Hard Drinking Fellows

As a youngster watching Saturday-afternoon matinee films, I never gave much thought as to the social implications of alcohol in western or war film presentations.  Nor did anyone ever suggest to me that I should refrain from watching John Wayne films, given that by reputation, he was a hard-drinking fellow in real life.  I do recall in several Wayne films in which he (as a crusty old cavalry officer) and Victor McLaglen (as an equally crusty old top sergeant) were able to consume copious amounts of whiskey and still perform their duties as military leaders.  In one film, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Sergeant Stryker had been busted in rank from sergeant-major —this the result of a drinking problem no one in the Marine Corps would countenance (from a senior enlisted man).

The scenario I have described above was not beyond the pale; I have seen this very same thing happen in real life where the Marine Corps reduced senior NCOs with significant alcohol problems to a lower pay grade, or forced them into retirement.  Of course, such punishments were never gleefully effected and certainly not without due and appropriate warnings and if we are honest, circumstances were almost always more than merely drinking to excess.  The range of difficulties frequently involved civil or military arrest for driving under the influence, spouse abuse issues, showing up for duty while inebriated, or maybe not showing up for duty at all.

None of these sorts of things bode well for a careerist —unless you happened to be an officer with a den-daddy.  Lieutenant Colonel Earl H. Ellis was one of these —protected by none other than two Commandants of the Marine Corps, Major Generals George Barnett and John A. Lejeune.  Lejeune, in fact, protected Ellis so well that Ellis eventually drank himself to death.

As previously mentioned, Marines were long known for their hard-drinking (and fighting among themselves in the absence of soldiers or sailors), but in fairness, hard drinking was quite normal in all services, and apparently, in most westernized nations.  For many years, rum rations were issued to the crews of American and British warships.  The American navy halted this practice in 1862; the British navy followed suit nearly 100 years later.  Booze was also issued to ground troops, but suspended during periods of temperance movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

A decision to reintroduce rum rations during the harsh winter of 1914-1915 caused a fierce controversy in the United Kingdom.  Medical doctors were divided between those who saw rum rations a morale-boosting measure, and those who considered it harmful to health and performance.  I wasn’t there of course, but from what I read about the trench warfare of World War I, a daily tot of rum was the least of their problems —and it is difficult to imagine that anyone would send an inebriated rifleman/sniper out on a critical mission.  On the other hand, under circumstances of such stress, one can see the likely calming effect from a tot of rum.  Of the total numbers of British and American troops killed in World War I, the percentage of those who died from exposure to rum must be miniscule.

Still, there is a favorite argument among temperance fanatics and teetotalers to the effect that anyone unable to control his (or her) intake of alcohol lacks spiritual strength.  I’ve heard the same argument about those who smoke in the face of overwhelming evidence of the health risks.  No doubt, Marcus Aurelius would agree; several of his fourteen virtues would seem to make that argument.  Still, should we assume that a drinking man is without any virtues at all?

Let me now introduce you to a fellow by the name of Hiram Eddings Bearss.  In his day, Marines nicknamed him “Hiking Hiram.”  As a youth, Hiram hated his name; he much preferred being called “Mike.”

Bearss was born in 1875 in Peru, Indiana.  He was a troublesome young man, prone to fighting and not doing very well in school … but he did well enough to finish his education (if that is ever possible).  In his youth, he had a knack for horsemanship and sports.  Over several years, Bearss attended college at Notre Dame, Perdue, Depauw, and Norwich Military, where it seems he finally settled down.  Most of his problems at university stemmed from the fact that he liked rough and tumble sports and the kind of drinking associated with those interests.  At age 21 Bearss had finally learned how to learn, and while he was known as a bright young man, this only applied to the things that held his interest.  Bearss’ father wanted him to study law, and he did that for a period of about 18 months.  Although he gained admission to the bar in Indiana, the law did not hold his interest.  A restless Bearss began looking around for something more exciting to do with his life.  A news headline captured his attention:  The Maine Blown Up!

Inspired to serve his country, Bearss organized a volunteer company from among his friends in Peru and together, with bands playing and flags flying, they marched off to Indianapolis to offer their services to the United States.  Not a single individual was accepted for military service, however, and Bearss decided to enlist as a private.  He was refused that, as well.  His family finally appealed to a local congressman by the name of George Steele, who in turn offered Bearss an appointment at the U. S. Naval Academy.  Bearss turned this offer down: he was not going to waste another four years of his life in yet another college.

Bearss 001A few weeks later, Steele telegrammed Bearss that he had secured for him an appointment as a temporary second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.  Like many Americans back then, Bearss wasn’t sure what a Marine was; Steele advised him, “It is as close to committing suicide as you will ever get.”  After successfully passing stringent examinations at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC, Bearss was accepted for a commission in late May 1898.  With his appointment at the age of 23, he was no longer referred to by his nickname.  He simply became Mr. Bearss, Lieutenant Bearss, or Hiram (shown right, 1898). Within a year, owing to the end of the Spanish-American War, the military services began downsizing to a peace time strength; Lieutenant Bearss was ordered home and then, in February, the Marines discharged him from further service.

There were important consequences to the Spanish-American War; one of these was a decision by Congress to spend more money on an adequate wartime structure, especially since the United States had inherited the Philippine Islands —and not all was going well there.  Naval bases had to be defended and an expanded Navy meant an expanded Marine Corps.

On 2 June 1899, Bearss received his commission to first lieutenant and four days after that he reported for duty aboard the USS New York.  After several weeks of public relations stops along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in October 1899, Bearss was ordered to report to Major Littleton W. T. Waller, Commanding the 3rd Battalion of Marines being formed at the Washington Navy Yard for service in the Far East.

The voyage to the Philippine Islands was a rough one, but it was here that Bearss and Frederick Wise first met and established their life-long friendship.  Of Bearss, Wise wrote: “It was on the USS Solace that I first did duty with Hiram I. Bearss, then, like myself, a second lieutenant.  There never was another like old Hiram in the world.  Wild as you make them.  Irresponsible to an incredible degree.  Absolutely fearless.  Seldom in funds.  Always with some scheme afoot.  He never had the proper clothes.  He was forever playing practical jokes.  His energy knew no control.  He was always borrowing anything and everything from everybody he could.  Yet, he was loveable beyond words to describe.”  What Wise didn’t tell us was that Bearss was one of those drinking fellows; over time, his drinking became legendary.

bearss 002By the time Waller’s battalion arrived in the Philippines, the United States had been engaged with insurrectionists for quite some time.  The Filipino did not appreciate being under the thumb of the Spanish before 1898; they didn’t care about being under the thumb of the Americans afterwards, either.  What Bearss found upon arrival in these islands was a brutal guerrilla war.  Hiram Bearss is shown right while likely serving as a Major, U. S. Marine Corps.

Within his twenty years of service, Bearss received four of our nation’s highest awards for distinguished conduct during combat operations, including the Medal of Honor[1].  He additionally received high honors from France, Italy, and Belgium.  That he was a hard fighter there can be no doubt; he was one of the most decorated officers to serve at that time.  During World War I, Bearss briefly commanding the 5th Marine Regiment, and later served as executive officer of the 6th Marines, but most of his combat service was with Army units.  He commanded two separate battalions within the 9th US Infantry, commanded the 102nd US Infantry Regiment and 51st US Infantry Brigade.  Bearss was so effective as a combat leader that General Pershing attempted to promote him on several occasions, but since Bearss was a Marine officer, Pershing had no influence with the Marine Corps’ promotion system.

As previously mentioned, Bearss was also a hard drinker and this likely explains his difficulties not long after he returned home from France.  Bearss was assigned to command the Marine Barracks at Philadelphia.  Bearss found the barracks unacceptably lax and Bearss, a strict disciplinarian, refused to tolerate any organization that failed to maintain the high standards for Marines.  Within a short time, subordinate officers filed charges against Bearss, claiming he was drunk on duty, that he used profanity while berating his officers in front of enlisted men.

Whether true, a hearing was convened at the orders of Major General George Barnett, the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  At the time, it was well-known that Barnett did not like Bearss (in the same way he protected Ellis), and the issue suddenly became an internal political struggle.  Bearss had his highly-placed supporters, Barnett had his.

Bearss 003Still, after twenty-years of service, Colonel Hiram Bearss (shown right) suffered from the maladies attributed to almost any Marine with two or three decades of hard service, but in the case of Hiking Hiram, he’d been seriously injured from a fall from a horse, suffered injuries from the explosion of a mortar during the war, and suffered from painful feet.  The solution to this unhappy disciplinary problem was to order Bearss into medical retirement.  Colonel Bearss’ difficulties with Barnett (and others) may explain why he was never advanced to flag rank until 1936 (well after his retirement from active military service).  In any case, Colonel Bearss accepted a medical discharge in 1919.  He was killed in an automobile accident in 1938.

Two excellent accounts of Bearss can be found in two books by George B. Clark.  They are titled Hiram Iddings Bearss, U. S. Marine Corps: Biography of a World War I Hero, and His Road to Glory: the life and times of Hiking Hiram Bearss, Hoosier Marine.  Both books make excellent companions to such other works as The Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood: U. S. Marines in World War I by Dick Camp and A Marine Tells It to You, by Colonel Frederick M. Wise.

Notes:

[1] The Medal of Honor was awarded to him for service in the Philippine Islands in 1901; at the time of this action, Bearss was serving as a captain.  The medal was not awarded to him until 18 years later when Bearss was serving as a colonel.

Who Was Willoughby?

In February 1942, General Douglas MacArthur (shown left) (who formerly served as Army Chief of Staff and then after retirement, as Field Marshal of the Philippine Army) scampered away from the Philippine Islands and headed toward Australia, thereby avoiding capture by a massive Japanese invasion of the Philippines.  He did this at the direction of the President of the United States (Franklin D. Roosevelt).  When he departed aboard U. S. Navy patrol/torpedo boats and seaplanes, MacArthur took with him his family, his personal staff, and his intelligence officer —Colonel Charles Willoughby, Army of the United States (AUS)[1].  Willoughby continued to serve on MacArthur’s staff until that fateful day on 10 April 1951 when President Harry S. Truman relieved MacArthur of his position as Supreme Allied Commander, Far East and sent him into retirement.

Charles Andrew Willoughby (depicted right), born on March 8, 1892, died October 25, 1972, eventually served as a Major General in the United States Army.  He was born in Heidelberg, Germany as Adolph Karl Weidenbach, the son of Baron T. Tscheppe-Weidenbach—but this was disputed by a New York Journal reporter in 1952[2].  Some uncertainty remains about who this man was, as well as his family lineage.  What we are certain about is that Willoughby migrated from Germany to the United States in 1910.

In October 1910, Willoughby enlisted in the U. S. Army, and over the next three years he served with the US Fifth Infantry Division, rising to the rank of sergeant.  In 1913, he was honorably discharged from the U. S. Army and attended college at Gettysburg College.  Having already attended three years at the University of Heidelberg and the Sorbonne (Paris), Willoughby enrolled as a senior, graduating in 1914.  Actually, we do not know for certain that he actually did attend Heidelberg University, or the Sorbonne.  In any case, Willoughby received a commission to second lieutenant in in the officer’s volunteer reserve, U. S. Army, in 1914.  At this juncture, his name was Adolph Charles Weidenbach[3].  He spent three years teaching German and military studies at various prep-schools in the United States, and then on 27 July 1916 he accepted a regular Army commission as a second lieutenant; he was advanced to the rank of first lieutenant on the same day.  He rose to the rank of captain in 1917 and served in World War I as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Willoughby later transferred from the infantry to the US Army Air Corps; his training as a pilot was conducted by the French military.  After some involvement with a French female by the name of Elyse Raimonde DeRoche, who was later shot as a spy, Weidenbach was recalled to Washington and asked to account for his pro-German sentiments.  He was eventually cleared of suspicions in this regard.

Following World War I, Willoughby/Weidenbach was assigned to the 24th Infantry in New Mexico from 1919 to 1921, and was then posted to San Juan, Puerto Rico where he served in military intelligence.  He subsequently served as a Military Attaché in Ecuador and for unclear reasons, Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government (shown right).  Beginning in the 1920s, Willoughby became an ardent admirer of Spanish General Francisco Franco, whom he referred to as the greatest general in the world[4].

In 1929, Willoughby/Weidenbach received orders to the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  He became an instructor there in 1936, and received his promotion to lieutenant colonel.

Throughout World War II, the occupation of Japan, and the Korean War, Willoughby served as MacArthur’s chief of intelligence.  MacArthur is said to have jokingly referred to Willoughby as “My pet fascist”.  He is also quoted as having said of Willoughby, “There have been three great intelligence officers in history: mine is not one of them.”

Author John Robert Ferris (Intelligence and Strategy: selected essays) stated that MacArthur’s pronouncement could be a gross understatement.  He described Willoughby as a candidate for the worst intelligence officer in the Second World War.  As an example, in early 1944, in the largest landing of the Pacific war to that date, four infantry divisions were employed in the taking of Hallandia, Dutch New Guinea.  Willoughby had reported sizable Japanese forces there.  Accordingly, the entire Pacific Fleet stood out to sea to screen the landing.  Surrendering to this mighty force were two thousand frightened Japanese warehouse and supply troops.  The operation was completely in line with MacArthur’s policy of “hitting them where they ain’t,” and so Willoughby’s misappraisal was conveniently filed and forgotten.

Willoughby was temporarily promoted to major general on 12 April 1945.

After the war, Willoughby was instrumental in arranging the exoneration of a Japanese war criminal by the name of Lieutenant General (Medical) Shirõ Ishii[5] (Unit 731) in exchange for information about biological warfare.  This was not his only debacle:

Willoughby (apparently with the approval of MacArthur) made a weak grab for the US counterintelligence effort.  Counterintelligence was not under Willoughby’s umbrella, but he and MacArthur had been stonewalling the OSS since the beginning of World War II.  What we can say with certitude, however, is that the inadequacy of US counterintelligence in Japan can be attributed to either Willoughby’s (or MacArthur’s) incompetence or his professional negligence.  When US forces occupied Japan, there was no counterintelligence effort.  One news reporter discovered the Japanese Foreign Office, Radio Tokyo, and various military offices openly burning classified documents in the middle of the street, denying this information to the occupying force.  There were no counterintelligence officers present in Japan to stop them.

Commanding the 8th US Army, General Robert Eichelberger lacked the benefit of counterintelligence advice when he welcomed the commander of the Japanese Army in Yokohama.  General Kenji Doihara was also Japan’s top intelligence officer; it was he who had engineered in 1931 the incident leading to Japan taking over Manchuria.  Eicrhelberger thought that Doihara was a “splendid little fellow.”  It was only the next day after Eicrhelberger this meeting was reported through intelligence channels to Washington DC that MacArthur ordered Doihara’s arrest.

Not long after the US occupation began, military police arrived at the Marunouchi Hotel looking for black-market operators.  What they found was Major General Willoughby having dinner with the stranded Italian Fascist Ambassador to Japan and members of his staff[6].  Naturally, Willoughby vented his anger at the military police, who were only doing their jobs.

Willoughby’s service in Japan lacks clarity unless it also reveals his vendetta against critics, or those guilty of lèse-majesté toward MacArthur.  Consequently, Willoughby spent as much time and energy to his dossiers on newsmen and military heretics as he did to reports on enemy dispositions.  William Costello from CBS decided that he much preferred digging up his own material about the Japanese rather than using handouts supplied by MacArthur’s headquarters.  How did Willoughby deal with this situation?  He sent people around to discuss with Costello what might happen if his communist membership card from the 1930s became public knowledge.  Costello was underwhelmed; he had never been a communist.  Digging in, Costello became a one-man anti-Willoughby campaigner, telling anyone and everyone who would listen what a creep Willoughby was.  By 1948, Costello was winning this war; so much so, in fact, that MacArthur invited him to a stag party.  If Costello ever attended the party, let’s hope he kept his clothes on.

Leopards never change their spots.  During the Korean War, Willoughby intentionally distorted, if not suppressed intelligence estimates that resulted in the death, injury, or captivity of thousands of American military personnel.  He did this, it is argued, to better support MacArthur’s horribly negligent (or grossly incompetent) assertion that the Chinese Army would never cross the Yalu River … and in doing so, allow MacArthur a much freer hand in his prosecution of the Korean campaign —by keeping the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington DC (and the President) in the dark.

As writer/historian David Halberstam[7] reminded us, “Control intelligence, you control decision making.”  Halberstam argues that Willoughby was appointed head of intelligence for Korea due to his sycophancy toward MacArthur and points out that many veterans of the Korean War, enlisted and officer, believed that the lack of proper intelligence led field commanders to develop inadequate employment plans such that they could not provide combat support to one another.  Entire Chinese infantry divisions passed through the gaps that existed between forward deployed American units.

In late 1950, Lieutenant Colonel John Chiles served in the operations section of the US 10th Corps.  He later stated that because MacArthur did not want the Chinese to enter the war, Willoughby falsified intelligence reports so that they wouldn’t enter the war.  “He should have gone to jail,” Chiles said.

Willoughby never went to jail, however.  He retired from the Army in grade of major general on August 31, 1951.  In retirement, he lobbied for Generalissimo Francisco Franco … true colors.

True to form, Willoughby launched a broadside in Cosmopolitan after his retirement against certain correspondents and commentators critical of MacArthur’s strategy. His targets included Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, one of the most able war correspondents and a Pulitzer Prize winner; Hal Boyle, front-line correspondent for the Associated Press; Hanson Baldwin, military specialist of the New York Times; Joseph Alsop, syndicated columnist; and Drew Pearson, columnist and radio commentator.

There was nothing diplomatic in Willoughby’s handling of MacArthur’s critics.  He called them rag-pickers of American literature, men who were addicted to yellow journalism, sensationalists, men whose reporting provided aid and comfort to the enemy.  The newsmen replied to Willoughby with equal vigor, but the mildest reply was offered by Hanson Baldwin: “As an intelligence officer, General Willoughby was widely and justly criticized by Pentagon officials as well as in the papers. His . . . article is as misleading and inaccurate as were some of his intelligence reports.”  Gordon Walker, correspondent and later an assistant foreign editor of the Christian Science Monitor, said: “There is strong evidence . . . that General MacArthur’s staff withheld intelligence information on Chinese intervention —from the President and from front-line corps and division commanders— Frontline commanders who ordered their troops into battle without prior knowledge that they faced overwhelming odds…”

Willoughby reminds us of several things: first, more important than what a man says is what he does.  We cannot claim that integrity is one of Willoughby’s virtues.  Neither does a man become a saint simply because he wears an American military uniform.  Willoughby died on 25 October 1972 —just in time for dia del diablo.  To our everlasting shame as a nation, we buried him in Arlington National Cemetery.

Notes:

[1] The Army of the United States is the legal name of the “land forces of the United States” (United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 and United States Code, Title 10, Subtitle B, Chapter 301, Section 3001) and has been used in this context since at least 1841, as in the title: General Regulations for the Army of the United States. The Army, or Armies of the United States includes the Regular Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve (as well as any volunteer or conscripted forces).  Someone receiving an officer’s commission into the Army of the United States holds a temporary appointment and serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

[2] The Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Briefadeligen, a standard catalogue of German gentry, does not help to clear up this matter.  According to this document, General Franz Erich Theodor Tülff von Tschepe und Weidenbach lacked the title “Freiherr” and never received letters of patent from Emperor Wilhelm II entitling him to use the surname “von Tschepe und Weidenbach” until 1913.  By this time, he had five children; none of them were born in 1892.

[3] At some point before 1930, Weidenbach changed his name to Charles Andrew Willoughby, which is a loose translation of Weidenbach, German meaning Willow-brook.  In any case, Willoughby was fluent in English, Spanish, German, French, and Japanese.

[4] I can only imagine what MacArthur later thought about such intense feelings toward some other general.

[5] Responsible for the death and suffering of more than 10,000 allied military personnel during World War II.

[6] Willoughby received the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government in the 1930s.

[7] The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

Edward A. Craig —Marine

It has been necessary for troops now fighting in Korea to pull back at times, but I am stating now that no unit of this Brigade will retreat except on orders from an authority higher than the 1st Marine Brigade.  You will never receive an order to retreat from me.  All I ask is that you fight as Marines have always fought.”

—Edward A. Craig, Brigadier General, U. S. Marine Corps

Commanding General, 1st Marine Provisional Brigade

“The Pusan perimeter is like a weakened dike; the Army intends to use us to plug the holes as they open.  We’re a brigade —a fire brigade.  It will be costly fighting against a numerically superior enemy.  Marines have never lost a battle; this brigade will not be the first to establish such a precedent.  Prepare to move.”

—Edward A. Craig, Brigadier General, U. S. Marine Corps

Commanding General, 1st Marine Provisional Brigade

This firebrand Marine Officer was born on 22 November 1896 in Danbury, Connecticut.  His father, a career officer in the United States Army (Medical Corps), was not at all disposed to having his son become a Marine: “They are a bunch of drunkards and bums.”  As with many Army officers (then and now), he overlooked one thing about the Marines —they are renowned for two things: they know how to make Marines, and they win battles.

Craig attended St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, graduating in 1917.  After four years in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC), he applied for a commission and was accepted as a Second Lieutenant on 23 August 1917.  Upon completion of training at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, Craig was assigned to duty as an Adjutant with the 8th Marines.  Although never dispatched to a line unit during World War I, he did serve in protecting/safeguarding oil fields in Texas from German attack along the coastal areas.  The 8th Marines performed this duty for 18 months, during which time the regiment intensely trained for combat.  During this time, he was promoted to First Lieutenant.

In 1919, Craig accompanied his regiment to Haiti via Santiago Bay, Cuba.  There, the 8th and 9th Marines formed the 1st Marine Brigade, a temporary organization organized to perform a specific expeditionary task.  A short time later, Craig was transferred to the 2nd Marine Brigade, which was stationed in the Dominican Republic.  There, he was assigned as the Commanding Officer, 70th Company, 15th Marine Regiment and received a temporary promotion to Captain.  Within the first 8-months he served in this capacity, he was assigned to La Romana, conducting combat patrols in areas populated by bandits and rebel forces, and later assigned to Vincentillo, a remote outpost, where he served an additional six months.

Craig returned to the United States in December 1921.  After a short stint at Quantico, Craig was assigned to Puget Sound where he served as Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment, Naval Ammunition Depot.  In 1922, he was ordered to the U. S. Naval Station near Olongapo City, Philippine Islands.  He subsequently served as Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment about the cruiser, USS Huron[1], then assigned to the Pacific Ocean area.  In this capacity, he and his Marines participated in several landings, including at Shanghai, China in 1924 safeguarding the international settlement from rival Chinese armies that were fighting nearby[2].  His detachment was later sent to Peking in response to the warlord Wu P’ei-Fu; Craig’s Marines remained there for a month before returning to the Huron.

Craig returned to the United States in March 1926, where he was briefly assigned to the 4th Marines at San Diego, California.  He was subsequently selected as aide-de-camp to then Commandant John A. Lejeune.  He served in this capacity until General Lejeune’s retirement in 1929.  At Craig’s request, he was subsequently assigned to duty with the Nicaraguan National Guard as a staff officer (training) near Jinotega.  From 1931 to 1933, Craig joined the Marine Corps Base, San Diego but while there served on detached duty with the US State Department.  From 1933 to 1936, Craig served as a company commander in the 6th Marine Regiment and then another staff assignment with the 2nd Marine Brigade where he served as a personnel officer.  From 1937 to 1938, Craig attended the Marine Corps Schools Senior Officer’s Course at Quantico —at the completion of which he returned once more to San Diego, California where he served severally as an instructor at the Platoon Leader’s Course, an Inspector-Instructor, Reserve Field Training Battalion, and Base Adjutant.

From June 1939 and June 1941, Craig served as an intelligence officer aboard the aircraft carriers USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise.  During this period, he served temporarily at the Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor.  In brief periods, he served in the commands of Admiral Ernest King, Charles Blakely, and William Halsey.  In July 1941, Craig was assigned as Provost Marshal and Guard Battalion Commander at San Diego, California.  These duties took on greater importance after Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor in December.  In June 1942, Craig assumed the duties of regimental executive officer, 9th Marine Regiment but within a few months, having been selected for promotion to Colonel, he was assigned as Commanding Officer, Service Troops, 3rd Marine Division.  After the division’s arrival in New Zealand, Craig requested an infantry assignment.  In July 1943, he was again assigned to the 9th Marines —this time as regimental commander.  Craig led the regiment at Bougainville through April 1944; he continued to led them during the Battle for Guam.  During this campaign, Craig earned the Navy Cross.  In September, Craig was ordered to the V Amphibious Corps, where he served as Operations Officer.  In this capacity, he directed the planning for the assault on Iwo Jima in February 1945.  In July, Craig returned to the United States to serve as Chief of Staff, Marine Training Command, San Diego.

After the war, Craig served as the officer in charge of specialized amphibious training, Eight Army in Japan.  While so assigned, Craig was advanced to Brigadier General and assigned as Assistant Division Commander, 1st Marine Division, which was then serving in Tientsin, China.  In June 1947, Craig assumed command of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, Fleet Marine Forces, Guam, where he served for two years.

As with the other services, the Marine Corps was drastically reduced in size after World War II.  Accordingly, it was unprepared for North Korea’s invasion of South Korea on 25 June 1950.  As a response to the aggression, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the Marine Corps to ready a 15,000-man division into Korea as part of the United Nations Command.  The Marine Corps response was immediate, but in the interim, 4,725 Marines were assembled around the 5th Marine Regiment.  On 7 July 1950, the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade was reactivated, and Brigadier General Craig was assigned to command it.  The Brigade arrived in Pusan, South Korea on 3 August.  Combat operations began almost immediately.  As part of Eighth Army’s reserve, the Marines were used as a stop-gap measure to plug holes in the line left vacant by Army units in retreat.  It became known as the Fire Brigade.  In September, the Brigade rejoined the 1st Marine Division during the assault on Inchon and Brigadier General Craig served under Major General Oliver P. Smith as Assistant Division Commander.

Upon his return to the United States, Craig was promoted to Major General and assumed the directorship of the Division of Reserve, Headquarters Marine Corps.  In recognition of his valor in combat, Craig was advanced to lieutenant general on the retired list.  He passed away at his home at El Cajon, California on 11 December 1994.  He was 98 years of age.

Notes

[1] USS South Dakota was renamed USS Huron (CA 9) on 7 June 1920 to free up the name for a new class South Dakota battleship.

[2] This was during the so-called Warlord Era in China when scattered international settlements were frequently threatened by Chinese nationalists and the anti-foreign movements among various groups.

“Pop” Hunter

“Zero hour. Dawn of 6 June 1918. Hushed commands brought the chilled, sleepy men to their feet. A skirmish line formed along the edge of the woods. There were last-minute instructions and bits of advice flung here and there. Careless of cover, the men in the first wave stood about in the wheat, adjusting belts and hitching combat packs to easier positions. The early morning mist thinned under the warmth of a red-balled sun. There were half-heard murmurs of conversation among the men and, at time, a spurt of nervous laughter, quickly stilled. The entire front was quiet where we were. There was only the distant sound of far-off guns warning the lines to come awake.”

“First Sergeant “Pop” Hunter , the 67th Company’s top-cutter, strode out into the field and, a soldier to the last, three a competent glance to right and left, noting the dress of his company line. Pop was an old man, not only of portly figure and graying hair but in actual years, for more than thirty years of service lay behind him.”

World War I Marine 001“No bugles. No wild yells. His whistle sounded shrilly. Once. His cane swung overhead and forward, pointing toward the first objective a thousand yards of wheat away; the tensely quiet edge of German-held Belleau Wood.”

“The spell was broken. A single burst of shrapnel came to greet the moving line of men. There was a scream of pain, a plaintive cry of hurt. In some alarm, a soldier yelled, “Hey Pop, there’s a man hit over here!”

“Pop’s reply was terse and pungent: “C’mon, goddammit! He ain’t the last man who’s gonna be hit today.”

Elton E. Mackin
Suddenly We Didn’t Want to Die

Note:
First Sergeant Daniel A. Hunter from Westerly, Rhode Island: Killed in Action, 6 June 1918.

At Belleau Wood —Part III

1918-1 5th MarinesOn 9 June, allied forces unleashed a massive artillery barrage inside Belleau Wood. It transformed the lush forested hunting preserve to a jungle of shattered and uprooted trees. German artillery counter-fired, and while they did, the Germans reorganized their defenses.

On 10 June, Major Hughes led an assault into the northern sector of Belleau Wood. Initially successful, machineguns stopped the Marines. Major Cole, commanding an element of the 6th Machinegun Battalion, was mortally wounded during this assault. The next senior officer, Captain Harlan Major, quickly replaced Cole. It was at this point when the Germans began using heavy concentrations of mustard gas. General Harbord next ordered Major Wise, commanding the under strength and exhausted 2/5, to attack the woods from the west; he directed Hughes to continue his advance from the south.

Early in the morning of 11 June, Major Wise led his men through a thick morning mist toward Belleau Wood. Elements of the 23rd and 77th companies of the 6th Machinegun Battalion supported him. The Germans opened up with intense automatic weapons fire; interlocking fires first isolated Marine platoons and then systematically destroyed them. Major Wise had lost his bearings; rather than moving in a northeast direction, Wise moved directly across the wood’s narrow waist. A German soldier later remarked, “These Americans are reckless.”

Mistaken direction or not, the Marine attack turned the tide but at great cost. Captain Lloyd Williams lost his life. As officers fell, NCOs assumed command and continued their attack. Fighting became a demonstration of superior Marine Corps rifle fire and tenacious hand-to-hand combat. 2/5 captured 30 German machineguns, took 400 prisoners —but it cost them 50% of their effective strength.

After a three-hour artillery barrage, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines continued their attack on 12 June. The artillery had landed 1,000 yards beyond the German positions so the Marines once more engaged in brutal rifle and bayonet fighting. The Germans made good use of rocky ledges and ravines to hide their machineguns. In helping to pacify these well-hidden positions, Private Aloysius Leitner received posthumous award of the Navy Cross.

German command launched a counter attack against 3/5 at Bouresches around 0300 on June 13th; the attack was repulsed. From within Belleau Wood, newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel Wise reported, “Artillery barrage, heavy losses, morale excellent.”

1918-1 Belleau WoodThe west side of the wood was finally pacified two days later. After nine days of continuous fighting, the US 7th Infantry Regiment finally relieved the bearded and exhausted Marines but they were reemployed five days later when the 7th Regiment was unable to clear the woods.

On 25 June, following a daylong artillery barrage, a determined 2/5 again advanced into the wood. Now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph S. Keyser, 2/5 attacked on the left side of the battle area, 3/5 attacked the center, and 3/6 attacked on the right. Against this relentless assault, the Germans fell back, relinquishing their positions to the Marines. By the next day, General Harbord was able to report to his superior, “Woods now US Marine Corps entirely.”

American Marines attacked the woods on six separate occasions before they were able to expel the Germans. Only afterward did the Marines realize they defeated elements of five divisions of German infantry. Much of this fighting was hand-to-hand. World War I brought America’s smallest combat force to the forefront of American consciousness. The American people not only learned that there were critters called Marines —they also learned that these critters were not to be trifled with.

 

At Belleau Wood —Part II

On 4-5 June, American forces continued to repel German assaults. The French 167th Division arrived, allowing the US 2nd Division to consolidate his 2,000 yard front. Early in the morning of 6 June, the allies launched an attack on German positions, who at that time were preparing for their own assault. French forces attacked to the left of the American line, Marines assaulted Hill 142 to prevent German flanking fire into the French advance.

The 2nd Division’s mission was to capture the ridge overlooking Torcy and Belleau Wood and occupy the wood preventing German forces it use. The Marines, however, had failed to detect the presence of the 461st German Infantry Regiment, which had prepared exceptional defensive positions and interconnect automatic weapons coverage and pre-registered artillery fires.

Janson Earnest A.At dawn on 6 June, Major Julius Turrill led the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (1/5) into the attack of Hill 142—but only two of his companies were in position when the order went out to commence the advance. Marines advanced across the wheat fields with fixed bayonets —and many of these Marines died before their bodies collapsed to the ground. Captain Crowther, commanding the 67th Company, was almost immediately killed. Captain Hamilton and the 49th Company fought from wood to wood, killing entrenched Germans wherever discovered. By this time, Hamilton had lost all five of his junior officers. Only one officer was left alive in the 67th Company. Hamilton quickly organized the remnants of two companies into a single organization.

The Germans quickly launched a counter-attack. Twelve of these attackers had the misfortune of meeting Gunnery Sergeant Ernest A. Janson, who killed two of these Germans in hand to hand combat with his bayonet, causing the others to make a hasty retreat. [1] Also cited for heroism was then-Marine Gunner Henry Hulbert. [2]

The rest of the battalion finally arrived and went into action. Turrill’s flanks were unprotected and the Marines were rapidly exhausting their ammunition. NCOs reminded their men, “Shoot to kill.” By mid-afternoon, the Marines successfully captured Hill 142. It cost them 9 officers and most of thee 325 Marines of 1/5.

Major Benjamin S. Berry, commanding 3/5 and Major Tyler M. Meyer, commanding 3/6 advanced into Belleau Wood. The Marines advanced through waist high wheat into deadly machinegun fire. As the Marine advance faltered, Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly sounded out, “Come on you sons of bitches; do you want to live forever?” [3]

Not long after ordering the advance, Major Berry received serious wounds. Major Meyers led his Marines into the southern end of Belleau Wood, encountering heavy machinegun fire, sharpshooters, and barbed wire designed to channel his Marines into German killing zones. Marines and Germans soon engaged in hand to hand fighting. Casualties on this day were the highest in Marine Corps history up to that time —exceeded only by a far distant melee at a place called Tarawa. On this day, Marines lost 31 officers and 1,056 enlisted men. Still, the Marines had a foothold in Belleau Wood and they were not letting go.

The battle was deadlocked. At midnight on 7-8 June 1918, German infantry assaulted the Marines, but the Marines stopped them cold. Marines attacked the Germans on the morning of the 8th, but they too were halted by intense German fire. By now, Meyers’ battalion sustained 400 casualties. Harbord decided to pull 3/6 off the line and replace it with 1/6, commanded by Major Hughes. After Berry’s evacuation, Major Maurice E. Shearer assumed command of 3/5.

Notes

EGA 2014-002[1] Sergeant Major Ernest August Janson (1878-1930) served as both a US soldier and a US Marine. After serving for nearly ten years in the Army, he enlisted into the Marine Corps in 1910 and in view of his prior service, the Marine Corps appointed him to the rank of Corporal. At the time of this particular service, Janson was serving temporarily as a gunnery sergeant, a wartime appointment. Janson was the first Marine to receive two Medals of Honor for the same action: one bestowed upon him by the U. S. Army, and the other by the U. S. Navy. It is no longer possible for anyone to receive two Medals of Honor for the same action.

[2] I previously wrote about Captain Hulbert on 22 October 2013.

[3] Marine Corps Commandant Major General John A. Lejeune once acclaimed Sergeant Major Daniel Joseph Daly (11 Nov 1873-27 April 1937) as the outstanding Marine of all time. Major General Smedley D. Butler added, “Daly was the “fightingest Marine I ever knew.” Dan Daly and Smedley Butler were the only two Marines to receive the nation’s highest award for two separate acts of valor. Daly was a small man in stature, but he more than made up for this in terms of courage in combat. See also Handsome Jack and Someone Has to Know How.

Continued next week

 

At Belleau Wood —Part I

World War I was a horrendous slugfest that lasted far too long. In the aftermath of this war, when world leaders understood how many millions of men had lost their lives, they declared it the war to end all wars; surely, no one in their right mind would ever repeat such a calamity as this. The war was indeed a world war, with battles and confrontations in Germany, Belgium, France, the Balkans, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The Battle of Belleau Wood was but one of these.

1914-1 German InfantryWe can explain Germany’s 1918 spring offensive by the surrender of Russian forces on the Eastern Front. No longer having to contend with a two-front war, Germany moved fifty divisions of infantry into the Western campaign. The timing of the German assault had as its purpose the unsettlement of newly arrived infantry from the United States. The Germans wished to shock these raw troops before it was possible to incorporate them into the line.

A third German assault targeted French forces between Soissons and Reims. Known as the Third Battle of the Aisne, German forces reached the northern bank of the Marne River at Château-Thierry, only 59 miles from Paris, on 27 May 1918. On 31 May, the US 3rd Division held the German advance. In response, elements of the 7th German Imperial Army turned right toward Vaux and Belleau Wood. The 461st Imperial German Infantry Regiment occupied the wood. The Battle of Belleau Wood actually comprised two actions—the first at Chateau-Thierry (3-4 June 1918), and the second within the wood itself (6-26 June 1918).

After the fall of Château-Thierry and Vaux, the US 2nd Division, which included the 4th Marine Brigade (then commanded by Army Brigadier General James G. Harbord), was brought up along the Paris-Metz highway. The US 9th Infantry Regiment and 6th Marine Regiment went into the line while Harbord placed the US 23rd Infantry and 5th Marine Regiment in reserve.

1914-1 French ArmyOn the evening of 1 June 1918, German infantry punched a hole through the French line, just left of the American Marine’s position. In response, Harbord directed his reserve, consisting of the US 23rd Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and elements of the 6th Machinegun Battalion, to force march ten miles to plug the gap in the French line. These units were in place before dawn of 2 June; by the end of the day, American forces held a 12-mile front north of the Paris-Metz highway. The line extended through grain fields and scattered woods, from Triangle Farm west to Lucy, and then north to Hill 142. The German line opposite extended from Vaux to Bouresches to Belleau Wood. It was their intent to cross the Marne but General Harbord had a different notion.

As his forces withdrew from their previous position, the French commander ordered Harbord to withdraw, to dig trenches, and prepare for a German assault. Harbord ignored the order. He ordered his Marines to fix bayonets and stand where they were. The Marines prepared shallow fighting placements from which they could fire from a prone position. The German attack materialized on the afternoon of 3 June. Marines held their fire until the Germans were within 100 yards, and then with deadly fire for which American Marines are known, slaughtered wave after wave of German infantry. Having suffered heavy losses, the Germans prepared defensive positions in a line between Hill 204 near Vaux and Torcy within the woods.

French officers continued to implore the Marines to retreat from their line; when ignored by General Harbord and his staff, they even approached company officers. One Marine officer, Captain Lloyd W. Williams commanding a company within the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines uttered his famous retort: “Retreat hell, we just got here.”

Continued next week