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

Weekend Wanderings, Dragoon Weekend 2011

Monday will mark the 67th anniversary of Operation Dragoon. Last weekend’s seminar and commemoration was, as noted, fantastic. I’d been storing up a few links as I haven’t been able to post a “Wanderings” of late.

  • On OperationDragoon.org, they posted a great story about British paratrooper Peter Matthews meeting, for the first time since August of 1944, the “boy” he gave chocolate to.
  • As the modern soldiers and marines struggle up and down the mountains of Iraq, wondering how to transport supplies and ammunition, we can find an innovative method back in Korea. SGT Reckless made 51 trips up the mountains of the “Nevada Complex” in one day of the Battle of Outpost Vegas, carrying almost five tons of ammunition to Marine gunners. She was wounded twice, but did not stop. The small, Mongolian mare (yes, a horse!) served ably from 1952 to her retirement as a Staff Sergeant in 1960, and was buried with full military honors at Camp Pendleton in 1968.
  • Adam Bernstein of the Washington Post wrote a marvelous obituary for Nancy Wake, known as the ‘White Mouse’ of World War II. She went from being a “sultry glamour girl” married to a rich Frenchman to a wily and effective resistance leader over the course of the war, deying the Gestapo at every turn. The quotes from her are simply precious, and I urge you to read Bernstein’s effort. Any of us would have been proud to know her. Canada’s National Post included a more modern photo of Ms. Wake in their obituary, with far less interesting prose.
  • There’s a rather interesting blog post about the role of the NCO in the American Army throughout history. Not sure about the author’s view on when the role changed, but it is interesting nonetheless. I think the Marines were already doing this in Haiti in Chesty Puller’s time….
  • The 67th anniversary of the capturing of Guam was remembered by Mariah, who usually writes about fashion in New York, but took time out to post marvelous Life magazine photos from the period, including one of Marines holding a sign thanking our most unsung service, the Coast Guard.

Songs for a Hero

Lucas Peerman, who is Leroy Petry’s cousin and the digital editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News, had written one of the articles I’d used in researching for my blog entry on SFC Petry. He has also been blogging about the experience on his own blog, A Week in Washington. When Miguel Estrada posted on comment on my blog entry that he had some songs he’d like to give to SFC Petry on a CD, I passed along his contact information to Lucas. Lucas contacted Miguel and, if you read Lucas’s blog entry, you can learn a bit about Migeul and download his songs. It’s a great tribute to our troops by a patriot who adopted this land, just as all of our own ancestors did over the years.

If you’ve seen “Taking Chance“, with Kevin Bacon, I think you’ll find that though Lucas has several marvelous entries in his blog, but tops on the list must be the story of a Marine who felt honored just to share a beer with Leroy.

Weekend Wanderings, mid-July 2011
17 July 2011, 11:30
Filed under: Marines, Veterans, WWII | Tags: , ,

One of today’s Freshly Pressed blogs also mentions the use of iPads in learning. I was especially interested at the mention of using them to help out in galleries. I found a few other WWII related blog entries as well:

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: Final Four 2011
3 April 2011, 11:30
Filed under: Korea, Marines, Weekend Wanderings, WWII | Tags: , , ,

With VCU going against Butler on Saturday, we were assured of at least one “Cinderella” team in the final, but being a Virginian, I was pulling for VCU all the way. Well, Monday night, I will be a Butler fan.

Weekend Wanderings: NCAA Opening Weekend

I don’t watch much basketball, but you can’t help but dive into the NCAA tournament with gusto. I absolutely love it because you see the raw emotions and the stunning extra effort put forth by young men striving together for a goal. What makes it both sad and joyous is that at the end of March Madness, we have only one team on top. So, I’ll spend a lot of my free time over the next few weeks watching a bunch of boys run up and down a court with a ball. I’ll scream and shout. I’ll laugh and I’ll cry. I always told my Boy Scouts that what is interesting about sports is one of the main thing that is interesting about studying war – it exposes the struggles of men and allows you to see them triumph or fail.

  • In a completely different vector, Eric Wittenburg posted a letter from Bud Hall, great-grandson of a Mississippi Confederate in Barksdale’s brigade and a Viet Nam veteran himself, on the true cause of the Civil War. Hall quotes Longstreet and Mosby.
  • 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines is coming home. My high school classmate, LT Bill Hlavin, serves as the Chaplain for 3/25. Bill had previously served as a Naval officer on a destroyer and as an NROTC instructor before entering the ministry. He offered a prayer before their deployment, and again, as they finished their tour, he published another, “3rd Battalion, 25th Marines has been officially relieved of all duties in Afghanistan. We’ll be on our way home soon. Thanks be to God!”

Weekend Wanderings Super Bowl XLV
6 February 2011, 11:30
Filed under: 506th, Marines, Navy, Veterans, Weekend Wanderings | Tags:

Super Bowl Sunday is a uniquely American experience, parties that start mid-afternoon on a Sunday and last until the game ends. Loads of food, a good amount to drink and a game on in the background. Oh, I almost forgot the commercials! The commercials are usually the best part.

  • Every year, folks go out and commemorate the Battle of the Bulge with a reenactment at Fort Indiantown Gap. Friends of mine were there and passed along a link to a good article about the event. Hat tip to Brim.
  • Craig made a good post to commemorate Operation Flintlock on its 67th anniversary. Operation Flintlock is a textbook example of “joint” operations built by experience – a prime example of Lessons Learned.

Weekend Wanderings Pro Bowl Weekend 2011
30 January 2011, 11:30
Filed under: Marines, Weekend Wanderings

Today, we’ll get to see some of the best players in American football in its “All-Star” game, the Pro Bowl. I think that moving the Pro Bowl to the weekend before the Super Bowl was one of the smartest things they could have done with it. No one used to watch it when it happened after the Super Bowl and no one paid attention to who was in it. Now, during the playoffs, I notice when the lineups change – none of the players on the Super Bowl teams will play in the Pro Bowl, so it can make a real difference in the lineups. That said, it’s almost the end of our season, which always makes me sad. Fortunately, pitchers and catchers report for spring training for baseball in a few weeks and I can get back to reading the Sports section of the Washington Post.

  • I’m guessing not many World War II Marine Scout/Snipers ended up with long careers in the movies. Lee Marvin did. There’s a fantastic post about him by Long Fade, who writes about record-cover art. It was prompted by The Music from M Squad, an album from the NBC TV series that Lee Marvin starred in.

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”.

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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