View Full Version : U.S. Marines: They're still the few and the proud

04-27-03, 07:55 PM
U.S. Marines: They're still the few and the proud

Bucks County Courier Times

Regardless of individual feelings about the war in Iraq, no one can reasonably argue that our young men and women who fought there did not do a superb job in carrying out their assigned tasks.

Anyone who followed the day-by-day news reports of American and British troop movements had to be impressed by the professionalism displayed by our entire military. They included air and naval units, infantry and armored divisions, and special forces - all of them making their own contributions and proudly carrying out their assignments.

As has been the case in America's most recent conflicts, World War II, Vietnam, Korea and the earlier Gulf War, the toughest assignments in Iraq were routinely handed to our country's vanguard striking force, the Marines. When push came to shove and the "grunts" had to move out on the ground flushing snipers from their nests along urban streets, it was the Marines, especially the units of my old outfit, the U.S. 1st Marine Division, who got the call.

From the moment "Bravo" Company of the 5th Marine Regiment stormed across the Iraqi border launching the ground war that would ultimately topple Saddam Hussein, the Marines were unstoppable, fighting in the streets of Basra and Nasiriyah and eventually surging into the center of Baghdad.

In succeeding days, the Marines quickly moved north to capture Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, and along the way stunned the world with their spectacular rescue of seven American prisoners of war.

More than 50 years ago during the Korean War, I had the privilege of joining the 1st Marine Division. By that time they were already one of America's most highly decorated military units.

A decade earlier, they had landed on the Japanese island of Guadalcanal, distinguishing themselves as the first American ground forces to attack and capture enemy territory during World War II. In succeeding years, they would fight major WWII battles on the islands of Pelelieu and Okinawa.

Ironically, in the years immediately prior to World War II, most American military brass argued that we did not need a Marine Corps since a successful amphibious assault (then the Corps' primary mission) could not succeed against a heavily fortified position. Fortunately, a few Marine Corps officers (who then led a Corps not much larger than the N.Y. City Police Department) disagreed. They spent the 1930s refining the techniques and developing the equipment that would ultimately lead us to victory in World War II in spectacular amphibious assaults at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Pelileu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and the beaches of Normandy.

Then, in 1949, when World War II had barely ended, Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson again argued that there was no further need for either a Marine Corps or even a Navy. Asserting that the Air Force could do anything that these services could do, he insisted that the atomic bomb had made amphibious operations obsolete.

Events of the following year proved that Johnson was wrong. After the U.S. had suffered a series of major defeats in Korea, the supreme commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, would specifically request that the 1st Marine Division be sent to him. He would use them to spearhead an amphibious assault behind the enemy lines at the port of Inchon; thus launching the first major U.S. offensive of the Korean War.

Two months later, about 17,000 1st Division Marines would be attacked and surrounded by 120,000 Chinese Communist troops at the Chosin Reservoir deep in the snow-covered mountains of North Korea.

Considering the division to be America's premier military unit, the Chinese leadership was determined to annihilate them, and committed 10 of their best divisions to the battle. At times written off by the major news media as hopelessly outnumbered and doomed, the 1st Marines fought their way out of the trap destroying six of the enemy divisions and crippling the remaining four. Shortly thereafter, President Truman's military observer in Korea, Army Major General F. E. Lowe, wrote the president: "The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of Marines. Lord, how they fight. The Reds told us they were afraid to tangle with Marines and avoided them whenever they could."

A decade later 1st Division Marines were in Vietnam. They would fight alongside other units at Chu Lai and later decisively defeat Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army units during the now infamous Communist Tet offensive. In 1992, during the first Gulf War, they would lead the attack into Iraq.

Today in the greater Philadelphia area there are dozens of former 1st Division Marines who get together at monthly dinner meetings, and travel to national reunions to swap sea-stories and join their former buddies singing "Waltzing Matilda" (the Division's theme song since training in Australia in 1942).

They range in age from their early twenties to their late 80s. Many of them regularly assist active duty Marines at the Willow Grove Naval Air station in projects such as the annual "Toys for Tots" campaign.

Based on what we've been watching on TV from Iraq during the past weeks, you can bet the farm that there will soon be a new crop of 1st Division Marines joining the "oldtimers" in a chorus of "Waltzing Matilda."

Jerry Jonas' column appears Sundays. Leave a message at 215-949-0376; write c/o Life Department, Bucks County Courier Times, 8400 Rt. 13, Levittown, PA 19057; email:jjonas@infionline.net

April 27, 2003 11:24 AM



04-28-03, 08:16 AM
Semper Fi Roger