The Heroes Of Iwo Jima

Three days after that (the flag raising), the war was over for Easy Company.

Easy’s original total force on Iwo Jima was 310 young men, including replacements. On March 26, Captain Severance led his 50 survivors on a tour of the newly dedicated 5th Division cemetery. And then they traveled by a small boat to the transport, the Winged Arrow, for the trip back home. They had to climb a cargo net to get aboard. Many were so weak that they had to be pulled over the rail by sailors.

When I asked Severance, many years later, exactly how it finally ended, he thought for a moment and then replied: “We had all the real estate.”

Severance was the only one of six Easy Company ofhcers to walk off the island. Of his 3rd Platoon, the one that first scaled Suribachi, only Harold Keller, Jim Michaels, Phil Ward, and Grady Dyce came through the battle untouched. Easy Company had suffered eighty-four percent casualties.

Of the eighteen triumphant boys in ]oe Rosenthal’s “gung-ho” (1st) flag raising photograph, fourteen were casualties.

The hard statistics show the sacrifice made by Colonel Johnson’s 2nd Battalion: 1,400 boys landed on D-Day; 288 replacements were provided as the battle went on, a total of 1,688. Of these, 1,511 had been killed or wounded. Only 177 walked off the island. And of the final 177, 91 had been wounded at least once and returned to battle.

It had taken twenty-two crowded transports to bring the 5th Division to the island. The survivors fit comfortably onto eight departing ships. The American boys had killed about 21,000 Japanese, but suffered more than 26,000 casualties doing so. This would be the only battle in the Pacific where the invaders suffered higher casualties than the defenders. The Marines fought in World War II for forty-three months. Yet in one month on Iwo ]ima, one third of their total deaths occurred. They left behind the Pacific’s largest cemeteries: nearly 6,800 graves in all; mounds with their crosses and stars. Thousands of families would not have the solace of a body to bid farewell: just the abstract information that the Marine had “died in the performance of his duty” and was buried in a plot, aligned in a row with numbers on his grave. Mike lay in Plot 3, Row 5, Grave 694; Harlon in Plot 4, Row 6, Grave 912; Franklin in Plot 8, Row 7, Grave 2189.

When I think of Mike, Harlon, and Franklin there, I think of the message someone had chiseled outside the cemetery:

When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

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World War II Marine recalls Battle of Tarawa

Minard Willson, 91, of Mountain Home took bomb shrapnel to a leg on Guadalcanal and got his left arm shot to smithereens on Saipan, but somehow dodged everything in the battle that some historians have called the “fiercest and fastest” of the World War II Pacific Theater — Tarawa.

Minard Willson (Bulletin Photo by Kevin Pieper)

Willson was a sergeant with charge over 12 Marines in a force of 12,000 U.S. Marines that fought on Tarawa from the Corps’ 2nd Division.

The amphibious landing started at 9 a.m. Nov. 20, 1943, on the tiny island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll.

Seventy-two hours later, 978 U.S. Marines and 4,690 Japanese defenders were dead. The Marines listed 3,160 as U.S. casualties on Tarawa. One Japanese officer, 18 enlisted Japanese Marines and 129 Korean forced laborers survived the battle, according the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

“That was a horrible fight and a terrible slaughter,” said Willson during an interview at his home. “Everything was so close. The Japs had no place to go.”


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US Marines at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941

Pearl Harbor—7 December 1941. Armed with their Springfield rifles, Leathernecks of Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor, scan the skies during the Japanese attack. US Navy Photo

Source: Hough, Frank O., Verle E. Ludwig and Henry I Shaw, Jr. Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal vol.1 of History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1958): 70-75.

Perhaps no action in American military history has been so thoroughly documented, examined, and dissected as the Pearl Harbor attack. Investigation has followed investigation; a host of books have been written on the subject, all in an effort to pin down the responsibility in the welter of charge and countercharge. The issue of what individuals or set of circumstances, if any, should bear the blame for the success of the Japanese raid has not been, and may never be finally decided. On one point, however, there has been unanimous agreement–that the courage of the vast majority of defending troops was of a high order.

The first inkling of the Japanese attack came not from the air, but from the sea. At 0637 on 7 December, more than an hour before any enemy planes were sighted, an American patrol bomber and the destroyer [USS] Ward [DD-139] attacked and sank an unidentified submarine in the restricted waters close to the entrance to Pearl Harbor. This vessel was one of five Japanese two- man submarines which had the extremely risky mission of penetrating the Pacific Fleet’s stronghold. The midgets were transported to the target on board large long-range submarines, part of an undersea scouting and screening force which had fanned out ahead of the enemy carriers. Not one of the midget raiders achieved any success; four were sunk and one ran aground.

The Japanese attack schedule allowed the Americans little time to evaluate the significance of the submarine sighting. The first enemy strike group was airborne and winging its way toward Oahu before the Ward fired its initial spread of depth charges. The Japanese carrier force had turned in the night and steamed full ahead for its target, launching the first plane at 0600 when the ships were approximately 200 miles north of Pearl Harbor. A second strike group took off at 0745 when the carriers had reached a position 30 miles closer to the American base. Although a radar set on the island picked up the approaching planes in time to give warning, the report of the sighting was believed an error and disregarded, and the Japanese fighters and bombers appeared unannounced over their objectives.

The enemy plan of attack was simple. Dive bombers and fighter planes would strafe and bomb the major Army and Navy airfields in an attempt to catch defending aircraft on the ground. Simultaneously, the battleships moored to pilings along the shore of Ford Island would be hit by high-and low-level bombing attacks. The shipping strike groups included large numbers of dive and horizontal bombers, since the Japanese anticipated that protective netting might prevent their lethal torpedo bombers from being fully effective. In all, 321 planes took part in the raid, while 39 fighters flew protective cover over the carriers to guard against a retaliatory attack that never materialized.

At 0755 the soft stillness of Sunday morning was broken by the screaming whine of dive bombers and the sharp chatter of machine guns. At half a dozen different bases around the island of Oahu Japanese planes signaled the outbreak of war with a torrent of sudden death. Patrol bombers were caught in the water at Naheohe Naval Air Stations, across the island from Honolulu; closely parked rows of planes, concentrated to protect them from sabotage, were transformed into smoking heaps of useless wreckage at the Army’s Wheeler and Hickam Fields, the Marines’ air base at Ewa, and the Navy’s Ford Island air station. The attack on the airfields had barely started before the first bombs and torpedoes were loosed against the sitting targets of “battleship row.” Within minutes most of the battleships at the Ford Island moorings had been hit by one or more torpedoes and bombs. If the Japanese had drawn off after the first fifteen minutes of their attacks, the damage done would have been terrific, but the enemy planes kept on strafing and bombing and the toll of ships, planes, and men soared.

The Americans did not take their beating lying down. The first scattered shots from sentries ashore and watch standers who manned antiaircraft guns on board ship flashed back at the enemy even before the bugles and boatswains’ pipes sounded “Call to Arms” and “General Quarters.” The ships of the Pacific Fleet were on partial alert even in port and most of the officers and men were on board. Crew members poured up the ladders and passages from their berthing compartments to battle stations. While damage control teams tried to put down fires and shore up weakened bulkheads, gun crews let loose everything they had against the oncoming planes. In many cases guns were fired from positions awash as ships settled to the bottom and crewmen were seared with flames from fuel and ammunition fires as they continued to serve their weapons even after receiving orders to abandon ship. On many vessels the first torpedoes and bombs trapped men below deck and snuffed out the lives of others before they were even aware that the attack was on.

The reaction to the Japanese raid was fully as rapid at shore bases as it was on board ship, but the men at the airfields and the navy yard had far less to fight with. There was no ready ammunition at any antiaircraft gun position on the island; muzzles impotently pointed skyward while trucks were hurried to munitions depots. Small arms were broken out of armories at every point under attack; individuals manned the machine guns of damaged aircraft. The rage to strike back at the Japanese was so strong that men even fired pistols at the enemy planes as they swooped low to strafe.

At Ewa every Marine plane was knocked out of action in the first attack. Two squadrons of Japanese fighters swept in from the northwest at 1,000 feet and dived down to rake the aircraft parked near the runways with machine-gun and cannon fire. Pilots and air crewmen ran to their planes in an attempt to get them into the air or drag them out of the line of fire, but the Japanese returned again and again to complete the job of destruction. When the enemy fighters drew off at about 0825 they left behind a field littered with burning and shot-up aircraft. The men of [Marine Aircraft Group] MAG-21 recovered quickly from their initial surprise and shock and fought back with what few rifles and machine guns they had. Salvageable guns were stripped from damaged planes and set up on hastily improvised mounts; one scout-bomber rear machine gun was manned to swell the volume of antiaircraft fire. Although the group commander, Lieutenant Colonel Claude A. Larkin, had been wounded almost as soon as he arrived at the field that morning, he continued to coordinate the efforts to meet further enemy attacks.

Two Japanese dive bombers streaked over the field from the direction of Pearl Harbor at 0835, dropping light fragmentation bombs and strafing the Marine gun positions. A few minutes after the bombers left, the first of a steady procession of enemy fighters attacked Ewa as the Japanese began assembling a cover force at nearby Barber’s Point to protect the withdrawal of their strike groups. The Marine machine guns accounted for at least one of the enemy planes and claimed another probable. Two and three plane sections of fighters orbited over the field, and occasionally dived to strafe the gunners, until the last elements of the Japanese attack force headed out to sea around 0945.

Three of the Marine airmen were killed during the attacks, a fourth died of wound; 13 wounded men were treated in the group’s aid station. Flames demolished 33 of the 47 planes at the field; all but two of the remainder suffered major damage. The sole bright note in the picture of destruction was the fact that 18 of [Marine Scout Bombing Squadron] VMSB-231’s planes were on board the Lexington, scheduled for a fly-off to Midway, and thereby saved from the enemy guns.

Within the same half hour that witnessed the loss of Ewa’s planes, the possibility of effective aerial resistance was canceled out by similar enemy attacks all over Oahu. Ford Island’s seaplane ramps and runways were made a shambles of wrecked and burning aircraft in the opening stage of the Japanese assault. The Marines of the air station’s guard detachment manned rifles and machine guns to beat off further enemy thrusts, but the dive bombers had done their job well. There was no need for them to return. The focus of all attacks became the larger ships in the harbor.

The raid drew automatic reactions from the few Marines in the navy yard who saw the first enemy planes diving on the ships. While the guard bugler broke the majority of the men of the barracks detachment and the 1st and 3d Defense Battalions out of their quarters, the early risers were already running for the armories and gun sheds. By 0801 when Colonel Pickett ordered the defense battalion machine-gun groups to man their weapons, eight of the guns had already been set up. More machine guns were hastily put in position and men were detailed to belt the ammunition needed to feed them, while rifle ammunition was issued to the hundreds of men assembled on the barracks’ parade ground. Pickett ordered the 3-inch antiaircraft guns in the defense battalions’ reserve supplies to be taken out of storage and emplaced on the parade. He dispatched trucks and working parties of the 2d Engineer Battalion to Lualualei, 27 miles up in the hills, to get the necessary 3-inch shells. The Marine engineers also sent their heavy earth- moving equipment to Hickam Field to help clear the runways.

Thirteen machine guns were in action by 0820 and the gunners had already accounted for their first enemy dive bomber. During the next hour and a half the fire of twenty-five more .30’s and .50’s was added to the yard’s antiaircraft defenses, and two more planes, one claimed jointly with the ships, were shot down. The 3-inch guns were never able to get into action. The ammunition trucks did not return from the Lualualei depot until 1100, more than an hour after the last Japanese aircraft had headed back for their carriers. By that time the personnel of all Marine organizations in the navy yard area had been pooled to reinforce the guard and antiaircraft defense, to provide an infantry reserve, and to furnish the supporting transport and supply details needed to sustain them.

In the course of their attacks on battleship row and the ships in the navy yard’s drydocks, the enemy planes had strafed and bombed the Marine barracks area, and nine men had been wounded. They were cared for in the dressing stations which Pickett had ordered set up at the beginning of the raid to accommodate the flow of wounded from the stricken ships in the harbor. Many of these casualties were members of the Marine ship detachments; 102 sea-going Marines had been killed during the raid, six later died of wounds, and 49 were wounded in action.

The enemy pilots had scored heavily: four battleships, one mine layer, and a target ship sunk; four battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, and three auxiliaries damaged. Most of the damaged ships required extensive repairs. American plane losses were equally high: 188 aircraft totally destroyed and 31 more damaged. The Navy and Marine Corps had 2,086 officers and men killed, the Army 194, as a result of the attack; 1,109 men of all the services survived their wounds.

Balanced against the staggering American totals was a fantastically light tally sheet of Japanese losses. The enemy carriers recovered all but 29 of the planes they had sent out; ship losses amounted to five midget submarines; and less than a hundred men were killed.

Despite extensive search missions flown from Oahu and from the [USS] Enterprise [CV-6], which was less than 175 miles from port when the sneak attack occurred, the enemy striking force was able to withdraw undetected and unscathed. In one respect the Japanese were disappointed with the results of their raid; they had hoped to catch the Pacific Fleet’s carriers berthed at Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, the urgent need for Marine planes to strengthen the outpost defenses had sent the [USS] Lexington [CV-2] and the Enterprise to sea on aircraft ferrying missions. The Enterprise was returning to Pearl on 7 December after having flown off [Marine Fighter Squadron] VMF-211’s fighters to Wake, and the Lexington, enroute to Midway with VMSB-231’s planes, turned back when news of the attack was received. Had either or both of the carriers been sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor, the outlook for the first months of the war would have been even more dismal. The Japanese success had the effect of delaying the schedule of retaliatory attack and amphibious operations in the Central Pacific that had been outlined in [Navy Basic War Plan] Rainbow 5. A complete reevaluation of Pacific strategy was necessary.


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The Iwo Jima Story

Life: A Dual Value.

One often hears the statement “self preservation is the first law of nature.” Is that really true? Here is a surprising Robert L. Humphrey story from the battle of Iwo Jima that sheds light on this question. Humphrey was a rifle platoon commander on Iwo. As you read, ask yourself, if you were the young platoon leader, whether you would think that life was a selfish value.

The Iwo Jima Story.

On the sixth day of the battle for Iwo Jima, I took command of the only six (teenage) American Marines who were still left in a front-line rifle platoon that had more than 40 original members [Company F/,2d Battalion/, 28th Marines].

I took over my platoon in a protected area. Men were walking around. They were an experienced, confident group who had been involved in the fighting at the top of Mount Suribachi.

One young man was especially noticeable, carrying an unusual Thompson submachine gun. He oozed self-confidence and independence.

After chow that first evening, as he perfected his foxhole, he started declaring to himself in a loud voice: “I don’t volunteer for nothin’ else! Screw the Marine Corps! Screw Mount Suribachi! Screw everything except ol’ number one! That’s all that counts: gettin’ off this island alive! I don’t volunteer for nothin’!”

He shouted it so repeatedly that a couple of the other men picked it up. “Yeah! Right! We don’t volunteer for nothing!” Suddenly it dawned on me that they were obliquely speaking to me, their new platoon leader. I felt the chill of having my leadership threatened.

The next morning, as we prepared to edge out of our positions, a message came down from higher headquarters. As luck would have it, I was being ordered to send a volunteer out onto a hill in front of us on a sure-death reconnaissance mission. Hesitant to ask for volunteers after what I had heard the night before, I announced that I, myself would go. I made the excuse that, since I was new, I wanted to see the terrain. No sooner had I spoken, than the same Marine who had made the declarations the previous night said, “No, I’ll go, Lieutenant.”

“What!” I exclaimed, “You were the one last night saying that you never volunteer for anything!”

Almost sheepishly trying to cover his willingness to take my place, he answered, “Well, I just can’t trust any of you other jarheads on such a mission.” Stunned, I realized that this Marine was saying, “My turn to die, Lieutenant—not yours.”

from Humphrey, Robert L., Values for a New Millennium, Life Values Press, Maynardville, TN, 1992, p. 145-146

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The things they carry in Afghanistan

Editor’s note: David Fennell of Littleton is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is stationed in Marjah, Afghanistan, as head of the Civil Affairs Group there. Before that, he served a tour in Iraq. His father, Denny, asked David to sum up his experiences as he nears the end of his deployment.

Although I’ve gotten used to things around here, this place can wear on you.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe in our mission and its importance to both the Afghan people and security back home. Still, southern Afghanistan is a hard place.

The question Marines ask themselves most when talking with folks back home is “Where do I start?” There are no easy answers.

Sand, moon dust, terrain, weather, enemy, Marines getting hurt, Marines taken out of action, high op tempo, 2 4/7, working with locals, working with civilians, working with Afghan government, working with Afghan police, working with Afghan army, working with international forces (ISAF), bad food, drinking tea with locals knowing you’ll get sick, getting sick, watching for IEDs, looking for ambushes, suicide bomb threats, enemy murdering and intimidating the local population, local “friends” working with enemy, Marines getting killed, controlled IED detonations, wondering what caused an explosion, the kids, seeing bad things happen to kids, bad kids throwing rocks, bad kids taunting and making gestures that you’re going to get blown up, locals gaming the system, locals complaining about everything, locals always want more, some locals step up and the enemy takes some locals down . . .

Sand storms, bad sleep, incoming rockets, burn pits, relieving yourself in a bag, reports, reports, reports, briefs, briefs, briefs, VIP visits (generals, ambassadors, Afghanistan officials, etc.), second-guessed by others, second-guessing yourself, media, interpreters, bad interpreters, not being able to find an interpreter, losing gear, getting gear stolen, keeping Marines motivated, rewarding Marines, punishing Marines, taking care of interpreters, patrolling through canals and irrigated farms, getting your only pair of boots wet, getting your camera wet, Medevacs, finding IEDs, waiting hours for EOD to detonate IEDs, acronyms, hearing Marines in a firefight over the radio, losing communication, incoming mortars, long days, short meals, dirty uniforms, making yourself sick from your smell . . .

Needing air support but not getting it, taught not to look at Afghan women, taught not to talk to Afghan women, not knowing how to react when an Afghan woman approaches, false claims of Koran burning, false claims of night searches, false claims of civilian casualties, lies, lies, lies, protests, riots, local leaders calm protests and riots for a few prayer rugs.

Taking malaria medication, flak jackets, Kevlar, bad feet, bad knees, bad back, bad haircuts, looking forward to firefights, dreading IEDs, sand in everything, too few computers, no printers, no scanner, generators go down, e-mail goes down, “where’s your report?”, cold winter, no heat, local gets shot, local comes to Marines for help, is local a Taliban who we shot?, Marines trying to be experts in crime scene investigations, getting mail late, getting mail stolen, not getting mail at all, being hungry, saving the last Ramen noodle, losing weight, bad shaves, hot days, no A/C, sunburned faces and necks, white arms and legs, trying to get contractors to start development projects, contractors getting intimidated and robbed by Taliban, contractors getting kidnapped by Taliban, workers being killed by Taliban, hoping a Marine “makes it,” going to memorial services, hoping it’s never your Marine, rules of engagement, escalation of force, taking small arms fire from house, having to let detainee go for lack of evidence, running out of wet wipes, running out of water, losing your flashlight, running into razor wire at night, living in the “gray,” questioning how much corruption is acceptable, flies in your food, flies in your eye, trying not to be motivated by hate, broken-down vehicles, stuck vehicles, getting caught on an extended patrol without NVGs, did I do enough? did I do it right? and.. did I mention the sand?

It’s just a normal day or week or month out here, but Marines seldom bring up any more than a few of these things to complain about.

story | photo

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Side by Side

By Second Lieutenant Eric Montgomery, U.S. Marine Corps

For one former enlisted Marine and veteran of the war in Iraq, being a commissioned officer carries a great deal of personal weight.

During the summer of 2005, my brother Brian and I were serving together in Iraq with Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 25th Marines. Words could never describe the immense pride I felt serving side by side with him in combat.

Two brothers, childhood best friends that now shared the sacred title of Marine, fighting together in a cause for which we both had very deep convictions.

It truly was our finest moment in the context of our own personal history. We both proudly wore the eagle, globe, and anchor and strived to carry on the traditions of the Marines who had gone before us. Most important to us was excellence in combat. I could write pages about the great memories we shared together in Iraq, but that is not the purpose here.

On 1 August that summer, while conducting combat operations outside the city of Haditha, Lance Corporal Brian P. Montgomery was killed in action. I was destroyed. Never in my life had I felt like such a failure. What was I going to say to my parents? What would I tell Brian’s wife? To make things worse, I was immediately pulled from my platoon and sent home to attend Brian’s funeral. Not only had my brother been killed, but I felt like I was going home in defeat, as if I were retreating. His death did not become a reality for me until I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean back to the States, when a flight attendant handed me a copy of USA Today. On the front page was a story about Brian.

Bringing Brian Home

Before I left Iraq, I was given a new mission by my company first sergeant. It was my job to tell Brian’s story, to ensure his legacy did not die with him. It was also my duty to make sure Brian’s body made it home to my family and that he was properly laid to rest. While I did not embrace this mission at first, I slowly started to grasp the importance of it. Had I not been a Marine, I would not have been able to carry out this mission, and I would not have been able to carry his casket to his final resting place.

Carrying a fallen Marine’s casket is a privilege reserved for fellow Marines. It is the most important mission any Marine could have. Now, for the first time in my short career, I truly knew what it meant to be a Marine. Members of the Corps take care of each other, bottom line; in life, in death, on the streets of heaven, or in the fires of hell. Whatever I said at Brian’s funeral would be the last thing people would remember about my brother.

So on a sunny August morning, in a church filled to capacity with crowds of people standing outside because they couldn’t fit inside, I stood at the pulpit and with fire in my eyes I delivered the best eulogy I could muster, honoring my childhood hero for the selfless sacrifice he had made for everyone in that room. On that day, Brian defeated death. I knew that his story, his legacy, would be carried on from that day forward in the hearts and minds of everyone in that church. I knew that they would forever be grateful for Brian and so many other men and women like him.

About Becoming an Officer

After the service, with tears in my eyes, I joined five other Marine honor guards to carry Brian’s body back to the hearse so he could be taken to his final resting place. As I was about to get back into the limousine with my family, the commanding general of the 4th Marine Division, Major General Douglas V. O’Dell, approached me. He told me that I had delivered the finest eulogy he had ever heard and that I had truly honored Brian. He also asked me if I had ever thought about becoming a Marine officer, to which I answered, “Yes.” He then told me he would do anything to make that a reality. The general kept his word. He made it a point to take care of me, an obscure lance corporal from Ohio, because we both shared the title of United States Marine.

I tell this story for a couple of reasons. First, it comes with the hope that readers will look up Brian’s story and carry it with them in their hearts. Second, the story sums up the importance of my role as a Marine officer, not only in the context of history, but also in light of current events. Marines take care of each other. We always have, and we always will.

We carry on the traditions of those who have gone before us. From Archibald Henderson to John Lejeune, from Dan Daly to Jason Dunham, it has always been that way. We fight and die for each other. We honor the men and women who have paid for our right to wear the Marine uniform with their own blood, sweat, and tears. Semper Fidelis is not merely a motto for a Marine; it is a way of life. All of this is very easily said but much more difficult to actually embody.

What It All Means

The importance of being a Marine Corps officer is the same today as it has always been throughout the service’s history. Nothing else matters. It is a simple concept that I hold dear to my heart. I must give my Marines everything I have and then some. I must train harder, be willing to sacrifice more, hold myself to the highest standard, and set an example for each of my subordinates.

If I am going to send them into harm’s way, I must ensure that I give them the greatest opportunity to succeed. I must also ensure that I have given my Marines the greatest training possible and that I have left nothing to question or chance. As officers, we owe that much to each and every parent of a Marine and to the individual Marines themselves. We have to be able to look their parents in the eye and tell them that their son’s or daughter’s sacrifice was not a waste. We have to be able to do this without the guilt of knowing that we failed one of our Marines.

For some midshipmen selected as Marine officers, being commissioned as a Marine is the cool thing to do. For others it is just the next step in the natural progression of attending the Naval Academy. For me, it is much different. It is carrying on a legacy that two brothers began forging on Parris Island and solidified while serving together in Iraq. When I receive my commission as a Marine second lieutenant, it will not be me alone receiving it. Instead, Brian will be there, too. It will be a small victory for two brothers who were separated by the realities of war. We will eventually be reunited the day we assume our post guarding the streets of heaven, side by side, as brothers, as Marines.
Second Lieutenant Montgomery received his commission on 28 May. He will attend The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia, and hopes to be selected as a Marine infantry officer.

Photo: LCpl Montgomery, Center. Courtesy of Pam Montgomery, Proud Wife of LCpl. Brian Montgomery 3/25th USMCR KIA 8/1/2005, From Sgt. Grit

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Marines, journalists caught in Afghanistan firefight

By Dan Lamothe – Staff writer
Posted : Thursday May 20, 2010 18:26:16 EDT

MARJAH, Afghanistan — The bullets snapped overhead angrily, and all I could feel were the insects crawling up and down my legs and the sludgy water seeping into my boots.

That’s how I’ll remember an ambush on a Marine patrol today, in which I saw my first warzone firefight.

It began at about 12:30 p.m., as 10 members of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, and six Afghan National Army soldiers pushed east on a dirt trail splitting two agricultural canals in central Marjah. The sky was clear and the air temperature had crept into the 90s, as the hot Afghan sun punished everything below.

Video: Marines, journalists caught in Afghanistan firefight

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River City

You won’t find ‘River City’ on a map in Afghanistan

Northern Helmand Province – U.S. Marines stationed in Now Zad only have one link to home – a small wooden shack in the middle of their base. Inside, they crowd around five or six telephones and around eight computer stations.

This is where troops connect with their families and friends, and find out what’s happening in the world beyond Camp Cafferetta.

While embedded with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines Alpha Company, it’s also where we go to call back to our desk in Atlanta or reply to emails – only, of course, when there is a free phone or computer that the Marines aren’t using. The tiny room is crowded – Marines literally pushed against each other to wiggle into the small spaces in front of the computer screens. One Marine is on Skype, with a grainy video image of his wife and kids on screen. His wife is telling the very young children to look into their camera back home, and “tell Daddy you love him.” Most of the younger Marines are pouring into their Facebook pages, their primary way to keep up with friends – and most especially girlfriends – back home. A few feet away, you can hear the constant overlapping chatter from four to five Marines on the phones, talking to folks back home.

And then – a gunnery sergeant bursts into the room and says “River City! We’re in River City, let’s go!” And just like that, Marines hang up their phones. Sever their Skype connections. And shut down their Facebook pages. There was maybe time for a very quick goodbye, but it literally takes seconds. Within a minute, the room is empty, and the sergeant takes out the bank of phones and locks the door to the Internet room.

Then I learn why it’s taken so seriously: “River City” means a Marine has been seriously wounded or killed.

But after a call of ‘River City,’ the place clears and the equipment is locked away.

“River City” is a communications status, Reduced Communications. It’s an expression used to cut all contact with the outside world until the dead or wounded Marine’s family can be notified. 1st Sgt. Michael Bass explains that there were times when an incident would happen – someone gets shot, or caught in an IED explosion – and his fellow troops would, quite naturally, call home to talk with their own families about what happened. A lot of these communities are very tight-knit, and Bass says there were instances where families back home were being alerted to their loved one’s death by other friends or military spouses.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to work, and the military has a very strict process of family notification, one that involves a personal visit from a military official who is trained in how to deal with grieving families. That official then stays with the family throughout the process of the Marine’s remains coming home, the funeral and burial.

So the communications blackout prevents, for example, a perhaps well-meaning wife back home from calling another wife to offer her condolences, and inadvertently breaking the news of a husband’s death. Another Marine told me on rare occasions the blackout is imposed when no troops have been hurt. That usually happens if Marines are sending out too much sensitive information – perhaps saying too much about how the base is staffed, or describing future missions in too much detail.

Honestly, I thought River City was an actual place. And one Marine on his first deployment says, “Don’t worry – so did my wife.” The first time the base went into the alert, he had been talking with his wife back home in California. When the sergeant yelled “River City!” the Marine quickly told his wife: “Damn honey I gotta go right now – we’re in River City! Don’t know when I can call again!” This apparently made his wife worried sick, and spent hours on the Internet, trying to find where the hell this “River City” was on a map of Afghanistan.

The blackout can last as little as a few hours, or as long as a week. Normally it’s two or three days. During our stay with Alpha Company, River City was sounded four times. And only once, when the Marines were a bit slow getting off their computers, did the sergeant have to say, “Hey, get the hell off. And don’t be mad! Don’t be complaining you can’t call home – that means someone just got hurt!” Now if you ever hear the term “River City,” you’ll know not to look for it on any map. But it probably means a Marine has been hurt or killed, and a family somewhere is grieving.

Post by: CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence
Source: Source

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The Battle for Hill 400

My good friend Jim Hatch directed me to this story, he was a Marine helicopter co-pilot during the battle for Hill 400. Great story, enjoy it..

“I hope to occupy that hill by tonight,” says Col. William Masterpool, the soft-spoken commander of the Third Battalion of the Fourth Marine Regiment.

It is the morning of Sept.27 and we are standing on the top of “Hill 363” (so designated because of its altitude in meters).

The colonel is pointing to “Hill 400” -control of which is vital to control of the Rockpile itself.

Eight hundred yards of jungle separate us from the objective. Everyone already has a three-day beard. We are handed a C-ration pack and rationed to one canteen of water each.

Here is the record of the next 31 hours:

0930-As we thread our way along the ridgeline between the two hills, I notice a few bone fragments on the trail. Then dried, bloodstained Marine flak jackets and fatigues. “What’s this?” I whisper to the man behind me. The answer chills me. This was where a Marine company took 60 per cent casualties during an earlier operation.

0940-We pass a skull on a stake at the side of the trail. A few yards further a crudely penned note on a branch says in English: “We come back kill marines.” K for Kilo company is ahead of us.

1005-After an exhausting climb, we reach the top of Hill 400. Point man stumbles over bamboo pole. It triggers claymore mine 3 yards back of him as well as several grenades strung from branches. Four casulaties. Suddenly, machine-gun fire opens up. Impossible to see where it is coming from. Marines return fire forward and on both flanks. Shouts of “Corpsman [medic]!”

102O-As I emerge in small clearing, there’s deafening explosion followed by shouts of “Incoming mortar!” I run a few feet, see old artillery hole and fall in. Five marines land on top of me. Mortar shells impact all around us. I can’t move and have trouble breathing. Mercifully, shelling stops after four minutes. One marine is lying with his head half severed 3 feet from a hole he didn’t quite make. Everyone seems to be shouting at once: “Quick! More ammo forward!” “Corpsman!” and “John’s got his foot blown off.” “Where’s Mathews?” someone calls-and is answered by “He’s KIA [killed in action], sir.”

1025-Capt. “Jay Jay” Carroll of Miami, commander of Kilo company, sees me without a helmet. He says he never wears one, unhooks his own from his belt and throws it to me. I also pick up a flak jacket from a KIA.

1030-Casualties stagger back across small clearing where marines have set up a 20-yard-wide perimeter on both sides of trail. Marine gives me two hand grenades, saying “You may need these soon. Single rounds coming in from three sides of perimeter. Some marines digging furiously while others provide covering fire. I peer over my hole and spot four NVA’s [North Vietnamese Army troops] crawling past no more than 50 feet below. I yell to Captain Carroll who is standing up ramrod straight under heavy fire a few feet away, giving orders to his radioman. Carroll pulls the pin from a grenade and hurls it over my head, throws three more before going back to his radio. I toss another one for good measure. A marine shouts at me: “Release the spoon or the gooks may have time to toss it back.”

1035 The chaplain, Capt. Stanley J. Beach of Sass City, Mich., stumbles by with wounded man slung around his shoulders. Marine in nearby hole shouts to a buddy: “I got a feeling they don’t like us.” “Personality conflict,” says the other.

1040-Lead squad falling back on perimeter. Carroll leads reinforcements forward-forward being less than 100 yards away. Two machine guns keep up intense fire. NVA now have us almost surrounded. I have a terrible feeling I will never see my family again.

1043-First air strike. Two Phantom’s scream in at treetop level, dropping napalm, then, on their second pass, 500 pound bombs. Fragments fly over our holes, thudding into trees. Two men get hit by shrapnel. “Not close enough,” says Captain Carroll to the FAC [Forward Air Controller]. I feel if it’s any closer, we’ll all get killed. But Carroll says the ordnance fell 200 meters away and he wants it 100 meters closer. Next strike comes in at 75 meters. This must be what an earthquake feels like.

1050-Captain Carroll leads his men forward again. We have a whole company, but only a few men can go forward at a time single file. Almost sure death for the point man. No sooner out of the perimeter than NVA machine gun fire starts up again. NVA still clinging to our positions. The closer they stick, the safer they feel from the napalm.

1105-Second mortar attack.

I crawl out of my hole to the rear of perimeter, hoping to be closer to the battalion CP -[Command Post] if and when lull in fighting comes. I dive under thick tree trunk that was blown down by artillery. Nine more terrifying mortar explosions followed by the sickening cries of “Corpsman, over here.” Chaplain Beach is still carrying wounded back to a bomb crater where we have requested a hoist lift by basket for the critical cases as soon as the choppers can make it in. Carroll says to one wounded man: “Nice going, marine. Sure appreciate what you did up there.”

1115-More air strikes, still just 100 meters away. I am going deaf. I can’t hear what wounded marine is asking me. Water, I think. He has a stomach wound so I just give him a few drops to ‘wet his lips. Another marine tells me NVA bodies are stacked up waist-deep on the trail, but no one can get near them because of automatic crossfire from both sides of jungle. He could see NVA dragging bodies away with vines tied to their ankles.

1130-Grenade rolls down to where Derek Taylor, the correspondent for Britain’s Guardian, is crouching. Taylor, quick as lightning, grabs it, throws it downhill and flips back into his hole. It explodes a second later and doesn’t so much as scratch him.

1145-Two MIA [missing in action] just outside the perimeter. “Richard Burgess taken prisoner on Hill 400 after being wounded attends first reunion with 3/4 Richard spent 7 years in various North Vietnamese prison camps and is one hard corps dude!!!…97 San Diego Richard is on the right with Dinner Jacket, that’s me on the left…”Five volunteers go forward to look for them. One gets cut down by automatic fire. Captain Carroll hurls a smoke bomb, tells FAG to drop ordnance 50 yards beyond where bomb lands, then takes cover. More air strikes.

1215-Finally, thank the Lord, a brief respite. Just occasional incoming sniper rounds. Keeping my head down I make my way back to the bomb crater where emergency cases are waiting in the broiling sun. My remaining water canteen is shared among the wounded. Most of the men from Kilo company, who left Hill 363 before me, have not had food or water in 24 hours.

1310-First chopper tries to hover overhead while basket is lowered. He is driven away by ground fire. On second try, pilot radios air too thin to hover and drops back into valley. On third try, one man is hoisted. Corpsman tells me he has about 30 minutes to live. Pilot radios he died in chopper on way to hospital at Dong Ha. Ten minutes later, two more are taken out. Rest must be carried back along trail to headquarters. NVA ground fire getting heavy.

1430-Arrive at Colonel Masterpool’s CP. Engineers are carving an LZ [landing zone] out of the jungle with twenty-pound charges of high explosive. Every few minutes an engineer yells “Fire in the hole” and everyone scrambles for cover as another charge of TNT rattles your teeth and covers you in dust and tree bark. Colonel Masterpool is lying on the ground studying his map, quietly giving orders to artillery, air and his company commanders. His calm voice restores my confidence, by now badly shaken. I catch his eye. “Do you think you’ve got a story yet?” he wisecracks.

1500-Fierce fighting again at Kilo which is taking place on the lip of Hill 400. All hell seems to be breaking loose 200 yards away in straight line (about 400 yards by trail). Sniper rounds begin whistling across the CF. Once again the NVA appear to be working around our flanks. Marines spray the bushes below the CF. Wounded still coming. After blasting some 250 pounds of TNT the LZ still looks depressingly small. I figure that it won’t be completed before sundown and begin digging my own hole.

1630-After 90 minutes of intermittent digging, my hole also looks depressingly small. I lie in it to try it out, but it’s a foot and a half short and only 2 feet deep. Blisters on both hands are open and bleeding. Six feet from my hole, UPI photographer John Schneider has found an NVA hole with log roofing. I am envious.

1700-Hungry, nothing to eat or drink. Schneider shares his last sip of Water with me. We agree mortar attack is coining as the enemy can pinpoint our position from all the LZ blasting that is still going on. Schneider goes forward and I crawl into my hole and wait. Sniper fire continues, punctuated with the (latter of Marine machine guns. Still rough at Kilo. Air strikes almost continuous. Word is that the fighting is still seesawing across 100 yards of terrain. Marine bodies are being laid out just behind our holes.

0220-Beautiful, cloudless night but cold (low 5Os). Smell from decomposing bodies makes me nauseated and I pull my poncho over my face. Now immune to sound of gunfire and confident will pull through and get out by chopper tomorrow. Then, I think that it won’t be possible because there are too many wounded to go first.

0230-Musings interrupted by first shattering mortar blast. It knocks me out of my hole. I quickly roll back in as second, third and fourth-all the way up to twelve-impact in CP area. Again heart-rending shouts of “Corpsman!” Twenty feet below my hole, six marines are wounded six men of a seven-man squad knocked out of action.

0820-Fourth mortar attack. I lose count of number of rounds. Fear is a hard thing to dominate wounded hobbling in from bushes. figure it won’t be long before my number comes up. Terry Sicilia of Pasco, Wash., bleeding and waiting for corpsman, tells me it’s his third Purple Heart in six months. “I guess it’s home for me.”

0900-Artillery now whistling in just ahead of us. One of our own 105-mm. shells falls short-smack into CP perimeter, 4 yards from Chaplain Beach’s hole. Five more wounded. Beach’s left leg shattered. He’s also bleeding from his stomach. All he says is: “My God, I hope the choppers make it today.” “Chaplin’s doing fine now, here he is (on right), reunion San Diego 97 .” One marine begins crying when his buddy dies. Artillery is instantly called off. Air strikes ordered instead. FAC reports enemy mortar position spotted. In minutes direct hits are reported.

1010-Fifth mortar attack catches me some 50 yards from my hole. I zigzag back and literally throw myself into my hole. A marine lands on top of me and is hit in the back with the third burst. I push the marine off me and lift up the top of his fatigues. A piece of shrapnel is sticking out of his back. Someone says my arm is bleeding. I don’t feel anything, but there are three small holes in a neat little row just below my elbow. Mortar fragments. My helmet, already peppered with dents when I got it from a KIA (I had returned my first one to Captain Carroll), now has a few more holes in it. James Bourgoin of Great Falls, Mont., is the wounded marine next to me. He is 19. He tells me that he and the chaplain were going to have a long chat soon about a personal problem; his fiancee is Catholic and he is Protestant.

1045-UPI’s John Schneider brings good news from Kilo where he had gone for the third time (I would like to believe he doesn’t know what fear means, but know I am wrong). The marines have overrun several NVA machine-gun nests and captured a Chinese gun mounted on Wheels. Intelligence also reports we have forced the CP of the 42nd NVA Regiment off Hill 426 the lip that protrudes from Hill 400.

1205-LZ is getting bigger 450 pounds of dynamite have gone into it by now. Chopper should be coming in soon. Barely have time to sigh in relief.

1210-Sixth mortar attack. Back in my hole. It’s now almost routine and I am no longer quite as scared. Nearest one this time landed 20 feet away. I am now convinced that one can survive anything but a direct mortar hit.

1355-The worst yet. NVA have infiltrated back. Firing breaks out on all sides. “Quick! All ammo forward!” yells a sergeant. Kilo is being battered again. “All corpsmen to Kilo,” comes another order. The ground-air liaison team at Kilo-three men-has just been wiped out by a mortar hit. Someone shouts, “We’ve run out of battle dressings.” I hand over my first-aid kit.

1440-“Every available man in the line,” shouts a lieutenant. Grenades are issued to the correspondents. Another voice says: “We need more men to hump amino over to Kilo.” A wounded man tears off his WIA [wounded in action tag and lifts two boxes of ammo in each hand. As he passes the CP on his way to Kilo, Colonel Masterpool calls out: What’s your name, son?” I can’t hear the man’s answer, but I see Colonel Mastepool pat him gently on the back. Several shrapnel casualties are now moving into the firing line.

1445-Air strikes coming every 30 seconds. The ground trembles continuously. Once again, I feel the end is near-at least for me.I get an uncontrollable case of shakes. I wonder if I ever had what it takes to he a marine and conclude that I never did and don’t now.

1500-Miraculously, the firing dies down. Choppers are ordered in fast. They had been hovering one mountain range away. The first one is once again driven away by ground fire. Rocket-firing Hueys silence the fire. Then the choppers begin coming every two minutes, dumping ammo and water-the first water in 48 hours for most marines-and taking out the casualties.

1600-The KIA are now being loaded. The rotor downdraft blows the ponchos off the bodies. There is one man without a head.

1612-Schneider and I jump into a chopper with two new casualties just up from Kilo. Schneider only leaving because he has run out of film.He plans to return tomorrow morning.

Newsweek, October 10, 1966

Courtesy Third Batalion Fourth Marines

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Purple Foxes – February 7, 1969 and 2007

On February 7, 1969, a Marine helicopter crashed in Vietnam, killing six of the seven on board.

On February 7, 2007, a Marine helicopter was shot down in Iraq, killing all seven on board.

Both helicopters belonged to the Purple Foxes of HMM-364, a Marine Corps helicopter squadron.

In 1969, a Corpsman by the name of Gary Young was one of the six killed when the helicopter crashed in Vietnam.

In 2007, a female Marine pilot by the name of Jennifer Harris was flying the helicopter when it was shot down by insurgents.

The irony with these two incidents is, Captain Jennifer Harris while on her mission, was also flying a flag in honor of Gary Young, killed 38 years earlier in Vietnam on the same day. The flag was to be given to my good friend Stephanie Hanson, Gary Young’s daughter.

This story is one of so many in the Marine helicopter community.

Today, February 7, their lives and the lives of their crews are on my mind.

Gone, But Never Forgotten!

For more information:
February 7, 1969 Incident
February 7, 2007 Incident
A Corpsman’s Legacy
HMM-364 Official Site
The Purple Foxes, Vietnam
HMM-364 Purple Foxy Ladies

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Livin’ the dream, Sir!

Excerpt from:

The U.S. Marines are flooding in, and you might think that every Marine helicopter in our arsenal is here. I’ll not give numbers and types other than to say the line of aircraft is long and formidable.

The U.S. Marines are a spectacle for the U.S. Army and also the British Army. The Marines will come in and live like pure animals, and build a base around themselves, whereas the British and American Armies will tend to build at least part of the base before coming in. One Marine commander told me that during the early part of this war, his men didn’t even shower for three months. We talked for a couple of hours and he was proud that his Marines didn’t need a shower for three months, and that his Marines killed a lot of Taliban and managed to lose only one good man. That’s the Marines. They’ll show up in force with no warning, and their reputation with U.S. Army and Brits who have fought alongside them is stellar. A NPR photographer who just spent more than three weeks with the Marines could not praise them enough, saying he’d been with them in Iraq, too, and that when Marines take casualties, their reaction is to continue to attack. They try to stay in contact until they finish the enemy, no matter how long it takes.

Truly they are animals when it comes to the fight. Other than that, great guys.

Tonight at dinner, a young Marine Lance Corporal sat in front of me at the crowded dining facility.
“Good evening, Sir,” he said.
I asked, “Are you living like animals out there?”
“Livin’ the dream, Sir!”

They are fantastic.

Photo [source]

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ALM 980 Ditches at Sea, 1970

My good buddy J.D. Barber was the CH-46 Crew Chief involved in this rescue. For his actions, he was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal.

On May2, 1970, ALM 980 departed New York’s JFK international airport with fifty-seven passengers and a crew of six. The destination was the tropical island of St. Maarten. It was a perfect spring day with partly cloudy skies and a temperature of 64 degrees. In the Caribbean the story was quite different; thunderstorms plagued the region. By the time ALM 980 approached St. Maarten the weather had deteriorated to the point where the crew was forced to divert to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Shortly after the crew began their diversion word came that there was a break in the weather. The captain made the fateful decision to try and land at St. Maarten despite having reached his minimum fuel status. Forty-five minutes later, after three failed landing attempts, the plane ran out of fuel en route to its alternate and was forced to ditch in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean. Twenty-three of the sixty-three passengers and crew did not survive. It was at the time, and remains, the only open-water ditching of a commercial jet. The subsequent rescue of survivors involved the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines. In this gripping account of that fateful day, author Emilio Corsetti puts the reader inside the cabin, the cockpit, and the rescue helicopters as the crews struggle against the weather and dwindling daylight to rescue the survivors who have only their life vests and a lone escape chute to keep them afloat.

[ accident report ]
[ 35 Miles from Shore ]

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LCPL Jordan Haerter and CPL Jonathan Yale

Excerpt from a CMC speaking engagement:

I would share with you a story that took place back in the spring in Iraq. I say that Iraq is better, but Iraq is still a very dangerous place. On the morning of 22 April, outside an entry control point in the city of Ramadi, we had two young Marines standing post at that entry control point. One was from 1st battalion 9th Marines, the other one was from 2nd battalion, 8th Marines, two different battalions because there was a turnover taking place, one battalion to the other. Inside this compound where we were with the Iraqis were about 40 Marines, some of whom were sleeping because they’d had night patrol the night before. Some of who were going about their daily routine.

At about 9:30 that morning a 20-foot tanker truck busted through the outer cordon of Iraqis and headed towards an old flimsy metal gate. At 500 yards, the Marines realized what was taking place and they started putting aimed rifle fire on that cab. There is an escalation process that takes place but, in fact, they didn’t go through that process because they recognized immediately what was occurring. At about 25 yards, the machine gun opened up and the truck then came to a halt about 10 yards the post. The truck exploded, we think there was probably a dead-man switch. They had 2,000 pounds of explosive that was ignited. Young Corporal Yale from Burkeville, Virginia, and Lance Corporal Haerter from Sag Harbor, New York, really never had a chance with the explosives that close. The Iraqis who had been manning the gate when we opened fire ran. And later, an hour or two later when General Kelly and the Iraqi commander came to view this hole that was seven feet deep and 20 feet across, the Iraqi commander said to General Kelly, why didn’t they run? My men ran and they lived. General Kelly said, they couldn’t run. I hope some day you will understand that, but they couldn’t run because there were 40 Marines on the inside of that gate depending on them.

I’ll tell you, folks, if our country continues to provide us with great young Marines like that, we can go anywhere and do anything that this nation asks. God bless you all. Thank you very much.

Youtube video of bridge dedication in Sag Harbor

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