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


Veterans Panel: Iwo Jima 70th Anniversary

Touring the National Museum of the Marine Corps with veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima is an amazing privilege. While one can often find Iwo Jima veteran Frank Matthews in the museum working as a docent (feel free to stop for a moment and Google Frank Matthews Iwo Jim Marine Museum), there have never been and will never be so many veterans of the battle in the museum as there were on Friday. As part of the Iwo Jima 70th Reunion and Symposium, there were more than 20 such veterans at the museum. You couldn’t swing a camera without finding another to interview.

Many of the veterans stopped in front of the map of Iwo out in the main hall and, prompted by the docents (generally retired Marines themselves), pointed out where they’d landed and some of what they saw.

PFC Albert Pagoag, with whom I share a Basque ancestry, pointed where he landed with E/2/27 in the first wave. By the time he was wounded 20 days later, there was only one other Marine left in his company. After time in hospitals on Guam and back at Mare Island, he was discharged in February of 1946. He was promoted on his discharge to E-3, Corporal at the time, but in modern terms, a terminal Lance Corporal. Efforts of a Viet Nam era Marine secured funding for Albert from the Boise community and he not only attended this reunion but will attend the Reunion of Honor on Iwo Jima itself in late March.

Looking down from the stairs, I spied Josef Reece speaking to docent Mac Kolar about his time on Iwo. Josef served as an amphibious tractor (Amtrac) driver, making two trips to deliver fellow 5th Division Marines ashore on Blue 1. His LST had enough supplies that he stayed busy with that ship unloading for 4 days, then began unloading other ships while the battle raged.
Many of them spoke of that terrible black sand of Iwo Jima. The short beach lead directly to a tall wall of sand. The black sand was ‘like coffee grounds’ and Marines tell of feeling as though all the were doing when trying to climb up it was slide further down it.

On Saturday, there was a veteran’s panel with 6 veterans of the battle. The participants were General Lawrence Snowden, Don Mates, Charles Frazier, Wilson Horde (Navy), Walter O’Malley and Ron “Rondo” Scharfe (Navy). They offered recollections on the service, poignant reminiscences of battle buddies, and insight into the plight of the average Marine or sailor. It’s 75 minutes you won’t regret.

If you’re curious about Jimmy Trimble, who was Don Mates’ tent mate and a Washington Senators pitcher, you can see Gary Bedingfield’s biography of Trimble on his Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice website or ESPN’s Page 2 article on The Legacy of Jimmy Trimble by James Roberts.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to add the videos from the Museum later. Thanks to the folks over at Load the HEAT for prodding me to publish.

Advertisements


Tora, Tora, Tora in Carlisle!

February shapes up to be an interesting month for those interested in WWII history.

The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) continues the Strategic Art Film Program with a viewing, dinner and discussion of the award-winning film, Tora! Tora! Tora!, depicting the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 6:00pm,  in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

The evening will feature U.S. Army War College Professor Al Lord as film moderator.  He will review the film while guests enjoy a Japanese themed dinner with a complimentary glass of sake. In addition, the event will feature local Pacific theater militaria collections, as well as miniature and model displays highlighting Japanese WWII aircraft. Finally, guests will also have the opportunity to participate in assembling paper models of the famed Japanese Zero fighter plane, which gained its notoriety because of its widespread use during World War II.

Those who wish to participate in the dinner must purchase tickets from Carlisle Barracks MWR and can do so by calling 717-245-3099 or 717-245-4329. Preferred seating is provided for dinner guests, but those who do not wish to purchase dinner are welcome to enjoy the movie for free. Parking is also free, and the USAHEC facility is handicapped accessible. For more information about this and all other events, please visit the website: www.USAHEC.org or call: 717-245-3972.

I was up in Carlisle for the showing of Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper, which included a revealing talk by Doug Mastriano, whose work Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne places York’s action very specifically, down to having dug up the actual shell casings from the fight (no other action in that area during the war). The dinner was very good, though since the main course arrived while the light were out, I was guessing what I was eating. The staff there is very helpful with the reservation process, as I’d already experienced with the library staff. We drove up for the night and stayed at the nearby Marriott Residence Inn.



Iwo Jima Association Reunion 2015

The Iwo Jima Association of America is holding it’s 70th Reunion and Symposium on 18-22 February 2015 at the Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel. It’s always a magnificent event, with the opportunity to mix with Iwo Jima veterans, active duty and retired Marines, descendants and historians.

The base schedule is:

18 February – Registration (2-6pm) and welcome reception (6-8pm)

19 February – Ceremonies in DC/Arlington (8am-3:30pm) and a hospitality evening (6-8pm)

20 February – National Museum of the Marine Corps tour (8am-3:30pm) and Show & Tell (6-8pm)

21 February – Symposium and Panel Discussion (8:30am-3:30pm), Luncheon (noon-1pm, with a briefing by a senior Marine representative), reception (5-6pm, cash bar) and Banquet (6-11pm)

22 February – Farewells and departures

I can’t say enough about how well-run and well-attended this event is. As the touchstone event in the history of the Marine Corps, senior Marine leadership is actively in attendance and support. The Commandant will be the guest of honor at the Banquet and one of the top-level officers will speak at the luncheon. I have to admit that meeting and getting my photo with General Mattis two years ago was a true highlight. There are always several authors in attendance, selling and signing their books. They also usually have both a raffle and a silent auction to help support the organization. The band for the Banquet is our favorite big band, Radio King Orchestra, who do swing better than anyone else (and donate their time for this performance).

You MUST register by the 21st of January to ensure your space. After that, it is ‘space available’. Registration can be done online or by mail. In either case, best to download the event brochure, which details the schedule and provides the mail-in registration form.



Through the Wheat: The US Marines in WWI

In preparation for Tuesday night’s Military Classics Seminar Series, which covers both Max Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War and Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I; Barbara W. Tuchman’s Great War Series, I got a little derailed by a recommendation from the Marines I usually sit with and read a book by two former MCSS members, BG Edwin H. Simmons and COL Joseph H. Alexander, Through the Wheat: The U.S. Marines in World War I. Colonel Alexander passed away in late September and would be a familiar face to just about anyone who has seen History Channel shows on the Marines.

At the September meeting, I won a great book in the monthly raffle, Peter Owen’s To the Limit of Endurance: A Battalion of Marines in the Great War. That got down to the nitty gritty of movements of companies and small groups of men in the attacks from Belleau Wood to the end of the war. I didn’t have any perspective in between that and Tuchman’s grand overview, so I eagerly snatched up the Kindle edition of “Through the Wheat”.

To slip into an aside, I really have found two compelling reasons for e-books. Now, I love real, live books. There’s nothing like reading and turning pages, smelling the book, having the tactile sensations of the book, and getting the author to sign your book. You don’t get those with an electronic book, but you do get two other things: portability and maps.

While “Through the Wheat” is no massive volume, it’s really nice to always have it with me. I have a tablet and phone, so I’ve always got a copy of whatever Kindle books I’ve read with me. So, I could be carrying 6 or 7 books on WWI, or a few dozen on Marines, and quickly cross-reference or simply read while walking to lunch or sitting down somewhere for a drink. I was reading both this one and Hastings (though I have not finished Hastings yet). As a book-addict, I could sneak 5 minutes of reading in at obscure moments. I didn’t even need to plan it.

As I’ve noted before, the greatest leap involved in having a book on a tablet is that you can just load Google maps or some other application and pull up the location being covered in the book. That is, if the book doesn’t have maps, you suddenly do. While you may not have a thematic map, with unit symbols and direction of movement drawn on it (“Through the Wheat” has some beautiful maps, by the way), you have two other abilities beyond just being able to get any map — zooming and terrain. Sometimes, it’s hard to place the action in relation to known landmarks or in context to the rest of the campaign. The zoom really allows you to do that. Looking at the terrain in Google Earth or even just contour lines and satellite imagery gives you a perspective far closer to actually walking the ground than anything else.

To return to the subject, “Through the Wheat” is a well-written book with extensive research behind it and a great ability to keep the story and the people flowing. One of the great problems in writing military history, especially in a unit study in which there are so many casualties, is to keep the story flowing, rather than jumping from place to place and from personal story through unit perspectives to some kind of overview. Alexander and Simmons were masters of the art, learned over decades, and had a mastery of the material. So, the movements of the various battalions in the Marine Brigade and of the officers transferring between those units (and occasionally both out-and-back-into them), I didn’t feel a sense of confusion and wonder who was who or how the Brigade suddenly ended up on the other side of Rheims. Of course, another aspect of this is deciding which interesting stories would detract from that by being too singular or too detailed for a study of the entire Brigade.

Getting one’s mind around the Marine experience in World War I is not easy, but I think “Through the Wheat” offers a great introduction to it. It deals with the entire range of issues, from the rapid expansion of the Corps, through training, the political maneuverings to get the Marines into the fight (both with the Army and the French) as well as the insights into each of the 5 battles the Brigade fought during the war.

I fully expect to walk the ground in Belleau Wood in 2015, with my trusty tablet in hand, reviewing Cates’ commentary on the assault through the wheatfield. If I’m lucky, I’ll have found Peter Owen’s friend and guide, Alain Romelot, and won’t be as lost as one would expect.



Military Classics Seminar Series

Last Tuesday, I attended a seminar session that’s part of the Military Classics Seminar series. The MCS is now in it’s 57th year and, shockingly, this is the first I’ve heard of it. They meet on the 2nd Tuesday of every month from September to June at the Fort Myer Officer’s Club for a dinner, a speech about a book (or a pair of books) and discussion. For my first meeting, the topic was David Ulbrich’s book, Preparing for Victory: Thomas Holcomb and the Making of the Modern Marine Corps, 1936–1943, published by the Naval Institute Press, and the speaker was Dr Charles Neimeyer of the Marine Corps University.

It was a fantastic event. The group contains many retired military officers and historians – so, exactly the people who are interested in what I and the readers of this blog are interested in. They are quite friendly to first timers, so don’t hesitate to attend. They do have a website, but the skinny is, send an email about a week in advance to Eric Joyce at this e-mail address militaryclassics@gmail.com and bring your $35 when you arrive on the second floor for cocktails at 5:30pm, dinner, the book talk and discussion. Expect to finish around 9:00pm and bring a few dollars for the open bar and a few for the book raffle (I won a book on Holcomb’s battalion, 2/6, in WWI).

I’ve been looking for a group of like-minded individuals interested in the broad expanse of military history for quite some time. So, I’ve found a home!

This year’s schedule:

October 21, 2014

Gian Gentile, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. New York: The New Press, 2011.

Speaker: David Ucko, Associate Professor at the College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University

November 18, 2014

Dual selection: Max Hastings, Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. New York: Knopf, 2013; and Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (1962).

Speaker: Dr. Thomas Parker, George Washington University

January 20, 2015

Steven L. Rearden, Council of War: A History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1942–1991. Washington, D.C.: Joint History Office, 2012.

Speaker: Walter S. Poole, OSD Historical Office

February 17, 2015

Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944–1945, vol. 3 of The Liberation Trilogy. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013.

Speaker: David W. Hogan, Jr., US Army Center of Military History

March 17, 2015

Richard Kohn, Eagle and Sword: The Beginnings of the Military Establishment in America (1975) (Free Press, paper, 1985). [reviewed 1980]

Speaker: Eliot Cohen, Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies, The Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

April 21, 2015

Edward N. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976. [reviewed 1978]

Speaker: Arthur M. Eckstein, Professor of History and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, University of Maryland, College Park

May 19, 2015

Luigi Albertini, The Origins of the War of 1914. London; New York, Oxford University Press, 1952-57.

Speaker: Tom Julian, Independent Historian

June 16, 2015

Tracy Barrett Kittredge, Naval Lessons of the Great War. Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Co. 1921.

Speaker: Mark Mandeles, President, The J. de Bloch Group



Another perspective on Herbert Sobel
11 September 2014, 19:40
Filed under: Band of Brothers, Officers | Tags: , ,

Marcus Brotherton wrote a nice blog post that reveals more of the truth about Herbert Sobel, the man, to add to the image many people have of him from the HBO series. I tend to agree with Marcus and many of the veterans that Captain Sobel truly shaped Easy Company in a positive way, but, based on what else I’ve read, it was better that he didn’t lead the company in combat. His methods may not have been the right ones, but they ended up producing a highly effective unit.



Johnson approved by SecDef for Medal of Honor
27 August 2014, 19:03
Filed under: WWI | Tags: ,

As I noted last May, Henry Lincoln Johnson was eventually awarded the DSC, posthumously, for his actions in WWI. Now, the Secretary of Defense has recommended that Johnson be awarded the Medal of Honor.




%d bloggers like this: