Category Archives: SIR!

20 November 1943 Tarawa; Keep Moving

Originally posted 20 November 2009:

The buildings in the “regimental area” of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina are modest, post-war brick buildings that, to the visitor’s eye, look more or less alike. Yet, each of the Marine Regiments of the Second Marine Division has its own storied history and battle honors.  As Captain J. W. Thomason wrote in his Great War masterpiece Fix Bayonets, these histories represent the “…traditions of things endured and things accomplished, such as Regiments hand down forever.”

There are symbols of these honors for one to see, if you know where to look. On a thousand trips past those symbols, there is one that never failed to make me pause and reflect. On the headquarters building for the 2d Marine Regiment hangs their unit crest. Aside from the unit name, the crest contains only three words. They are in English and not Latin, and they are not a catch phrase nor a bold proclamation of a warrior philosophy. They are simple and stark. Across the top of the unit crest is the word “TARAWA”. And at the bottom, the grim admonition, “KEEP MOVING”.


It was 66 years ago on this date that the Second Marine Division began the assault on Betio Island, in the Tarawa Atoll. The island, roughly two thirds of the size of my college’s small campus, was the most heavily fortified beach in the world. Of the Second Marine Division, the 2nd Marine Regiment (known as “Second Marines”) landed two battalions abreast on beaches Red 1 and Red 2. The assault began what was described as “seventy-six stark and bitter hours” of the most brutal combat of the Pacific War. More than 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed, nearly 2,300 wounded, along with nearly 5,000 Japanese dead, in the maelstrom of heat, sand, fire, and smoke that was Betio.

Assault on Betio's Northern beaches

Assault on Betio’s Northern beaches

Marine Dead on Beach Red 1

Marine Dead on Beach Red 1

I will not detail the fighting for Betio here, as there are many other sources for that information. Nor will I debate whether the terrible price paid for Betio was too high. What cannot be debated is the extraordinary heroism of the Marines and Sailors who fought to secure the 1.1 square miles of baking sand and wrest it from the grasp of an entrenched, fortified, and determined enemy. The fighting was described as “utmost savagery”, and casualties among Marine officers and NCOs were extremely high. As one Marine stated, initiative and courage were absolute necessities. Corporals commanded platoons, and Staff Sergeants, companies.

Marines assault over coconut log wall on Beach Red 2

Marines assault over coconut log wall on Beach Red 2

The book by the late Robert Sherrod, “Tarawa, The Story of a Battle”, is a magnificent read. Another is Eric Hammel’s “76 Hours”. Also “Utmost Savagery”, by Joe Alexander, who additionally produced the WWII commemorative “Across the Reef”, an excellent compilation of primary source material. For video, The History Channel produced a 50th anniversary documentary on the battle, titled “Death Tide at Tarawa”, in November 1993. I also highly recommend finding and watching this superb production. It is narrated by Edward Hermann, and interviews many of the battle’s veterans, including Robert Sherrod, MajGen Mike Ryan, and others, who provide chilling and inspiring commentary of the fighting and of the terrible carnage of those three days.

 Master Sgt. James M. Fawcett, left and Capt. Kyle Corcoran salute Fawcett's father's ashes on Red Beach 1. MSgt Fawcett's father landed on Red 1 on 20 Nov 1943.

Master Sgt. James M. Fawcett, left and Capt. Kyle Corcoran salute Fawcett’s father’s ashes on Red Beach 1. MSgt Fawcett’s father landed on Red 1 on 20 Nov 1943.

Tarawa remains a proud and grim chapter in the battle histories of the units of the Second Marine Division. Each outfit, the 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 10th Marines, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Tracks, and miscellaneous support units, fought superbly against frightful odds and a fearsome enemy. It is on the Unit Crest of the 2nd Marines, whose battalions paid the highest price for Betio, that the most poignant of those histories is remembered. Three simple words: “TARAWA; KEEP MOVING”.



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‘England Expects Every Man to Do His Duty’


When the fragile Peace of Amiens collapsed after just fourteen months in May of 1803, triggering the War of the Third Coalition, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was determined to invade England.  His goal was to remove once and for all the British interference with his plans for the conquest of Europe. In 1803, England was a part of that ultimately unsuccessful Third Coalition (Austria, Russia, England, Sweden, the Holy Roman Empire, Napoli and Sicily) opposing France and Napoleon’s alliance which included Spain, Württemberg, and Bavaria.

The main obstacle to those invasion plans, as had been so often in the past (and would be in the future) was the Royal Navy. Britain had stood, alone, against revolutionary Republican France, and against Napoleon, at various times between 1789 and 1803. In the autumn of 1805, a combined French and Spanish fleet under French Admiral Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve, operating in the western approaches of the Mediterranean, were to combine with other squadrons at Brest and elsewhere to challenge the Royal Navy’s sea power in the English Channel.

Lord Nelson, after less than a month ashore from two years at sea, was ordered to take command of approximately 30 vessels, which included 27 ships of the line, and sail to meet the combined French/Spanish fleet gathered at Cadiz.   Aboard HMS Victory, Nelson eschewed the more conservative tactic of engaging the enemy in line-ahead, trading broadsides while alongside the parallel column of the enemy. Nelson instead planned to maneuver perpendicular to the enemy line of battle, with his fleet in two columns. Nelson in Victory would lead the larger, northern (windward) column, while Cuthbert Collingwood in HMS Royal Sovereign, would lead the southern (leeward) column.

The goal was to divide the French/Spanish fleet into smaller pieces and leverage local superiority to destroy the fleet in detail before the remainder could be brought to bear. (The risk, of course, was the possibility that the allied broadsides would rake and destroy the British columns upon their approach before they could bring their own broadsides into action.)  It was a tactic used by Admiral Sir John Jervis at the battle of St. Vincent some eight years before, a British victory in which Commodore Nelson had served under the future Earl St. Vincent.

The French/Spanish fleet was larger, with 40 ships to Nelson’s 33, and counted more ships of the line, 33 to the Royal Navy’s 27. Several of the French and Spanish ships were far larger than even Nelson’s Victory, carrying considerably more cannon.   But the Royal Navy held two important advantages.

Firstly, the Officers of the RN were far more experienced than their French and Spanish counterparts, and of significantly higher quality. The bloodbath of the French Revolution, predictive of the Soviet purges of the 20th Century, saw the execution or cashiering of the cream of the French Officer Corps. Also, the British crews, particularly the gunners, were far better trained and disciplined than those on the allied ships. In the coming battle, both fleet maneuver and ship handling would be critical to the outcome.

Just after noon on 21 October, Nelson observed the French/Spanish fleet struggling with light and variable winds, in loose formation off Cape Trafalgar, wallowing in a rolling sea. Nelson and Collingwood led their respective columns toward the enemy, enduring broadsides without the ability to respond, and suffering considerable casualties.  However, allied gunnery was not accurate and the rate of fire was subpar, allowing the British warships to close.

As the two British columns sliced through the allied line, the battle degenerated into individual battles between ships, and sometimes two and three against one. Casualties on both sides soared, as cannon and musket fire raked gun decks and topside. Nelson’s flagship Victory herself was almost boarded, by the French Redoubtable, saved at the last minute by HMS Temeraire, whose timely broadside slaughtered the French crews preparing to board.

At quarter past 1pm, as Nelson walked topside with Victory’s Captain, Thomas Hardy,  he collapsed to the deck, struck in the left shoulder with a musket ball. The ball had torn through his chest and severed his spine. Nelson knew he had been mortally wounded.   Carried belowdecks, he lingered for about three hours, weakening, but still inquiring about the course of the battle. His last words, according to physician William Beatty, who was an eyewitness, were, “Thank God I have done my duty.”

Slowly, the superior British gunnery and seamanship began to tell.  Ships in the allied column, many a bloody shambles of broken masts, shredded sails, and dead crewmen, began to surrender.  By 4pm, the action came to a merciful end.  The result of the battle was a serious defeat of the French/Spanish fleet. The van of the allied line never were able to circle back and engage either of the two British columns. Twenty-two allied ships were captured, one French vessel sunk. The French and Spanish suffered almost 14,000 casualties, with more than 8,000 seamen and Officers captured, including Admiral Villeneuve. The Royal Navy had lost no ships, despite the dismasting of two frigates. Casualties numbered 1,666, with 458 dead, including Britain’s greatest Naval hero.


It was Nelson himself who was, of course, the greatest advantage the Royal Navy possessed. Nelson’s skill and aggressive command style, his ability to motivate men and engender something very close to complete devotion in his junior commanders, and his willingness to issue orders and refrain from meddling, all were part of the famous “Nelson touch”.   His tawdry personal life, his open affair with Lady Hamilton, a lawsuit against Earl St. Vincent over prize money from the Battle of Copenhagen, all this was overlooked, and in some cases added to the legend and celebrity of Horatio Nelson. His likeness, replete with empty sleeve (from a grievous wound received at Santa Cruz) adorns a 143-foot column in Trafalgar Square. Lord Nelson’s name is synonymous with the Royal Navy. The guidance he gave to his ships’ captains echoes down through the centuries. “No captain can do very wrong should he lay his ship alongside that of the enemy”**.

Ironically, the great victory at Trafalgar came one day after the annihilation of an Austrian army at Ulm, another in an unbroken string of successes for Napoleon’s armies on the European mainland. The Third Coalition, like the two previous would suffer defeat at Napoleon’s hand. As would the Fourth Coalition. It would not be until 1815 that Napoleon would be defeated for good, this time, on land, by Wellington at Waterloo.

Of course, Nelson hadn’t any knowledge of the Battle of Ulm, or even the campaign. But he likely did know that his defeat of the combined French and Spanish naval forces off Cape Trafalgar had once and for all eliminated the threat of invasion of the British Isles.

**A fascinating look at the evolution from Nelson’s entreaty of the duty of a Royal Navy captain to the risk-averse and centralized sclerosis of command that plagued the Royal Navy in the First World War is provided in a masterpiece by Andrew Gordon called The Rules of the Game (USNI Press). Worth every second of the read, as both a historical work and as a cautionary tale.


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General Mattis Speaks to Veterans


From remarks at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco, April 16th, 2015:

Our country gives hope to millions around the world, and you – who knew that at one time your job was to fight well – kept that hope alive. By your service you made clear your choice about what kind of world we want for our children: The world of violent jihadist terrorists, or one defined by Abraham Lincoln when he advised us to listen to our better angels?

I searched for words to pay my respects to all of you here tonight and had to turn to others more articulate than I to convey what our service meant. Someone once said that America is like a bank: If you want to take something out, then you must be willing to put something in.

For the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – poorly explained and inconclusive wars, the first major wars since our Revolution fought without a draft forcing some men into the ranks – the question of what our service meant may loom large in your minds. You without doubt have put something into the nation’s moral bank.

Rest assured that by your service, you sent a necessary message to the world and especially to those maniacs who thought by hurting us that they could scare us.

No granite monuments, regardless of how grandly built, can take the place of your raw example of courage, when in your youth you answered your country’s call. When you looked past the hot political rhetoric. When you voluntarily left behind life’s well-lit avenues. When you signed that blank check to the American people payable with your lives. And, most important, when you made a full personal commitment even while, for over a dozen years, the country’s political leadership had difficulty defining our national level of commitment.

You built your own monument with a soldier’s faith, embracing an unlimited liability clause and showing America’s younger generation at its best when times were at their worst.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., arguably the most articulate justice in the Supreme Court’s history and himself a combat-experienced infantry officer in our awful Civil War, said: “As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

You, my fine veterans, are privileged that you will never face a judgment of having failed to live fully. For you young patriots were more concerned in living life fully than in your own longevity, freely facing daunting odds and the random nature of death and wounds on the battlefield.

So long as you maintain that same commitment to others and that same enthusiasm for life’s challenges that you felt in yourself, your shipmates, your comrades and buddies, you will never question at age 45 on a shrink’s couch whether you have lived.

Veterans know the difference between being in a dangerous combat zone and being in close combat, seeking out and killing the enemy. Close combat is tough. Much of the rest of war is boring if hard work. Yet nothing is mentally crippling about hard work in dangerous circumstances, as shown by generations of American veterans who came thankfully home as better men and women.

Close combat, however, is an “incommunicable experience” – again quoting Holmes. Then there was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Union general, who spoke of war’s effects, distinguishing the impact of close combat from military service in general. He said that such combat is “a test of character, it makes bad men worse and good men better.”

We are masters of our character, choosing what we will stand for in this life. Veterans today have had a unique privilege, that of having seen the tenacious spirit of our lads, like those young grunts preparing for a patrol by loosely wrapping tourniquets on their limbs so they could swiftly stop their own bleeding if their legs were blown off. Yet day after day they stoically patrolled. Adversity, we are told, reveals a man to himself, and young patriots coming home from such patrols are worth more than gold, for nothing they face can ever again be that tough.

Now, most of us lost friends, the best of friends, and we learned that war’s glory lay only in them – there is no other glory in warfare. They were friends who proved their manhood at age 18, before they could legally drink a beer. They were young men and women taking responsibility for their own actions, never playing the victim card. Rather, they took responsibility for their own reaction to adversity.

This was something that we once took for granted in ourselves and in our buddies, units where teenagers naturally stood tall, and we counted on each other. Yet it is a characteristic that can seem oddly vacant in our post-military society, where victimhood often seems to be celebrated. We found in the ranks that we were all coequal, general or private, admiral or seaman. We were equally committed to the mission and to one another, a thought captured by Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying his spirit bled each time one of his men fell.

Looking back over my own service, I realize now how fortunate I was to experience all this and the many riotous excursions I had when I was privileged to march or fight beside you. And a question comes to mind: What can I do to repay our country for the privilege of learning things that only you in this room could have taught me? For today I feel sorry for those who were not there with us when trouble loomed. I sometimes wonder how to embrace those who were not with us, those who were not so fortunate to discover what we were privileged to learn when we were receiving our Masters and Ph.D.s in how to live life, and gaining the understanding and appreciation of small things that we would otherwise have never known.

How do we embrace our fellow citizens who weren’t there? America is too large at heart for divisions between us. If we became keenly aware of anything at war, it was what is printed on our coins: “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one.

We veterans did our patriotic duty, nothing more, certainly nothing less, and we need to “come home” like veterans of all America’s wars. Come home stronger and more compassionate, not characterized as damaged, or with disorders, or with syndromes or other disease labels. Not labeled dependent on the government even as we take the lead in care of our grievously wounded comrades and hold our Gold Star families close. We deserve nothing more than a level playing field in America, for we endured nothing more, and often less, than vets of past wars.

For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned – take our post-traumatic growth – and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.

We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism.

We also learned the pleasure of exceeding expectations. We saw the power we brought when working together as a team. We learned alongside one another, in teams where admired leadership built teamwork, where free men and women could change the world.

Now having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world and having worked with others of many cultures, having worked in one of the most diverse teams on earth – that of the U.S. military – and having faced down grim circumstances without losing our sense of humor or moral balance under conditions where war’s realities scrape away civilization’s veneer, we have learned that nothing can stop our spirit unless we ignore Lincoln’s call to our better angels.

American colleges and businesses know your pedigree for commitment, reliability and loyalty. This is why so many corporations and startups aggressively recruit veterans. As San Francisco-based Uber sums it up: Veterans deliver higher value. Bellwether companies like Microsoft, Uber, Starbucks and more act on that premise.

I will close with words again borrowed from others.

From Alexander Dumas: You should be satisfied with the way you have conducted yourselves, “with no remorse for the past, confident regarding the present and full of hope for the future.” When you retire to bed you should sleep “the sleep of the brave.”

If Jackie Robinson, a sparkling ballplayer and veteran of World War II, could write his own epitaph on leadership by saying “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” then you who are fortunate to have learned so much living in the greatest country on earth while making an impact so young – you should recognize that our country needs your vigor and wisdom. It was gained at great cost to our comrades and to our Gold Star families, who need to see their sons’ spirits live on in your enthusiasm for life.

I am reminded of Gen. William Sherman’s words when bidding farewell to his army in 1865: “As in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens.”


Filed under Defense, guns, history, leadership, SIR!, veterans, war

The President Talks Gun Control



by | March 11, 2015 · 3:35 am


Four days after the bloody struggle to come ashore on Iwo Jima’s fire-swept black volcanic sand beaches, a patrol from 28th Marines was ordered to the top of the sullen volcanic lump that dominated the six square miles of sulphur and rock.  The seven-man patrol under the Executive Officer of Easy Company, 28th Marines raised a small flag.  The flag, difficult to see from the beach, was replaced by a larger one retrieved from one of the LSTs offshore supporting the landing.  Five Marines and one Navy Corpsman labored under fire to plant the larger colors into the rocky ground. The raising of the second, larger flag was captured by Joe Rosenthal, and became the most iconic and reproduced image in the history of photography.


Many commonly believe that the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi signaled the end of the fight for Iwo Jima.  In reality, twenty-two more days of relentless and ferocious savagery lay ahead.  It was not until 26 March 1945 that Iwo Jima was declared secured.  Of the six men who raised the flag on Suribachi, three, Sgt Mike Strank, Cpl Harlan Block, and PFC Franklin Sousley, would die on the island, along with more than 6,800 others, mostly Marines.  A fourth flag raiser, Second Class Hospital Corpsman John Bradley, was among the more than 19,000 wounded.   The man who took the motion picture footage from the same vantage as Rosenthal, Marine Combat Cameraman Bill Genaust, was later killed in one of Suribachi’s hundreds of caves.

Bradley received a Navy Cross for his actions in combat on 21 February, and Strank a Bronze Star.  Bill Genaust also received a Bronze Star.

The above movie is the approximately 20 minute production called “To the Shores of Iwo Jima”.  Well worth the time, as it is a grim and unvarnished look at the titanic struggle for Iwo.  Seldom have the words of a senior officer been so accurate, or heartfelt, as when Admiral Chester Nimitz described the fight for the island.

Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue

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Wow. Just… wow.

…with Japanese subtitles!

Oh, to have a smidge of musical talent.  But, alas.  ‘Least I can still enjoy that of others.




Drum TV/JS


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Pass the Flask!

…before Jackass Cat finishes it.   He is already almost out of catnip.  Little doper.

005 (2)

Another excellent Christmas gift from our gracious host.  I have been remiss in not posting this earlier.  Thanks, XBRAD.  Your gift will let me stay warm inside when the wind chill is -30 (like today), or when forced to contemplate our invertebrate Chief Executive, or our eroding liberties, or our lemming-like voter base….

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