Nov 10, 2014

Veterans Day Roll Call

Today we call the roll:

Bunker Hill. The Battle of Bladensburg. San Juan Hill. Chateau Thierry. Monte Cassino. Guadalcanal. Midway. Chosin Reservoir. Khe Sanh. An Nasiriyah. Fallujah. Garmsir. Today is the day to honor those men and women who helped found and protect the United States: the American Veteran.

America has been blessed with a citizenry that has produced some extraordinary Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen through its history. William Travis drawing a line in the sand at the Alamo. Cpl. Alvin York in the Argonne. Sgt. Dan Daly rallying the surviving Marines to charge the German machine guns at Belleau Wood, "Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?" Gen. O.P. Smith from Chosin Reservoir, "We're walking out, and we're bringing our wounded and our dead with us." Sgt. Robert Banfield, Marine Artilleryman at An-Nasiriyah, "Hurry up! We've got Marines dying up there!"

"I enlisted. I was drafted. I served in the Guard." While Americans enlist for a variety of reasons, it's worth remembering that in the depths of the 2005-2006 carnage in the Sunni Triangle, US Marine recruiting offices were jammed with young men and women wanting to do their part for their country.

Many make it a family tradition. Linda Woodland's father, Sgt Hamilton Woodland served in the Army Air Corps in WW2, as did her uncle Ralph Howell 3rd, but their tradition dates back much further; while her great-grandfather John C. Howell enrolled in 1862 as sergeant of Company H, Twenty-seventh New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, and fought at both Fredericksburg and Vicksburg, ancestor John Pellet, Jr. fought in the Revolution.

Sgt Adam Grau is another whose family tradition dates back to the Civil War. Both grandfathers plus a grandmother served; Sgt. Irv Schulwolf, Army, Korean War, Cpl. Wallace E. Grau, 9th U.S. Army Air Force, WW2, and Petty Officer Dorothy Slivka Grau, Navy, WW2. So did his great-grandfather Pvt. Walter Grau, American Expeditionary Force, WW1 who was a machine gunner like Adam. Their tradition began with Cpl. Albin Knolle, 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 11th Corps, Army of the Potomac, who received a battlefield promotion the evening of 7/1/1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and later WIA at the Battle of Lookout Mtn. TN. Died of war wounds 1886.

The freedoms enjoyed by Americans today have not come easily. Spanish-American War: 2,446 killed; WWI 116,708 - WWII: 405,399 - Korea: 53,686 - Vietnam: 58,236 - Iraq: 4,427 - Afghanistan: 2,350 The totals unfortunately include such fine men and women as Sgt. Justin Noyes, Fallujah; HN3 Chris "Doc" Anderson, Ramadi - Maj. Megan McClung, Ramadi; Capt. Travis Patriquin, Ramadi, and Lance Cpl. Gavin Brummond, Marjah.

From where does America get such men, author James Michener once wondered. Noyes came from a little town in Oklahoma, Doc from outside of Denver. Iwo Jima flag raiser Sgt. Mike Strank came from Pittsburgh by way of Czechoslovakia, while his fellow flag raiser, Pvt. Ira Hayes, came off an Arizona Indian reservation, as did the Marines' famed Navajo Code Talkers. The Army's Nisei Battalion, the most heavily decorated — and wounded — of WWII, was of Japanese ancestry, and it's worth noting that 57,000+ immigrants became citizens since 9/11 while forward-deployed.

While WW2's Rosie the Riveter received the publicity, women in the military wrote their own chapters. After 22 Army nurses were captured by the Japanese when the Army surrendered at Corregidor, women rushed to enlist. Sgt. Clare Mendell (later wife of Marine Capt. James Lubin) commanded the women's unit at Quantico that wrote "The Letter" to the families of the KIA Marines, and during the war, most of the Army Air Force planes ferried to England were flown by women – with 36 of them crashing and dying on the way. Women Marines and soldiers have earned Bronze and Silver Stars while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and America's Women Warriors have received their fair share of Purple Hearts. The valor and capabilities of America's female combat veterans is not a topic that needs debating.

Thank you, all who serve or have served; it's you who protects America.

Nov 9, 2014

239 Years and Counting!

The 239th birthday of the Marine Corps is tomorrow; 10 November. This past weekend Marines -both active and former - throughout the world were attending celebrations and galas. Young Marines in their first set of dress blues, accompanied by their equally young girlfriends perhaps wearing last year’s high-school prom dresses, proudly rubbed elbows with their captains, majors, and other senior officers under whom they serve.

But a formal occasion isn't necessary; all over the country fathers dress up to take their Marine sons out for an evening, or a son will be sure to take his old man out for a few drinks. You see, tradition isn’t built on dining and dancing, it’s built on the remembrance and recognition of those who came before.

In many cases, being a Marine is a family tradition. There are birthday balls where sons, daughters, fathers, uncles, and cousins attend en masse—a family fire-team or a 155-mm gun crew, if you like—and they’ll tell you that becoming a Marine was one way of following in Dad’s footsteps. In many cases, becoming a Marine was something they’d wanted to do since they were little boys.

It’s hard to know what came first, the mystique of being a Marine, or the history and traditions that built the mystique; regardless, these Marines grabbed the concept and never let it go. Maybe they liked the way Dad carried himself, or maybe the stories of Tarawa, Chosin, or Hue city appealed to them. But being a Marine was part of their essential nature, part of their reason for being.

Some careers come with their own lasting dignity: hard jobs like steel worker, policeman, or Marine. Jobs where by the end of the day I-beams have been produced, drug dealers arrested, or villages cleared of insurgents. Jobs where sweat, effort, and dedication are more important than where someone went to college.

It’s an unusual thing about these jobs: those who have them look at life in moral, instead of economic terms. They tend to ignore income levels, job titles, and frequent-flyer miles earned, and instead rank others in terms of who can provide for their families, or who has the courage to dash out into the street under fire to drag back a wounded buddy. You can spot them by the way they look you in the eye and the way they carry themselves.

So 10 November is their day and Marines will celebrate the birthday of their Corps. Around the globe, in various climes and places, this year, last year, and next year, the following scene will play out: Whether the celebration is big or small, there is a birthday cake. Even though in Ramadi or those little COPS along the Helmand River, it was likely an MRE brownie, it was a cake, and in the tradition of the Corps, the oldest Marine at the service will present the first piece to the youngest. This is Marine tradition, the passing of the cake symbolizing “You are one of us. You are part of an organization that is older than the United States itself. The courage of your predecessors is part of your heritage. You are one of us—now go and pass it on.”

And that’s what brings us back to the 239th birthday of the Marine Corps, where being part of something larger than themselves, where hard work, sweat, brotherhood, and tradition are part of every day, and where terms like “honor,” “courage,” and “commitment” remain the way of life for The Few, The Proud, The Marines.

Happy Birthday Marines!!

Oct 5, 2014

Book Review: "The Lion's Gate", By Steven Pressfield

The Lion's Gate, by Steven Pressfield

With his latest book, "The Lion's Gate," best-selling author Steven Pressfield has added yet another masterpiece to a body of work that includes "Gates of Fire", "The Afghan Campaign", and "The Legend of Bagger Vance."

Different than the historical fiction on which he's built his reputation, in "The Lion's Gate" Pressfield tackles recent history; in this case Israel's preemptive strike against the massing Arab armies in the June 1967 "6-Day War." His thorough research is what makes the book so good; in addition to the books, magazines, and news clips of the 6-Day Way he read, Pressfield also traveled to Israel and interviewed 63 veterans of the fight. Talking with infantrymen, fighter pilots, half-trackers, helicopter pilots, Pressfield gives the reader a vivid understanding of the odds Israel was facing as the armies of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan gathered against the young country.

Most Marines today under the rank of Colonel were born after the June 1967 war, and while they may have studied Gen Ariel Sharon's brilliant advance across the Sinai Peninsula to the Suez Canal, few understand how tenuous was Israel's existence. Most Americans today associate Israel with an overwhelming combat supremacy, Bibi Natanyahu threatening a possible strike on Iran, or the ennui of never-ending Palestinian-Israeli bombings and counter-strikes.

But in 1967 Israel had been a country for only nineteen years and it's survival remained in doubt; the country was outnumbered 40-1, the Israeli Defense Forces were using WW2 leftover American M3 halftracks, surplus Patton and Centurian tanks, and in May, pro-Arab French President Charles DeGaulle reneged on his 1957 promise to support Israel. "This is 1967," he said, and cut off all arms shipments. More important, with Lyndon Johnson a lame-duck president mired in Vietnam, there was hope, but no guarantee of American military support.

In "Lion's Gate" the veterans Pressfield interviewed recount the massive odds they faced; the Egyptians had moved one thousand Soviet T-55 tanks to Israel's south, the Jordanians and Iraqi's were moving mechanized infantry, armor, and fighter squadrons to Israel's western border, and Syrian artillery was already shelling Israel from the north. When Egypt's President Nassar sent paratroops to seize Sharm-el-Shiekh and close the Gulf of Aqaba, the Arab world exploded in joy; dozens of thousands across North Africa and the Middle East demonstrated, screaming "Death to the Jews."

Pressfield, a former Marine infantryman, is a skilled researcher and historian. As the Israeli combat veterans talk about the sense of purpose they felt knowing if they failed, their wives and children would be slaughtered by the on-coming Arab hordes, Pressfield elicits such sobering stories of how the streets of Tel Aviv, Ashdod, and other cities were empty - all the city buses and even dairy trucks had been commandeered to carry the reservists. The call-up was so thorough, one veteran relates, that if the Egyptian Tupelov and Ilyushian bombers attacked the Israeli cities; there would be no one able to halt the cities from burning; both the fire trucks and firemen had been mobilized.

But what makes "The Lion's Gate" such a compelling story is how Pressfield wove the context of the survival of Israel into the veteran's boots-on-the-ground stories of El Arish, Jiradi Pass, and recapturing Jerusalem. In relating how Israel needed to fight and win both the near battle and the far battle, Pressfield uses Gen Moshe Dayan, to narrate why the war needed to be fought. But with Dayan dying in 1981, Pressfield reached out to Dayan's first wife, Ruth, and his daughter Yael, for insight into Dayan's thinking. "The only was to handle a bully," Dayan told Yael, "is to punch him in the face. Strike now, as soon as possible, and destroy him."

But as Marines, typically outnumbered but over-motivated, will understand, it's necessary to win decisively, and Pressfield digs out of Dayan's archives his quotes that "The enemy must be dealt such a blow that he will be deterred from striking again, for as long as must be the destruction of the Egyptian Army in a straight-up fight; tank against tank, man against man."

"The Lion's Gate" is one of Pressfield's finest books. In the backs-against-the-wall theme of "Gates's" Spartans at Thermopylae, Pressfield relates the true story of an entire country's courage while facing overwhelming odds. You won't put it down unfinished.

“The Lion’s Gate,"
by Steven Pressfield
Sentinel-Penguin Group, 2014
ISBN # 1-59523-091-1