine Division as the “bitterest” of the Okinawa campaign. By the 18th, the famed “Shuri line” had been broached.

22 May 1912: First Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham, the first Marine officer to be assigned to “duty in connection with aviation” by Major General Commandant William P. Biddle, reported for aviation training at the Naval Aviation Camp at Annapolis, Maryland, and Marine aviation had its official beginning.

23 May 1988: The V-22 Osprey, the world’s first production tilt-rotor aircraft, made its debut during rollout ceremonies at Bell Helicopter Textron’s Arlington, Texas, facility. More than 1,000 representatives from the military, industry, and media, gathered to hear various speakers, including Gen Alfred Gray, Commandant of the Marine Corps, praise the versatile rotor craft designed to meet the needs of 21st Century battlefields.

26 May 1969: Operation Pipestone Canyon began when the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and 3d Battalion, 5th Marines began sweeps in the Dodge City/Go Noi areas southwest of Da Nang. It terminated at the end of June with 610 enemy killed in action at a cost of 34 Marines killed.

29 May 1991: Elements of a joint task force that included the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade departed the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Bangladesh after nearly two weeks of disaster relief operations following a devastating cyclone. The joint task force delivered tons of relief supplies using helicopters, C-130s, and landing craft in Operation Sea Angel.

Merry Christmas, My Friend

by James M. Schmidt

T’was the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one-bedroom house made of plaster & stone.
I had come down the chimney, with presents to give
And to see just who in this home did live

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land.

With medals and badges, awards of all kind,
a sobering thought soon came to my mind.
For this house was different, unlike any I’d seen.
This was the home of a U.S. Marine.

I’d heard stories about them, I had to see more,
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home.

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene,
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine.
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan.
I soon understood, this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night,
Owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight.

Soon around the Nation, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year,
Because of Marines like this one lying here.

I could not help wonder how many lay alone,
On a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye.
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry.

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice,
“Santa, don’t cry, this life is my choice
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more.
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep,
I could not control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still.
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.

So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head.
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold,
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold.

And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
For one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him so quiet in the night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.

Santa Claus CartoonBut half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure,
Said “Carry on, Santa, Christmas Day’s all secure.”
One look at my watch and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi —and goodnight.

Shipmates

It was late in the afternoon at Marine Aviation Training Support Group-33 when a female Petty Officer First Class entered through the front hatch. She looked confused and somewhat distraught. Only a few seconds passed before the Marine Noncommissioned Officer approached the sailor and asked, “May I help you ma’am?”

The nametag on her blouse read “Stewart.”

Petty Officer Stewart remained silent and stationary; she stared blankly at the deck. The Marine asked her, “Is everything okay, Petty Officer?”

The woman’s hands began shaking and her bottom lip started to quiver; tears began streaming down her face. She simply stood there; clutching her uniform hat in both hands and cried silently for about half a minute. The Marine NCO was feeling helpless at this point, but he waited patiently for the woman to say something —to let him know what the matter was.

USS Cole DDG-67Finally, through choked back tears, Petty Officer First Class Stewart explained why she went to MATSG-33 that day. The previous October, she was on duty aboard her ship talking with friends. One moment they were talking as usual —the next moment, all four of her friends were lying beside her. She was the only sailor left alive. Her ship: USS Cole (DDG 67). The date, 12 October 2000.

Petty Officer First Class Stewart said the real terror came seconds later when she realized that at any moment, another explosion might take the lives of even more of her shipmates. She was terrified that whoever attacked her ship were not finished yet … and then she saw the Marines. The Marines arrived at her location “on the double,” they secured the area, began treating survivors, they protected those who remained alive —including Petty Officer Stewart. Stewart knew that day, and everyone on the USS Cole knew that day, that terrorists got in their one and only shot —but no more lives would be lost that day because the Marines were there.

The NCO knew about the fleet security teams: Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams (FAST). The Petty Officer’s story stunned the NCO. He was at a loss for words. “I came by,” she said, “because I am getting ready to retire from active duty.” Looking up into the face of the NCO with tears continuing to stream down her face, she continued, “I needed to look into the face of a United States Marine and say ‘thank you’. I needed to have this closure.”

The Marine leaned over, gave her a hug, and said, “You’re welcome, shipmate.” It was a day when a Marine NCO was extremely proud to own the title, United States Marine.

The Marine told Petty Officer First Class Stewart that he would somehow communicate her appreciation to all Marines with every hope that the word would one day get passed to the FAST Marines aboard USS Cole. I am helping that Marine keep his promise.

Navy — Marine Corps

Shipmates since 1775

Fog of War

I have heard people reject military service as one of the least valuable of human endeavors. In my experience, these people are left-leaning elitists that would never place themselves in harms way for another human being, or any cause or idea more important than themselves. They are only capable of living in the comfort and safety provided by others. Whenever I heard such disparaging remarks, I immediately know that the speaker has never served in uniform, and most assuredly never served in combat.

Beyond its obvious lethality, war is a complex business and there is nothing easy or simple about it. It does not matter whether the foe represents a first rate nation, or a ragtag militia of a fourth-world cesspool. The battlefield is a crucible where everything capable of overwhelming human senses arrives suddenly, and at once. Only individuals that possess superior intellect, resourcefulness, quick wit, and determination have a chance to survive this onslaught and lead others to victory and safety. Combat without victory is only a temporary respite. The term for uncertainty of situational awareness in combat is Fog of War; within it, one not only finds ambiguities about their own capability, they also find confusion about the capacities of their opposing force.Von Clausewitz 001

“War is an area of uncertainty; three quarters of the things on which all action in war is based are lying in a fog of uncertainty to a greater or lesser extent. The first thing needed here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel out the truth with the measure of its judgment.”

—Carl von Clausewitz

The Marine Corps instructs its personnel to expect murkiness and confusion in combat. In fact, squad leaders begin to worry at anytime events seem to progress as planned. We do not relegate confusion to small unit leaders, for even higher commanders must confront and conquer confusion and doubt. Anxiety stems from not knowing the enemy’s strength, his intention, or his mission. These things will reveal themselves in time and so what must then transpire is reliance on the employment of sound tactics and aggressive, albeit thoughtful action. In the Marines, this equates to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver. All combat organizations should expect a dearth of information about the enemy, as previously noted.

Here is one good example of the fog of war, recounted from World War I:

On July 14, 1918, the U. S. 30th Infantry held a defensive sector south of the Marne, with its com­mand post in the Bois d’Aigremont. The reinforced 1st Battalion defended an area north of the Fossoy-Crézancy Road. Companies B and C out posted the riverbank from Mézy to the Rû Chailly Farm. The rest of the regiment, reinforced by two additional companies of the 38th Infantry, had organized the Bois d’Aigremont in depth.

Communications between the 1st Battalion and the regiment included two independent telephone lines, one buzzer, one TPS (earth telegraphy), a projector, pigeons, and runners.

Artillery Barrage 001Near midnight on the 14th, American artillery opened a violent bombardment against the German line; a few minutes later, German artillery answered and in a few moments the entire 1st Battalion area was under intense fires. Soon after the German bombardment had gotten under way, the battalion commander reasoned that a long-expected German attack had begun. The signal equipment was tested and found worthless. The CO ordered a rocket sent aloft calling for artillery fire on the north bank of the Marne because it was impossible for anyone to tell whether the American artillery was even firing. He periodically continued to send up rockets, signaling a request for artillery support. The CO also sent runners to his three subordinate companies informing them of an expected German attack; informing them that they must hold their positions.

At 0200, an excited runner arrived at the Battalion CP n from Company C. He reported the presence of an overwhelming German force at the company location and swarms of Germans between the Battalion CP and front line units. A few moments later, another runner arrived reporting the destruction of two full platoons within Company B; the company commander urgently requested reinforcements. The Battalion Commander realized the folly of attempting to move troops through forest in darkness during artillery barrage. Accordingly, he made no move to reinforce Company B. Finally, a messenger arrived from Company A, informing the battalion commander that all of its officers had been killed. Runners sent out for additional information never returned.

At dawn, the battalion commander sent out four officers’ patrols. One of these, commanded by the battalion intelligence officer, returned shortly and reported that a hostile skirmish line was only fifty yards in front of the woods. In view of these alarming reports, the battalion commander decided to move his command post 500 yards to the rear. He believed this location would facili­tate better control and greater access to runners. He sent messengers to subordinate units informing them of this change of location. The Commanding Officer of Company D construed this message to mean that the Battalion was retreating, and so he withdrew his company to the Bois d’Aigremont via Crézancy. The battalion commander was unaware of this movement at the time.

US Soldier WW I 001At this point, the 1st Battalion commander received a message from regiment asking for his report on the situation. From the context of the message, it was clear that the Regimental Commander had not received any of the messages sent back over the previous five hours.

Although the battle had only been in progress for a few hours, the battalion commander had no idea about his own front line, or that of the enemy. He did not know the status of his forward units; he was unaware of the situation on his flanks. He had to decide what to do based on reasoned judgment, and he had to rely on common sense and previous training. While true that situational awareness does provide challenges in the business environment, nothing quite compares with this —which is not atypical of any hostile action.

The battalion commander in the foregoing case was Major Fred L. Walker, who retired as a major general in 1946. I am quite certain that as Major Walker left his regimental commander’s office with maps in hand, he had a very clear idea about the mission assigned to his 1st Battalion. I am equally certain that when the company commanders left Walker’s office with maps in hand, they too had a good idea about their sectors of responsibility. No matter how well the planning process, everything goes to hell the moment the first shot is fired … and this is just the beginning of that terrible fog.