I have Blogged many times about the Boer War and the indifferent British commanders that were in the Army at the time. I had commented that the British Soldiers were unmatched but their commanders were with few exceptions unremarkable to put it politely.
I bought a book in the early 90’s called “The Zulu Wars” and a bit later a book called “The khaki and the Red”. These books were fascinating to read the different history and battles that the Victorian era British army faced in defending the empire and “PAX BRITANNIA”.
Those books along with a book I used in college called “The Defense of Duffers Drift” which talked about small unit tactics during the Boer war. Some of the stuff was no longer relevant but it encouraged critical thinking. One of my favorite movies is “Zulu”, having the British soldiers stand and fight the word I remember from the movie was “Get some good pikeman”, for the use of the bayonet would be needed.
As I recall part of the British soldier to deal and adapt was part of the Victorian heritage that was prevalent at the time, the British soldiers and the culture believed that they were superior to everyone because they were British, it was part of the DNA.
For this reason they pushed the sphere of influence to a point where it was said that “The Sun never sets on the British Empire“. Also I remembered another movie with Michael Caine and Sean Connery “The man who would be King”
The Movie “The Man who would be King” was written by Rutyard Kipling, the same person that wrote the “Jungle Book” and he wrote ““Tommie” and many other things.
I ran across this article and I figured that it would tie on good with stuff that I had written.
DURING THE SECOND BOER WAR’S BATTLE OF SPION KOP, THE BRITISH EMPIRE CAME FACE TO FACE WITH AN INDIGENOUS ENEMY THAT EASILY MATCHED IT IN FEROCITY.
by Herman T. Voelkner
The century of conflict that would introduce the concept of total war to the world had its bloody roots on an obscure hilltop in the remote South African veldt. The Boer War, the last imperial struggle of the British Empire, would serve as the dividing line between the era of small, localized wars fought largely at the speed of hoof and foot and the global, mechanized slaughter that would follow. It would also prefigure the dismaying pattern of conflicts to come—the use of barbed wire, the introduction of concentration camps to contain Boer prisoners and their families, and industrial-age innovations in human-killing weapons. “War, which was once cruel and glorious, has become cruel and sordid,” globetrotting adventurer Winston Churchill would complain after observing the short, sharp conflict between his nation and the Republic of South Africa. It was—literally and figuratively—the beginning of the 20th century. The war had a golden pedigree. When the precious metal was discovered in enormous quantities in the Transvaal region of South Africa in the 1880s, it roiled an already troubled situation. The Boers, itinerant Dutch-descended farmers, already had voted with their feet 60 years earlier in the “Great Trek” northward away from the growing British presence in the south. Now they were growing increasingly restive. Fiercely independent, they wanted no part of British intrusion into their public and private affairs, particularly the accompanying moral lectures on the burghers’ need for kinder, gentler relations with their slaves and servants. In 1881, Boer militia had ended the first armed conflict with Great Britain by hacking to pieces a British force at Majuba Hill. Humiliated, the British government acceded to self-government in the Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. (The South African colonies of Natal and Cape Colony continued to fly the Union Jack.) Two decades of uneasy peace followed.
GOLD RUSH LEADS TO WAR
The ensuing gold rush into the Witwatersrand upset the delicate political balance, bringing an unwanted influx of English prospectors into the heart of the Transvaal. These “Uitlanders,” as they were called, were close to forming a majority in the region. During an era when the world’s economy ran on gold, Great Britain saw in the large expatriate presence a heaven-sent opportunity for expanding its influence in its former territories. The Boers were well aware of the demographic danger. A clear indication of that danger came in the notorious Jameson Raid of 1895. Instigated by Cape Colony Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes—creator of the DeBeers diamond fortune—the raid began when Rhodes protégé Starr Z. Jameson led a force of Cape Colony volunteers into the Transvaal to coordinate an attack with restive Uitlanders in the boomtown of Johannesburg. The plan went disastrously awry when the rebellion did not spread as expected—opposition to Boer rule had been overestimated. Jameson and his men were quickly rounded up and handed over to British authorities, who gave them a mere slap on the wrist, further outraging Boer sensibilities.
General Sir Redvers Buller was the commander-in-chief of British forces in South Africa.
Weapons and ammunition poured into the Boer republic from the Netherlands and Germany, which was eager to see Britain humbled again by the Boers. Old Martini-Henry rifles were replaced with modern German-made Mausers, and “God and the Mauser” quickly became the Boer war cry. Meanwhile, Transvaal President Paul Kruger roughly suppressed the Uitlanders, refusing them the right to vote and resisting intense British diplomatic pressure. Diplomatic entreaties might be ignored, but as Kruger and his countrymen gazed across the border, they saw something they could not control: shiploads of British Army reinforcements steadily disembarking in Cape Colony and Natal. The Boers must act or face a swelling tide of British soldiers. Kruger issued an ultimatum: Unless the British buildup ceased and its forces withdrew from the frontier, the Transvaal would fight. On October 11, 1899, the ultimatum expired, and war for control of the fabulously wealthy region began. The words Kruger had spoken to his countrymen after the discovery of Transvaal gold—“Instead of rejoicing you would do better to weep, for this gold will cause our country to be soaked in blood”—were now sadly prophetic.
The Natal-based garrison at Ladysmith, where colonial governor Sir George White was in residence, was one of the keys to the British defense; Kimberly and Mafeking were the others. The three cities ringed the perimeter of the Boer republics. The Boers understood this and took immediate steps to forestall any offensive moves by the British. Kimberly and Mafeking were surrounded. (In the latter township, Lord Baden Powell would organize the boys of the town into the first troops of Boy Scouts.) In the British cantonment at Ladysmith, White and 12,000 troops were under imminent threat of capture. A British general of great renown, Sir William Penn Symons, already had been killed by a Boer sniper; his infantry brigade, reeling back from the extreme north of Natal, was now retreating toward Ladysmith. Feeling that destiny was on their side, the Boer inhabitants of the two British colonies were now rising in rebellion, turning the preexisting political demographic on its head.
For the British, the news everywhere was grim. Winston Churchill, who sailed over to Cape Town from England with General Sir Redvers Buller, the commander-in-chief of British forces in South Africa, reported back caustically that the British could “for the moment, be sure of nothing beyond the gunshot of the Navy.” It was far from clear that Buller was the right man for the job. Although he had four decades of military experience behind him, as well as a Victoria Cross, Buller was unused to fighting any enemy with a level of sophistication higher than that of the Zulus. Engaging him now was a highly motivated mounted force both nimble and armed with modern weapons. In a moment of candid self-appraisal before the war, Buller had said, “I have always considered that I was better as second in command in a complex military affair that as an officer in chief command.” This was the man who now faced the daunting military task, defending the two British colonies in South Africa from a determined and resourceful enemy equally at home on the veldt or in the mountains.
CHURCHILL TRAVELS TO THE FRONT AND GETS CAUGHT
Winston Churchill in South Africa.
While Buller remained at Cape Town to sort things out, an impatient Churchill teamed with journalistic colleague John B. Atkins of the Manchester Guardian to go to the front at Ladysmith before other journalists could do so. The two took a 700-mile train ride on an undefended rail line that brushed against Boer strongpoints along the way. They then boarded a small steamer bound for Durban and immediately sailed into the teeth of an Indian Ocean storm. After several harrowing and wretchedly seasick days, the pair arrived at Durban to learn that Ladysmith was completely surrounded by Boers. Still determined to get to the fighting, Churchill and Atkins made another dangerous train ride of 60 miles that brought them to the end of the line at Estcourt. From there, they could hear the cannonfire at Ladysmith reverberating in the distance against tin-roofed shacks.
On November 14, Churchill was invited to participate in a reconnaissance by armored train, a dubious venture vulnerable to the simplest of countermeasures—a blocked track, a disturbed rail, or a blown bridge. The Boers, under their new commander, Louis Botha—two months earlier a Boer private—speedily obliged. A blockade sufficed; the train rammed boulders strewn along the track. Heavy rifle fire and shrapnel rained down from the hills. For over an hour the train was under fire as Churchill assisted in the defense and attempted escape. “I was very lucky in the hour that followed not to be hit,” he recounted later. “It was necessary for me to be almost continuously moving up and down the train or standing in the open, telling the engine-driver what to do.”
Churchill personally directed the recoupling of the cars in an attempt to ram the blockade, and when that failed, he led a group of wounded soldiers to relative safety beyond a nearby trestle. He was returning to lead more away from danger when he met some figures clad in slouched hats—Boers, he realized—leveling their rifles at him from a hundred yards away. He turned and ran in the other direction, bullets striking all around him. Minutes later a horseman appeared and pointed his rifle at the Englishman, who automatically reached for his pistol, only to find that he had left it on the train. He was taken prisoner after managing at the last second to discard two magazines of prohibited dum-dum bullets. With that, England’s preeminent warrior-journalist was led away to prison, his slyly discarded magazines very likely saving him from drumhead execution.
‘BLACK WEEK’ FOR THE BRITISH FORCES
While Churchill languished in Boer custody, depressing news filled the grim dispatches from South Africa to England. In the space of one week—December 10-15—the British suffered consecutive defeats at Stormberg, Magersfontein, and Colenso. From Buckingham Palace, a vexed Queen Victoria announced, “We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; they do not exist.” But bold pronouncements could not obscure the truth arriving from the outer reaches of the Empire. The British had suffered their worst losses since the Crimean War a half-century earlier. All too clearly, the innate conservatism of the British military establishment had begun to take its toll. The cavalry had hitherto despised the carbine in favor of the sword—this in the dawning age of magazine-fed rifles and quick-firing guns. Few senior British officers realized that the old ways of open-order drill and carrying the day with regimental discipline and esprit de corps alone were now a prescription for outright slaughter.
At Stormberg, an attempt to wrest control of a railway junction from the Boers miscarried when the British forces were purposely misled by a native guide during a night march. Seven hundred British soldiers were missing or captured. Magersfontein was even worse. The much-vaunted Highland Brigade made an assault across an open plain in virtual parade formation against an enemy whose positions were hidden behind undiscovered barbed wire. The Boers had devised a new battlefield tactic: digging trenches dug down the front of a hill, known as the military crest, rather than at the top. By the time the attempt at Magersfontein to relieve the garrison at Kimberley was called off, 900 dead and wounded members of the Black Watch littered the battlefield.
Lt. Gen. Charles Warren wanted to bombard Boer positions on Tabanyama Ridge before launching his main assault. He was overruled by General Sir Redvers Buller who was stationed several miles to the rear.
At Colenso, Buller’s attempt to relieve Ladysmith also failed. The Irish Brigade, which was to have crossed the Tugela (“Terrible”) River three miles away, was misled by another guide, this time into a bend of the river where they were enfiladed from all sides by Boer riflemen. To make matters worse, Buller had deployed 12 field guns at Colenso without an infantry screen. In the face of withering rifle fire, the guns had to be abandoned. A handful of heroic British volunteers tried to recover them, but only two guns were brought back successfully. Casualties were relatively light, in comparison to the earlier two battles—only 150 killed. Meanwhile, Ladysmith remained under siege, and the hard-pressed British troops encircled there had begun to eat their horses and mules.
Until “Black Week,” as the English newspapers dubbed the six terrible days in mid-December, the worst of Britain’s casualties in the region had been suffered at Majuba nearly 20 years earlier, when fewer than 100 of her soldiers were killed. Now they were dying by the hundreds in battle after futile battle. These were not the usual native combatants on the fringes of the Empire—the Zulus, Pathans, or Dervishes. The Boers knew the ground far better than their foe, and they also knew the value of entrenching themselves within it. “Dig now, or they’ll dig your grave later” was their watchword. They were fiercely determined and well armed. A heavy Maxim gun firing one-inch shells, dubbed the “Pom-pom,” ranked alongside German-built Krupp howitzers, 75mm field guns, 155mm “Long Toms” firing 40-pound shrapnel shells, and the ubiquitous Mausers, effectively shredding the serried British ranks. Slowly, it dawned on the British that this was to be no “splendid little war” such as the United States had enjoyed against Spain the year before, but a grinding fight to the death against a seriously underestimated enemy.
BULLER DEMOTED; ROBERTS TAKES CHARGE
Buller was badly shaken, wiring home the despairing judgment that “I ought to let Ladysmith go.” He then sent a message to the encircled White, ordering him to burn his ciphers, fire off his ammunition, and seek whatever terms he could with the enemy “after giving me time to fortify myself.” What happened instead was a change in leadership. Buller was demoted, although he continued to command the forces in Natal, and he was told to persist in trying to lift the siege at Ladysmith. The new British commander-in-chief was retired Field Marshal Lord Frederick Roberts, 67 years old when he was recalled to active duty. Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener—“Kitchener of Khartoum”—would serve as Roberts’ chief of staff. Roberts had already had at least one communication from Buller before he departed from London for his South African command: “Your gallant son died today. Condolences, Buller.” Such was the epistolary epitaph of the younger Roberts, who had been killed trying to save Buller’s guns at Colenso.
While Roberts and Kitchener were taking charge of the overall situation, Buller was reinforced in Natal by Lt. Gen. Charles Warren and the 5th Infantry Division. Warren was an odd choice to aid Buller—the older general despised him from Warren’s days as a commander in Malaya, when he had bombarded Buller with demands and complaints while Buller was serving as British adjutant general. (“For heaven’s sake, leave us alone,” Buller had finally told Warren, in utter exasperation.) Now he gave Warren the task of crossing the Tugela River and moving on the Boer right at Tabanyama Ridge, 12 miles southwest of Ladysmith. Meanwhile, Buller would attack the enemy center at Potgeiter’s Drift. Once through the hills beyond the river, the two English columns would reunite for a last-ditch drive across the open plains to Ladysmith.
Warren, who had spent much of his career excavating historical sites in Palestine, had grown accustomed to the painstaking pace of archaeology. Given two-thirds of Buller’s ponderous army to command—11,000 infantrymen, 2,200 cavalry, and 36 field guns—he took the better part of nine days to reach Trichardt’s Drift on the Tugela, the jumping-off point for the coordinated attack. Another day was wasted ferrying guns and supplies across the river.
A Boer commando unit poses for a photo in front of Spion Kop. Aside from being skilled fighters, they also had intimate knowledge of South African terrain.
The Boers, with their crack contingent of scouts, knew every move the British were making. They responded by strengthening their defenses and shifting troops from the siege of Ladysmith to the line of hills overlooking the Tugela. Louis Botha was dispatched to take command of the burghers’ defense. Reasoning correctly that the British always attacked head-on, Botha paid particular attention to the large hill in the center of his line—Spion Kop. Aptly named, the boulder-bedecked “Spy Hill” rose to a height of over 1,400 feet, the centerpiece of several hills that commanded the veldt and the approaches to Ladysmith north of the river. Sixty years earlier, the first hardy voortrekkers had climbed its prominence during the Great Trek northward. Then, as now, they were fleeing the British, but this time they were better armed and better fortified. When the time came, they would be ready.
On January 20, Warren finally attacked the Boer positions on Tabanyama Ridge. The khaki-clad British troops managed to carry a hill or two before halting amid a cyclone of Mauser fire. Ahead of them lay a thousand yards of open grassland, more than enough distance to give them pause, particularly in the face of the quick-firing Boers. Warren wanted to conduct a leisurely bombardment before making another attack, but he was overruled by Buller, who ordered him to attack again immediately. The order came with an explicit “or else.” Buller threatened to call off the entire campaign if Warren did not do as he was told. Thinking quickly—or at least as quickly as he was capable of thinking—Warren suggested an alternative plan. Instead of renewing his attack on the Boer right, he would move on Spion Kop. Buller was not appeased. “Of course you must take Spion Kop,” he told his hated subordinate, but he neglected to supply him with any new troops or ideas on how to accomplish it. It was going to be left to Warren alone, much to the detriment of the men he commanded.
BRITISH TAKE SPION KOP
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Thorneycroft, commanding a contingent of mounted infantry, was selected to spearhead Warren’s attack. On the evening of January 23, Thorneycroft and his men surreptitiously climbed the slope on the near side of Spion Kop and seized the sere moonscape of the summit, a flash of Lee-Enfields and total surprise winning them the strategic position with very few casualties. Three cheers went up for Queen Victoria—the prearranged signal for success—and the way to Ladysmith lay before them at last. But first they must hold on to their prize. Maj. Gen. Edward Woodgate, senior commander on the hill, quickly got the men busy digging trenches in the moonlight, before the eagle-eyed Boers could zero in on their position. He sent a note to Warren informing him of the success, adding that he expected that Spion Kop could be “held till Doomsday against all comers.”
After taking Spion Kop, British forces made the ghastly discovery that they were sitting ducks for the Boer sharpshooters above them.
The hill had been shrouded in fog, and when the mists slowly cleared with the dawn it became all too evident to the British that they did not hold the hilltop at all, but only a small, acre-wide plateau ringed on three sides by higher hills that afforded the enemy perfectly sited, boulder-protected firing positions. The Boers, who had watched the leisurely progress of the British with tight-lipped satisfaction, were even now creeping into those positions. Botha ordered his men to retake the position before the British had time to move up their own heavy guns. His burghers quickly poured devastating salvos into the densely packed British troops. The Englishmen, hunkering down in shallow trenches in a confined space comparable in size and dimension to Trafalgar Square, had little cover. The Boers’ artillery, signaled by heliograph, directed intense fire at Spion Kop from the surrounding hills. Shells rained down on the British position at the rate of 10 per minute. Meanwhile, the British heliograph had been knocked out, and they had no comparable artillery support from their own crack gunners. The soldiers atop Spion Kop were on their own.
THE MASSACRE BEGINS
Responding to Botha’s call for reinforcements, Commandant Henrik Prinsloo led his 88-man Carolina Commando onto Aloe Knoll, 400 yards east of the British position. From there, Prinsloo’s marksmen unleashed a deadly fire on the unsuspecting men of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who were on the extreme right flank of the British trench. The Khakis, as the Boers called them, never knew what hit them. Seventy were later found lying dead with bullet holes in the right side of their heads—they had not even had time to turn around. Also struck dead was their commanding general, Woodgate, who fell mortally wounded with a shell splinter above his right eye. His replacement, Colonel Malby Crofton, sent a hasty message down the hill to Warren: “Reinforce at once or all lost. General dead.” Warren, unhelpful as always, signaled back: “You must hold on to the last. No surrender.” His entire career depended on it.
Grimly, the British held on to the 400-yard-wide battlefield. No one on the British side had given much thought to what to do after seizing Spion Kop; asked what his force should do next, Buller had answered dogmatically, “It has got to stay there.” It stayed there all right, stolid and immobile, absorbing a horrific beating. Many of the officers were killed, victims of the Victorian-era code that prohibited a gentleman from taking cover under fire. The men in the ranks, less hidebound and conventional, squirmed into every square inch of cover they could find in the rocky topsoil. It did little good. Boer artillery shells dismembered entire files of soldiers where they lay, while those foolish enough to raise their heads off the ground were immediately shot dead by enemy snipers.
On the morning after the bloody fighting at Spion Kop, a large trench serves as a makeshift grave for some 400 dead soldiers who perished there.
On the command level, all was chaos. At one time or another, four separate senior British officers believed themselves to be in command. In his only direct action of the day, Buller recommended to Warren that he “put some really good hard fighting man in command on the top. I suggest Thorneycroft.” Warren, glad for any assistance, promoted Throneycroft to brigadier general and gave him operational control of the battle. Thorneycroft’s first move was to countermand an attempt by the Lancashire Fusiliers to surrender to the Boers who were bedeviling them. “Take your men back to hell, sir!” Thorneycroft roared at the Boer officer who had approached to accept the surrender under a white flag. “I allow no surrender.” Shamefaced, some of the Fusiliers skulked back to their own lines; others, having no wish to commit state-sanctioned suicide, dashed into the Boer lines and surrendered.
Returning to the forefront now was Winston Churchill, who besides bearing journalist’s credentials also carried a new commission in the South African Light Horse given to him by Buller after Churchill’s extraordinary escape from a Boer prison (see sidebar). Churchill climbed Spion Kop and assayed the scene for himself, conveying it later in words that would find their echo on the Western Front in Europe 15 years later: “Corpses lay here and there. Many of the wounds were of a horrible nature. The splinters and fragments of the shells had torn and mutilated them. The shallow trenches were choked with dead and wounded.” As Churchill climbed and re-climbed the hill, ferrying messages from Buller’s camp, he was “continually under shell and rifle fire and once the feather in my hat was cut through by a bullet. But in then end I came serenely through.”
Little else was serene on the bloody hilltop. Boers and Britons faced each other across a landscape of butchered bodies and heaped wreckage. Battalions were hopelessly intermixed. Messages between the hilltop and Buller, four miles away, were sporadic and confused, and several messengers fell dead with vital information unread in their hands. No one below knew the situation above. Some officers thought the hilltop overcrowded, while others thought there was a vital need for reinforcements. Thorneycroft, for his part, seemed dazed and utterly exhausted. He sent another message to Warren, from whom he had not heard in five long hours. “The troops which marched up here last night are quite done in,” he reported. “They have had no water, and ammunition is running short. It is impossible to permanently hold this place so long as the enemy’s guns can play on the hill. It is all I can do to hold my own. If casualties go on at the present rate I shall barely hold out the night.”
THORNEYCROFT ORDERS A TOTAL WTHDRAWAL
After a hurried conference with Crofton and Lt. Col. Ernest Cooke of the newly arrived Scottish Rifles, Thorneycroft ordered a total withdrawal. A last-second message from Warren promising that help was on the way fell on deaf ears. “Better six good battalions safely down the hill than a bloody mop-up in the morning,” Thorneycroft said. “I’ve done all I can, and I’m not going back.” In vain, the upstart Lieutenant Churchill argued the point, and the retreat began. Abandoning the hard-won hill, the British survivors met their reinforcements massing at the bottom, en route to assist them in consolidating their position. It was too late—surely the Boers had already retaken the hilltop—and Thorneycroft turned these troops around as well. Survivors and reinforcements alike trudged back down the hillside.
Unknown to the British, the Boers had also lost the will to fight, and they too had begun to melt away, in part because they were startled by a sudden move across the Tugela by the King’s Royal Rifle Corps east of Spion Kop at Acton Homes. Barely a handful of Boers remained on hand to threaten the British. The hilltop so fiercely contested at such human cost was discovered by two joyful Boer scouts to be empty. After the British had spent 16 days and suffered almost 2,000 casualties on the campaign, Botha’s burghers were atop Spion Kop once more as if nothing had happened. Only the three-deep piles of British dead remained to dispel that illusion. In soldierly admiration, a Boer doctor examined the human carnage and said, “We Boers would not, could not, suffer like this.”
Botha, returning to the hilltop the next morning, beheld “a gruesome, sickening, hideous picture.” Some 400 dead British soldiers lay sprawled in a shallow trench that would serve double-duty as their grave; another 1,400 were wounded or in captivity. Boer losses were considerably lower—58 dead and 140 wounded, including 55 of Prinsloo’s 88 hard-fighting Carolina Commando. Botha sent a humble telegram back to President Kruger: “Battle over and by the grace of a God a magnificent victory for us. The enemy driven out of their positions and their losses are great. It breaks my heart to say that so many of our gallant heroes have also been killed or wounded. It is incredible that such a small handful of men, with the help of the Most High, could fight and withstand the mighty Britain.”
BRITISH NUMBERS FINALLY PREVAIL
Finally, with his artillery in full support, Buller managed to throw a pontoon bridge across the Tugela, and overwhelming British infantry turned the key in the Ladysmith lock, seizing the last remaining hilltop barring their way. The siege of the British forces there had lasted 118 days. It was lifted on February 27, 1900, ironically the anniversary of the defeat the British had suffered at Majuba 19 years earlier.
Lord Roberts now took center stage as overall commander after the protracted drama of Ladysmith. His forces totaled over 200,000 against 88,000 Boers. The latter began to abandon the Transvaal, retreating into the hinterland in another Great Trek. Churchill, as ever marching to the sound of the guns, carried by bicycle a crucial dispatch to Roberts through a Johannesburg still occupied by Boers; the slightest challenge by a wary burgher might have caused him to be executed as a spy. His audacity endeared him to yet another commander-in-chief. As the Boers withdrew to the east, yielding large parts of the Transvaal, Roberts allowed Churchill to enter Pretoria at the front of the column. One of Churchill’s singular pleasures was to hoist the Union Jack over the place where he had been held as a prisoner of war.
In a still taken from a newsreel of the fighting at Spion Kop, Buller’s shellshocked columns retreat over the Tugela River via pontoon bridge after losing the Battle of Spion Kop.
Other combat followed in the form of desultory running fights with the Boers who, despite having been defeated in the field, refused to capitulate. Raiding deep into British territory, the Boers fought for two more years in the newly developed irregular fashion called guerrilla warfare—another dubious innovation bestowed on the newborn century. Buller, for his part, had managed no such innovative thinking. He could have followed up the British cavalry’s success at Acton Homes and exploited its mobility to outflank the Boers and open the road to Ladysmith, but he could not get his main force there quickly enough, and thus had to fight a battle that grossly favored the enemy. Churchill’s biting description of Buller’s traveling camp was apt: “Within striking distance of a mobile enemy whom we wish to circumvent, every soldier has canvas shelter. Rapidity of movement is out of the question. It is poor economy to let a soldier live well for three days at the expense of killing him on the fourth.”
The laborious and cumbersome movements doomed hundreds of regular British soldiers to a Mauser bullet in the head at Spion Kop, and the hidebound conventions of the Victorian era—sneering at the use of cover and demanding an unflappable hauteur in the presence of the enemy—left their bloody epitaph stitched across the chests of their gentlemanly commanders. Few British survivors of Spion Kop would have disputed the mordant words of Manchester Guardiancorrespondent John Atkins, who was there that day and later summed up the battle as “that acre of massacre, that complete shambles.” Indeed it was.
Wall-to-Wall counseling has been around longer than the American military.
Many famed units used it as their primary motivational tool, and some used nothing else. It’s still prevalent in many hardened military units.
The citizens of the city-state of Sparta, Greece, didn’t mess around. Wall-to-wall counseling was the order of the day among the Spartan. The Spartans believed in hard training and hard discipline, and wall-to-wall counseling is about the hardest kind of discipline that there is. The Spartans were feared both in war and at peace, and they worked hard to maintain their image. Babies were quality controlled at the time of their birth, and any not meeting the standards were put on the sides of mountains to die Needless to say, until the day when wall-to-wall counseling completely erased the desire of the citizens of Sparta to perpetuate the race, nobody screwed with these people.
General George S. Patton, the famed World War II tank corps commander was a great fan of wall-to-wall counseling. It showed in the, way he led his troops. He never used a kind word when a foul one would do just as well. One of his most famous wall-to-wall counseling sessions occurred in a field hospital Patton believed that combat fatigue was cowardice, and promised to shoot anyone exhibiting it. On a trip through a field hospital, he ran across a shell-shocked private. When the private claimed that he could hear the shells flying overhead but not exploding, Patton became furious He slapped the soldiers in the head, waved a loaded pistol in his face and called him a pussy. Then he ordered him back to the front to fight “so the brave soldiers in this hospital won’t be contaminated by this coward.” That Patton was not punished as severely as he should have been for this deed shows that wall-to-wall counseling has a place in the US Army.
US Soldiers In action around the world in action!
The South Korean Army
The Army of the Republic of Korea uses wall-to-wall counseling in its daily operation. It is sanctioned and approved by the Ministry of Defense. South Koreans feel that the harsher peacetime is, the less the soldier will notice the hardships of combat with North Korea Wall-to-Wall counseling rises to its zenith with the ROK discipline board This group wall-to-wall counseling session is convened for offenses that would result in punishment by court-martial in the US Army. The soldier walks into the discipline board. Is wall-to-wall counseled, and is carried out of the board, either on a stretcher or on ice. While US Army waIl-to-wall counseling is not likely to result in serious death to the soldier, the Korean discipline board is a model to be emulated by all US Army units.
When should you wall-to-wall counsel?
You should wall-to-wall counsel a soldier when he needs it And all soldiers occasionally need wall-to-wall counseling.
Determining when this most severe of leadership techniques is warranted requires the leader to intimately know his soldiers and be aware of when a soldier is far enough gone that a swat in the head is the only thing that will adjust his behavior.
Simple infractions can be dealt with quickly by a simple ass-beating. Soldiers appreciate this, as it saves them the hassle of having to visit the commander for UCMJ action.
Soldiers arriving late for military functions should be screened carefully before being wall-to-wall counseled. A soldier who has never before been late would not benefit from having the shit beat out of him; indeed, it will only destroy his motivation. A soldier who has been late for the past four months, on the other hand, is possibly incorrigible and a well-deserved ass-beating would not only be profitable, but enjoyable. Especially if the soldier has caused you to visit the company commander on less-than-friendly terms.
Soldiers who have proven themselves incapable of performing the demands of their chosen profession may indeed be candidates for wall-to-wall counseling. The source of their incompetence must be determined before harsh measures are implemented, though. If a soldier has just graduated from Initial Entry Training and has never performed his job, corporal punishment would not be a good idea. If, on the other hand, he has performed his MOS for the last two years and still does not know shit from Shinola, the soldier deserves his ass beat and it should be performed at the earliest possible opportunity.
Challenging or defying Authority
Soldiers who harass their leaders are prime candidates for ass-beating. In this case, the soldier should not be given an opportunity to try to pull anything on you the second time. If the soldier harasses or ignores you, kick the shit out of him. Enough said.
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Off Soldiers who fart off should be treated the same as those who fuck with their leaders. Any soldier found sleeping in the back seat of their vehicle in the motor pool instead of working on it should be immediately taken in front of his whole platoon and have the shit kicked out of him. No slack can be placed on soldiers of this nature. The rest of the platoon will appreciate you.
Soldiers found guilty of major transgressions will be punished by the military authorities.
A soldier who kills another soldier will probably be shot. However, long wall-to-wall counseling sessions prior to the arrival of the military police are appropriate in cases where the transgression was against another soldier, and are best conducted in the presence of the wronged soldier. If the wronged soldier is still alive, he or she should be invited to join in to the session, as he or she will feel that revenge is called for and participating in the session will help to heal mental wounds caused by the perpetrator.
No offense is as damaging to the victim as rape. Murder does not come close, since the victim is dead and knows nothing. A raped soldier will have psychological scars for the rest of his or her life. A male soldier who is the victim of a homosexual rape is especially damaged, and many commit suicide rather than live with this burden immediate wall-to-wall counseling is required, and it must be so severe that bones are broken. Dimension lumber must be used during this session, and the minimum length of the session is three hours. If any part of the rapist’s body has not been hit with the board, the session is not complete. At least one arm and one leg will be broken during the session and the testicles will be hit at least ten times.
Coming close to rape in its severity is murder. The victim will not be able to participate in the counseling, of course. A long counseling session with a baseball bat and jackboots will be initiated and will continue only until the perpetrator is unconscious. Then the murderer must be revived and beat on some more.
Arson, of course, affects us all. Besides the possibility of losing your life, seeing all your shit go up in smoke and having to sleep in the street for the next three years, arsonists steal unit morale, cohesion and esprit de corps. After all, if you can’t trust someone to not burn your place down, how can you trust him in a combat situation? Arsonists are very simple to counsel. They are to be placed in the burning building and the doors are to be locked.
Robbery, burglary and barracks thievery
These crimes also affect unit morale. When a soldier rips off your stuff, all you want to do is kill him. Well, if it’s your shit, go ahead and do him in. In fact, do more than that. If however, it wasn’t your shit he took, you should let the wronged do the little shit head. Popular punishments for barracks thieves include the soldier falling down the stairs twenty or thirty times. Soldiers have also been penned into their rooms and tear gas powder blown under the door with a hair dryer. Anything cruel is good barracks thieves. In fact, it is best if you hold a formation to make the entire battalion observe the barracks thief being killed. People who do shit like this do not deserve to live, as they are far below contempt. I would rather have Russians distroing message traffic than a barracks thief in the company. And I definitely do not want Russians pulling WSC.
Other serious offenses
There are many serious offenses that require only moderate amounts of wall-to-wall counseling.
These are normally simple offenses, but are compounded by their circumstances. WaIl-to-wall counseling is demanded before these things get out of hand.
Failure to make coffee for the dayhos
A coffeeless dayho is a grouchy dayho, and grouchy dayhos tend to think of stupid shit for us to do. Any trick worker aware that the dayho coffeepot is empty who does not take steps to remedy this condition will immediately be hit in the head with dimension lumber. If they do it twice, they will be sent to ORMA for the next six months to make coffee and type memorandums which forbid trick workers to breathe.
Excessive errors on reports
Reporters who make excessive errors on their reports cause extra work for their QCs. All reporters who are found to have made more than three errors on a report will be hit on the side of the head with a base ball bat.
Some soldiers believe that they are God’s gift to the Army. They believe that they do not need to do Army things, like going to formation and doing PT. Some are so bad, they think they are better than their superiors. This is especially bad when the soldier in question is a college graduate and the super-visor is a high school graduate. These soldiers believe their leaders are bone headed morons and will not listen to them. Others believe that the only measure of a soldier is whether that soldier has been to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. The linguist-nonlinguist battle occasionally gets so bad that there are verbal abuses thrown around in several languages, none of them clean. What is the leader to do? The leader has no one to blame but himself if he does not use wall-to-wall counseling to correct this problem. A quick Jap slap will straighten out this bullshit before it gets any worse.
Determining when wall-to-wall counseling is inappropriate
Although an effective technique when properly used, there are some places where wall-to-wall counseling is the wrong thing to do.
Conducting a wall-to-wall counseling session in front of the 7th Army commander, for instance, would probably not be the wisest decision, as it would probably lead to the initiation of a relief for cause NCOER. However, the presence of high level VIPs should not be the only determinant in the decision to delay or withhold a wall-to-wall counseling session.
Soldier’s physical size
Always consider the size of the soldier before initiating a wall-to-wall counseling session. If the soldier is twice your size and his forearms are bigger than your thighs, and the soldier still requires wall-to-wall counseling, a partner will be required. Details on selecting a partner will be covered in the chapter titled “Preparing for a wall-to-wall counseling session.”
Soldier’s hobbies and interests
While leadership actions rarely require you to take into account the soldier’s hobbies, this is one place where knowledge of what the soldier does for fun may prove immensely helpful. If the soldier is heavily involved in kick boxing, martial arts or just happens to be the world heavyweight wrestling champion, a simple wall-to-wall counseling session may turn into a trip to the hospital for both the leader and his assistants. In such cases, restraint and discipline will prove profitable for all concerned.
Wall-to-wall counseling after drinking binges
Leadership actions should never be conducted while you are impaired by alcohol. Ass-beatings given after a six-pack have three drawbacks:
The soldier will not realize the purpose of the session. He will, instead, believe that you got wasted and beat the shit out of him for no reason whatsoever. You will lose respect m the soldier’s eyes as well as in the eyes of the rest of your unit. The soldier may decide to reciprocate and wall-to-wall counsel you at a later time on your transgression. Since wall-to-wall counseling is a tool only the wise leader who knows his troops intimately can properly use, its use by subordinates who may decide to rashly apply it is inadvisable.
The soldier may decide he has been assaulted and call the military police. Since the MPs take a dim view of leaders who get drunk off their asses and beat up on subordinates, you may find yourself facing a court-martial you never intended to face.
Perhaps most importantly, the leader may have gotten so drunk that the subordinate is able to turn the counseling session into a first-rate ass beating directed against the leader.
Since the hospital will treat your injuries as an “alcohol related incident,” they will call your commander (who may have never read this field manual) who will enroll you in the detox program. The detox program, especially if they put you on Track III (residential treatment facility) rates in the entertainment department right up there with getting checked for the clap.
When counselee is counselor’s sexual partner
In the section about conducting wall-to-wall counseling while under the influence of alcohol, we pointed out that the leader must know his troops intimately in order to effectively counsel them. When the leader knows the counselee too intimately, though, there are bound to be inherent problems with the session. First, you can safely figure that you will never again get into this lady’s pants after the session is done. Second, she will probably tell the commander what the two of you have been doing for the last six months, and then you will have some very heavy explaining to do. Third, but not least, she will tell every other female on post what you did, and then you will get no more pussy for the rest of the time you are stationed at that post…even in the red light district with a fifty dollar bill pinned to your jacket. Therefore, the best advice at this stage of the game is: don’t sleep with your subordinates.
Preparing for a wall-to-wall counseling session
More counseling sessions have been ruined by poor preparation than by anything else.
Wall-to-wall counseling is no different from any other counseling in this respect. However, wall-to-wall counseling imposes its own special considerations due to its violent nature.
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Dress for success–mean and lean
A leader must be properly dressed to gain the respect and confidence of his subordinates. A wall-to-wall counselor’s dress must also inspire confidence. The soldier must be very confident not only that he is going to get his ass beat, but that this man who is standing in front of him preparing to beat his ass is in fact the one who will do it. A military uniform is very much the wrong garment to wear to a waIl-to-wall counseling session, though. More radical dress is called for. A stop by a clothing store catering to members of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club is in order. Basically, you want to look like Attila the Hun. Full leathers are good for extra protection should the soldier attempt to fight back. Proper jewelry is important. Spiked wristlets not only enhance the terror you want to instill in the soldier, but if properly weighted can increase the pain and damage which a sidearm blow to the solar plexus can cause. Wearing a large Eric the Red biker’s ring will not only make you look tough, but the half pound of metal it contains will increase the effectiveness of punches. Wearing a Hell’s Angels’ deaths-head earring, though, isn’t such a good idea. Although it’s an intimidating item, the counselee may grab it and pull, and then you are in a world of hurt. If you plan to conduct many wall-to-wall counseling sessions, interesting in some large tattoos of Vikings beheading people with blood-covered swords would be a good idea. Additionally, the pain endured while they are being done will toughen you up and make you a more effective counselor. Watching films like The Road Warrior; The Last Boys and Conan the Barbarian will give you more apparel ideas.
The room in which waIl-to-waIl counseling sessions are conducted has a great deal to do with the success of the session. Not only do you not want to be interrupted during the session, but you do not any large objects behind which the soldier can hide or which the soldier can push you into and hurt you.
Modern construction standards, in which large amounts of sheet rock are used, have changed the face of waIl-to-wall counseling. When was were built of plaster and lath, you could bounce the soldier off the walls a few times, kick him in the nuts once or twice, swat him in the head and that would be the end of it There were no worries that the room would survive the counseling session, because you knew that it would. However, you can easily throw a soldier through a sheet rock wall. The Army will make you pay for any walls you damage during counseling. Therefore, you want a large, strong room to conduct your wall-to-wall counseling sessions in.
Before calling the soldier in for his wall-to-wall counseling session, inspect the room thoroughly. Make sure the door is of good quality and is equipped with a working door lock. The lock is important not only to keep the session from being interrupted prior to its conclusion, but also to hinder the soldier’s leaving prior to having received the full impact of the lessons you are teaching him. Try to find a room without any windows.
If this cannot be attained, windows placed high on the wail are acceptable. Not only will the lack of windows prevent others from looking in and observing the wall-to-wall counseling session, but if the session gets really intense, the soldier could accidentally push you into the window, breaking it and injuring you. The purpose of a wall-to-waIl counseling session is to impart the maximum learning and pain upon the counselee with the least amount of damage to the counselor’s body, and a glass shard in your ass is a poor reason to prematurely terminate a session.
However, in a windowless room lighting takes on prime importance. You need to see the soldier so that you know where to hit him next, and the soldier needs to see you hitting him. Make sure the lights work and that the light switch is covered with a piece of green tape to prevent the soldier from easily turning the lights off.
Inform the soldier
After the area is selected and prepared, but before you dress for the session, find the soldier inform him of the time and place of the session. Also give a reason for the session. Don’t approach the soldier and tell him “You’re a fuck up and I’m going to beat your ass at 1530 in the first sergeant’s office.” This puts the soldier on the defensive. Instead, tell the soldier “Meet me in the first sergeant’s office at 1530. I want to talk to you about your performance at NTC last month.” (You can tell him that he’s a fuck up and is going to get his ass beat when he gets to the first sergeant’s office.)
Find counseling assistants
You usually want to conduct wall-to-wall counseling sessions on a one-to-one basis. This is fine you’re counseling a 120 pound basic trainee who doesn’t know shit anyway. If, however, you’re counseling the captain of the Fort Hood Boxing Team and you are a 135-pound woman, you may want to get two or three assistants.
It is simple to find them. Visit the gymnasium and go to the weight room. If you see someone is there putting many fifty-pound plates on a bar and then doing curls and 20 bench presses then you’ve found your man. It’s even better if he is in your unit and hasn’t yet been instigated in an assault case.
If you can’t find anyone like that, though, look for boxers, wrestler or anyone else who fights for fun. The ideal waIl-to-waII counselor has a six-foot reach, fists the size of volleyballs, can bench 35-pounds, runs ten miles a day and has over 20 knockouts.
If you can’t get Mike Tyson to assist you in your counseling session, though, anyone who maxs his PT test would be good too.
The wall-to-wall counselor’s toolkit
Although many successful wall-to-wall counselors have conducted sessions using nothing but their bare hands, a small toolkit will ease your job, especially in those critical first few sessions.
A wall-to-wall counseling toolkit does not have to be elaborate or expensive. In fact, you probably have all materials in your unit right now, and all that it takes to use them is a little imagination.
No leader can consider himself a wall-to-wall counselor without possessing a good baseball bat technique. A regulation baseball or softball bat is good. Wood or aluminum, short or long, any bat will do as long as it is not splintered. A splintered bat may break during those long swings. Viewing the film The Untouchables will give you ideas on baseball bat technique. You can invent new techniques as you go along.
Although dimension lumber is usually used in the same manner as baseball bats, other techniques for its use are easily devised. A two-by-four is a handy thing to have. Cut two of them. One needs to be three feet long, while the other should be four to five feet long. Drive six nails into the longer one so that the sharp ends of them stick out of the board. This is nailed high on the wall of the counseling morn and is primarily there for shock effect.
If a baseball bat is also available, have your assistant grab the counselee’s arms and pull them be-hind his back. Place the board even with the elbows, pull the arms dawn to the body and secure with green tape. This prevents the soldier from attempting to assault his leader.
If two-by-twelves can be obtained, get one about six feet long. While it is not suitable for swinging, the counselee can be secured to it with green tape, lifted high in the air with the aid of your assistant and dropped.
Pool cues are quickly falling out of favor among the modern wall-to-waIl counselor. It is still effective for barroom brawls when the proprietor will not allow you to bring in your toolkit. It is also good for when immediate wall-to-wall counseling is called for and you can’t go out to your car to get a tire iron or a jack handle.
The pool cue sits in a strange and unenviable position among weapons: If held so that it can do some good, it is easily broken; if it is held so that it will not break during blows, it is not long enough to do much good. It is also more expensive than either a two-by-four or a baseball bat. In all, the baseball bat is a much more satisfying tool than the pool cue.
Although wall-to-wall counseling is much more challenging and rewarding when a soldier is free to move and fight back, many counselors prefer the expediency of beating someone’s ass while he is tied up.
By taping the arms to the sides as detailed in the Dimension Lumber section, counseling may be accomplished quicker and with less hassle. Many items may be used for restraints; here we list but a few.
Available at all police supply stores, handcuffs are an easy, effective way to restrain the counselee. Two pairs should be used if no assistant is available. One end of the cuffs is attached to the soldier, the other to a pipe or other support. The soldier may also be hand cuffed to an object by putting his hands behind the object and the cuffs snapped on from there. The new “cable-tie” style handcuff is a cost-effective and useful restraint. It is usually long enough to secure the feet and is available for mere pennies. Its only drawback is that it is only usable once; it must be cut off cut off after the session and thrown away.
The Army standby, green tape, better known as hundred-mile-an-hour tape, is effective as a short-term restraint, providing the soldier is not strong enough to break it. It is available in several widths; the standard 2″ width is sufficient for most soldiers. The almost-unobtainable 6″ width is not good for wall-to-wall counseling due to its extreme width and liability to twist at the slightest provocation. It is also more expensive.
Ropes are only marginally acceptable as restraints, but are good for tying the soldier to trees in the field and for dangling him from fire escapes by the ankles or wrists. If the counselor intends to hang the soldier from a fire escape, though, special care must be taken in the selection of the rope to insure that the weight of the soldier will not break the rope and cause him to land on his head and die. Army issue rappelling rope is the best obtainable wall-to-wall counseling rope due to its high strength and easy availability.
Conducting the wall-to-wall counseling session
Wall-to-wall counseling can be conducted in many ways.
For on-the-spot counseling, a quick swat across the back of the head with a closed fist or a slap in the face will probably be sufficient. For prolonged periods of misconduct by the soldier, prolonged periods of wall-to-wall counseling are in order. All wall-to-wall counseling sessions, though, are notable for their intensity and aggressiveness. The counselor should have a broad range of counseling methods available to him. He would be wise to study boxing manuals for additional suggestions. Enrolling in a martial arts class would also be a good idea, if he has the time to spare. In addition to improving counseling skills, the martial arts teach patience, discipline and self-control…all desirable traits for any leader.
The basic blows used in wall-to-wall counseling are the jab, hook, uppercut and knee to the nuts. These are also basic street fighting techniques
The jab is performed by pulling the closed fist back and striking the counselee with a generally straight motion. It is a quick and handy technique. Which will find much use in your daily counseling.
A hook is a sideways-curving stroke. It may be performed with either hand. It is best to know which hand the counselee prefers, so that you can use the same band to hit him with. In this manner, the danger of the counselee blocking your shot is greatly reduced. It is another blow which will prove itself worthy of inclusion in your counseling repertoire.
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Similar to the book, the uppercut is an upward-curving stroke. It is best used on the solar plexus and the jaw. If the counselee sticks his tongue out at you, the best cure is a swift upper-cut. If you are sufficiently forceful, you can succeed in clipping off the counselee’s tongue, and therefore prevent him from talking back, at least until they sew it back on. Although a good blow, the jab and hook are generally more useful and therefore should receive more of your training hours. However, the uppercut will find use in your sessions, and so you must be prepared to use it.
Knee in the nuts
Needless to say, this doesn’t work very well with female soldiers! However, most wall-to-wall counselees are male, and on them it is probably your most effective blow. Just flex the knee upward until it hits the balls. Alternately, if you can get your foot up that high, you can kick them in the balls with it. If you have performed this hard enough, the counselee will immediately drop to his knees. It will be the only blow you will need. If the soldier does not drop to his knees, you are counseling either an extremely flat and ugly woman or a eunuch. In neither case will this blow work, and in both cases you have just entered a world of shit.
Advanced blows include the Jap slap, boot to the head and tool techniques. These are effective, but more-limited, counseling techniques.
Everyone has seen karate movies, How can the jap slap, which is performed by slapping the soldier on one side of the face and immediately following it with a backhand to the other side of the face, be considered an advanced move? Simple. Both blows must be of equal intensity to have the greatest effect. If one blow knocks the head out of the socket, the other must put it back in. The backhand is usually the most intense blow, and is performed last. It takes much practice to make them equal.
The ideal object to practice with is the heavy punching bag found in all Army gymnasiums. On any given day, you will find many wall-to-wall counselors practicing their Jap slaps against this bag, so you may need to wait in line. Rest assured that the wait is well worth it.
If your unit’s leaders embrace wall-to-wall counseling as a common leadership technique, you may be able to convince the Unit Fund Council to install its own heavy bag. If you are in an in an infantry unit or are in charge of many O5Ks, though, the sheer number of counselees will provide sufficient opportunity to practice and hone your technique. Still, there is no substitute for the heavy bag. Not even an 05K can rep lace it, though some of the new ones come dose.
Boot to the head
This is just what it sounds like…you kick the standing soldier in the side of the head with your foot. Whether you have a boot on will depend on the circumstances. If you are counseling a soldier during a field problem, you most definitely will have on a boot, and the extra mud caked in the sole will enhance the effectiveness of the blow. If, however, you find a soldier smoking grass in the barracks, you may not have a boot on, though you might want to go put one on. In fact, you might not have anything at all on. It’s obvious why this is an advanced blow: can you raise your foot six feet in the air without falling on your ass? Martial arts training is a definite asset to counselors employing this technique.
These include baseball bat blows, dimension lumber work, and chains. They also include the use of restraints. They are easy to use but also require great discipline to ensure that the soldier survives the counseling. No directions will be given here. We leave that for the counselor to figure out for himself. Creativity is one of the hallmarks of a good leader.
Using these techniques
Wall-to-wall counseling is much like any other counseling.
You choose the place, inform the counselee, meet him there, counsel him until his problem is solved and conduct follow-up actions. In wall-to-wall counseling, though, how you determine when his problem is solved is when he screams for mercy. Then you hit him once or twice more to reinforce the counseling session and make sure the problem stays solved, and only then end the counseling session.
Determining how much wall-to-wall counseling is enough
The successful wall-to-wall counselor needs to be able to determine how much wall-to-wall counseling to give. A soldier who misses one formation can be sufficiently counseled by hitting them once in the back of the head. A soldier who missed every formation since he arrived at the unit two years ago, however, will require counseling with dimension lumber and a baseball bat. The counselor will quickly learn the proper amount of counseling to give.
Of course, if the soldier is a rapist, robber or murderer, just start your wall-to-wall counseling session and continue until the military police arrive.
No counseling is complete without follow-up actions. This is especially true in wall-to-wall counseling. Following up a wall-to-wall counseling session is covered in the chapters entitled “Triage” and “Legal problems.”
The counselor should be prepared to wash his hands of the whole matter, especially if the session drew blood. The counselor should, therefore, place a bar of Lava soap in the latrine prior to the session. Its gritty consistency will remove all traces of blood from your fingers, and it will help to dean off your baseball bat, too.
The soldier may need immediate medical attention following a wall-to-wall counseling session, especially if you used a baseball bat during it.
If the soldier is a true fuck up, broken bones, internal injuries and hemorrhaging may have occurred. Inspect the soldier to make sure he is still conscious, still breathing and does not appear to have any external damage or signs of internal damage (blood or cranial fluid leaking from the ears is generally a sign that the counseling session was a little too thorough). One of the three is generally sufficient. If the soldier can still move following the session, immediately restrict him to his room. If he is not breathing and will not obey a direct order to resume breathing, perform rescue breathing and then beat his ass some more after you revive him. If his heart stops, apply CPR and then recounsel him for inability to remain alive during a counseling session. Not hitting the soldier right over the heart or the top of the head may cut down on the frequency and severity of death among your counselees.
If the soldier beats your ass during counseling, though, there is little you can do. If you aren’t fucked up too badly, you can just lick you wounds and hope the bruises heal before your wife sees you. If you need to be ambulanced off to the hospital, though, you can tell the judge that the soldier hit you first. If the judge believes your integrity (and he should…after all you outrank the soldier who kicked your ass. If you don’t, you may be in deep kimchi…) you should be all right, especially if the soldier actually did hit you first If you hit the counselee first and he still beat you up, then you need to spend more time in the gym.
Some unenlightened legal personnel, including the MPs and JAG, may not have read this manual.
Therefore, they might not recognize the corrective nature of your actions and instead term them “brutal, heartless assault,” which is also true. The solution to this problem is preparedness: Requisition sufficient copies of this manual so that everyone on post that can legally fuck you over can have one. Once these people have read this manual, they will respect you for having made the wise and just decision to wall-to-wall counsel.
If, on the other hand, you are dumb or overanxious and hold a wall-to-wall counseling session without having made the proper preparations, you need to be prepared for the worst. Simply bring this manual to your court-martial. After the judge reads it, you are certain to be acquitted.
There is one very large proviso, though: if you have to bring the soldier back from the dead as a result of your wall-to-wall counseling session, however, you are up shit creek and have no paddle. If you succeed in killing the soldier and he stay dead no matter how strict your order to resume living is, then you way be certain that you are going to jail. In this case, you will not get fucked with too badly. Just inform all the inmates that you are in jail because you beat another man to death with your bare hands and no one will even think about touching or going near you. No one likes the idea of being the next in line.
Wall-to-wall counseling is an effective leadership technique when it is properly applied.
Unfortunately, not every situation is the same. What works well in one instance way get you killed under other circumstances. We present some sample situations for your perusal and study.
Soldiers who are armed (for example, military police) with loaded weapons present special challenges and problems to the wall-to-wall counselor. The problem is the gun. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is a favorite slogan of the National Rifle Association. No shit. However, the gun is going to be used to kill you if you start beating on the soldier who has it. Therefore, the first step in this counseling session is to get the gun away from the soldier. If the soldier will voluntarily surrender his gun, he is a disciplined individual. He is also a stupid motherfucker. If the soldier is dumb enough to give you his gun, he deserves to have his ass beat. If the soldier is not dumb enough to give you his gun you will be forced to take it from him. The best things to use for this are larger guns and partners. Your partner can hold the soldier from behind in a full-nelson while you relieve the soldier of his lethal burden. If you have no partner, larger guns are handy. If the soldier carries a .38-caliber revolver, pull out a .45 auto. If the soldier has a .45, you need an M-16. If he has an M-16, you need an M-60 machine gun (If the soldier is the gunner on a Vulcan, Chaparral missile system or field artillery piece, you’re really fucked…) Once the soldier is free from things that can kill you, feel free to beat the living fuck out of him.
Most lieutenants require daily wall-to-wall counseling for the first three years of their Army career. Unfortunately, the Army frowns on beating up lieutenants in your chain of command. In fact, it disapproves of beating up any lieutenants. Something about them outranking you. Therefore, the easiest solution is to find someone in another unit to come over in civilian clothes and counsel your lieutenant.
Dayhos a-re especially fun to wall-to-wall counsel because they act like they are God. In fact, God has decreed that we beat up dayhos whenever they fuck up. For some, this is two or three times a day. For others, it’s hourly. And then you have the dayhos who are really stupid mother fuckers. The only distinction you need to make is whether the dayho out ranks you. If he does not, feel free to beat the holy shit out of them. If they do on rank you, only counsel them once a day, whether they need it or not They usually do.
The problem with wall-to-wall counseling civilians is that there are actually such a thing as civilian policemen, and they will actually throw you in a civilian jail where you will be immediately considered fresh meat and fucked right up the ass by some AIDS-infested Hell’s Angel, and then you will die. Therefore, it may be a good idea to bring the civilian on post, where civilian cops have no jurisdiction. Then you are more than welcome to work them over in any manner you like. A big secondary problem is that some civilians carry guns and/or do drugs. People carrying guns fall into two categories: those who are members of the police and those who are not. Those who are police are generally more disciplined but are better trained in the use of their guns. This means that they might not shoot at you but will definitely hit you if they do. Drug pushers, bank robbers, murderers and other common rabble will probably shoot at you but may not hit you. Unfortunately, some well-heeled cruds are buying black market submachine guns and carrying them under their jackets. These guns, whose ranks include the Uzi and the Ingram MAC-10, are equipped with large-capacity magazines and can pump out more lead per minute than an M-60 machine gun. When the criminal pulls one of these, he will use it to hose down targets of opportunity, which in this case means you.
If you feel the urge to wall-to-wall counsel a drug dealer, use a shotgun. It’s easier and faster. It does make a mess, but you can console yourself with the fact that you are helping to make America a safer place.
Wall-to-wall Career Counseling
Every leader has been through it. We all know the soldier who can’t seem to make up his mind as to what he wants to do with his life. One day he wants to be an Airborne Ranger. Two days later he wants to go to DLI to study Urdu. And the next week he wants to get out of the Army and grow marijuana in 0regon. What do you do? What can you say? This is what you do and what you say.
When the soldier makes the eighteenth decision on the same day, you take him behind the racks, grab his collar, slam him into a rack door, and yell in his face, “What the fuck are you doing? Make up your God-damned mind what you want to do! Now!” In those words, and at the top of your voice. Swat him twice across the head for GP and put him back to work. I can more than guarantee he will decide to stay in the Army within ten minutes and figure out what he wants to do within twenty minutes, especially if you inform him you are going to kick his ass some more in an hour if he does not.
Wall-to-wall child care and upbringing
There is no parent alive or dead who has not been faced with a child who wants to do nothing but cause his parents and everyone around him grief. From their incessant “Momma, can I have a puppy?” whine to the temper tantrums they throw when they’re not allowed to stay up to watch Behind the Green Door on the Playboy Channel at three in the morning, their entire life seems to be designed to piss off everyone around them. And the worst part is that they don’t learn when you spank them. In fact, some of the more incorrigible youths of today seem to become more rebellious when you spank them or ground them. And with the overcrowding in our prisons as bad as it is, having the police pick them up usually won’t help, as they’ll be released on their-own recognizance in an hour.
However, there is an easy, quick way to deal with your frustrations and anxieties caused by the upbringing of undisciplined little brats. Needless to say, it involves wall-to-wall counseling. First, leave this manual on the coffee table so that they can read it and learn what you will do to them the next time they fuck up. Then, next time they make even the slightest slip, let them have it with both barrels. Baseball bats, dimension lumber, hundred-mile-an-hour tape, bare fists, anything you can think of is good. The only thing you need to be aware of is that wall-to-wall counseling a child to death is quite a bit easier than with that private you hit in the privates this morning. So go a little easy on them But just a little.
“It shouldn’t hurt to be a child,” the AFN commercial admonishes. Well, it shouldn’t hurt to be a parent, either! After you wall-to-wall counsel your children two or three times, your life will become much easier. And if you counsel your little girl on top of the head enough times, her head will become flat, and she will be able to get a lot more boyfriends. So it works out better for everyone.
A sample wall-to-wall counseling session
The following is a true story. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
SGT Joe Snuffy was out with his friends across from a small Army base in a foreign country. After having a few beers, but not enough to cloud his judgment, he observed a soldier in the small restaurant he was in acting like a fool. The soldier was being obnoxious, yelling at the top of his lungs, embarrassing the women in the restaurant, and generally degrading the image of the Army. SGT Snuff decided to take action.
SGT Snuffy had SPC John Holmes summon the obnoxious soldier to come outside the restaurant for a simple talk. The soldier, SPC Jack Meoff, came outside in a very belligerent manner. SPC Meoff took off his jacket in a threatening manner and unprofessionally swore at SGT Snuffy. SPC Meoff was rip roaring drunk. He hit and pushed SGT Snuffy, SPC Holmes, and several of their friends. He even hit two of them with a plastic chair. SGT Snuffy took action. He wall-to-wall counseled SPC Meoff striking him with two punches. SPC Meoff fell to the ground. The MPs came and took the unrestrained SGT Snuff to the MP station in a squad car. SPC Meoff had to be cast into irons for his trip to the MP station.
Lessons learned by this wall-to-wall counseling session:
1) Never conduct a wall-to-wall counseling session when you are drunk, unless you have to.
2) Never conduct one in plain sight of the front gate of a military installation.
3) And, most importantly, when wall-to-wall counseling is called for, DO IT.
Daniel N. White. Introduction by William Astore. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the U.S. military has embraced special forces (SEALs, Green Berets, and the like) and has been deploying them globally to at least eighty different countries. There’s an allure to special forces and the special ops community captured in the country’s admiration of SEAL Team 6 and Hollywood productions like Act of Valor. Yet some of history’s finest military leaders haven’t been as enamored of special forces as Hollywood and the American public. Count William Slim among their ranks. Slim was a British field marshal who rescued Britain from certain defeat in Burma during World War II, a man deeply respected within military circles for his leadership and wisdom. Slim, as Dan White shows, has a lot to teach the US military about the danger of placing too much faith in special ops, especially when larger political and strategic purposes are misguided or lacking. W.J. Astore Why America Is Losing Its Wars
Daniel N. White
There are two big reasons why the US military continues to lose its wars. The first is an uncritical embrace of special forces; the second is a complete lack of clear and achievable political and military objectives. Both reasons are best exposed through the writings of one of the great military leaders of the 20th (or any other) century: Field Marshal Viscount William Slim.
Let’s take the first point first. Currently, the US military is undergoing an unprecedented boom in special forces manpower. Special forces now number a stupendous 63,000 (with expansion plans to 72,000) when the US Army numbers only 546,000. This push to create a huge special forces establishment and to make it the apex of the US military’s operational forces has gone largely unnoticed and uncommented on. And that’s a shame, since it’s perilous both for our military and our country.
In this conclusion I’m supported by Field Marshal Slim. Slim led the Imperial British forces in Burma, a composite army of more than a dozen nationalities, from defeat in 1942 to an overwhelming victory in 1945.
Americans celebrate our defeats of the Japanese in World War II, but our battles—tough as they were—were against Japanese forces outnumbered and cut off from supply and reinforcement on Pacific island battles.
Slim inflicted the largest defeat ever in the history of the Japanese military, and did it on an open battlefield with no great superiority in men and materiel with a defeated army he personally rebuilt and retrained.
Slim’s thoughtful critique of special ops, based on hard-won military experience, is worth quoting at length:
Special forces, according to Slim, “formations, trained, equipped, and mentally adjusted for one kind of operation only, were wasteful. They did not give, militarily, a worthwhile return for the resources in men, material, and time that they absorbed.”
“To begin with, they were usually formed by attracting the best men from normal units by better conditions, promise of excitement, and not a little propaganda.
Even on the rare occasions when normal units were converted into special ones without the option of volunteering, the same process went on in reverse. Men thought to be below the standards set or over an arbitrary age limit were weeded out to less favored corps.
The result of these methods was undoubtedly to lower the quality of the rest of the Army, especially of the infantry, not only by skimming the cream off it, but by encouraging the idea that certain of the normal operations of war were so difficult that only specially equipped corps d’elite could be expected to undertake them.”
“Armies do not win wars by means of a few bodies of super-soldiers but by the average quality of their standard units. Anything, whatever short cuts to victory it may promise, which thus weakens the Army spirit is dangerous.
Commanders who have used these special forces have found, as we did in Burma, that they have another grave disadvantage—they can be employed actively for only restricted periods.
Then they demand to be taken out of the battle to recuperate, while normal formations are expected to have no such limits to their employment. In Burma, the time spent in action with the enemy by special forces was only a fraction of that endured by the normal divisions.”
“The rush to form special forces arose from confused thinking on what were, or were not, normal operations of war…The level of initiative, individual training, and weapon skill required in, say, a commando, is admirable; what is not admirable is that it should be confined to a few small units.
Any well trained infantry battalion should be able to do what a commando can do; in the Fourteenth Army they could and did. The cult of special forces is as sensible as to form a Royal Corps of Tree Climbers and say that no soldier who does not wear its green hat with a bunch of oak leaves stuck in it should be expected to climb a tree.”
Let’s recap. We have the US military, the Army in particular, embarked on an unprecedented explosion of special forces within its ranks.
One of the great military leaders of the 20th century says that special forces are expensive in resources and generally don’t deliver on what they promise. This doesn’t look good.
It looks worse when you consider that this explosion of special forces has coincided with two military defeats against what charitably must be called third rate opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Slim provides additional reasons why our military’s excessive reliance on special forces contributed to these defeats:
“The question of control of these clandestine bodies is not without its pitfalls. In the last war among the allies, cloak-and-dagger organizations multiplied until to commanders in the field—at least in my theater—they became an embarrassment.
The trouble was that each was controlled from some distant headquarters of its own, and such was the secrecy and mutual suspicion in which they operated that they sometimes acted in close proximity to our troops without the knowledge of any commander in the field, with a complete lack of coordination among themselves, and in dangerous ignorance of local tactical developments.
It was not until the activities of all clandestine bodies operating in or near our troops were coordinated and where necessary controlled, through a senior officer on the staff of the commander on the area, that confusion, ineffectiveness, and lost opportunities were avoided.”
Special forces, with their unique and often secretive lines of command, generate severe operational problems in the field, a problem which the US military has experienced in its own, most recent, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Slim’s critique supports the notion that the US military’s recent rush to special forces has contributed to its defeats of late. The question is why this rush to special forces occurred. The major reason is our confused thinking about war. Any war as incoherent and objectiveless as a global war on “terror” must inevitably spawn confused thinking about what normal military operations are in such a war.
The US military simply has no coherent military or political objective for these wars. I’ve written elsewhere about this, see HERE and HERE.
For the US military, confused thinking at the higher echelons provided special forces enthusiasts with their chance to expand beyond all necessity because they claimed (falsely) to have all the answers for the current uncharted seas we were sailing. They had a plan when others didn’t, and that’s a large part of the rush to special forces—no firm hand was on the tiller.
Here again we should turn to Slim, because he brings to the fore the dire consequence of fighting without coherent objectives:
“For the poor showing we made during the first phase of the war in Burma, the Retreat, there may have been few excuses, but there were many causes, some of them beyond the control of local commanders.
Of these causes, one affected all our efforts and contributed much to turning our defeat into disaster—the failure, after the fall of Rangoon, to give the forces in the field a clear strategic object for the campaign….
Yet a realistic assessment of possibilities there and a firm, clear directive would have made a great deal of difference to us and to the way we fought. Burma was not the first, nor was it to be the last, campaign that had been launched on no very clear realization of its political or military objects. A study of such campaigns points emphatically to the almost inevitable disaster that must follow. (Italics mine) Commanders in the field, in fairness to them and their troops, must be clear and definitely told what is the object they are locally to attain.”
Future discussions of why the US has been defeated in its two most recent wars should use these words of Slim as the starting point for any explanation of US failure. The US military’s rush to special forces is a contributing factor to our current military defeats, but the lead cause is as painfully obvious as it is almost completely ignored: the total lack of clear and coherent political and military objectives for our wars.
The US military’s mania for special forces bothers no one in Washington’s political circles, let alone within the Pentagon. But from what Slim has taught us, it’s all going to end badly. Just how badly depends on our future military adventures.
We will certainly have a less effective military because of our special forces mania. In peacetime that’s regrettable but not fatal. But come wartime we will ask too much of our special forces and they will fail. Meanwhile, the regular military, weakened by years of special forces mania, may fail as well. It’s a sure-fire recipe for defeat.
Unlike Slim, the US military—weakened by structural faults driven by special forces mania and befuddled by a lack of clear and achievable objectives—won’t be able to turn defeat into victory. Daniel N. White has lived in Austin, Texas, for a lot longer than he originally planned to. He reads a lot more than we are supposed to, particularly about topics that we really aren’t supposed to worry about. He works blue-collar for a living–you can be honest doing that–but is somewhat fed up with it right now. He will gladly respond to all comments that aren’t too insulting or dumb. He can be reached at[email protected].
8th Ranger Company during the Korean War (courtesy of U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center in Carlisle, PA)
“Only you — only you! — could manage to get shot in the ass!”
The year was 1987. A group of middle-aged men sat under the umbrellas at the cheap fiberglass tables of the Holiday Inn in Columbus, Georgia not far from Fort Benning. They deserved a Ritz-Carlton, but this would have to do. The sign out in front of the hotel, the letters hanging somewhat askew, read:
WELCOME 8TH AIRBORNE RANGER COMPANY
The comment about taking an unfortunate enemy round in the gluteus maximus was an affectionate jab from one member of the company to another, and it was met with howls of protest and laughter.
“Son,” a grizzled old veteran said gripping my shoulder while the other men tried to interrupt him. “Hush! Hush!” he said to them in mock annoyance before turning back to me. “I mean it went in one cheek and came out of the other just as neatly as could be! No bone, just flesh!”
The index finger of his right hand poked one of his own cheeks while the thumb of his left hand moved up and out on the other side, indicating the bullet’s exit.
The conversation turned to a man with an even more unfortunate war wound.
“I tell ya, he thought his life with the ladies was over.” The other men listened expectantly for the ending of a story they knew well. “There was so much blood, we feared he had been gut shot! But, nooo!”
“No!” bellowed another, like a member of the choir in a good Pentecostal church.
The teller of the story continued: “So, I pull his pants down and guess what? It was just nicked!”
Again, howls of laughter.
My father finished the story: “We just told him he’d have a good story to tell when it came to explaining how he got that scar.”
Men wiped their eyes and guffawed.
This was a reunion of the 8th Airborne Ranger Company, or what remained of it. The end of the American spear in Korea 1950-51, they were the handpicked elite from all airborne and subsequent Ranger units. Not surprisingly, 8th Company had the highest qualification scores in the history of the Ranger Training Command (RTC).
Over the course of that weekend, the Ranger School at Fort Benning would honor them with a demonstration of modern Ranger skills and tactics. The latest generation of Rangers would rappel from helicopters, make a practice jump, and tour them around Benning, the place where 8th Company was born in 1950. And, not coincidentally, it was where I was born.
The men of 8th Company were much older now and not as lean as the men — boys, really — who appeared in the photos from 1950-51. Most carried extra weight around the middle, had the leathery skin that came with years of overexposure to the sun, and old tattoos that had purpled with age on biceps and calves that were not as hard and chiseled as they once were — but you didn’t try to tell them that. Like old athletes, they spoke with as much bravado as ever.
I had to smile. It had been my privilege to be raised in the company of such men. They could be profane and the jokes were always off-color. They were, to a man, hard-drinking and chain-smoking. They incessantly complained about the army and were fiercely proud of their part in it. Ornery and ready to fight each other, they were nonetheless ready to die for each other, too. Their vices were ever near the surface and yet, I cannot imagine where America would be without their kind.
I was 20 years old and sat silently watching and listening as I so often did when my father swapped war stories with other veterans. But this time it was different. These weren’t just any veterans; these were the men with whom he had shed blood. This would be his last reunion and it was important to him that I be there. As the son of an 8th Company Ranger, I was, like other sons, an honorary member of this very exclusive club and therefore allowed to participate on the periphery of their banter — and fetch them beer. Lots of beer. Ranger reunions were impossible without beer. And with middle-aged men, that meant frequent trips to the bathroom.
With my father away for a moment on just that sort of mission, one of his old buddies leaned in as if to tell me a secret:
“If any man was ever born to be a soldier, it was your father. Some men have an instinct for the battlefield, and he damn sure did. Absolutely the best shot I ever saw. Could hit flies at a hundred yards. And, man, he was fearless…”
My father, returning, rolled his eyes: “That’s bulls–t, Mike. I was as afraid as any man.”
He turned to me. “It’s as I’ve told you before, son, a man who is truly fearless will get you killed. There’s something wrong with him. His instincts don’t tell him to be afraid when he should be. You want a man on point who wants to stay alive just like you do and whose senses are telling him ‘something’s not right here’ when there’s reason to believe you’re walking into an ambush. Now Mike here, was a helluva point man…” This was all very typical. They extolled each other’s battlefield heroics, but not their own.
Graduates of the 1950 RTC should not be confused with the more than 10,000 military personnel who wear Ranger tabs today and who do not serve in Ranger units. This is no slight to those who wear them. But as any Ranger will tell you, there is a difference between passing the Ranger course and serving as a Ranger, especially today where the standards have been watered down for political reasons. These men were truly elite as indicated by the high washout rate and the fact that of the 500,000 soldiers of the United Nations serving in the Korean War, there were never more than 700 Rangers.
Just as my father indicated, I had heard stories like this before, this old battlefield wisdom. My whole life, in fact. More stories followed. More laughter, backslapping, and beer. Indeed, the cans in the center of the table began to pile up and lips became looser.
Those of us who have heard a lot of old war stories, the wives, the sons and daughters, learn to distinguish the authentic from the fictional. Because the men who did the real fighting as these men had — and I mean the really brutal, prolonged, on the ground stuff where the sight and smell of the dead forever sears memories — they don’t like to talk about the details. Not even with each other. The guy who talks casually about what he did in combat? You can bet that he’s either a fraud or that battle has unhinged him.
“When your dad came home from Korea,” my Uncle recently told me, “he had a chest full of ribbons. He was a hero. But he wouldn’t talk about it in anything but general terms.” And nor did the rest of 8th Company who had their share of ribbons, too. The stories they told on this reunion weekend were mostly amusing, but to the veteran listener of veterans’ stories, you knew that the humor masked a horror.
All of these men dealt with the psychological wounds of war whether they ever received a Purple Heart or not. My mother tells me that my father suffered from hideous nightmares to the day he died, a recurring one being that he had fallen into a thinly covered mass grave full of bodies in a state of decomposition. Though he fights to climb out over the bodies, the rotten flesh slides off the bones as he grips them and their flesh remained on him for days until he could bathe, a luxury not afforded to men behind enemy lines. Though he would never say, she thinks the nightmare reflected an actual occurrence. I wager all of these men had nightmares of war.
Years later, as he lay on his deathbed delirious from the heavy doses of morphine, he returned to the battlefield. I will never forget his words, a command shouted with urgency and authority: “Cover the left flank! Cover the left flank! Move! Move! Move!” The order was repeated along with something about laying down suppression fire. Whatever the battle he was in, he was reliving it and he was determined to hold the line. In that moment, I prayed that the Lord would take him. He was suffering the horror of war all over again.
The next afternoon, his chest, heaving and belabored for days, relaxed and the air left his lungs in one long sigh. My father was dead.
A few days later, I sat solemnly with my mother going through his things. It was a joyless task. Buried among his memorabilia we found a letter from a fellow member of 8th Ranger Company, Thomas Nicholson. It was an award of sorts, but deadly earnest, and, again, the humor here serves a purpose — it makes a terrifying memory more tolerable to recollect. It read:
During combat operations in the Republic of South Korea, Charles Taunton bravely, but unknowingly, earned life membership in The Noble & Ancient Order of the Combat Boot…. He deserves the acclaim and friendship of all who learn that he unselfishly, and with little regard for his own safety, went behind enemy lines to assist a fellow soldier. This act of courage, which epitomizes the U.S. Army tradition of ‘never leaving an injured or deceased soldier in enemy territory,’ is worthy of great praise. Be it therefore known that I, Thomas Nicholson, was the injured soldier he carried back to friendly lines, and that it is with everlasting gratitude that I certify the truth of this citation.
Napoleon said that “Men will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Some men perhaps. But I never got the impression that the men of 8th Company cared about such things. They valued, above all, the opinions of the other men in 8th Company. To have the respect of the man who fought to your right and to your left, well, that meant something. In an interview with NBC News many years later, radio operator E.C. Rivera spoke with great emotion about his fellow Rangers and other Korean War veterans: “Nobody gave a rat’s ass about us. Nobody cared. They [i.e., people in America] were very cold to us.”
On July 27, 2013, the surviving members of the 8th Airborne Ranger Company gathered at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Led once again by their former captain, James Herbert, who was now a retired Brigadier General, the half dozen men sat with their wives and families. Before them stood Son Se-joo, the Consul General for the Republic of Korea, who had come to honor them:
In the face of overwhelming danger, your stories of valor and sacrifice saved our country and made it what it is today. As we pay tribute to you, I can confirm that the Korean War is not a ‘Forgotten War’ and that the victory is not a forgotten victory. The Korean people will never forget your sacrifice.
It was an honor long overdue, but too late for most. Coming as it did sixty years after the end of the war, most of the men of 8th Company were, by now, dead. Many had died on hills with no names, only numbers, in a country that was not their own, but in defense of principles they held dear. Others died later from wounds received in battle. And still more passed away as old men who fought in a war no one seemed to care about. Historian Thomas H. Taylor writes of 8th Ranger Company:
[Their] only tribute has been from their own post-war lives. Their collective lack of bitterness. Their forbearance from bitching about the lack of deserved recognition. This may be because they were mobilized but their nation was not. They went to war while their countrymen remained at peace. They fought, they bled, they won. Then they returned. Having given their all, they asked for nothing — and that’s just what they got.
I would add to this that satisfaction for the men of 8th Airborne Ranger Company came from something much more important to them than ribbons or recognition. It is something that only those who have known the battlefield can fully appreciate, but that the rest of us can glimpse in the terrible and inspiring story behind Thomas Nicholson’s humorous letter.
According to the Ranger Hall of Fame at Fort Benning:
On the 22nd of April 1951, 350,000 CCF [Chinese Communist Forces] troops launched their largest offensive of the Korean War. The attack broke the 6th Republic of [South] Korea Division that retreated 21 miles, leaving the right flank of the U.S. 24th Infantry Division exposed. The Commanding General of the 24th Infantry Division sent the 90 men of the 8th Ranger Infantry Company into this void.
It was in that void, on Hill 628, a godforsaken, bleak mass, that Thomas Nicholson was shot up badly. Wounded and expecting to die as the battle raged around him, he sat propped against a tree, bleeding to death and holding a hand grenade. His plan was to pull the pin when the enemy that surrounded them drew near, thus killing himself and as many of the CCF as possible. But that’s not what happened.
Instead, his fellow Rangers came for him just as they came for every other wounded or dead American on that hill. Calculating that the CCF who surrounded them would not expect them to abandon their fixed positions on 628 and attack, the Rangers closed ranks, formed a spearhead, put the wounded in the middle, and assaulted the side of the hill between them and a company of tanks in the valley below (see no. 2 on this list of most heroic acts of bravery). One platoon remained on the hill to provide cover fire as the other two platoons slammed into the unsuspecting Chinese. The effect was devastating. Writes Taylor: “As the Rangers approached, Chinese came out of their holes in a banzai attack. They were mowed down — nothing was going to stop 8th Company unless every man took a bullet.”
They carried him off of Hill 628 just as a U.S. Navy gull wing Corsair fighter bomber descended, banked, and hit the mountain with napalm. Ranger Robert Black recalled it years later: “A black canister fell from beneath the plane and a moment later a towering gout of flame erupted from behind the hill.” For over a mile the Rangers fought their way through CCF lines until they reached the tanks where their wounded could be evacuated.
Thomas Nicholson spent the next 18 months in hospitals. He never rejoined 8th Company, but he did live to become a husband and father. He also became a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Thirty years after the war was over, he issued “citations” to the men responsible for his rescue. My guess is that this included every man who fought to get all of the dead and wounded — a third of 8th Company — off of Hill 628.
When my father spoke with pride of his war record, it was never with a medal in mind. It was not in the recollection of some heroic act or a promotion. And it wasn’t in the body count of enemy dead, a statistic of which he never spoke. If I may borrow a phrase from E.C. Rivera, my father “didn’t give a rat’s ass” about any of that. No, he took great pride in one simple fact: in the history of 8th Ranger Company, they never left a man behind be he wounded or dead. Never. And if I had to bet, I would wager that the rest of the men in this remarkable company felt the same way.
Perhaps that explains why his mind went back to a specific moment in battle as death, the enemy he could not escape, closed in on him. Even in dying, the men of the 8th Airborne Ranger Company maneuvered to protect:
“Cover the left flank! Cover the left flank! Move! Move! Move!” Larry Alex Taunton is an author, cultural commentator, and freelance columnist contributing to The American Spectator, USA Today,Fox News, First Things,the Atlantic, and CNN. You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com.