Marian Carl opened his account while flying from Midway Island on 04JUN42, downing a Zero. He was among the ten fighters from VMF-221 to return to the island out of the twenty-five sent up that day. Carl then deployed with VMF-223 to Guadalcanal, where he became the Marine Corps first ace, eventually raising his score to 16.5. He returned to VMF-223 as Commanding Officer for a second tour in the Solomons, downing two more aircraft to bring his total to 18.5.
After the war Carl became a test pilot and set speed and altitude records. He served in Vietnam, where he flew combat missions but refused official recognition or medals for his actions. He retired from the Marine Corps as a Major General in 1973. He was killed in 1998, protecting his wife from a home intruder. He was 82 at the time of his death.
Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War’s Greatest Untold Story – The Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company
Authored by Patrick O’Donnell, Narrated by Lloyd James
Audiobook, 6 hours and 10 minutes
Published by Blackstone Audio, Inc.
George Company of the First Marine Regiment was one of the formations which was hastily put together and rushed to Korea in response to the North Korean invasion. Many were Reservists, and several had never even been through boot camp. They were landed at Inchon in September 1950 and helped liberate Seoul. With the North Korean forces in retreat, they then landed at Wonson to the enemy’s rear and advanced North to the Chosin Reservoir.
There two problems faced the Marines. A record-cold North Korean winter was setting in, and the Chinese had been infiltrating divisions of “volunteers” South to support the routed North Korean Army. MacArthur and the United Nations Command had persistently discounted reports of contact with Chinese troops, but by the end of November even MacArthur was forced to concede that more than a dozen Chinese divisions were encircling the U.N. Task Force at Chosin. Legendary Colonel Chesty Puller, commanding the First Marines, reportedly said, “They’ve got us surrounded, the poor bastards.”
The U.N. troops conducted a fighting retreat to the South. The Chinese attempted to cut the roads and trap the American and their allies using roadblocks and ambushes but were unable to stop them. During the withdrawal seven Chinese divisions were destroyed, both sides reportedly losing more casualties to frostbite than to enemy action. The author uses personal interviews to tell the story of the Marines of George Company, their battles are related from the perspectives of the individual Marines involved. This is a great piece of history from a forgotten war, and brutal chapter in the history of the Marine Corps. Highly recommended.
Kenneth Walsh enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1933 at the age of 17. He was trained as a Naval Aviator in 1937, earning his pilot’s wings while still a private. By February 1943 Walsh was a 1LT, serving with VMF-124 on Guadalcanal. He opened his account on 01APR43 with a triple, scoring another three on 13MAY43 which made him the first pilot to make ace on the Corsair. He continued to add to his score, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for 20 victories. He returned to combat in 1945, serving in the Philippines and scoring his last victory off Okinawa on 22JUN45. Walsh flew transports with VMR-152 during the Korean War, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1958.
The model represents the F4U-1 Corsair of Lt. Kenneth Walsh USMC, VMF-124, as it appeared while operating from Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, May 1943.
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History
Authored by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager, Narrated by Brian Kilmeade
Audiobook, 4 hours and 52 minutes
Published by Penguin Audio, November 2015
Muslim slave traders had long raided coastal areas along the Mediterranean, going as far back as 710. Settlements were looted, and captives could be sold into slavery or ransomed for profit. The Ottoman slave trade increased as shipbuilding skills improved, with the raiders venturing as far as Ireland. Between 1580 and 1780 an estimated 1.25 Million Europeans had been taken by slavers, and many parts of the northern Mediterranean coast were abandoned. By the end of the 18th century the most active raiders were from the states of Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco along the Barbary Coast. Their tactics had evolved to privateering, seizing shipping and ransoming the ships and crews. Those sailors who were not ransomed were enslaved. Many European nations found it easier to pay tribute to the pirate states in exchange for safe passage than to oppose them militarily.
Before the American Revolution, American shipping was protected by Great Britain, and during the Revolution by French allies. After independence from Britain the American were on their own, and paid tribute for safe passage like many European nations. Still there were seizures, with American sailors enslaved or ransomed. The Barbary leaders demanded ever-increasing tributes. Jefferson had had enough, and responded that, “they shall have their payment in iron!” Congress authorized the construction of warships, which were dispatched in several expeditions to blockade the Barbary ports.
This book details the diplomatic as well as military maneuvers of what were to become known as the Barbary Wars. There were several interrelated efforts between 1801 and 1804, some better conducted than others, with a much more decisively resolved crisis in 1815. As a result of standing up against the Barbary pirates, the new American nation gained in prestige with many historical firsts for the USN and USMC. The audiobook suffers a bit from Kilmeade’s awkward cadence and odd pronunciation of “Gilbralta”. This story is often overlooked, but was a vital precedent in American history which set the tone for the country going forward. Recommended.
Spare Parts: A Marine Reservist’s Journey from Campus to Combat in 38 Days
By Buzz Williams
Hardcover in dustjacket, 300 pages and photographs
Published by Gotham Books, March 2004
Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
Buzz Williams saw enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve as a way to achieve his two primary goals – serving in the Marines and going to college. Inspired by his older brother, he wanted to go to boot camp. Upon graduation, he drilled “one weekend per month, two weeks per year” and attended service schools on the LAV-25 Light Armored Vehicle. His unit was activated as part of Desert Storm and participated in the liberation of Kuwait. Afterwards, he remained in the Reserves and became a teacher, eventually leaving after realizing the constant shifting from civilian to military worlds was exasperating his PTSD from the war.
This is a very personal story, an autobiographical arc following his journey from civilian, to boot camp, Reservist, a combat deployment, Reservist, and ultimately a return to civilian life. New Reservists go through the same boot camp alongside enlistees destined for active service. A sizable portion of the book describes the boot camp experience in great detail, along with the eventual realization that everything in boot camp is planned and specifically designed to prepare the recruit for combat conditions.
I found the descriptions of the Reserve drills and training fascinating. The transition from civilian to military mode can be jarring, and there is little time to preserve (or learn) the specialized military skills which may, at short notice, be required for the unit to perform well in combat. Williams’ descriptions of dealing with his OCD and returning from Desert Storm are also interesting.
Spare Parts is well written, Williams is an excellent story teller and the book flows well. His descriptions of his fellow Marines will be recognizable to veterans. His insights into the Reserve program are interesting. The Reserves are a vital part of the U.S. military, but one which is rarely described in detail. This book is easy to read but hard to put down, I can recommend it without reservation.
Voices of the Pacific: Untold Stories from the Marine Heroes of World War II
Author: Adam Makos
Narrator: Tom Weiner
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing, April 2013
Audio Length: 10.75 hours
While I generally favor traditional printed books (preferably in hardback), I do occasionally listen to an audiobook. The advantage of this format is the book can be enjoyed while engaged in other activities, such as modeling or driving. In this case I was able to download the audio file from my local library, then link my phone to the car speakers and listen while driving to the MMCL IPMS show in Louisville last month. It beats listening to the radio and makes the drive informative and enjoyable during what would otherwise be wasted time.
This book lends itself well to the audiobook format, being the personal recollections of fifteen Marines who fought in the Pacific War. The men all share their stories in short narratives, and often relate different perspectives of the same battles. The campaigns covered are Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and finally Okinawa. Each of these operations was unique, with its own set of conditions and environments. One thing they had in common was the effect on the Regiments and individual Marines. By the end of each campaign the units had suffered tremendous casualties, and the surviving Marines were in rough shape – exhausted, underfed, diseased, and with their uniforms in tatters. Assaults which were planned for three days often lasted for thirty days or more.
I recognized two of the Marines as authors of their own books – Sterling Mace and Chuck Tatum. Many others relate anecdotes of other names well known to students of the Pacific War – authors Robert Lecke and Eugene Sledge, along with Marines famous for their combat exploits such as John Basilone and Lewis “Chesty” Puller.
Overall this is a fine book which offers insights of the war from the perspective of the individual Marines who fought it. The last two chapters were also interesting, they described the Marines’ discharges from the service and their assimilation back into society. They were also asked what advice they would give to young people today, and to society in general. While this podium is continuously mis-used by celebrities, media figures, politicians, and athletes, the Marine veterans have paid for their citizenship in a very real way and earned the opportunity to voice their opinion. Listening to this audiobook is time well spent, I can recommend it without hesitation.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt October 2005
Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.3 x 9.0 inches
Nathan Fick was a classics major at Dartmouth when he volunteered for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School, and that is where his account begins. He subsequently graduated from The Basic School and the Infantry Office Course. His first assignment after completing his initial training was with the First Battalion, First Marines as the Weapons Platoon Officer of Bravo Company. He was deployed aboard the USS Dubuque (LPD-8) when the 9/11 attacks occurred. In Darwin for a port call, they were the closest Marine force to Afghanistan and sailed immediately.
Fick and his Marines went ashore in Afghanistan, moving quite a bit but seeing little direct combat. They rotated out of Afghanistan during the holidays, and Fick was offered the opportunity to train to be Marine Recon. More schools, more training. At the end was assignment to a Platoon in the First Recon Battalion. Instead of mission they trained for – observing objectives in small teams without being discovered – they were issued five HMMWVs. The platoon was to spearhead one of the major thrusts of the Invasion of Iraq.
The majority of the book is a day-by-day account of First Recon’s push though Iraq from the Platoon Leader’s perspective. Their story will be familiar to most readers, as correspondent Evan Wright rode with the platoon and his book, Generation Kill, was made into an HBO miniseries of the same name. I read both books together to compare the perspectives. Wright’s book focuses more on the personalities and banter of the Marines in the platoon, and things unusual to those unfamiliar with Marines or the military in general. Fick’s account is more thoughtful and less focused on tensions between the Marines and their leadership. Fick is an excellent writer who cares for his men, and the perspectives of history and politics are not lost on him. This is a great read which I can recommend without reservation.
Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and The New Face of American War
By Evan Wright
Hardcover in dustjacket, 354 pages, photographs
Published by Putnam, 2004
Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
This is the book which was made into the HBO miniseries of the same name. Author Evan Wright was a Rolling Stone reporter embedded with the Marine’s First Recon Battalion during the invasion of Iraq. Marine recon teams usually operate covertly, scouting out an objective and retiring, hopefully without the enemy even knowing they were there. For this operation, First Recon was equipped with HMMWV light vehicle, more commonly known as the Humvee. Their mission was to be the point element for one of the columns entering Iraq.
Wright rode in one of the five Humvees of Second Platoon, so he was able to observe events first hand. His account is very personal and focuses on the actions and reactions of the twenty-three men in the platoon. Much of the story is told in their own words. At the Platoon level the overall strategic objectives are not always clear, the day’s plans are constantly evolving. There is a constant cycle of moving to the next objective, maintaining equipment, eating, digging in, and moving again. Sleep is replaced with snuff, energy drinks, and instant coffee, which the Marines eat as well as brew.
It is a messy business and Wright reports it all, both good and bad. Some things went to plan while others did not, there are heroics and mistakes. This is an honest and interesting account, both as a history of the war from a small unit perspective and as a study of men in combat. I can recommend this book, even if you have watched the series.
Hardcover in dustjacket, 288 pages, photographs, bibliography, notes, and index
Published by Casemate 2007
Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.2 x 9.0 inches
Despite the number of books published about the Viet Nam War, many people are unaware of the role played by armor, or that the U.S. Marines deployed armored units. Perhaps this is due in part to the nature of their employment. Armor rarely fought in units larger than platoons, and often in groups of only two or three tanks. There were no large set-piece battles, the tanks were generally employed to defend bridges or firebases, or to support sweeps through the countryside. The result is the tanks were disbursed and moved in small groups from place to place, many of the crews commenting that they had never even seen their Battalion commanders while in-country.
Not surprisingly, the constant movements and changes in unit assignments have made it very difficult for historians to document the histories of the armored Battalions in Viet Nam. Sweeps and patrols in support of the myriad of operations tended to blend together for the crews to the point that even the men involved were unsure if they had actually been part of a specific operation. I was surprised to learn how vulnerable the M48 was to the RPG-7, a great many crew casualties were caused by this weapon. Another problem was mines. While these rarely totally destroyed a tank they generally were enough to disable the track and suspension, taking the vehicle out of the fight.
This is the third of Gilbert’s “Marine Corps Tank Battles” books which I have read. Like the others, the bulk of the text is derived from interviews with the Marines themselves, in their own words. The opening chapter gives a history of the country leading up to the war which is well worth reading just on its own. The book is well written, and I enjoy the first-hand perspectives from the Marines who were there. Recommended.
Hardcover in dustjacket, 312 pages, photographs, references, and index
Published by Casemate February 2015
Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
Like so many of the modern world’s current political problems, the on-going turmoil in the Middle East can be traced back to diplomatic missteps in the aftermath of the First World War. Those decisions remain with us and are still costing lives on a daily basis over a century later. In the first twenty pages of this book Oscar E. Gilbert traces the modern history of the Middle East which imparts on the reader an understanding of the basis for the conflicts which have plagued the region. This chapter is concise and exceptionally well-written, it alone warrants the purchase of the book and is worthy of periodic re-reading.
The bulk of the book focusses on the use of Marine armor in Iraq and Afghanistan, both the M60 and M1 Abrams main battle tanks along with the lighter LAV-25. The dominance of the better trained and equipped Marines during the conflicts with the Iraqi Army, even when outnumbered, are well described. The use of armor in the drawn-out counter insurgency operations also offers many insights, such as the use of the vehicle’s impressive array of sensors. Tactics used during the Battle of Fallujah illustrates the value of armor in clearing an urban environment, an arena where tanks are generally considered to be at a disadvantage.
The book is well researched and interspaced with first-hand accounts taken from interviews with the participants. This is an engaging read, made somewhat more poignant by the recent decision to eliminate tanks from the Marine Corp’s inventory. This is the second of Gilbert’s Marine tanks histories which I have read, and I can recommend them without hesitation.
WHENEVER ANY FORM OF GOVERNMENT BECOMES DESTRUCTIVE OF THESE ENDS (LIFE,LIBERTY,AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS) IT IS THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO ALTER OR ABOLISH IT, AND TO INSTITUTE A NEW GOVERNMENT― Thomas Jefferson