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

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome
9 January 2012, 18:49
Filed under: Marines, Veterans | Tags: , , , ,

Vester Elvin “Puci” Blevins passed away recently. He’d spent over 30 years serving as the Superintendent of the Oneida, Tennesseee, Water Department and on the local school board, but what struck me most was his determination. No, I’d not met Puci, but I did read his obituary in Leatherneck this month.

The Battle of Iwo Jima included some of the fiercest fighting in World War II. Some 21,000 Japanese soldiers stationed there fought ferociously, with only about 1,000 of them surrendering. Puci Blevins landed on the first day and fought there for all 38 days of the battle. He would have landed on either the Red or Green beaches and may have assaulted up Mount Suribachi – at the very least, he would later say that he “saw the first Iwo Jima flag raising from the foot of Mt. Suribachi.”

Blevins must have transferred from the 5th Marine Division, as he was in the 2nd Marine Division for the occupation of Japan, with his obituary noting Sasebo and Nagasaki.

The part that really caught me in his obituary in Leatherneck was that when Puci enlisted in 1943, it was his third attempt to enlist. He’d been rejected twice due to his poor eyesight. When he went in for the third time, Blevins followed a Marine mantra. Marines are often at the tail end when it comes to new equipment, so many units use “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” as their mantra.

  • Not being able to see the eye chart clearly, Puci improvised.
  • His adaptation was memorization of the eye chart.
  • A true leatherneck in his heart, he overcame the obstacle.

Semper Fi, Puci.

One tough Marine
29 December 2011, 12:18
Filed under: Marines, Veterans | Tags: ,

The Old Jarhead pointed me to the story of Marine Lieutenant Colonel Karl Trenker, 48, who was shot three times by two men who stole a gold chain his fiancee was trying to sell via Craigslist. They swiped the chain when he showed it to them and took off running. He drove around the neighborhood looking for them. When he found them, he gave them a chance to just put the necklace down and walk away. They ran again. The good Colonel pursued, for which they shot him three times. He merely plugged the holes with his fingers and called her to let her know he’d been shot. He told NBC that “If he [the gunman] didn’t have a pistol I would’ve whipped his butt.”

Weekend Wanderings, Thanksgiving 2011
27 November 2011, 11:30
Filed under: Books, Marines, Weekend Wanderings, WWII | Tags: , , , , ,

I haven’t posted a set of Wanderings of late, but have been accumulating some interesting links. Hopefully, you didn’t over-eat on Thanksgiving or, if you are not a celebrant, on a lovely fall weekend.

Do harsh environments produce strength?

When you visit a vineyard, especially in France, one of the shocking things is often how difficult and unforgiving the soil appears. Often, rocky, sloped hillsides that drain water like a sieve, lying exposed to the sun produce the grapes and, thus, the wines of greatest character. In Bordeaux, the sweet wines are the product of what winemakers call “noble rot”. In difficult environments, the skilled winemaker makes magnificent wines.

I recently attended the US Naval Institute’s Honors Night, at which it honors authors of articles and books published by the Naval Institute. I believe that it was in VADM Daley’s remarks that mention was made of the current fiscal situation and looming belt-tightening in the Navy. As I sat, I thought about the recent talk Dr. David Ulbrich gave in the Perspectives in Military History Lecture Series up in Carlisle (you can watch it), which is based on his book on Thomas Holcomb, Commandant of the Marine Corps in the lead up to WWII. Lean times in the Marine Corps, yet the source of many of the ideas that formed the framework of the wartime Marine Corps.

I think about Marine boot camp. It is not by gentle guidance that they turn civilians into Marines. It is by forcing them through the crucible that they produce a finely-honed blade.

So, while the money may be tight, I have faith that our military will dispense with nonsense and trivia, concentrate mental effort on the mission and produce the leaders and the guidelines that we will need moving forward.

Of course, it ain’t gonna be easy, but if anyone told you life was going to be easy, they were lying.

Weekend Wanderings, 28 years after Beirut

28 years ago today, we had Marines deployed with weapons they could not use, with a barracks that was indefensible, in a location where it was bound to be attacked.

  • Over at One Marine’s View, we are reminded of those brave men, including comments by a Marine whose time was too short to go on that deployment. Semper Fi, Marines.
  • Thankfully, on 28 April 2008, in Ramadi, two Marines were properly armed and prevented a similar tragedy. I’ve linked to the story before, but since it is such a contrast with Beirut and my good friend, Alex Apple, was but 100 yards away, let me re-link: Commander Salamander had posted a speech and video of General Kelly’s speech on the two Navy Crosses awarded to LCPL Jordan Haerter and CPL Jonathan Yale. He linked to his source at American Thinker, who had written about it back in March of 2009 as well.
  • Paul Woodadge, who gives excellent tours in Normandy, passed along a great story of two veterans from the UK who reunited 67 years later, both assuming the other hadn’t survived.
  • The Congressional Medal of Honor Society met in Lousiville, Kentucky this year and Norman Fulkerson wrote a good article about it. (Thanks to Monika for passing it along!)

Whither Mark Clark?

I must admit to knowing very little about Mark Clark – so little that I learned some things by reading his wikipedia entry. That said, he has been characterized as somewhat distant and self-serving in some things that I’ve read – in particular for his efforts to sieze Rome in early June of 1944 against orders. He is also often criticized for Monte Cassino, Anzio and Salerno.

However, the reason I thought to mention him today is that I was utilizing a new Google tool. It’s their “Ngram” Viewer.

When you enter phrases into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., “British English”, “English Fiction”, “French”) over the selected years.

I had entered a collection of officers just to see how they fared: Chesty Puller, Smedley Butler, George Patton, and Mark Clark. While Chesty Puller’s name has never appeared often, his legendary status among Marines always brings him into play. Smedley Butler is slowly fading as he becomes just another General from the past. However, the interesting part for me is how Clark spikes so much higher, including a second spike that is likely related to his Korean War service, but now seems to be slipping as Patton continuesd a steady ascent (though both have dropped in recent years).

Very interesting. I also checked Audie Murphy and John Basilone together.

Weekend Wanderings, Early October 2011

I was a Scoutmaster for 14 years and one of my Eagle Scouts had joined the Marines. He spent some time outside of Ramadi and is now medically retired from the Marine Corps. We’re celebrating his service this weekend (if only I could find a Marine NCO sword – they’re back-ordered everywhere!), but he’s some good links to share:

29 September 2011, 19:57
Filed under: Marines, Medal of Honor | Tags: ,

I guess it’s odd in a sense that humility is such an admirable trait. I’ve always liked my heroes humble. The “aww, shucks, I just got lucky” farm boy who hits the homerun or the real warrior who can’t understand why he’s recognized for doing something “any Marine would have done”.

There’s a long tradition of soldiers, sailors and Marines who are awarded medals and wonder why, or in the instance of the Iwo Jima flag-raisers, who get the adulation as heroes, but don’t understand it. They were just doing their job, and, as Dakota Meyer noted in his interview on 60 Minutes, despite having done more than they can reasonably have been asked to do, they have a lingering feeling that they didn’t do enough. Many of them don’t want the attention and don’t want to be treated any differently than anyone else.

I pointed out in an update that Sergeant Dakota Meyer wanted to join the New York Fire Department. He’d served with men who’d been firemen there and his grandfather was a fireman. He missed the deadline to apply by a day, but the city attempted to re-open acceptance of applications. A judge ruled that reopening wouldn’t allow all possible applicants an equal chance, since not everyone has internet access, so he wouldn’t reopen the process to everyone. He did, however, see Meyer as special, so he offered to allow only Meyer to apply. His lawyer, Keith Sullivan, let everyone know where our hero stood on the issue.

“Dakota refuses to compromise his values,” Sullivan said Tuesday. “He said he would like to thank the city of New York and the people who have shown him so much support, but he couldn’t in good conscience take a one-person exception. He will apply for the exam when it’s given again in four years.”

Thanks to our friends over at Bring the Heat for pointing us to Neptunus Lex to read up on it.

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.

SGT Dakota Meyer, MOH

On “60 Minutes” last night, Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer said “You either get them out alive or you die trying. If you didn’t die trying, you didn’t try hard enough.”

It’s heart-crushing to know that this young man, who braved heavy enemy fire five times, saving 36 of his comrades, sounds as if he feels, at his core, that he failed. One thing that comes out when you talk to veterans is the guilt they feel for surviving when othes did not. It seems that those who are marked by receiving the Medal of Honor feel that burden even more so. I think of Audie Murphy and how he struggled with the burden, or John Basilone, who eagerly went back to “his boys” in combat in the Pacific. We can look to the flag-raisers from Iwo Jima and read in Flags of Our Fathersjust how difficult it is to be in the blazing focus of publicity.

SGT Meyer’s actions on 8 September 2009 were simply astounding. He feels not only that any other Marine would have done just as he did, but also that Army Captain William Swenson has been unjustly denied any recognition for his actions that day. Two other Marines, Captain Ademola Fabayo and Staff Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, were awarded the Navy Cross for their actions, but the paperwork for any recognition for Captain Swenson was “lost”. Swenson quite rightly had criticized the officers at nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce for refusing to provide either air or fire support during the six-hour firefight. His criticism was confirmed when a military investigation cited those officers for negligence, effectively ending their careers.

Meyer had volunteered for Afghanistan when 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines was deploying to Iraq. The Scout-Sniper became a part of Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, helping to train Afghani troops. First Lt. Michael Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Edwin “Wayne” Johnson, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick and Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton led a combined force into Ganjgal, expecting to meet with village elders and instead being ambushed. When neither air support nor fire support was provided to the surrounded Marines, Meyer looked over to Staff Sgt. Rodriguez-Chavez and said, “We’re going in.” In five trips in and out of the kill zone, Meyer, the Staff Sergeant, Swenson, Ademola and an Afghan interpreter named Fazel, were able to save 36 Americans and Afghanis. They could not, however, reach the Marines in time to save them.

There are 85 living members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and I’ve read that Meyer has already had advice from Salvatore Giunta. Robert Maxwell told me that the Society has annual meetings and my hope is that SGT Meyer will attend, listen and share his experience with the others who have borne this burden for many years.

“If I get it, it’s good because it’s good for the Marine Corps, it’s good for the guys and it’s good for the parents. But I’m not in it for me,” he said. “These guys gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and their families have to live with it. If they give it to me, it’s not for me. It’s for those guys and their families.”

UPDATE: Meyer has applied to become a New York City fireman. He had missed the deadline for applications to join the FDNY by a number of hours, but the city has reversed course and plans to accept his application.

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