Posts tagged with: U.S. Marines

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, February 7, 2013

ServingGodAndCountry2

I frequently noted in the field, how chaplains – to a man – sought out front line action. And I assume that was because, as one put it, at the time: ‘There is where the fighting man needs God most – and that’s where some of them know him for the first time. – U.S.M.C. Commandant A.A. Vandegrift, 1945

The last two decades has seen a surge in interest in popular historical study of America’s role in the Pacific and Europe during World War II in films and books but little to no individual attention has been given to the role of military chaplains. There were never enough chaplains to serve American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, but as Dorsett points out those that served found innovative and courageous ways to reach the men. “They can’t say that the church forgot them, when they were called into service and henceforth in their lives they will forget the church,” declared Lutheran Chaplain Edward K. Rogers. “They may forget the church and God, but the church and God’s pastors or priests did not forget them.” Chaplains were integral to America’s victory in Europe and the Pacific. This is the argument put forward in Serving God and Country: US Military Chaplains in World War II by Lyle Dorsett.

Outside of the famous four U.S. Army chaplains who sacrificed their lives to save fellow military and civilian men when the transport Dorchester sank in 1943, there is very little popular historical assessment of the enduring role of chaplains in the war and how they helped shape a post-war society. Chaplains broke new ground when it came to racial desegregation in training classes and contributed to greater ecumenical understanding between churches, denominations, and synagogues. “The clergy integrated well and became pioneers in the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces before President Harry S. Truman’s executive order 9981 of July 1948,” declared Dorsett.

Integration of ideas and practical ecumenicsm also flourished. For example, some Protestant pastors, while well educated, previously may have had limited interpersonal contact with other traditions and faiths like Judaism or Catholicism. As one chaplain pointed out, “It was harder to speak ill of one’s faith when that person was a friend.” Chaplains also had to be trained in the basic rudiments of other faiths in order to offer proper religious counsel for servicemen.

Undeniably, the United States on the eve of Pearl Harbor in 1941 was remarkably less secular than today. Chaplains or “chappies” were, with very few exceptions, Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Jewish. Parents, especially mothers, were comforted by the fact that their sons had professional shepherds to guide them in the field and throughout their military service. World War II was the first American conflict where published images, especially from the Pacific at bloody battles like Tarawa, would relay disturbing images to Americans at home. Chaplains were pressed to the limit on both fronts of the war, but the savage fighting of the Pacific island hopping campaign tested military chaplains to minister in what many combatants called “the depths of hell.” “By their patient, sympathetic labors with the men, day in and day out and through many a night, every chaplain I know contributed immeasurably to the moral courage of our fighting men,” added Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. (more…)

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, December 18, 2012

American soldiers on D-Day, June 1944.

American soldiers on D-Day, June 1944.

The history of America is filled with heroic tales of courage and sacrifice. At the outset of World War II, most of the world was under tyranny. Sixteen million Americans served the country during World War II. Four hundred thousand of those Americans died in the war. They made history at places like Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Salerno, Normandy, and the Ardennes. Most of the men who freed the world from Nazi and Imperialist Japanese aggression have now passed from this earth. But while almost 1,000 veterans of the conflict die a day, there are still about a million living in this country.

The “Honor Flight” documentary is an incredibly moving film about a few of these men from the Midwest. It captures American history and pride, and their trip to visit some of our nation’s monuments in Washington. And for many of them, this will be a last day of tribute that they will remember in their lives.

A recurring theme throughout the film is that many veterans did not talk about their experiences when they came home from the war. This fact was touched upon in a previous PowerBlog post about Marine veteran E.B. Sledge, who was a great writer and author of With the Old Breed. Admiral Chester Nimitz paid tribute to Americans like Sledge when he said of the men who took Iwo Jima, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Fortunately over the last couple of decades there have been a number of popular books, films, and new museums that have raised awareness of this war and its importance for liberty around the world for a new generation. There are great places like the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and the book and film Band of Brothers, which tells the riveting and heroic story of “Easy Company” and their combat experience in Europe. “Honor Flight” is another important tribute that raises the awareness of the heroics of many of these men and the sacrifices they made for America and the world.

The goal of the Honor Flight program is to help “every single veteran in America, willing and able of getting on a plane or a bus, visit their memorial.” Since it is at no cost to the veteran a lot of money has to be raised. This film touches on some of the monumental fundraising efforts that made this trip possible.

Featured in this film are the stories of Harvey Kurz, Orville Lemke, Julian Plaster, and Joe Demler. These are humble men. Almost humorously, the film features footage of Kurz, holding down a job and bagging groceries at his local Pick n’ Save. Kurz, of course, is probably at least in his late 80s. Demler, also known as “the human skeleton,” wasted away to 70 pounds in a German POW camp during the conflict.

What is so amazing about this film is the way it brings veterans and families together to reap so many memories and moments of joy. So many men are reunited and given a worthy and tremendous tribute. They share stories for the first time and take us back to a time when the world was at war and American blood was shed on the soil, beaches, skies, and oceans across the world. This film is worth seeing and while many have come before “Honor Flight” to give World War II veterans their due and tell their story, this is a reminder of just how many we are losing and that they are indeed “The Greatest Generation.”

When I first went to work for former Mississippi Congressmen Gene Taylor, I was going through a file cabinet and spotted a thick folder with the name “J.C. Wheat.” I sat down and read through it. J.C. was the father of Marine Lance Corporal Roy Mitchell Wheat. The folder contained all the things Congressman Taylor had done in helping to pay tribute to J.C.’s son. A Naval ship was christened in Roy Wheat’s name in 2003.

I felt a little guilty for not knowing much about Roy Wheat after I found out what he did. He was killed in Vietnam in August of 1967. A portion of his Medal of Honor citation reads:

Shouting a warning to his comrades, L/Cpl. Wheat in a valiant act of heroism hurled himself upon the mine, absorbing the tremendous impact of the explosion with his body. The inspirational personal heroism and extraordinary valor of his unselfish action saved his fellow Marines from certain injury and possible death, reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Wheat and his family have a story. I remember seeing an old haunting photo of his parents at his Medal of Honor ceremony from 1968, stoically posed, but obviously wracked by grief. I remember reading an article that talked about how his mother, a devout Christian, prayed for his safe return from Vietnam. Wheat, who was from the small community of Moselle, Miss., was like a lot of country boys across America. He was God-fearing, loved to hunt, and dreamed of one day owning his own cattle farm.

The Virtual Wall helps to tell the stories of the men and women who died in Vietnam. Many daughters and sons write heart breaking notes wrapped in tribute and grief to fathers they never knew or barely remember. Often, they plead for men who served with their father to reach out to them so they can learn something new about their dad. Like the monument in Washington it supplements, the Virtual Wall testifies to the cost of war.

There are more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington. Other names include John Geoghegan, a great representative of the courage of the men who fought in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. Geoghegan was killed trying to rush to the aid of one of his men, Willie Godbolt. Godbolt’s name is next to Goeghegan’s. Casualties on the wall are listed chronologically. The story of the men of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Ia Drang is superbly depicted in the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young. A popular movie based on the book was released in 2002.

This Memorial Day we might also remember the courageous but tragic stories of the men who took to the dangerous skies over Vietnam. Men like Harley Hall, Earl Hopper, Jr., Michael Blassie, and Lance Sijan. They all have stories that are made visible by the Virtual Wall. Sijan, who was brutally tortured by his captors as a prisoner of war, died still plotting his escape while in an emaciated condition. Defiant to the end, Sijan is a symbol of the very best of American values, resistance, and courage. His life and sacrifice is immortalized in the excellent book Into The Mouth Of The Cat: The Story Of Lance Sijan, Hero Of Vietnam.

John Wheat, who is Roy’s youngest brother, was quoted in a news story a few years back saying how important it was to recognize Roy as a hero. But he wanted people to remember the cost. Holding back tears, his brother declared:

When you see a man there that’s 19 years old, and you can look in the casket and his shoes are at the end of it. And his pants legs is neatly rolled up. It’s, that’s when you realize what war is.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Today is the 235th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. The PowerBlog has some excellent tributes to the Marines in the archives. They are certainly appropriate to highlight today:

Here is an excerpt from my post “The Few, The Proud, The Marines:”

When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, one of the rewards of the job was helping veterans with military casework. I was also able to meet many of the Marine veterans from battles such as Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa, the “frozen” Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sahn. They are the men who helped spread the light and flame of freedom across the world. Today, this elite class of warriors remain dedicated to the courage and principles that made our country free. All the Marines I know are familiar with Ronald Reagan’s words, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.”

And below is The 2010 United States Marine Corps Birthday Message, from the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen James F. Amos, marking the 235th birthday:

Check back in with the PowerBlog tomorrow for Veterans Day because there will be a special tribute to E.B. Sledge, a Marine who fought in the Pacific in World War II and authored With The Old Breed.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, May 6, 2009

joker It is appropriate that Donovan Campbell offers an inscription about love from 1 Corinthians 13:13 at the beginning of his book, Joker One: A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood. That’s because he has written what is essentially a love story. While there are of course many soldier accounts from Afghanistan and Iraq, some that even tell more gripping stories or offer more humor, there may not be one that is more reflective on what it means to be a leader, and what it means to love the men you serve and lead.

This book is receiving considerable press attention and Campbell’s ability to convey love the way he does has to be a big reason for the popularity of the book. Campbell movingly says about his own Marines in the opening chapter, “And I hope and pray that whoever reads this story will know my men as I do, and that knowing them, they too might come to love them.”

Campbell’s account looks at the seven and a half months in which he serves as a platoon leader in some of the fiercest fighting of the Iraq war, which occurred in Ramadi in 2004. Before the Marine Corps, Campbell was an undergraduate at Princeton who spent a summer completing the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) because he thought it would look good on his resume. Campbell says he hated the entire program, and didn’t think twice about joining since he hadn’t taken any money from the Corps, and therefore didn’t owe them anything. He would ultimately change his mind however as graduation approached.

If love and leadership are recurrent themes, it is often discussed from a faith perspective, and Campbell is somebody who has thought seriously about his own faith and what that means for him and his men. Campbell talks about how before each combat mission he huddles up with his platoon for prayer, which often included reciting the twenty-third Psalm. “I had a responsibility to my men to provide for all their needs, and those included their spiritual as well as their material ones,” says Campbell. He also discusses some of his early thoughts on the prayer ritual before each mission:

Deep in my heart, I believed that prayer would work without fail, that if together Joker One prayed long and hard enough, God would spare us all from Mac’s fate [another Marine seriously wounded by a road side bomb]. What I know now, and which didn’t occur to me then, was that by praying as I prayed, and hoping what I hoped, and believing what I believed, I was effectively reducing God to a result-dispensing genie who, if just fed the proper incantations, would give the sincere petitioner (me) the exact outcome desired.

This book is masterful at tracing the growth and experience of Campbell’s theological progression just as it does concerning his leadership skills, decision making ability, and the moral questions he asks himself. Where prayer before was focused more on personal safety, He says it changed even more as the chaos and random violence surged. “To those who sought it, the prayer also provided some comfort that God was in control, that their lives had worth and meaning stemming from an absolute source,” says Campbell.

After one of his own Marines, Lance Corporal Todd Bolding was killed in action, Campbell understandably lost much of his enthusiasm to continue the mission. He had promised himself that he would bring all of his platoon home. He says:

For whatever reason, [Private First Class Gabriel] Henderson’s tender heart kept a close watch on me, and one day, roughly two weeks after Bolding’s death, he walked up to me and said out of the blue: ‘Hey sir, you know that none of the platoon blames you for what happened to Bolding. It’s okay, sir.’ I didn’t know what to say to that. Henderson broke into a smile. ‘Bolding’s in heaven now, sir, and I know that he’s smiling down at us right now, just like he always smiled at us when he was here. He’s okay, sir. Don’t worry, sir. He’s okay. And someday you will get to see him again, sir.’ I had to turn away to keep from crying. I think that Henderson’s profound, simple faith was what finally allowed me to pick myself back up, and, in some very real sense, regain my own faith.

This book deals with a lot of raw emotion, the frustrations with all the problems in Iraq, and tragedy. At the closing of Campbell’s account, he does a beautiful job of articulating the greater-love principle from John’s Gospel (15:13).

In seminary I took a class on leadership and I know Campbell’s book teaches more lessons about leadership than classes or many other books could. His account is a strong reminder that some of America’s best, regardless of policy debates or politics, are the ones silently shouldering a heavy burden in America’s current conflicts. While much of the country goes to the mall, shops, and attends sporting events, there are those who suffer and have to make quick life and death decisions where the consequences of combat often result in bad or worse.

This is definitely one of the best books of 2009. The narrative is somewhat similar to Nathaniel Fick’s book from 2005, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, in that both authors do a wonderful job at baring their heart and telling the stories of young men who do courageous acts solely for others and not themselves. Interestingly enough, both authors were officers in the Marines who came out of Ivy League schools. All of the wonderful sacrifices Campbell’s platoon made for a largely unappreciative civilian Ramadi population in 2004, and the havoc they wreaked on their foe, is a reminder of the truth that rings out from the great unofficial U.S. Marine motto, “No greater friend, no worse enemy.”

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Tuesday, November 6, 2007
U.S.M.C. War Memorial

Last summer I visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. It is an impressive and moving tribute to the U.S. Marines, focusing especially on WWII to the present War on Terror. There was an even a section which chronicled the transformation of young recruits to Marines who embody the virtues of “honor, courage, and commitment.” David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times has written a piece titled, “From Boys to Marines.” The article is one in a series of articles about three teenagers and their wartime enlistment in the Marines.

In a culture which glorifies the adolescent, with media spots and television shows depicting men as simpletons and children, the Marines call attention to an entirely different value. In many cases, the War on Terror has been described as a war that is led by squad and platoon leaders. On the battlefield, Marines in their late teens and early twenties have to make life and death decisions, immediately affecting the future of the men and women around them.

The rigors of Marine boot camp, and The Crucible certainly transform the courage and character of an individual. My brother who is a Marine combat veteran of Iraq, emphasized the maturity and sacrifice of combat veterans with an analogy. In a recent conversation he said, “Somebody at work came up to me and said, son, you don’t know nothing about hard times.” Sometimes in the South, “son” can be used to talk down to somebody. My brother, who works in a lumberyard, responded to this customer’s remark with a miniature harangue.

One of the things I noticed about all Marines, is they all know the history of their fighting force. Marines easily rattle off names like Chesty Puller, Smedley Butler, Pappy Boyington, and Archibald Henderson. To many people the names ring hollow, but to Marines they are the very definition of icons. They are good heroes to emulate, especially when contrasted with many figures who are lifted up in today’s culture.

The new Marines chronicled in the Los Angeles Times article were described by their drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hibbs, who said, “I could tell right off they were good citizens, good people, good guys with good strong families, strong work ethics. Honor, courage, commitment – they already had it. It just has a new meaning to them now.”

Sunday is Veterans Day, a national holiday which honors the military veterans in our nation. My father was an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force. At his retirement ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, he paid tribute to the men of the Eighth Air Force, who won the air war over Europe in World War II. The Mighty Eighth suffered horrific casualties, and played a critical part in liberating the continent from fascism. It was a not so subtle reminder to remember those who have sacrificed so much, and also a subtle reminder that it’s very classy to put the focus on others on your own day of tribute.

When I worked for U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor in Mississippi, one of the rewards of the job was helping veterans with military casework. I was also able to meet many of the Marine veterans from battles such as Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Okinawa, the “frozen” Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sahn. They are the men who helped spread the light and flame of freedom across the world. Today, this elite class of warriors remain dedicated to the courage and principles that made our country free. All the Marines I know are familiar with Ronald Reagan’s words, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.”