We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Weekend Wanderings, Late September 2011

The weather has started to turn cold and I’m still in the midst of trying to put the Operation Dragoon seminar sessions onto DVDs. The Colmar Pocket Seminar (8-11 December) will likely arrive before I finish. Of course, the good news is that Alex Apple should be on the team full bore by then, so progress should be more steady. Fortunately, I’ve still been finding more interesting things on the internet to share.

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Muddy Boots Leadership
30 July 2011, 08:09
Filed under: Books, Leadership | Tags: , , , ,

I just finished Muddy Boots Leadership: Real Life Stories and Personal Examples of Good, Bad, and Unexpected Results, written by MAJ John Chapman (USA, retired) and heartily recommend it for leaders, both military and civilian. Chapman provides not only a great set of guidelines on various aspects of leadership, but also real life stories that illustrate the points – both positive and negative examples. Additionally, he includes quotes from commanders, philosophers, poets, scientists, business leaders and many others to emphasize his points.

The worse the weather, the more important for you to be there. Even in an office environment, there are times that no one wants to work and duties that no one wants to perform. If a leader never involves himself in these inconvenient and uncomfortable tasks, nor checks on them, it sends a message to those performing them about the unimportance of those tasks.

In writing about “Not Quitting”, Chapman quotes Albert Schweitzer, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” He then relates this real life story to illustrate how actions speak louder than words.

It was late Friday night. The platoon had been breaking down tank track and replacing track shoes for hours. The soldiers were beyond exhaustion. They were beyond intimidation. They quit working and sat down, waiting for the inevitable ass-chewing.

The platoon sergeant had worked just as hard and long as they had. He was every bit as tired, and many years older. He approached the sullen group and said… nothing.

He walked past them as if they were invisible. He slowly bent down, picked up the tools and began to break down track alone.

For several minutes the soldiers watched him sweat and grunt. Slowly, one by one, they each stood up and resumed work. Not a word was said, not then, not ever.

The book was a quick read for me and I think it useful for anyone in a leadership position or who hopes to have a leadership position. You may never have to inspect a listening post in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm, but the lessons Chapman learned as an officer can be applied anywhere.



A Leader of Black Sheep

Greg Boyington was a belligerent alcoholic who despised paperwork, couldn’t stomach rules, rankled under close supervision, disregarded proper uniforming and protocol, exaggerated his feats in China and in other ways demonstrated that he would never survive, let alone thrive in the modern Marine Corps. Yet….

WWII photo of Major Greg Boyington“Pappy” Boyington was not only one of the great fighter pilots of WWII, but also a stunningly effective leader who took a group of “casuals” and replacements and molded them into perhaps the most deadly fighter squadron in the Pacific theatre.

As a Premium Book Member of the US Naval Institute, I receive three books published by the Institute each year. I joined the Institute after my sister-in-law gave me a copy of Gators of Neptune: Naval Amphibious Planning for the Normandy Invasion, which tells the story of the sailors and planners of the naval side of the D-Day invasion. Of course, I already had dog-eared Clay Blair’s Ridgway’s Paratroopers without realizing it was a Naval Institute product. So, when I pulled the book mailer from my mailbox at the end of my block a few days ago, I nearly began dancing in the street.

In the late 1970s, I watched a lot of television. As a young man enamored of the military and wanting to be a tough guy, I adored Robert Conrad’s tough-but-caring portrayal of Pappy Boyington. While the television show bore almost no resemblance to reality, I enjoyed it immensely. As such, my joy was uncontained when John F. Wukovits’ Black Sheep: The Life of Pappy Boyington arrived.

While Boyington never fit in while in the Flying Tigers, once he had his own command in the Black Sheep Squadron (VMF-214 at the time, now VMA-214), Boyington became almost a different man. His leadership style had a lot of elements that I tried to emulate. I don’t know which of those came out in watching the TV show, but Wukovits details them in a chapter entitled, “We Had Pride; We Had Class; and We Were Winners”, quoting from one of Boyington’s men. Some highlights of his style:

  • Lead by example: “Boyington refused to send anyone on a mission that he would not go on as a squadron leader, and he made a point to be the first to volunteer for especially dangerous missions…. He believed that his example coaxed the rest to follow after him.”
  • Have few rules, but enforce those: “In his opinion, rules stifled imagination and initiative and allowed men like Colonel Smoak to throw their weight around. The only rules that mattered to Boyington pertained to the air, and those were to be implicitly followed. Otherwise, he commanded with a loose rein.”
  • Don’t try to do it all yourself: “Despite his abhorrence for anything official, Boyington realized that paperwork had to be filed and the nuts and bolts of a squadron had to be tended, so he delegated those duties to men who could capably execute them…. By utilizing his strengths and allowing others to compensate for his weaknesses, the undisciplined Boyington achieved tremendous results as a commander.”
  • Take responsibity for your people: “At some point during the squadron’s first days, someone warned Boyington that the inexperienced Lieutenant McClurg would either soon be dead or would accidentally kill another Black Sheep. Undeterred by the challenge, Boyington said what any top-notch educator would say: ‘If the boy can’t fly well enough, it’s up to me to teach him.'” McClurg finished the war as an ace, with 7 victories.

There’s plenty more there and I urge you to read it. Like so many airborne leaders, Boyington was unconventional. Heck, he and many of them were worse than unconventional – they were iconoclastic trouble-makers who would earn time in the brig when in garrison. Nonetheless, when it came time for a fight, we needed Pappy Boyington, Bourbon Bob Sink, and a host of others.



Weekend Wanderings: Sweet 16 Weekend 2011

Ah, the joys of the NCAA tournament continue. My own university bowed out in the first round, but I always enjoy watching the underdogs have a shot. Richmond and VCU were both underdogs and both from nearby Richmond, Virginia, so I was hoping for them to both win and face each other for a chance at the Final Four. Fortunately, VCU won their game, so I’m watching them push Kansas right now.



Weekend Wanderings Christmas 2010
26 December 2010, 11:30
Filed under: Books, Films, POWs, Weekend Wanderings, WWI, WWII | Tags:

A thought I’d see a lot of the posts this week concerning Christmas at war, but sadly not yet.

  • We start with a story from Time magazine about a British officer Lieutenant Michael Heming, who wished to learn to conduct after the war…
  • Lichanos posted an interesting bit on racism in War and Peace. Despite my interest in military history and time spent as an aspiring Sovietologist (back when that was political science and not history), I’ve never read Tolstoy. Maybe I can get it on Kindle after I finish The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After….
  • Sometimes, one person out-performs everyone else in an organization. One of the best cryptanalysts of the first half of the twentieth century worked for the Navy as a civilian and as a Yeoman Chief Petty Officer, was without peer among cryptanalysts and was credited with making breaks into most of the Japanese naval codes. It’s not surprising that you’d find that person buried in Arlington Cemetery, but it is surprising that she was known as “Miss Aggie”.
  • Today’s best Christmas present is The Best Picture Project, which is blogging about every Best Picture nominee from the Oscars. The review of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion is intriguing enough that I recommend you try tracking it down (Netflix even has it on their ‘instant’ viewer). It’s about two French officers captured during World War I and sounds very interesting. Read that review for more information….
  • I found a woman who’s working on a WWII graphic novel and she has some great sketches. Make sure to check the comments on her About page, as there is an interesting rant on re-enacting authenticity.
  • More on the French resistance, this time on film AND made during the war. Sadly, it’s not available on Netflix.


Happy 235th, Devil Dogs!
10 November 2010, 15:50
Filed under: Books, Korea, Marines, Veterans | Tags: , ,

Today is the 235th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Happy Birthday, Devil Dogs!

Private Hector Cafferata, awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Fox Hill during the Korean War, has so much respect for the process of becoming a Marine and is so proud of being able to call himself a Marine, humbly says, “…even though I didn’t go to boot camp, I can call myself a Marine.”

Later this month, we reach the 60th anniversary of the Chosin Reservoir campaign. I just read Last Stand of Fox Company and read good articles about it in both American Rifleman (Arms of the Chosin Few) and Naval History (70 Miles of Cold, Hard Road and The Snowy Battle for Hill 1304). What those Marines accomplished in atrocious conditions, against insurmountable odds is simply beyond belief.

My sincere thanks and wishes that this may be the happiest of birthdays for the Corps, with special thanks to my own favorite Marines: Alex Apple, Joe Muccia, Frank Zamarippa, Fernando Castelli and Carl Kime.



65th anniversaries
17 July 2009, 09:18
Filed under: Books | Tags: , ,

Last year, my lovely wife asked me if I’d be interested in returning to Normandy for the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Of course, I nearly jumped out of my chair. She fell in love with Normandy on our honeymoon and wanted to go back. We are likely to go back several times, I’m sure. We even discussed the idea of moving there, though that is a rather slim possibility for now.

Bill Galbraith and Manny Barrios, with Roger Day in the background

Bill Galbraith and Manny Barrios, with Roger Day in the background

So, we went to Normandy, stayed in a self-catering Gite, toured with Battlebus and visited many sites. The highlight of the trip for me was meeting four men: Roger Day, Ian Gardner, Manny Barrios and Bill Galbraith. Manny and Bill are veterans of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Roger and Ian wrote a book about the 506th, Tonight We Die As Men, and the four of them were signing it at the Dead Man’s Corner Museum. I’d heard about it from Paul Woodadge, who runs the Battlebus battlefield tour company, since he would be spending most of June 6th there. Both Ian and Roger were friendly, engaging and seemed honestly interested in my own little research project on Edson Raff.

When Bill was signing my book, I told him about Melissa’s father having served two tours in Viet Nam with the Signal Corps and I let Bill know what an honor it was to meet him. Melissa says that both Bill and I got a little misty over it. As I was talking to Roger, someone thanked Manny prodigiously and Manny said, “I don’t know why you’re thanking me. These fellas wrote the book.” To have given so much, but to expect so little is one of the things that distinguishes these heroes. There’s no pounding of their chests and proclamations that they’re “the greatest”. I’ve often heard veterans say that the heroes are the ones who didn’t come home. The humility and clarity of thought is amazing. Manny, we can’t thank them, so, please, let us thank you….

I got to talking to Roger in more depth about my research and he recommended Charlie Turnbow’s book (and another on the 509th that is out of print and currently selling for about $300). He perked up when he’d heard me talking to Ian about Edson Raff, so when I got down to that end of the line, he was percolating with information and ideas. It was such a pleasure to have someone know who I was talking about and where to look for more information. I’ve now received Charlie’s book from his wife, Beverly, and have started to read it. In a way, studying these men is a way of joining a community. There are other souls out there who are interested in the same things I am, and are eager to share their knowledge. They seem, as I know I do, overjoyed when they find another who shares their compulsion. Some of the joy of life is in sharing, be it sharing bread, sharing wine, sharing labor or sharing knowledge.

On August 4th and 5th, I’ll be attending events to honor the veterans of Operation Dragoon, to be held at the Sheraton Arlington. More opportunities to be with veterans and amongst the members of this community of historians.




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