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Pat Tillman: Portrait of an American Hero by WILL DABBS

Behold the face of the real Captain America. Pat Tillman was a genuine hero.

Politicians refer to themselves as public servants. Swamp creatures like Joe Biden will extol their many decades of employment in Washington DC as though they had been some kind of galley slave toiling away on an Athenian man o’ war. I have actually met a couple of those guys. Their idea of selfless service does not quite match my own.

I wouldn’t pee on these guys if they were on fire.

American legislators spend money like drunken sailors. Actually, that’s not true. Drunken sailors couldn’t even begin to burn cash in as profligate a manner as might your typical freshman congressman. They’ve raised wasting money to an art form.

Hanging with a group of US Congressmen for a week back in the 1990s soured me on the American political system forever.

You think I’m kidding. Back when I was a soldier I spent a week as a local liaison officer for a group of congressmen on a fact-finding mission after the First Gulf War. It was amazing just watching them eat. They’d go to the nicest restaurant in town and order one of anything they might be curious about. Then they swapped plates around so everybody got a taste. One of my several duties was to scurry back and forth to the Officers’ Club cashing $500 government traveler’s checks to pay for it all. It was surreal.

I willingly voted for both of these people. However, I don’t trust anybody in Washington DC. If you weren’t broken before you got there, you were after you’ve been there a while.

Everybody in DC has sold their soul to somebody. I’ll champion the folks on my side of the aisle in the vain hope that they might someday just leave me the heck alone, but they are all irredeemably corrupt. The system perpetuates itself. It will never get better.

This is Pat and Kevin Tillman. They were both real public servants.

On May 31, 2002, Pat Tillman and his brother Kevin walked into a local recruiting office and enlisted in the US Army. Pat walked away from a $3.6 million professional football contract and Lord knows what else so he could serve his country in the immediate aftermath of 911. Pat Tillman’s story is that of a conflicted man and a horribly flawed system. However, his is a tale of epic sacrifice and genuine selfless service.

Origin Story

Pat Tillman excelled at everything he touched.

Pat Tillman was the eldest of three sons born to Patrick and Mary Tillman in Fremont, California. By NFL standards, Tillman was not a terribly big man. He stood 5’11” and weighed 202 pounds when dressed out as a safety for the Arizona Cardinals. Pat personified the axiom, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

That is one seriously intense guidon bearer.

In high school Tillman preferred baseball, but he failed to make the team as a freshman. At that point, he turned his attention to the gridiron. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Pat was powerfully close to his friends and family. He married his childhood sweetheart just before he enlisted in the Army. He and his brother Kevin enlisted together, trained together, and were eventually both assigned to the 2d Ranger Battalion based at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Pat Tillman really came into his own as a college football player.

Pat Tillman attended Arizona State University on a football scholarship and excelled as a linebacker. An exceptionally deep young man, Tillman was well read and made good grades. He maintained a 3.85 GPA in marketing and graduated in 3.5 years despite the rigors of starting on his college football team.

Pat Tillman had everything the world could offer, yet he gave it all up to serve his country.

Pat thrived in the NFL. Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman named Tillman to the 2000 NFL All-Pro team based upon his stellar performance as a defensive player. He turned down a $9 million offer to move to the St. Louis Rams out of loyalty to his Arizona team.

Once he completed his 2001 NFL contract Pat Tillman enlisted in the US Army.

Eight months after the 911 attacks and with the remainder of his 15 games completed from his 2001 contract, Pat Tillman left $3.6 million on the table to go to Army basic training alongside his brother. Pat’s brother Kevin gave up a burgeoning career in minor league baseball for the same path. These two men put their love of country ahead of the sorts of things the rest of us would just about kill for.

There’s really no telling how far Pat Tillman might have gone in life.

Appreciate the details here. I’m a happily married hetero man, and even I admit that Pat Tillman was an exceptionally good-looking guy. Intelligent, articulate, and well-educated, Tillman had the world by the tail. Once his time in the NFL was complete Pat Tillman could have easily parlayed his gifts and experiences into a career on television or in Hollywood. Instead, he opted for the Ranger Regiment.

The Rangers have an undeniably sexy cool mission. However, life in a Ranger Battalion is unimaginably grueling. The Ranger Regiment is the only unit in the Army to have been deployed continuously throughout the Global War on Terror.

I was an Army aviator, but I worked with those guys on occasion. Theirs was an absolutely miserable life. Junior enlisted soldiers don’t get paid beans, and the optempo in the Ranger Battalions is utterly grueling. In less than two years on active duty, Pat Tillman completed basic training and AIT as well as the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program. He was deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in September of 2003 after which he attended Ranger School at Fort Benning. Once a fully tabbed Ranger, he returned to Second Bat at Lewis and deployed to Afghanistan where he was based at FOB Salerno.

It’s easy to sit back in the comfort of our living rooms and lose track of exactly what this stuff costs.

Up until this point, Pat Tillman was the US Army’s poster child. An American superhero with a face right out of central casting, Tillman’s story could not have been any more compelling had it been drafted by an action novelist. Then Something Truly Horrible happened.

The Incident

Combat is not the clean sanitary thing Call of Duty might have us believe. The reality is vicious, messy, and sad.

Combat is an ugly, filthy, chaotic thing. It is seldom as tidy or predictable as the movies and sand table exercises depict it to be. On April 22, 2004, the fog of war claimed a genuine American hero.

Even today nobody really knows exactly what happened to Pat Tillman’s mounted patrol.

On a forgotten road leading from the Afghan village of Sperah about 40 klicks outside of Khost, Pat Tillman’s small HUMVEE-mounted patrol ran into trouble. Their mission that day was to retrieve a disabled HUMVEE. This tale is made all the more tragic in that we abandoned tens of thousands of these vehicles when we fled Afghanistan recently. The details are fiercely debated to this day, but here is the official description.

Pat and his fellow Rangers moved on foot to support the element they thought was in contact.

Tillman was in the lead vehicle designated Serial 1. Serial 1 passed through a mountainous pass and was roughly one kilometer ahead of Serial 2, the following HUMVEE. At that point, Serial 2 was purportedly engaged by hostile forces.

It was chaotic, and the situation was confusing. The end result was a tragedy.

Upon hearing of the ambush, the Rangers in Serial 1 dismounted and made their way on foot back toward an overwatch position where they could provide supporting fires for Serial 2. In the resulting chaos, the Rangers of Serial 2 lost touch with the specific location of the lead Rangers. In the violent exchange of fire that followed Tillman’s Platoon Leader and his RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) were wounded. An allied member of the Afghan Militia Force was killed. Pat Tillman caught three 5.56mm rounds from an M249 SAW to the face from a range of 10 meters and died instantly.

The Weapon

M249 Squad Automatic Weapon |
The original FN Minimi was a fairly revolutionary weapon.

First introduced in 1984, the Belgian-designed M249 Squad Automatic Weapon was an Americanized version of the FN Minimi. An open-bolt, gas-operated design, the M249 was conceived to provide the Infantry squad with a portable source of high-volume, belt-fed automatic fire. The M249 has seen action in every major military engagement since the US invasion of Panama in 1989.

The M249 weighs 17 pounds empty and 22 pounds with a basic load of 200 linked rounds. The weapon fires from an open bolt and features a quick-change barrel system. The gun will feed on either disintegrating linked belts or standard STANAG M4 magazines. In my experience, the magazine feed system was never terribly reliable.

Army Ranger Automatic Rifleman

USSOCOM adopted a lighter, more streamlined version of the M249 titled the Mk46 for use with special operations forces. The M4 magazine well, vehicle mounting lugs, and barrel change handle were all removed on the Mk 46 to save weight. The USMC has aggressively supplemented their rifle squads with the HK M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle in lieu of many of their SAWs. These weapons are currently issued at a ratio of 27 IARs and 6 SAWs per rifle company. The Next Generation Squad Weapon-Automatic Rifle program is tasked with finding a suitable replacement for the aging M249’s in the Army inventory.

The Rest of the Story

What happened next was a blight on the US Army. To have Pat Tillman, the real live Captain America killed due to friendly fire in a botched combat operation was not the story the Army wanted pushed. As a result, several senior Army officers moved to massage the narrative and outright suppress the story to both the media and the Tillman family. The end result was an absolutely ghastly mess.

                             Silver Star - WikipediaPurple Heart - Wikipedia
Pat Tillman earned a posthumous Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan. He has been rightfully revered as an American hero.

There were allegations that Tillman, by now disillusioned with the war in Iraq, was about to offer an interview with controversial activist Noam Chomsky upon his return from his Afghanistan deployment that would be critical of the Bush Administration. As Tillman’s death occurred in a crucial time leading up to the 2004 Presidential elections conspiracy theorists even proposed that he had been intentionally murdered. However, interviews with his fellow Rangers verified that Tillman was a popular and selfless member of the team. In the final analysis, it all seems to have been a truly horrible mistake. After several investigations undertaken by the military, three mid-level Army leaders purportedly received administrative punishment as a result.

A word on the conspiracies. Soldiers don’t fight for mom, apple pie, and America. They fight for each other. There’s just no way you could get a Ranger to intentionally shoot another Ranger to protect the reputation of a sitting President. This was simply a horrible accident.

Pat Tillman - Wife, Death & Facts - Biography
Pat Tillman gave his life for his country at age 27.

The sordid circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Tillman in no way diminish the truly breathtaking scope of the man’s patriotism and sacrifice. Tillman was an avowed atheist throughout his life. After his funeral, his youngest brother Richard asserted, “Just make no mistake, he’d want me to say this: He’s not with God, he’s f&%ing dead, he’s not religious.” Richard added, “Thanks for your thoughts, but he’s f&%in’ dead.” It was an undeniably strange end for a genuine American hero.

Soldiers in combat will often pen a “just in case” letter to be opened in the event of their death. Pat’s note to his wife Marie said, “Through the years I’ve asked a great deal of you, therefore it should surprise you little that I have another favor to ask. I ask that you live.”

And live she did. Marie Tillman today is Chairman and Co-Founder of The Pat Tillman Foundation. This non-profit works to “unite and empower remarkable military service members, veterans, and spouses as the next generation of public and private sector leaders committed to service beyond self.” The Foundation has sponsored 635 Tillman Scholars and invested some $18 million in philanthropy. Marie has since remarried and is the mother of five children.

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About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains.

Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989.

He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

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Leadership of the highest kind Manly Stuff

Sounds to me to be one Hell of a good Officer!

In 1935, Adolf Hitler approached a man and offered him the position of ambassador to the United Kingdom.

The man was Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, a great German general of the First World War who had orchestrated successful guerrilla campaigns in Africa and fought until the end of the war without suffering a battlefield defeat. For this, he was decorated with Germany’s highest military honors and was at that moment one of the greatest living German military men, commander of the only German army to surrender undefeated in WWI.

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

As the commander of many soldiers of African descent, he was progressive with his treatment of race, holding his Black comrades as equals and protecting them from discrimination by white officers and even superior commanders. All of his soldiers were fanatically loyal to him.

Lettow-Vorbeck, with his hard-headed, pragmatic view of race, was not all too fond of Hitler.

Adolf Hitler

So when Hitler asked him if he would be his ambassador to the UK, Lettow-Vorbeck refused him quite harshly.

How harshly? Well, in the 1960s, a former officer under Lettow-Vorbeck was interviewed by British author Charles Miller, and said this:

MILLER: I understand that von Lettow told Hitler to go fuck himself.

OFFICER: That’s right, except that I don’t think he put it that politely.

This man stood straight up and personally told Adolf Hitler, one of the most important and most terrible men ever, to go fuck himself. That’s pretty savage.

Leadership of the highest kind War

Have a Cav Day!

Word spread quickly that a battalion of Americans had been massacred in the Ia Drang Valley, but reporters were told there was no ambush.

Forty-five years ago this fall, in November of 1965, a lone, understrength battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) ventured where no force—not the French, not the South Vietnamese army, not the newly arrived American combat troops—had ever gone: Deep into an enemy sanctuary in the forested jungles of a plateau in the Central Highlands where the Drang River flowed into Cambodia and, ultimately, into the Mekong River that returned to Vietnam far to the south.

What happened there, in the Ia Drang Valley, 17 miles from the nearest red-dirt road at Plei Me and 37 miles from the provincial capital of Pleiku, sounded alarm bells in the Johnson White House and the Pentagon as they tallied the American losses—a stunning butcher’s bill of 234 men killed and more than 250 wounded in just four days and nights, November 14-17, in two adjacent clearings dubbed Landing Zones X-ray and Albany. Another 71 Americans had been killed in earlier, smaller skirmishes that led up to the Ia Drang battles.

To that point, some 1,100 Americans in total had died in the United States’ slow-growing but ever-deepening involvement in South Vietnam, most of them by twos and threes in a war where Americans were advisers to the South Vietnamese battalions fighting Viet Cong guerrillas. Now the North Vietnamese Army had arrived off the Ho Chi Minh Trail and had made itself felt. In just over one month, 305 American dead had been added to the toll from the Ia Drang fight alone. November 1965 was the deadliest month yet for the Americans, with 545 killed.

The North Vietnamese regulars, young men who had been drafted into the military much as the young American men had been, had paid a much higher price to test the newcomers to an old fight: an estimated 3,561 of them had been killed, and thousands more wounded, in the 34-day Ia Drang campaign.

What happened when the American cavalrymen and the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) collided head-on in the Ia Drang had military and civilian leaders in Washington, Saigon and Hanoi scrambling to assess what it meant, and what had been learned.

Both sides understood that the war had changed suddenly and dramatically in those few days. At higher levels, both sides claimed victory in the Ia Drang, although those who fought and bled and watched good soldiers die all around them were loath to use so grand a word for something so tragic and terrible that would people their nightmares for a long time, or a lifetime.

The big battles began when then–Lt. Col. Hal Moore, a 43-year-old West Point graduate out of Bardstown, Ky., was given orders to airlift his 450-man 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, into the valley on a search-and-destroy mission. He did a cautious aerial reconnaissance by helicopter and selected a football field–sized clearing at the base of the Chu Pong Massif, a 2,401-foot-high piece of ground that stretched to the Cambodian border and beyond for several miles. The sketchy American intelligence Moore was provided said the area was home base for possibly a regiment of the enemy. In fact, there were three North Vietnamese Army regiments within an easy walk of that clearing, or the equivalent of a division of very good light infantry soldiers.

Two of those enemy regiments had already been busy since arriving in the Central Highlands. In mid-October, the 32nd Regiment had surrounded and laid siege to the American Special Forces camp at Plei Me. Although they could have easily crushed the defenders—a 12-man American A-Team and 100 Montagnard mercenary tribesmen—the enemy dangled them as bait, hoping to lure a relief force of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) out of Pleiku and into an ambush laid by their brothers of the 33rd Regiment.

It was an old guerrilla ploy that usually worked, but not here, not now. The ARVN II Corps commander knew if he lost the relief force, Pleiku would be left defenseless. He pressed the Americans to provide continuous artillery and air cover as the column moved toward Plei Me. The 1st Cavalry’s big Chinook helicopters lifted batteries of 105mm howitzers, leap-frogging along within range of the dirt road that led to Plei Me. When the ambush was sprung, the American artillery wreaked havoc on the North Vietnamese plan and the 33rd Regiment. Both enemy regiments withdrew toward the Ia Drang with a brigade of Air Cav troopers dogging their footsteps.

Both sides understood that the war had changed suddenly and dramatically in those few days….Both sides claimed victory.
Then–Lt. Col. Hoang Phuong, a historian who had spent two months walking south, charged with writing the “Lessons Learned” report on the coming battles, said that it was during this phase that the retreating PAVN troops began learning what airmobility was all about. The UH-1B Huey helicopters buzzed around the rugged area like so many bees, landing American troops among the North Vietnamese, forcing them to split up into ever-smaller groups like coveys of quail pressed hard by the hunters.

A new PAVN regiment, the 66th, was just arriving in the Ia Drang in early November when its troops walked into perhaps the most audacious ambush of the Vietnam War. On November 3, divisional headquarters ordered Lt. Col. John B. Stockton and his 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry, battalion of scouts to focus attention on a particular trail alongside the Ia Drang River close to the Cambodian border. Stockton sent one of his companies of “Blues,” or infantry, under command of Captain Charles S. Knowlen, to a clearing near that site. He took along a platoon of mortars that belonged to Captain Ted Danielsen’s Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry, which had been sent with Stockton as possible reinforcements if needed.

Knowlen sent out three platoon-sized ambush patrols. One of those platoons set up near the trail and began hearing the noise of a large group moving toward it on the trail. The enemy column—men of the newly arriving 8th Battalion of the 66th Regiment—stopped 120 yards short of the ambush and took a break. Then they resumed the march. The platoon of Americans held their breath and their fire until they heard the louder clanking noise of the enemy’s heavy weapons company moving into the kill zone. The Americans blew their claymore mines and emptied a magazine each from their M-16 rifles into the confused North Vietnamese and then took off, running like hell straight back to the patrol base. A very angry PAVN battalion was right behind them.

Knowlen and his men beat back three waves of attacking North Vietnamese, but the company commander feared the next attack would overrun his position. Knowlen radioed Stockton at his temporary base at Duc Co Special Forces Camp and begged for reinforcements as fast as possible. Stockton radioed his higher-up, Brig. Gen. Richard Knowles at Camp Holloway/Pleiku, requesting permission to send in the rest of Danielsen’s company. Knowles denied Stockton permission, and the legendary 9th Cavalry commander squawked, squealed, whistled, dropped the radio handset and waved Danielsen’s men aboard the choppers and away to save the day.

They were about to make history, conducting the first nighttime heli-borne infantry assault into a very hot landing zone. They arrived in the nick of time as the next PAVN assault began. Danielsen’s men joined the line, and Stockton’s helicopter crews got out of their birds and joined the battle with their M-60 machine guns and the pilots’ pistols.

Knowles was furious at Stockton for disobeying his orders. Stockton just shrugged. If he had obeyed Knowles, more than 100 of his men would not have survived that night in the Ia Drang. Stockton, an Army brat who had grown up in horse cavalry posts all across the West, had resurrected black cavalry Stetson hats for his men and smuggled the 9th Cav’s mascot Maggie the mule aboard ship and 8,000 miles to Vietnam in defiance of another of Dick Knowles’ orders. But for his actions this night of November 3, John B. Stockton would be relieved of duty and sent to work a desk job in Saigon.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is untitled_2.jpg

One out of four members of the 7th Cavalry were killed or wounded in the Ia Drang Valley. (Photo: Joseph L. Galloway)

All of this was merely prelude, setting the stage for the savage mid-November battles at LZs X-ray and Albany.

When Hal Moore took the first lift of 16 Hueys—all that he was given for this maneuver—into the landing zone he had chosen in the Ia Drang, he was painfully aware that he was on the ground with only 90 men, and that they would be there alone for half an hour or longer while the choppers returned to Plei Me Camp, picked up waiting troops and made the return flight. It was a 34-mile roundtrip. The luck was with Moore. The clearing was silent for now. Then his men took a prisoner, a North Vietnamese private who was quaking so hard he could barely speak. When he finally did say something, it sent chills through the Americans listening to the translator: “He say there two regiments on that mountain. They want very much to kill Americans but have not been able to find any.”

Within an hour of landing and the second airlift of troops just arriving, the battle at X-ray was joined. It would last for three days and two nights before the North Vietnamese would vanish into the tangle of brush and elephant grass, leaving a large circle of their dead scattered around the American position. The smell of rotting corpses hung heavy over X-ray, and with the arrival on foot of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, under its new commander Lt. Col. Robert McDade, on the morning of November 16, there were now three Cavalry battalions crammed into that clearing. General Knowles wanted to bring in the first-ever B-52 strike in tactical support of ground troops, and X-ray was inside the 3×5 kilometer box that was “danger close” to the rain of bombs that would fall on the near slopes of Chu Pong.

The 3rd Brigade commander, Colonel Tim Brown, gave orders: Moore’s battalion, plus Bravo Company of 2-7 Cavalry, which had reinforced Moore and fought alongside the 1st Battalion troopers, would be pulled out by helicopters and lifted to Camp Holloway on November 16. On the morning of November 17, Lt. Col. Bob Tully’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry, would march out of X-ray, headed northeast directly toward LZ Columbus, where a battery of 105mm howitzers was positioned. Bob McDade’s 2-7 Battalion plus one company of 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, would follow Tully part of the way, then break off west and northwest toward another clearing closer to the river dubbed LZ Albany.

As McDade’s battalion neared the Albany clearing, it was halted, strung out along 550 yards of narrow trail hemmed in by much thicker triple canopy jungle. The Recon Platoon had captured two North Vietnamese soldiers. A third had escaped. McDade and his command group went forward so the battalion commander could personally put questions to the prisoners through the interpreter. He also ordered all four company commanders to come forward to receive instructions on how he wanted them deployed around the perimeter of Albany. They all arrived with their radio operators, and all but the commander of the attached Alpha Company of 1-5 Cav, Captain George Forest, brought their first sergeants with them.

The enemy commander, Lt. Col. Nguyen Hu An, had kept one of the battalions of the 66th Regiment in reserve, and unbeknownst to the Americans that battalion was taking a lunch break just off the trail. The North Vietnamese swiftly deployed along the left side of the column and prepared to attack. The weary Americans, who had had little or no sleep for the last three days and nights, had slumped to the ground where they had stopped. Some ate; some smoked; some fell asleep right there. Suddenly, enemy mortars exploded among the Americans signaling the PAVN attack, and they charged through the tall grass and cut through the thin line of Cavalry troops strung out along the trail.

PAVN machine gunners climbed atop the big termite mounds—some 6 feet tall and as big around as a small automobile—and opened up. Snipers were up in the trees. The fighting quickly disintegrated into hand-to-hand combat, and men were dying all around. In the next six hours, McDade’s battalion would lose 155 men killed and 120 wounded. An artillery liaison officer in a Huey overhead wanted desperately to call fire missions in support, but was helpless. All he could see was smoke rising through the jungle canopy. At the head of the column, McDade had no idea where most of his men were and was near-incoherent on the radio. The Americans trapped in the kill zone were on their own. Later artillery and napalm airstrikes were called in, but they often fell on enemies and friends alike. All through that endless night, the PAVN troops combed through the elephant grass searching for their own wounded, and finishing off any wounded Americans they came across. Both sides had lost interest in taking prisoners. There were no Americans captured and only four North Vietnamese prisoners taken—all at X-ray and none at Albany. When the ambush was sprung at Albany, an intelligence sergeant shot and killed the two North Vietnamese prisoners with a .45-caliber pistol.

An Associated Press photographer, Rick Merron, and a Vietnamese TV network cameraman, Vo Nguyen, had finagled a ride on a helicopter going into Albany on the morning of November 18. After a short stay, Merron grabbed another chopper going back to Camp Holloway, and the word spread quickly that a battalion of Americans had been massacred in the valley.

LBJ ordered McNamara to Saigon to find out what happened at Ia Drang, and what it meant.
General Knowles called a news conference late on the 18th in a tent at Holloway. He told the dozens of reporters who had assembled that there was no ambush of the Americans at Albany. It was, he said, “a meeting engagement.” Casualties were light to moderate, he added. I had just returned from Albany myself, and I stood and told the general, “That’s bullshit, sir, and you know it!” The news conference dissolved in a chorus of angry shouting.

In Washington, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent an urgent message to Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, who was in Europe, ordering him to come home via Saigon and find out what had happened at Ia Drang, and what it meant. McNamara met with Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in Saigon and then flew to the 1st Cavalry Division base camp at An Khe, where he was briefed by the Cav commander, Maj. Gen. Harry W.O. Kinnard, and by Colonel Moore.

On the flight across the Pacific, McNamara wrote a top-secret memo to President Johnson dated November 30. See the Memo. McNamara told LBJ that the enemy had not only met but exceeded our escalation. We have come to a decision point and it seems we have only two choices: Either we arrange whatever diplomatic cover we can find and get out of Vietnam, or we give General William C. Westmoreland the 200,000 additional U.S. troops he is asking for, in which case by early 1967 we will have 500,000 Americans on the ground and they will be dying at the rate of 1,000 a month (the top Pentagon bean counter was wrong about that; American combat deaths would top out at over 3,000 a month in 1968). McNamara added that all this would achieve was a military stalemate at a much higher level of violence.

On December 15, 1965, LBJ’s council of “wise old men,” which in addition to McNamara included the likes of Clark Clifford, Abe Fortas, Averell Harriman, George Ball and Dean Acheson, was assembled at the White House to decide the path ahead in Vietnam. As the president walked into the room, he was holding McNamara’s November 30 memo in his hand. Shaking it at the defense secretary, he said, “You mean to tell me no matter what I do I can’t win in Vietnam?” McNamara nodded yes. The wise men talked for two days without seriously considering McNamara’s “Option 1”—getting out of Vietnam—and ultimately voted unanimously in favor of further escalation of the war.

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Resupply and medevac at LZ X-ray during the Battle of Ia Drang Valley on November 16, 1965. (Photo: Joseph L. Galloway)

Back in Saigon, General Westmoreland and MACV G-3, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations General William DePuy, were studying the statistics of the Ia Drang battles. What they saw was a ratio of 12 North Vietnamese killed for each American. They decided that these results justified a strategy of attrition: They would bleed the enemy to death over the long haul. One of Westmoreland’s brighter young aides later would write, “a strategy of attrition is proof that you have no strategy at all.” In any event, the strategy was an utter failure. In no year of that long war did the North Vietnamese war death toll even come close to equaling the natural birth rate increase of the population. In other words, every year reaching out far into the future there were more babies born in the north than NVA we were killing in the south, so each year a new crop of draftees arrived as replacements for the dead.

Seven hundred miles north in Hanoi, President Ho Chi Minh and his lieutenants likewise carefully studied the results of the Ia Drang campaign. They were confident they would eventually win the war. Their peasant soldiers had withstood the high-tech firestorm thrown at them by a superpower and had at least fought the Americans to a draw, and to them a draw against so powerful an enemy was a victory. In time the same patience and perseverance that had ground down the French colonial military would likewise grind down the Americans.

Senior General Vo Nguyen Giap studied the battles and correctly identified the helicopter as the biggest innovation, biggest threat and biggest change in warfare that the Americans brought to the battlefield. Giap would later say: “We thought that the Americans must have a strategy. We did. We had a strategy of people’s war. You had tactics, and it takes very decisive tactics to win a strategic victory….If we could defeat your tactics—your helicopters—then we could defeat your strategy. Our goal was to win the war.”

The PAVN commander directing the fight at X-ray, Lt. Col. Nguyen Hu An, revealed to us in Hanoi in 1991 that they had figured out one other way to neutralize the American artillery and air power. It was called “Hug Them by the Belt Buckle”—or get in so close to the U.S. troops that the firepower could not be used, for fear of killing and wounding their own. Then, said An, the fight would be man-to-man and much better odds.

For the Americans, Ia Drang proved the concept of airmobile infantry warfare. Some had feared that the helicopters were too flimsy and fragile to fly into the hottest of landing zones. They were not. All 16 Hueys dedicated to lifting and supporting Colonel Moore’s besieged force in X-ray were shot full of holes, but only two were unable to fly out on their own. The rest brought in ammunition, grenades, water and medical supplies, and took out the American wounded in scores of sorties. Without them, the battles of the Ia Drang could never have taken place. The Huey was on its way to becoming the most familiar icon of the war.

General Giap also learned one very important lesson. When 1st Cav commander General Kinnard asked for permission to pursue the withdrawing North Vietnamese troops across the border into their sanctuaries inside Cambodia, cables flew between Saigon and Washington. The answer from LBJ’s White House was that absolutely no hot pursuit across the borders would be authorized. With that, the United States ceded the strategic initiative for much of the rest of the war to General Giap. From that point forward, Giap would decide where and when the battles would be fought, and when they would end. And they would always end with the withdrawal of his forces across a nearby border to sanctuaries where they could rest, reinforce and refit for the next battle.

Another political decision flowing out of the Johnson White House—limiting the tour of duty in Vietnam to 12 months (13 months for Marines)—would soon begin to bite hard. The first units arriving in Vietnam in 1965 had trained together for many months before they were ordered to war. They knew each other and their capabilities. They had built cohesion as a unit, a team, and that is a powerful force multiplier. But their tour was up in the summer of 1966, and all of them got up and went home, taking all they had learned in the hardest of schools with them. They were replaced by new draftees, who flowed in as individual replacements and who knew no one around them, and nothing of their outfit’s history and esprit. The North Vietnamese soldier’s term of service was radically different—he would serve until victory or death. One of those soldiers wrote of marching south in 1965 with a battalion of some 400 men. When the war ended in 1975, that man and five others were all that were left alive of the 400.

General Giap knew all along that his country and his army would prevail against the Americans just as they had outlasted and worn down their French enemy. The battles of Ia Drang in November 1965, although costly to him in raw numbers of men, reinforced his confidence. And, while by any standards the American performance there was heroic and tactical airmobility was proven, the cost of such “victories” was clearly unsustainable, even then. Even in the eyes of the war’s chief architect.

In the late 1940s, Giap wrote this uncannily accurate prediction of the course of the Viet Minh war against the French:

“The enemy will pass slowly from the offensive to the defensive. The blitzkrieg will transform itself into a war of long duration. Thus, the enemy will be caught in a dilemma: He has to drag out the war in order to win it and does not possess, on the other hand, the psychological and political means to fight a long-drawn-out war.”


Joseph Galloway had four tours in Vietnam during his 22 years as a foreign and war correspondent. The only civilian decorated for valor by the U.S. Army for actions in combat during the Vietnam War, Galloway received the Bronze Star medal with V Device for rescuing wounded soldiers while under fire in the Ia Drang Valley, in November 1965.
This article originally published in 2010 on

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On this day in 1919 , The United States lost a good Man President Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt: The real Overly Manly Man. - Album on Imgur | History  humor, Funny, Hilarious“Death had to take him sleeping. For if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight. VP Thomas Marshall

Leadership of the highest kind

Ronald Reagan at 110: Twenty of His Best Quotes on Freedom, Government, and America

Saturday marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of America’s 40th president, Ronald Wilson Reagan, in Tampico, Illinois in 1911.

Now almost two decades since he died at 93, things he said are far better remembered than the things critics said about him. And that is a good thing, because Reagan got more things right than most of them did.

When Reagan first flirted with the Republican nomination in 1968, I was not quite 15 years of age. I was intrigued because his criticism of big government resonated with my youthful instincts. When he challenged incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976, I cheered him on. Like it was yesterday, I remember his smashing victory in the North Carolina primary, then his sweep of every delegate in Texas, followed by a nail-biting, narrow loss to Ford at the GOP convention. After he trounced Jimmy Carter in 1980, I was teaching at Northwood University, where I wheeled in a TV set for one of my classes to watch his inaugural address live.

It is hard to describe today how I felt 40 years ago as Reagan took office. Up until then, it seemed as though freedom was losing every battle, everywhere. The Soviets were on the march in the world. Stagflation at home was the new normal as Jimmy Carter seemed incapable of anything more than lecturing us to get used to it. Then into the White House came a man of boundless optimism, of infectious confidence in American freedom and exceptionalism. It gave me hope at the same time my libertarian principles reminded me, “This is government. Be prepared for disappointments.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Reagan three times—once during his 1980 campaign, then during my own (for U.S. Congress) in 1982, and then for lunch with a small group at the White House in 1987. I will never forget his uncanny ability to put one immediately at ease and to show interest in whoever he was talking to. Yes, he was an actor, but I believe his character was the real source of so much good in him, including the sincerity he exuded and the faith in free people he so eloquently and repeatedly expressed. He was the best president of my lifetime, and likely the only one who regularly read FEE publications.

This is not to say that Reagan was perfect. I wish he had vetoed more bills. I wish he had understood the harm of the drug war. And because he was too much of a nice guy, he probably didn’t fire or criticize enough bad apples in government. But remember a couple things: He was not a dictator; the opposition party controlled the House all of his eight years and greeted his proposed spending cuts as “dead on arrival.” His focus on the big-ticket issues—rolling back the Evil Empire, cutting punitive tax rates, taming price inflation and reducing over-regulation—sometimes prompted him to compromise on other matters to save political capital for these more critical ones.

For the most part, and more than any of his fellow presidents since Coolidge, Reagan knew that there was no loftier achievement for any society than freedom. We do ourselves a service to get re-acquainted with that notion. Recognizing that for many reasons (some no fault of his), Reagan’s rhetoric sometimes soared higher than actual results, I offer here some of the best things he said on the subject.


  1. Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it to them with the well fought lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same. And if you and I don’t do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free. – 1961
  2. One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. – 1961
  3. If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth. And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except to sovereign people, is still the newest and most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election. Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves. – 1964
  4. Government is like a baby: An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other. – 1965
  5. There are those in America today who have come to depend absolutely on government for their security. And when government fails they seek to rectify that failure in the form of granting government more power. So, as government has failed to control crime and violence with the means given it by the Constitution, they seek to give it more power at the expense of the Constitution. But in doing so, in their willingness to give up their arms in the name of safety, they are really giving up their protection from what has always been the chief source of despotism—government. – 1975
  6. Lord Acton said power corrupts. Surely then, if this is true, the more power we give the government the more corrupt it will become. And if we give it the power to confiscate our arms we also give up the ultimate means to combat that corrupt power. In doing so we can only assure that we will eventually be totally subject to it. When dictators come to power, the first thing they do is take away the people’s weapons. It makes it so much easier for the secret police to operate, it makes it so much easier to force the will of the ruler upon the ruled. – 1975
  7. The size of the Federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience or charitable concern. – 1981
  8. If the big spenders get their way, they’ll charge everything on your Taxpayers Express Card. And believe me, they never leave home without it. – 1984
  9. If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on earth. – 1981
  10. Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives. – 1981
  11. In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? – 1981
  12. We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our Government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed. – 1981
  13. It is time for us to realize that we’re too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We’re not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope. We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, they just don’t know where to look. – 1981
  14. Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it. – 1986
  15. How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.– 1987
  16. The nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help. – 1986
  17. You can’t be for big government, big taxes, and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy. – 1988
  18. I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts. – 1989
  19. Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty’s lamp guiding your steps and opportunity’s arm steadying your way. – 1989
  20. Let’s close the place down and see if anybody notices. – 1995 (on the federal government shutdown)
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One of Americas Greates, That you probably never heard of, (Something for the History Teachers out there!)

The following essay was initially published in Military Review 68 (October 1988): 27− 37. This journal is
published at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Slight modifications
and corrections have been made in the version below.
George C. Marshall and the Education of Army Leaders
By Larry I. Bland

At all levels of United States society today, there is a strong current of concern with “leadership”—its present quality
and the hope that it can be improved via the education of the younger generation. Every student of the past’s great
captains can produce a lengthy catalog of important leadership characteristics. Certainly high on such lists is the
leader’s dedication, beyond mere technical expertise, to an understanding of his calling and of its role in society. Less
often perceived, perhaps, by those who study the careers of military leaders is that many such leaders have
consciously and subtly sought to teach their subordinates, peers, and sometimes even their superiors. In part, this
teacher role sprang from the leaders’ determination to disseminate certain views and, in part, the mantle was thrust
upon them by those who wished to accompany, assist, or emulate their journey.
One of the Army’s greatest teacher-leaders was George C. Marshall. He was a tolerant, broad-minded student of the
history and development of his profession, who sought to teach the lessons he learned to the younger generation of
ground and air leaders. For these reasons, and most importantly because he served as chief of staff of the US Army
between July 1939 and November 1945, his world view acted as a kind of filter through which flowed the military
ideas and values of a large number of World War II Army and Air Force leaders.
Marshall is not usually remembered for being a teacher. In fact, he was formally employed as a classroom instructor
on only three occasions, two of them quite brief. But his principal biographer, Forrest C. Pogue, has stated that
Marshall might have made a great teacher, that “he himself sometimes regretted that he had not set out on an
academic career,” and that at least “a good part of his impact on the Army was actually as a teacher.” [1]
Student and Teacher, 1897-1938
Good teachers were generally good students, but Marshall was a late bloomer, discovering his scholastic ability five
years into his Army career. Reminiscing near the end of his life, Marshall used such terms as “humiliating” and
“painful” to describe the quality of his public school accomplishments in the 1880s and 1890s (always excepting his
interest in history). There was some concern in his family that young George’s demonstrated academic weakness
might preclude his attending the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). He gained admission but began and remained a
mediocre scholar, finishing 15th of the 33 graduates in the class of 1901. Asked many years later what academic
subjects he liked best there, he was unable to think of even one. [2]
In military matters Marshall was VMI’s top cadet, swiftly adapting to the rugged, austere lifestyle. Rigorous selfdiscipline enabled him to accept the rules, the routine, and most of the nonsense as part of “the game”—challenges to
be endured if they could not be mastered. This tolerance and stoicism were constant traits throughout his life.
After graduation, he briefly taught at Virginia’s Danville Military Institute. In February 1902, he was commissioned,
married, and departed for the Philippines to begin the second phase of his military education with the 30th Infantry,
which he described as “the wildest crowd I had ever seen before or since.” [3] Unlike most infantrymen of that era,
Marshall soon concluded that the path to professional success lay through the Army’s school system. When his
regiment could find no one senior who was interested in attending the Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas, Second Lieutenant Marshall was permitted to matriculate at Leavenworth in September 1906—
the lowest-ranking member of his class. [4] Throughout the rest of his Army career, Marshall sought to help bright
young officers whose intellectual development was blocked by low rank and restrictive rules, particularly by having
them sent to Army schools.
Marshall’s enrollment at Leavenworth happened to coincide with the arrival of Major John F. Morrison, a teacher
who remained Marshall’s lifelong hero. Others taught regulations and technique, Marshall thought; Morrison “spoke
a tactical language I have never heard from any other officer.” He taught Marshall not merely fundamental principles
—students could quote those by rote from the book—but how to recognize these principles in action. He emphasized
the elements of uncertainty and surprise on the battlefield—Carl von Clausewitz’s “fog of war”—and how these
would undermine tactical plans derived from mere application of ossified book solutions. Marshall and his fellow
students were proud to call themselves “Morrison men.” [5] Labeled by some disparaging critics as the “Leavenworth
clique,” Marshall and others similarly trained prevented the U.S. Army from being a bloody embarrassment to this
country in France in 1918.
At the end of his two years as the number one student, Marshall was retained at the school for an additional two years
as a teacher. In the summers he was an instructor at National Guard encampments. For most Regular Army officers,
this duty was distasteful at best, but Marshall thrived in the outdoors instructing troops. The guardsmen were anxious
to learn and he had a flair for teaching. His empathy with the Guard’s problems, understanding of its limitations,
ability to motivate the men to strive for improvement, and belief in the Guards’ crucial position as the foundation of
America’s ground forces clearly distinguished him from the sort of Regular the Guard normally encountered.
He spent a year (1911–12) as inspector/instructor with the Massachusetts volunteer militia. One of his most important
duties was establishing an educational system and developing courses for the militia’s instruction. Marshall later
observed, “The teacher was being educated at the same time he was instructing. But they accepted everything I put
up, and I was able to experiment.” [6] He learned to lead officers and developed the knack for fast, accurate staff
Marshall’s initial lessons in civil-military relations beyond the militia came immediately before and after World War
I. He was kept out of General John J. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition and was directed to establish, supply, and create
instructional programs for civilian military training camps. That year (1916–17) provided him with a close look at a
grossly unprepared nation and Army hurriedly embarking on a major war. Marshall received a crash-course in
dealing with civilians. [7]
By the time he returned from France in September 1919, Marshall’s stature in the Army had changed from a brilliant
but untried “young turk” on the periphery of power to a seasoned staff planner and aide to General Pershing at the
center of Army life. Marshall spent the next five years (1919–24) mainly in Washington assisting Pershing in
winding up the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) affairs, and then as chief of staff, Pershing’s office manager
and right-hand man. For Marshall, this period constituted a postgraduate education in national and War Department
Following three years with the 15th Infantry in China, Marshall returned in mid-1927 to teach at the Army War
College, despite not being a graduate. When his wife suddenly died, friends arranged for the distraught Marshall to
have his pick of three choice assignments. He chose the education position, becoming head of the academic
department at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Over a period of nearly five years (1927–32), he did for
the Infantry School what his former mentor, Morrison, had done for Leavenworth—he undermined its complacency,
renewed its enthusiasm, and trained a new generation of ground force leaders who were destined to run a major war.
By Pogue’s count, in Marshall’s years at Fort Benning, 150 future generals of World War II were students, 50 more
were instructors, and hundreds became future field grade officers. They comprised a cadre of “Marshall’s men.” [8]
Infantry School head Marshall and his
department heads for the 1930−31
school year. Seated, L-R: Morrison C.
Stayer, Joseph W. Stilwell, GCM,
William F. Freehoff, Edwin F.
Harding. Standing: Howard J. Liston,
Omar N. Bradley, Emil W. Leard,
Fremont B. Hodson.
Detailed to Chicago as senior
instructor for the Illinois National
Guard (1933–36), he threw himself
into the enormous task of re-educating
and renewing the enthusiasm of that organization. His success in this potentially career-endangering assignment
enormously strengthened his status and authority in the Guard. <>
Marshall instructs the umpires for his Illinois
National Guard command post exercise in the
Chicago vicinity, January 1936.
In October 1936, he finally received his first
star and was sent to Vancouver Barracks,
Washington. Ever the teacher, Marshall
successfully struggled to remake his Civilian
Conservation Corps district’s lackadaisical
educational system. He told a friend: “I am
struggling to force their education, academic
or vocational, to the point where they will be
on the road to really useful citizenship by the
time they return to their homes. I have done over my corps of civilian educators, and their methods, until I think we
really have something supremely practical.” [9]
Marshall had made a point of writing letters of recommendation for deserving Civilian Conservation Corps
students seeking jobs in the civilian sector. In this Vancouver Barracks CCC District newspaper cartoon
published June 1, 1938, the CCC men return the favor by giving Marshall their recommendation on his
departure to his new job in the War Department.///
Shortly afterward, Marshall moved to a War Department desk; nine months later, he was President Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s choice to head the Army. The nation was fortunate that Marshall became chief of staff on the eve of
World War II, because, of all the potential candidates for that crucial post in 1939, he was probably best suited
intellectually and temperamentally to carry out the two great educational tasks of the day. He had to recast the
traditionally conservative, isolated, and impecunious coalition known as the U.S. Army into an instrument capable of
defending the nation against modernized, motivated, and highly efficient enemies. Simultaneously, he had to
convince skeptical soldiers and civilians that they had to achieve unprecedented cooperation—a modus vivendi—
toward that end.
American Attitudes Impact on the Army
During his career, Marshall had learned numerous lessons concerning the functioning of American society, the
operations of the Army, and the interrelation of the two. He developed a philosophy and methods of operation that
enabled him to expand the stature and authority he had achieved within the Army into civil society and then into
international relations.
Marshall consciously sought to understand the workings of America’s peculiar democratic society rather than seeking
refuge from it in professional aloofness. He concluded that the successful officer not only had to be tolerant of the
dissonance and disorganization of civil society, but also to be politically astute enough to convince the amateur
soldiers, politicians, reporters, and intellectuals, as well as the proverbial man in the street, that the professional
military was an acceptable part of the system and that it possessed insights and methods essential to national survival.
Like any thoroughgoing military professional, Marshall was a student of military history. But his interests went
beyond operations; he was fascinated also by the politics—painful and embarrassing mobilization, wartime
interaction with populace and press, and demobilization, with its cutbacks, criticisms, and efforts at reform. He had
studied the Spanish-American War assiduously and he had experienced World War I intimately. Marshall thought he
saw a cyclical pattern in that the prewar level of the Army’s combat readiness and thus subsequent performance was
always far below the public’s expectations. Then, the postwar political results of this included severe criticisms of
Army leaders and attempts to legislate a reformed system. Finally, a few years of budget cutting and a general lack of
public interest in the military led to excessive reductions in strength and materiel until the next crisis. [11]
At least by the early 1920s, Marshall had come to believe that a major cause of this cycle was the American
acceptance of the Minuteman myth—the idea that the nation was populated by the woods-smart descendants of
Indian fighters who, upon mobilization, could take their trusty hunting rifles down from the pegs over the fireplace,
assemble for some rudimentary training, then deploy to rout any foe. A key assumption of this myth was that training
good infantry was relatively easy. Performing the role of Revolutionary War hero Friedrick W. A. von Steuben
would be the small Regular Army, whose ranks the volunteers would swell. [12]
Given its high cost in lives, money, and frustration, why had the Minuteman myth persisted? Marshall thought a good
part of the answer lay in the biased and poorly taught history lessons Americans learned in school, which conditioned
voters’ and politicans’ understanding of contemporary military affairs. American military history depicted in the
textbooks included too much flag-waving, concentrated too much on the later stages and glorious outcomes of the
nation’s wars and appeared to imply that America would always win, even if initially unprepared. Ignored were the
wastefulness, humiliations, and disasters of the beginnings—the results of poor military organization and lack of
preparedness due to popular, but false, peacetime economies. An accurate depiction of the full course of America’s
wars, he told educators in 1923 and 1939, might help to break the cycle of frantic expansion and ossifying penury,
somnolence and impatience, that had been the Army’s lot since the Revolution. [13]
Americans’ “impatience to overcome the delays of past indifference can be a destructive force,” Marshall said in
1940. In their enthusiasm for shortcuts, Americans expected too much of technology and machines, presumed that
the nation’s great industrial base guaranteed speedy delivery of military hardware, underestimated the difficulties of
training an effective ground combat team and generally depreciated the foot soldier. Probably the most common
refrain Marshall voiced as chief of staff was the long time needed to deliver quality soldiers and materiel—there was
no royal road to either. In 1917, he later recalled, huge sums were swiftly appropriated to develop air power. Little
was said about the great difficulties to be overcome; instead, a great publicity campaign led people “to expect
stupendous results in short order.” Disillusionment resulted, with its inevitable political fallout. Marshall made
continual efforts to prevent the recurrence of this cycle while he was chief of staff. Calmness and balance were his
watchwords. He insisted that “we should promise less than we expect to achieve; we should resist ideas or
enthusiasms that will not stand the searching test of common sense.” [14]
The Army’s Role in Society
A teenager once asked Marshall what were the components of a good character. He replied, “sincerity, integrity, and
tolerance.” [15] Perhaps the key to his great success was tolerance, that breadth of spirit and viewpoint that accepts
diversity. His experience and political savvy caused him to reject anticivilian or antidemocratic beliefs and
stereotyping. Those little-minded officers—and civilians—who cherished their own griefs and prejudices, in
Marshall’s view failed to understand the Army’s role in American society. [16] By chance and choice, Marshall was
frequently involved closely with civilians during his career. He welcomed and encouraged these contacts and
strongly encouraged fellow officers to do likewise. [17]
Marshall understood the American political system and was himself an expert, if reluctant, politician. [18] His
relations with Congress and the press were probably better—and undoubtedly of greater moment for the nation—than
those of any other Army chief of staff. He worked hard and successfully to create and maintain an image of integrity,
honesty, and competence among politicians and reporters. He was acutely aware that the Army’s public image had
morale, political, and financial—and thus ultimately strategic—implications. [19] When Marshall was chief of staff,
one of the swiftest ways for an officer to damage his career was to be at fault in a row with either the news media or
Congress. [20]
Marshall was determined
not to hide harsh truths
from the nation’s leaders: i.
e., that the “Theory of an
Early Axis Collapse” was
unlikely. On October 20 and
21, 1943, he delivered
detailed briefings in the
auditorium of the Library of
Congress to Senators and
Congressmen on the current
state of the war. The
Philadelphia Bulletin
printed this cartoon on
October 22.
Typical of Marshall’s
philosophy was his 1942
response to a colonel’s protest against congressional criticism of the Army: “I think you have allowed yourself to be
unduly irritated by the squeakings of Democracy. If we were to take issue with the various illogical or totally
unjustified public statements that are made over the radio, in the press, or on the floors of Congress, there would be
little time for the business of conducting the war and I think a loss rather than a gain in prestige. My fear has always
been that sooner or later I would lose my temper through profound and continued irritation, but I have been saved
that misfortune so far by the realization of what a serious mistake it would be.” [21]
Since the nation’s founding, a constant question has been what kind of Army is needed. Marshall thought it naive to
expect the determinedly civilian-minded American people to maintain a large professional army. He recognized in
1917 that the Regular Army had to play the role of trainer and administrative-technical expert for the citizen-soldier
army that would fight any future wars. Political reality dictated that this had to work if the boom-bust cycle of Army
development was to be broken. His own experience with the National Guard and the 1st Division in 1917–18
indicated that it could be made to work. [22]
It was clear to Marshall that the professional Army’s duty was to serve as the primary repository of up-to-date theory
and practice. The Regulars bore the primary burden of making the Reserve system work. But during the 1920s and
early 1930s, the Regular Army shrank, promotion stagnated, command opportunities grew rarer, and equipment grew
scarcer and more obsolescent. Many officers slipped into mental somnolence and had trouble wakening as conditions
improved after the mid-1930s. Marshall struggled against the intellectual coagulation of the “cast-iron Regular.”
Marshall made the Infantry School the fountainhead of Army reform and his students and protégés quietly spread the
word. “We bored from within without cessation during my five years at Benning,” Marshall stated several months
after leaving the Infantry School in mid-1932. Quietly and gradually, so as not to arouse the opposition to action,
Marshall brought in, as faculty, open-minded men recently returned from troop duty. He hammered incessantly on
the theme of simplicity: no long lectures containing only school-approved doctrine, no exercises dependent upon
possessing elaborate maps, no beautifully detailed orders stifling initiative, no overblown intelligence estimates that
harried commanders had no time to read, and no field procedures so complex that tired citizen-soldiers could not
perform them. He said, “get down to the essentials, make clear the real difficulties, and expunge the bunk,
complications and ponderosities.” Campaigning against the “colorless pedantic form” used in manual writing, he
insisted that it be replaced by clear, concise language written to impress National Guard and Reserve officers, not just
Regulars. [23]
For success as a commander of citizen-soldiers fighting a war of movement, officers needed “a knowledge of how to
operate by means of brief, concise oral orders, based on the ground you can see or on maps with very little detail . . .
a high degree of cleverness . . . constant tactical readiness . . . speed of thought, speed of action and direction and
speed of operation.” [24] These were not commonplace ideas in an era in which most officers were devoted to the
minutely detailed, lengthy orders that took so long to work out but which had brought them such good grades at
Marshall’s three years with the Illinois National Guard provided him with a proving ground for his training ideas. It
was not easy, but his ideas regarding the primacy of the citizen-soldier in the American military system smoothed the
way for a reform of Guard training in Illinois. Concentrating his efforts on educating Guard officers, he emphasized
the efficient use of the limited armory training time, insisted that Guard leaders demand of themselves and their men
a more soldierly spirit, and sought more realistic drills. He worked especially hard to create staff teams, which he
considered the Guard’s greatest weakness. He took officers out of the classroom and held command post and field
exercises—always with a surprise or a twist—using nearby parks and military reservations. In this way, he succeeded
in keeping Guard interest stirred despite the debilitating effects of Depression-level funding. [25]
Marshall also pressed the War Department to assign a higher caliber of Regular officers as Guard instructors and to
support them better. And, as always, Marshall kept up his unceasing suggestions for the improvement of Army
literature for Guard use and his equally unceasing war on the paperwork demanded of the Guard by the Army.
Implementing His Ideas
Implicit in all of Marshall ideas in the 1920s and 1930s regarding training were views of the kind of war that the
United States would fight next. Future war, he concluded, would be more typical of the fluid first weeks in 1914 than
of the siege-like conditions that developed later in World War I. Moreover, the United States would not again enjoy a
year or two to train and organize behind an ally’s lines, but would be in the struggle from the beginning and would
have to fight for several months with the forces immediately at hand.
Marshall believed that much of the support for the inappropriate or wrong-headed values and methods against which
he struggled in the Army lay in the erroneous conclusions drawn by the typical AEF veteran from his brief, frenetic,
and narrowly circumscribed service against a declining German army in mid to late 1918. Especially irritating to one
who struggled in 1917 to create a fighting unit from the green, disorganized mob called the First Division were these
latecomers’ naive conclusions regarding the likely efficiency of American forces at the beginning of a war. [26]
Experience in France demonstrated to Marshall that it was essential for higher commanders to be physically capable
of withstanding the rigors of war. Exhausted leaders made errors and damaged not only their own careers but also
their subordinates’ morale. Positive and inspiring leadership was particularly necessary to an army of citizen-soldiers
and this demanded great stamina. Marshall’s rule of thumb in World War II was that a new combat-zone general, of
whatever age, had to have the physical vigor of a fit man of forty-five. [27]
High troop morale was clearly necessary to the strains of a war of movement. Marshall unequivocally and frequently
put officers on notice that he expected them to pay close attention to the quality of their troops’ physical needs,
recreation facilities, and mental and morale activities. He insisted that leaders personally inspect their commands
with morale in mind and not delegate the responsibility or rely solely on paper directives. As chief of staff, he
personally made numerous and lengthy inspection trips by plane, and he insisted that Army inspectors and his own
staff fly frequently to follow up on policies and to maintain contact with the situation in the field. In mid-1941, he
convinced Congress to grant him a contingency fund of $25 million to be used to circumvent the Army’s
cumbersome financial procedures in morale-related expenditures. [28]
Marshall’s experiences in World War I, as Pershing’s aide and as a troop commander, had taught him that as chief of
staff it was crucial that he seek out and promote the best leaders available. It was his job to help them to secure the
services of the best subcommanders and staff and he needed to insulate the commanders as much as possible from
unwarranted interference by the War Department, domestic and Allied politics, and the media in order that they
might concentrate on fighting the enemy. For example, he told General Dwight D. Eisenhower shortly after the North
African landings and repeatedly during the Darlan Affair: “I am doing my utmost to support you by meeting with the
Press, with members of Congress, with State Department and with the President. . . . Do not worry about this, leave
the worries to us and go ahead with your campaign.” [29]
The chief of staff also tried to teach his subordinates the nuances of his conclusions—from long staff experience—
regarding the behavior of staffs. They tended to excess in emulating and reinforcing the commander, they tended to
be too conservative, and they tended to be obsessive about centralizing and “routinizing” business—frequently to the
detriment of staffs and units below them. Good commanders, he insisted, recognized these problems and
compensated. On this last point, perhaps his pet peeve, he wrote in 1938: “Every time I turn my back some staff
officers calls on some poor devil for a report or an extra copy of some more damned papers—and I will not have it.”
He considered it one of his duties as a commander to defend his troops from his staff. In London, in April 1942, a
British friend gave Marshall a copy of a letter, dated about 1810, from the Duke of Wellington in Spain to the British
secretary of state for war. The “Iron Duke” stated that he would be unable to campaign if he “attempted to answer the
mass of futile correspondence” surrounding him; moreover he forbade his officers from “attending to the futile
drivelling of mere quill driving” in the War Office. Marshall sent this document to all the higher officials in the War
Department with the pointed observation: “We could well govern ourselves accordingly.” [30]
Finally, Marshall was determined to teach the necessity of cooperation among the elements of the World War II
coalitions: air-ground, Army-Navy, British-American. An overly suspicious attitude toward other institutions or a
display of excessive partisanship favoring one’s own would damage a commander’s credibility with the Army chief
of staff. In September 1942, for example, Marshall issued a directive to all higher Army commanders to take
“vigorous action . . . to suppress service jealousies and suspicions.” They were enjoined to set a personal example in
public and private conversations “to provide a remedy” for Anglo-American “frictions.” [31] The chief of staff read
all acknowledgments. Not everyone was willing or able to absorb the teacher’s lessons, and a number of officers’
careers suffered accordingly.
Although he fought his greatest battles at desks and conference tables, and his most formidable foes were complexity,
excessive caution, narrow-mindedness and incompetence, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall was one of the
greatest warriors of World War II. Powerful men were in awe of him, though he was modest and self-effacing. He
never voted and dismissed any efforts to get him to run for office, but he thoroughly understood and approved of the
American democratic system, despite its occasional “squeakings.” He was a bureaucrat who hated desks and
paperwork, a general who never led troops, a warrior who would win a peace prize. He is still a great hero in the
Army, and the Air Force considers him a founding father. The Navy named a submarine after him, and he was, as his
chief biographer demonstrated, truly the organizer of allied victory in World War II. His meticulousness as a student
and his authority as a teacher were crucial to his success.
[1]. Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Education of a General, 1880–1939 (New York: Viking Press, 1963),
102–3. [Return to note 1]
[2]. George C. Marshall Interviews and Reminiscences for Forrest C. Pogue, 3d ed. (Lexington, Va.: George C.
Marshall Foundation, 1996), 95. [Return to note 2]
[3]. Ibid., 125. [Return to note 3]
[4]. Pogue, Education of a General, 93–102; The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon
Ritenour Stevens (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981− ), 1:36–37 and 704 (hereafter cited as Papers of
GCM). [Return to note 4]
[5]. Ibid., 1:45–46. See also Timothy K. Nenninger, The Leavenworth Schools and the Old Army: Education,
Professionalism, and the Officer Corps of the United States Army, 1881–1918 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press,
1978), 91–96. [Return to note 5]
[6]. Papers of GCM, 1:57. [Return to note 6]
[7]. Ibid., 1:97–101. [Return to note 7]
[8]. Pogue, Education of a General, 248–49. [Return to note 8]
[9]. Papers of GCM, 1:586. [Return to note 9]
[10]. Samuel P. Huntington, Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil Military Relations (New York:
Vintage Books, 1956), 283–87. He observes that this attitude was not uncommon among Army professionals
immediately following World War I, but asserts that seeking an identity of interests between civilian and professional
military societies was a naive and quickly abortive endeavor. Marshall clearly would not have agreed. [Return to note
[11]. Marshall speech to the National Association of Headmasters of Boys’ Preparatory Schools, 10 February 1923,
Papers of GCM, 1:220; Speech to the Academy of Political Science, New York City, 10 November 1942, ibid.,
3:434. [Return to note 11]
[12]. Marshall Interviews, 472− 73. “I think the common belief is that the most quickly created instrument of war is
the infantry regiment. Yet, I would say that we have lost more lives and been delayed more in battle by the
acceptance of this doctrine than for any other purely military reason.” Marshall speech to the National Rifle
Association, 3 February 1939, Papers of GCM, 1:693. [Return to note 12]
[13]. Marshall speeches to the National Association of Headmasters of Boys’ Preparatory Schools (10 February
1923) and to the American Military Institute/American Historical Association (28 December 1939), ibid., 1:220–21,
2:124. [Return to note 13]
[14]. Marshall speeches to the National Aviation Forum (27 May 1940) on CBS radio (16 September 1940), and at
Trinity College (15 June 1941), ibid., 2:226–27, 310 and 535.
[Return to note 14]
[15]. Marshall to Sharlene Adams, 16 March 1950, George C. Marshall Papers, George C. Marshall Research
Library, Lexington, Virginia (hereafter cited as GCMRL/GCM Papers) (American Red Cross). [Return to note 15]
[16]. Marshall Interviews, 251. Marshall spoke on this theme on several occasions after World War II: at the
National War College (20 June 1947); at West Point graduation (5 June 1951) and on Newton Baker’s life
(December 1951). These addresses are in the GCMRL/GCM Papers speech files for Secretary of State, Secretary of
Defense, and Retirement. [Return to note 16]
[17]. Pogue, Education of a General, 307. One example of this occurred at Vancouver Barracks, Washington.
Marshall arrived in 1936 to find virtually no interaction between the military community and Portland-area civilians.
He and his wife made a point of giving speeches, joining clubs, encouraging civilian visits to the post, and so on.
Marshall gave detailed advice on maintaining relations with the local civilians to his replacement, George Grunert,
(Marshall to Grunert, 5 December 1938), Papers of GCM, 1:660-61. See also Marshall’s letters to Frank McCoy (16
May 1937) and Roy D. Keehn (24 January 1938), ibid., 1:537 and 577. [Return to note 17]
[18]. One member of his staff in 1941 observed that Marshall possessed “an uncanny eye for the political angle of
every problem.” Paul M. Robinett Diary, 30 January 1941, GCMRL.
[Return to note 18]
[19]. Mark S. Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations, a volume in United States Army in World War
II (Washington: GPO, 1950), 7–8. Watson notes the importance and uniqueness of Marshall’s congressional
relations, particularly during the mobilization period. A large file in the Marshall papers is full of directives to the
War Department’s Bureau of Public relations. [Return to note 19]
[20]. This is not to say that Marshall refused to defend his subordinates. In the famous Missouri National Guard “yoohoo” incident of 1941, when congressmen and reporters were having fun jumping on General Ben Lear, Marshall
defended his subordinate’s actions publicly and frequently. See Marshall’s comments on this affair, relations with
Darlan (1942), the Patton slapping incidents (1943), and his relations with the press generally in Marshall Interviews,
486–88. See also his 1941 letters to Douglas Southall Freeman and Westbrook Pegler, Papers of GCM, 2:393–94,
451–52. [Return to note 20]
[21]. Marshall to Col. Vincent M. Elmore, 16 September 1942, Papers of GCM, 3:358 Marshall’s tolerance for the
press was well known, and he was highly respected by most reporters. [Return to note 21]
[22]. Marshall was a friend of John McAuley Palmer, the well-known advocate of a Swiss-type citizen-soldier army.
There are numerous letters between them in the first two volumes of the Papers of GCM. Quote in Marshall to
Palmer, 17 January 1929, ibid., 1:339. [Return to note 22]
[23]. Marshall to Stuart Heintzelman, 4 and 18 December 1933, ibid., 1:409–16. These letters contain the best
summary of Marshall’s values, activities, difficulties, and continued frustrations at the Infantry School. He wrote to
Heintzelman, commanding general at Leavenworth and an American Expeditionary Forces friend, to urge that
Benning ideas be applied to Leavenworth’s schools. [Return to note 23]
[24]. Undated lecture on tactics, ibid., 1:338. [Return to note 24]
[25]. Ibid., 1:448–150, 472–73, 486, 584–85 and 587. [Return to note 25]
[26]. George C. Marshall, “Profiting by War Experience,” Infantry Journal 18 (January 1921): 34–37; NBC Radio
Address, 5 August 1940, Papers of GCM, 2:281–82. [Return to note 26]
[27]. Marshall Memorandum for General McNair, 1 October 1942, Papers of GCM, 3:377− 78. [Return to note 27]
[28]. Ibid., 2:505–7 (contingent fund); Forrest C. Pogue, George C. Marshall: Ordeal and Hope, 1939–1942 (New
York: Viking Press, 1966), 114–17. [Return to note 28]
[29]. In a memorandum to Sir John Dill, Marshall summarized his messages to Eisenhower, 31 December 1942,
GCMRL/GCM Papers (Pentagon Office, Selected). [Return to note 29]
[30]. Papers of GCM, 1:657, 591, and 531. The Wellington letter is in Memorandum for the Deputy Chief of Staff
(and others), 24 April 1942, ibid., 3:170. [Return to note 30]
[31]. Marshall Memorandum for Higher Commanders, 11 September 1942, ibid., 3:354-56.