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


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: Bataan Death March 69th Anniversary
10 April 2011, 11:30
Filed under: Leadership, Normandy, POWs, Veterans, Weekend Wanderings | Tags: , ,

One of the most tragic events for Americans in World War II unfolded 69 years ago. Approximately 75,000 Americans and Filipinos who had surrendered on Bataan were force-marched to prisoner of war camps. At least 6,000 to 11,000 never reached the camps. Another example of man’s inhumanity to man….



Burn your boats
23 January 2011, 15:50
Filed under: Leadership | Tags: , , , ,

One of the reasons I enjoy American football is that you get to see men react to stress and difficult situations. Sometimes, you get to see true leadership and that’s why I write about it today.

Rex Ryan is loud and foul-mouthed. He’s grossly overweight and rarely exhibits grace or class. So, he’s not at all the kind of leader that I’ve striven to be. Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about him if he wasn’t a brilliant and capable leader. He excels at an emotional form of leadership that absolutely brings out the best in his team. Sally Jenkins wrote a brilliant article today on Ryan. In mid-December, having lost two games in a row, Ryan’s Jets were in trouble.

At the hotel on the night before the game Ryan delivered a fierce, choked exhortation in which he described the desperate expedition of conquistador Hernan Cortes, who sailed off to conquer Mexico in 1519. Cortes was so determined not to retreat, Ryan said, that he ordered his men to set fire to their ships. “They burned their boats!” Ryan shouted.

The following day, when the Jets and Steelers were tied at 10 at halftime, they took up the chant. “Burn the boats,” the Jets said. “Burn the boats.” Final score: Jets, 22-17.

They knew it was juvenile. They knew it was worthy of a high school locker room. Burn the boats? Fine. “We still got to get back to the airport, though,” Ellis notes, wryly. Yet they ate it up anyway, and have been using it ever since.

“Burn your boats,” Ellis says. “Definitely. It means go out there and leave nothing behind. I’m not going to say this is war, but basically, just go out there and don’t intend on coming back. Just leave it all on the field.”

There are many ways to lead and many manifestations of the effectiveness other than just wins and losses. Seeing Ryan’s men dropping their guard and giving into the emotion is stirring. It’s example of leadership that anyone can learn from – the passion Ryan exhibits and its infectiousness is hard to pass up.



Henderson awarded Bronze Star with Valor
20 January 2011, 18:37
Filed under: Henderson, Leadership, Marines, Officers | Tags: ,

LTC Anthony Henderson USMCWhile it didn’t happen in World War II or Korea, I’d like to note that LTC Anthony Henderson (USMC) was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor for his leadership of 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment in the fight for Fort Jugroom near Garmsir in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

The 19th century British fort “sits at a crossroads and along a river, letting those holding it dominate much of southern Helmand.” The Taliban had held off an attack by the Royal Marines in January of 2007. 15 months later, in April of 2008, the US Marines were on duty in Helmand, so 1/6 was tasked with clearing the fort. Henderson’s men fought a close quarters battle against 200-400 Taliban fighters, through tunnels, bunkers, minefields and buildings. As the Marines of 1/6 fought their way in, the Taliban attacked them from behind, making it a 360-degree battle. Chesty Puller might have said, “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.” As darkness fell, Henderson knew that the heat would continue and that he’d best pull his men back to a defensive position. When they headed in the next morning, Fort Jugroom was empty, the Taliban having stolen away in the night, in hopes of living to fight another day.

In the tradition of Chesty Puller and Jim Gavin, Henderson took a hands-on approach to leadership. “My desire was to be as far forward as I could be without interfering with the small unit leader’s ability to fight his fight against the enemy.”

Gravesite of COL Richard Henry Henderson at Arlington CemeteryLieutenant Colonel Henderson was in a staff position with the Joint Chiefs in DC this fall. “It’s humbling and fulfilling to lead Marines,” reflected Henderson. “I have a constant yearning to be back there and amongst them.”

I mention LTC Henderson here for two reasons. First, he exemplifies the hands-on take-charge leader that characterized the World War II airborne officers I’m studying. Second, he shares my wife’s last name. I know, it might be silly, but every Henderson out there and every Navarre, as well, will be heralded here for their accomplishments. As such, every time Devery Henderson scores a touchdown for the New Orleans Saints, I say to wife, “How ’bout your cousin Devery!” I think my father-in-law, LTC Richard Henderson, would be justifiably proud of his Marine “cousin”.


Cooks versus Chefs
19 January 2011, 19:17
Filed under: Leadership | Tags:

Mark Nakazono posted another good blog entry, and I don’t say that just because we each worked at a Burger King when we were younger. It’s a rumination on how to work and, perhaps, how to lead.

When I teach leadership to young men, we try to expose them to examples of good leadership, which is essentially providing them with “recipes”. We give them these tactics, these recipes, that they might use in leading, but what we really hope to do is to expose them to the various elements of leadership so that they can devise their own recipes. Every situation they encounter as leaders while bear some resemblance to the examples/recipes we provide, but will be different enough that they need to learn the skills of a chef, mixing the ingredients in ways that solve their unique problems.

Just as the only way to move from being a cook to being a chef is through practice and the confidence that comes with it, the only way for those young leaders to move from using those examples in a rote manner to actually being a leader is practice. One learns best how to lead by leading. We can provide all the “recipes for leadership” that we want, but we need more than anything to let them lead.

Take a minute and read Mark’s blog entry. You won’t regret it.



Weekend Wanderings Wildcard Weekend 2011
9 January 2011, 11:30
Filed under: 101st, Leadership, Weekend Wanderings | Tags: , ,

For those who aren’t adherents of American Rules Football, this is the first weekend of our playoffs, known as “Wildcard Weekend”, since the teams that made the playoffs as “wild cards” without wining their divisions, made it into the playoffs.



Weekend Wanderings New Years 2011
2 January 2011, 11:30
Filed under: Homefront, Leadership, Marines, Navy, Weekend Wanderings | Tags: , , ,

My lament about a lack of posts on Christmas at war was pre-mature. I just hadn’t wandered far enough to see them!




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