Friday, April 30, 2010

From the Pages - War Stories of the Infantry

From the muddy trenches of France in World War I to the arid landscape of Iraq, American infantrymen have always represented the unsung heroes of our armed forces -- those who do the lion's share of fighting and dying for their country while protecting the freedoms and liberties that many take for granted.

In the following exclusive excerpt from War Stories of the Infantry Jack Clifton Burkett describes his experiences as a Private in the U.S. Marine Corps during the the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.
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When I arrived in Korea (the Inchon landing on September 15, 1950), I was a member of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. The weapons company was attached to George Company. Once we got to Inchon, we spent several hours watching the strafing and the bombing of the invasion area from the deck of the ship. We were briefed on what was going to take place just up ahead. The naval ships in the area all had big guns. I do not know if any were battleships; most of them were probably cruisers and destroyers. There were a lot of landing ships in the area. My rough estimate is that there were at least a hundred ships near the harbor. It was an awesome display of firepower as we watched the shelling of the hills surrounding Inchon. We could hear the explosions of the large naval guns and the strafing of the fighter planes. I saw many of those fighter planes strafing the hills. Many were also carrying bombs.

After the capture of Seoul, we thought it was just a matter of time before we could go home. We moved into North Korea and had their army in full retreat. We took many prisoners. By this time, they were surrendering en masse. Most of the prisoners I saw were very frightened and quiet. I do not personally recall any that were belligerent, but I heard that some were. On occasion, I had to take some of them back to the rear, where they were being held. I remember one group in which one of them was so badly injured that he could hardly walk. I directed several of them to carry him. Even though this was the enemy, I saw no reason to be inhumane.

While north of Seoul, we received orders to return to Inchon. We had no casualties during this return. We rested at Inchon before leaving by ship for a port city on the east coast of Korea to make an amphibious landing at Wonsan. The enemy was retreating so rapidly that the town was under United Nations control by then.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Military Snapshots - PBY-5 Catalinas

A flight of Catalinas in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. The versatile PBY-5 Catalina was an excellent search and rescue aircraft. A PBY piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Adrian Marks (USN) rescued fifty-six sailors from the USS Indianapolis after the ship was sunk during World War II. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy, from Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue by George Galdorisi and Tom Phillips.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review - Road of 10,000 Pains

The following book review of Road of 10,000 Pains, the Destruction of the 2nd NVA Division by the U. S. Marines, 1967 was written by R.R. Keene and is appearing in the May 2010 issue of Leatherneck, the official magazine of the Marine Corps Association.

Director Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” another remake of the Lewis Carroll novel, has the main character Alice falling through endless tunnels often exiting where she fell in. It reminds one of Tim O’Brien’s 1979 best-selling Vietnam War novel “Going After Cacciato.” There is a chapter, “A Hole on the Way to Paris,” where the characters escape the tunnels by “falling out.” An admirer later wrote, “This allusion to Alice in Wonderland helps reveal the story is fiction.”

What bold bovine scatology! It is typical rhetoric of the “Woodstock Generation”: a generation of lost, narcissistic, delusional social poltroons who were afraid they would have to do something that would require courage, moral fortitude and their discomfort; namely to serve in Vietnam.

Fortunately, there were others of the same era, men with deep reservoirs of tenacity and astounding self-sacrifice. Author and Vietnam veteran infantry officer, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Otto J. Leh¬rack’s “Road of 10,000 Pains” does not rely on fiction, which cannot face the reality of well-written factual accounts of battle, especially when the Marines who were there give accounts in their own words about pitched and bloody battles along four miles of Route 534 for seven months in Vietnam’s Que Son Valley.

Road of 10,000 Pains is a very good book. And its author is not only a good writer, but a wise one who, having interviewed countless veterans of the fighting, provides the necessary narration that binds it together. His judiciously selected quotes make this account one of the best books about the Vietnam War to date.

Lehrack points out: “Tom Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation’ was indeed great. … However, the images of countless thousands of volunteers flooding recruiting offices are misleading. Only 33 percent of those who served in World War II were volunteers; the other two-thirds were drafted. In Vietnam, by contrast, 78 percent of those who served were volunteers.”

And nearly 100 percent of those Ma¬rines and corpsmen fighting the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces in the Que Son Valley in 1967 were volunteers. What makes the valley fighting account chillingly unique is perhaps a matter-of-fact declaration by a former Viet Cong officer who, over dinner in 1999, told Lehrack: “‘In the Que Son Valley in 1967, we killed more Americans than at any time or place during the war.’”

“It was lush, green and fertile,” writes Lehrack, “with fairy-tale beauty. … One Marine said it was as beautiful as an orchid and deadly as a flytrap.”

Yes, it was deadly, and Lehrack uses nearly all of the 304 pages to replay the fights on a multitude of operations such as Union I and II, Adair, Pike, Cochise, Swift and Essex.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Military Snapshots - A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II

Flying high over the Nellis Range Complex is a Fairchild A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II from the 52nd Fighter Wing, 81st Fighter Squadron, from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. During Red Flag, A-10s are responsible for clearing ground threats such as tanks, radar facilities, and antiaircraft arms. Between its massive 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun and the ability to fire Maverick antitank missles, not much can withstand the punch of an A-10. Photo courtesy of Tyson V. Rininger, from Red Flag: Air Combat for the 21st Century.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Military Snapshots - USS Franklin

In the early monring hours of March 19, 1945, a single bomb from a lone Japanese aircraft crippled the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Franklin, causing nearly 1,300 casualties. The story of how the Franklin was saved remains one of the most riveting in naval history. Seen here, Captain Hal Fritz pulls the USS Santa Fe clear as Franklin loses all headway. This shot taken by Santa Fe's photographer, Al Bullock, is one of the most famous of World War II. NARA courtesy of Nathan Cawthon, from Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II by Joseph A. Springer.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book Review - Road of 10,000 Pains

The following book review of Road of 10,000 Pains, the Destruction of the 2nd NVA Division by the U. S. Marines, 1967 was written by Karen St. John, Senior Book Review Editor of Veterans Today.

U.S. Marines, 1st Division, Vietnam, 1967
The U.S. Marines who landed in Vietnam were of the “Old Breed” of Marines:  the 1st Division and  “heir to the most glorious history in the corps.”  This same division had fought at Peleliu (Operation Stalmate) and Okinawa during WW II, and in Korea, leading the forces for MacArthur’s landing at Inchon and eventually fighting through six Chinese divisions at the Chosin Reservoir.  And when the proud men of this historically significant Division, [Foxtrot Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines (F/2/1) under Captain Gene Deegan] left Nui Loc Son in April 1967 and moved into the Que Son Valley, they were locked and loaded.  They were young – mostly in their teens – and they were walking into a nightmare. 

One of the young men going into the valley voiced an eerie premonition in the relative quiet of that April morning:  he wasn’t going to make it.  He shook hands with his mate and within a few minutes, became one of the first causalities of what was to be a grueling and intense seven-month long ordeal.  The Que Son Valley campaign would cost the lives of over nine hundred Marines and over six thousand North Vietnamese Army (NVA).

The massive 1968 Tet Offensive would shrink the significant 1967 battles into the background until September 1999, when a veteran Marine just happened to be passing through the Que Son Valley on his way to somewhere else and noticed something unusual. 

Military Snapshots - M60A1 Tank

Visible is a fireball from the firing of a 105mm main gun mounted on an M60A1 tank during nighttime training exercise, as well as the tracer elements from other projectiles in flight. Photo courtesy of the Defense Visual Information Center, from Tanks by Michael Green.

Friday, April 16, 2010

From the Pages - Surviving the Reich

For Ivan Goldstein, a young Jewish-American GI thrust into the Allied war against Nazi Germany, survival would be tested both as a combat soldier and a POW. In the following excerpt from Surviving the Reich, Goldstein describes his baptism by fire as part of an embattled tanker crew during the late days of Battle of the Bulge.
There was no time for fear. We were headed for combat, and a healthy tension was palpable inside our M4 Sherman tank. There were five of us. In the lower section sat the driver, Andrew Urda from Michigan, an amiable, jovial person, and the assistant driver/bow gunner (me), operating a .30-caliber machine gun. In the turret was the gunner, Cpl. Cecil Peterman from Oklahoma, with a 75mm canon. A quiet and withdrawn person, Peterman was always neat and spotless. His hobby was making state-of-the-art, original hunting knives, and he carried one of his creations on him at all times. The loader, Pvt. Dage Hebert, had worked on a farm in Montana, and by nature he was a helpful and friendly person. Staff Sergeant Wallace Alexander was our able tank commander. Young and striking in appearance, he was an aspiring actor from New York. Before the war, he attended Columbia University’s Drama School and had acted in a number of plays. My impression of Wally was that he was the best tank commander in the company, including the officers, and that I was fortunate to be part of his crew. And I was particularly glad not to be in the companion tank commanded by my captain.

So there we were, as diverse a group as you could imagine, from all parts of the country, bound together in a single objective: to join the battle as courageous American soldiers, and, hopefully, to come out of it alive.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Military Snapshots - Bougainville

During "Operation Cherry Blossom," U.S. Marines landed on the shores of Bougainville to both confusion and a spirited Japanese defense. Here, several squads of the 1st Battlion, 3d Marines (1/3) charge ahead and fan out to secure the coconut grove just back of Cape Torokina. Official USMC Photo from New Georgia, Bougainville, and Cape Gloucester: The U.S. Marines in World War II by Eric Hammel.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Military Snapshots - F-15 Eagle

A Lakenheath Strike Eagle drops a 5,000 pound, laser-guided GBU-28 Bunker Buster bomb over the Utah Test and Training Range during a weapons evaluation test. Official USAF Photo, from F-15 Eagle at War by Tyson V. Rininger

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New from Zenith Press! - Road of 10,000 Pains

To look at the lush expanse of Vietnam's Que Son Valley today, it is hard to imagine a time when peaceful prosperity didn't envelop the region. Covering 273 square miles, the populous, rice-rich valley serves as an agricultural center for a now thriving nation. Over four decades prior, however, the area known as "The Valley," would serve as host to one of the bloodiest series of battles in modern military history.

Overshadowed at the time, and in the decades to follow, by the iconic battles that took place at Khe Sanh, Hue City, and Saigon in the early months of the Tet Offensive, the bloody back-and-forth engagements taking place in the Que Son Valley from April-November 1967 would prove to be some of the heaviest and costliest of the entire ware. On one side was the 2nd NVA Division, a group of largely veteran soldiers hardened by years of ferocious combat. On the other, the 1st Marine Division, the Old Breed, heir to the most glorious history in the entire U.S. Marine Corps.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Military Snapshots - Guadalcanal

A Marine infantry company crosses the Lunga River, which bifurcates the Perimeter, via a cleverly designed pontoon bridge floated on empty fuel drums. Official USMC Photo, from Guadalcanal: A Pictorial Tribute by Eric Hammel

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

New from Zenith Press! - Surviving the Reich

Surviving the Reich: The World War II Saga of a Jewish-American GI
by Ivan Goldstein

"In the morning, take the Jew out and shoot him."

That was almost Pvt. Ivan Goldstein's fate, his captivity over before it had really begun, on the orders of the German major interrogating Goldstein and his Sherman tank crewmates. It was not the first time Goldstein narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Nazis in World War II, and it would not be the last.

From the moment Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, seventeen-year-old Ivan Goldstein had been ready to enlist. Devoted to his youn widowed mother, however, he acquiesced when she urged him to attend college instead of risking his life in the war. His time at the University of Denver only delayed the inevitable, and his draft notice soon arrived. Entering the army, he was eventually assigned to Company B, 41st Tank Battalion, 11th Armored Division.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Last Man Standing Video - The Horrors of Peleliu

Drawn from Dick Camp's book, Last Man Standing: The 1st Marine Regiment on Peleliu, this video provides a awe-inspiring snapshot of the 1st Marine Regiment's bloody struggle on Peleliu.