Marines.Together We Served

Monday, March 27, 2017

Brute the Intrepid

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
27 March 2017

Brute the Intrepid

               Picking up from last week’s article, Brilliant Brute, it is my intention to share more of the brilliancy of this man, Victor “Brute” Krulak. Up to this point (1946), Brute has been mostly a staff officer, serving at the whim of flag grade officers (Marine generals and Navy admirals). Granted, he was often given carte blanche with his various ideas, but this next bit of visionary thinking was beyond brilliant. The reason for this is that no one else is on record for having the foresight Brute demonstrated. His idea was a tactical, combat, wartime game-changer.

          What was this idea of Krulak’s? Quite simply, it was the use of a new-fangled contraption known as a helicopter. This aerial wonder left most people gawking as it whirred and spun, often in strangely contorted ways. After all, leading authorities all agreed that the aerodynamics of the helicopter made it impossible to fly. Well, at least on paper it shouldn’t be capable of sustained flight!

          The first helicopters in the military had only come into use at the end of World War Two, primarily in the role of reconnaissance, observation and medical evacuation. But not as a vehicle for combat operations. Since the first helicopters were years away from becoming the massive powerhouses in lifting that we see today, there were many doubters that this weird flying machine could ever be of much use. They were regarded as a novelty, an experimental curiosity, nothing more. Brute saw things differently. In fact, author Robert Coram writes in his book “Brute”, “Before helicopter doctrine was developed and before the Marine Corps had its first helicopter squadron, [Brute] was teaching helicopter tactics at the Amphibious Warfare School.” Krulak and another Marine, Ed Dyer, had written “the first textbook for Marine helicopters and war planners. Usually doctrine and tactics are developed after a weapon is available, but Krulak believed that doctrine should drive, not follow, the development of the helicopter.” The Army would later take this textbook, copy it practically verbatim, and put an Army cover on it!

          So committed to the use of helicopters was Brute, that one of his pilots offered to give him a lift. Literally, harnessed in a canvas sling, Brute was lifted off the ground to demonstrate its use in potentially transporting troops inland. Up to this point, the other branches of the military had little use for the Corps, viewing it as useful only in making beachhead landings, but nothing more. This attitude about the Marine Corps generated a tremendous battle within Congress over the next ten years following the war. Debate raged on as to whether or not the Corps should simply be done away with, or be absorbed into the Army, or given a place at the table of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This pervasive negative view of the Marine Corps was harbored by such luminaries as Army Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall, along with President Harry Truman, all “trying to do what the Japanese empire had failed to do: destroy the United States Marine Corps.”  

The helicopter would change all of that in short order. Through Krulak’s doggedness in incorporating the helicopter into Marine Corps combat tactics, the Marines were given new life by Congress. Krulak was tireless in his defense of the Corps, fearlessly going nose-to-nose with those who were attempting to disband the Marine Corps.

          One of the more interesting stories of the helicopter and its introduction into the Marine Corps, had to do with the formation of the first Marine experimental helicopter squadron (HMX-1) on December 1, 1947. Pilots were selected for this squadron and assembled for duty without a single helicopter in the Marine Corps inventory! In February of 1948 the fledgling squadron received five Sikorsky helicopters, each of which could carry a pilot and two Marines.   

          The Marines’ use of the helicopter came into use in warfare in Korea, where, once again, Vic Krulak was present. He had a pilot fly him over the battle zones right in the midst of battle, frequently setting down near a Marine command to share what he was observing of enemy troop movements. But it was Vietnam where the helicopter came into its own, securing once and for all the role of Marines and helicopter warfare.

          In an ironic twist, then Lt Gen Victor “Brute” Krulak in 1967 was meeting with President Lyndon Baines Johnson in the Oval Office. Brute, never one to miss an opportunity to be perfectly frank, even with a sitting president, told Johnson exactly what he thought of the way the president was prosecuting the war in Vietnam! Johnson, in turn, unceremoniously ushered Krulak out of the office. As a former Marine and Vietnam vet, President Johnson should have paid close attention to this man!

          Brute is the story of a man who was fearless in taking on the high and mighty. Though he passed from this life at age 95, he has survived as a beloved icon of the Marine Corps.

          Semper Fi, Brute.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Brilliant Brute

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
20 March 2017

Brilliant Brute

               If you are a frequent reader of my column, then you know I love to read. In general, I love history. Further, I am a big fan of military history. And in particular, I enjoy anything about the Marine Corps.

Recently, my friend, Eddie Erdilatz, suggested I read a book he had recently finished. It’s entitled, Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine. This is my kind of book! History and the Marine Corps. Can’t get enough of it. The moniker “Brute” was obtained on the day he arrived at the Naval Academy. A rather imposing midshipman took one look at the diminutive five-foot five Krulak, and said, “Well, Brute!”

So, who is this guy Victor “Brute” Krulak, anyway? You may be asking yourself, “Why haven’t I heard of him before?” That would be a good question.

Make no mistake, Vic Krulak was a warrior. But he was also exceptionally cerebral. His mind was always pushing against what is, and instead, asking the question, What if? From the time Krulak was a 2nd Lieutenant he was pushing the envelope when it came to what the Marine Corps could be, and what it ought to be. He loved the Corps and always did what he believed to be in the best interests of the Corps. In so doing, it would translate into what was best for the country.

Young Lieutenant Krulak caught the eye of certain Marine generals who took him under their wing. They recognized his brilliance and wanted to protect this young, cock-sure Marine officer. Many other flag officers, both Marine generals and Navy admirals, were less than enamored with this protégé who hobnobbed with three and four star generals both professionally and socially. His defenders recognized his acumen, and took every opportunity to seek his council, as unorthodox as that was in the Marine Corps of the 1930s and ‘40s.

In 1936 Lt Krulak was sent to Shanghai, China to serve with the legendary “China Marines.” The China Marines were U.S. Marines serving a special post in the city of Shanghai, a city of no small reputation internationally. While there, Krulak was aware of the growing threat of the Imperial Japanese military, particularly, their navy. The Japanese were constantly threatening and harassing the Chinese. Finally, in 1937, a flotilla of Japanese war ships anchored off Shanghai, showing every intention of landing troops on Chinese soil. Krulak watched daily from the American sector of Shanghai, waiting to see what might transpire. One morning the Japanese navy began heavy shelling in preparation for troops landing in an assault on the city. Krulak commandeered a tugboat from the U.S. Navy command and sailed out to meet the invading force with a large American flag flapping in the breeze. The United States and Japan were not at war yet, so this was not perceived by the Japanese as a threatening move on Krulak’s part. Instead, he wanted to study the amphibious landing craft the Japanese Marines were using to get from ship-to-shore. One humorous incident occurred while Japanese warships were firing their naval guns on Shanghai. “As the tug approached one of the larger Japanese warships, there was a flurry on deck, and Japanese sailors rushed to the rail. The shooting stopped. The sailors saluted. Other sailors dipped the Japanese ensign (small flag), and a (ship’s) horn sounded. Then Krulak, who was in the wheelhouse of the tugboat, came to attention, saluted, and gave a blast on the horn.” You can’t make this stuff up!

Once the naval courtesies were over, Krulak had the tug come right alongside of a Japanese landing craft. He took pictures and made sketches of the craft, along with copious notes. Later he formalized his observations and sent a package to the Navy Department for them to see how the Japanese used these amphibious craft. In the years leading up to the Second World War, the Marine Corps had not fully established a fully functional policy for implementing amphibious warfare. Lt Krulak was certain his information would revolutionize, as well as solidify, the Marine Corps’ policies regarding amphibious warfare. He would be sorely disappointed in a few years when he discovered the Navy had no interest in his desire to create amphibious landing craft.

Just prior to the war, Krulak would be serving at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, known as “the Crossroads of the Marine Corps,” where, under the protective hand of General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, he was allowed to pursue his interest in developing the much-needed craft used to transport Marines to the beach. “Big Navy” continued to stiff-arm him, believing opposing large fleets would be the naval battles in the future. This was true as well for the army, using large army forces to clash with an enemy force. Krulak was undaunted, showing brilliance of foresight by pressing the need for such landing craft. So, he connected with a private boat builder by the name of Andrew Jackson Higgins.

This union of Krulak and Higgins would be fortuitous for both men, Higgins Industries, Krulak’s military career, the Marine Corps, and the United States. The amphibious boat, known as Higgins Boats, which Higgins built with Krulak’s oversight, revolutionized amphibious warfare. These craft were contracted to be built by Higgins Industries in the thousands. They were instrumental in both the D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944, and throughout the Pacific island campaigns by the Marines, not the least of which was Iwo Jima, February 19, 1945.

I have more fascinating information about this brilliant man, but that will have to wait till next week.

In closing, this quote from General Dwight D. Eisenhower sums it up rather nicely. “[The Higgins’ Boats] won the war for us.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Capital Idea

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
13 March 2017

A Capital Idea

               This past weekend, Isaura and I drove to Sacramento. Specifically, the McClellan Conference Center located on the site of what once was McClellan Air Force Base, slightly northeast of California’s capital city. The reason for this junket centers around one of my hobbies. Namely, singing barbershop music.

          This hobby has been great fun for the past 30 years, beginning when I was stationed at the former Naval Communications Station in Stockton, California. I had wanted to get involved years earlier, but due to moving around in the military it just wasn’t feasible. Once in Stockton, I connected with the Stockton Portsmen, singing with them for the two-and-a-half years I was stationed there. I wanted to continue, but again, due to military transfers (Post-Graduate Studies followed by a tour in Rota, Spain) my desire to continue in this classic American display of four-part harmony was delayed till another day.

          After I left active duty in 1993, we settled in Turlock, where I again ran into some barbershop buddies from day’s past, who told me they were forming a new chapter, to be named the Golden Valley Chorus (GVC). GVC officially began in 1997 where I once again reveled in the barbershop sound. Then 9/11 happened. In 2002 I said goodbye to my singing buddies, as I had been called up to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). When I returned two years later, I needed to reestablish myself with my church congregation as their pastor, plus, my naval reserve responsibilities were much greater in a war-time setting, leaving me with no extra time for my hobby.

          Finally, in 2011 after having retired from the military a few years earlier, I felt I had the time once again to engage in my pastime. I rejoined the Golden Valley Chorus in Modesto, reuniting with many old friends. And just last September I joined another chorus in Sacramento, the Voices of California, VoCal for short.

          Our weekend was all about choruses and quartets competing against each other to hopefully win their district or division. As it turns out, GVC (with 18 singers on stage) won two awards. We are the new Plateau “A” Champions; and we were judged to be the “Most Improved Chorus.” VoCal (with 65 singers), was crowned the Northeast Division Champs, and Plateau “AAA” Champions. VoCal will be heading for Las Vegas in early July to compete in the 2017 International in search of the coveted prize of being crowned the best chorus in the world. How grateful I am to be associated with such an organization as the Barbershop Harmony Society (Old Timers will remember this as SPEBSQSA, the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America).

          So, as Isaura and I were heading out of Sacramento late Sunday morning, we decided to drive through our state capital. It was a beautiful Spring day, calling to us like the sirens of lore. We drove to the Capitol building where we parked a block away, walking around the entire Capitol grounds of the beautiful building where California’s elected representatives meet. The Capitol sits on 37 acres, officially opening as California’s Capitol in 1874. Originally, the state capital was shuffled back-and-forth to San Francisco due to flooding in the delta region of Sacramento. The Capitol itself features “a portico opening into a central rotunda that rises into a dome.” It is stunning from both outside and in. Isaura reminded me that as a new immigrant from Portugal, her 8th grade class had a field trip to the capital and its Capitol in 1967. She was impressed, but only a handful of years later, the Capitol would be torn down and rebuilt into the majestic edifice it is today. The “Capitol is ornamented with a gold-plated copper ball reminiscent of California’s Gold Rush history.” Today’s Capitol is an admixture of Palladian, Greek Revival, and Neoclassical architecture.

          As awesome as the Capitol is, it was the amazing array of trees and bushes that grace the grounds surrounding the Capitol that drew my wife’s total attention. She loves gardening, particularly flowers, so we wandered through the various samples of flora and fauna offered on the grounds. All the azaleas and camellias were blooming which created quite an appearance. Isaura oohed and aahed like a little girl, moving from one festooned tree to another. I had my cell phone camera, so I was busy snapping pictures of her reverie.

          We finished off our meandering around the Capitol in front of the entrance. Looking up and seeing the golden dome with the California State flag beneath the flag of the United States rustling in the breeze was a great way to end the day. Several people were taking pictures of this magnificent building. After taking Isaura’s picture in front of the building, a young man offered to take our picture, which turned out beautifully.

          You may have noticed that I used the words “capital” and “Capitol” throughout. As a reminder from our English language, capital refers to the city or geographic location of a state or territory. On the other hand, Capitol (most always capitalized) refers to the building representing the seat of government for a state or country.

          It was a couple of hours well spent. And since it was Sunday, parking on the street was free!

What started out as a Capital Idea, turned out to be a Capitol Idea!          


Monday, March 06, 2017

Times of Uncertainty

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
6 March 2017

Times of Uncertainty

          I have decided to write something a bit different this week. What follows is an article I wrote for my column, which was then called Roots on Deck, in December of 2002, just after I was called up for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). I was then the Deputy Command Chaplain for the I MEF (First Marine Expeditionary Force). Though still at Camp Pendleton, we were building up for the invasion of Iraq. Many thoughts were going through the minds of the Marines and sailors I was serving with. I sat down one evening in mid-December and penned these thoughts.

          "Sometimes I just sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits." So goes the old saying that could well be applied to those of us in the military right now.

Like you, we sit and watch the TV news channels and wonder what's going to happen next. Will we be going to war soon? Who of us will be engaged in that action? How long will it last? Will we be able to spend time with our families before we go? And so forth. All personal plans are on hold waiting to see what form these world events are going to take.

Uncertainty causes the mind to imagine all sorts of scenarios. Believe me, I sit and think about my office in the church in Ripon and all those comfortable surroundings, having folks stop by just to say "hi," or to ask if I've had lunch. Yet life has a way of catching us by surprise sometimes. It's then that we need to have stability. I've found that stability to be firmly established in my relationship with the living God.

It is Jesus who invites us into that special relationship through his sacrificial act on the cross. Because he paid the price with his blood for my sin, I can experience forgiveness and be welcomed into his family, thus becoming a child of God. Simply put: I belong to Jesus. Nothing in heaven or earth can, or ever will change this fact.

When times of uncertainty come, and they will come, I draw strength from Paul's words in Romans 8:38-39. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

So, when there are those moments of anxiousness, I go to the Rock - Jesus. In his presence, I am reminded that I am his child; that he loves me; and that I have my marching orders. I am a servant of the King. The message is to tell folks about the Savior. My congregation has heard me put it like this: "I'm nobody, telling everybody, about somebody, who can save anybody."

So as the winds of war blow across the land, I am comforted by my relationship with Jesus. This in turn enables me to bring that same comfort to others.

You see, it's Jesus who brings stability in times of uncertainty.

Thus concludes the article I wrote then, more than fourteen years ago at the ripe age of 54.

I remember my wife only a few weeks earlier standing in our bedroom as I packed my sea bag, saying, “You really want to go, don’t you?” My response was tempered. I had no desire to leave her at all, nor my two girls, especially with the uncertainty of war with the very real possibility of not returning home. I looked at her and said, “Yes, absolutely I want to go! Our country has called. I must go. We don’t train in the reserves to stay home when the flag goes up.” She said, “You do realize we’re supposed to grow old together!” It was a declaration, not a question. I replied, “Doll, I have to go!”

Today we seem to be facing world-wide threats yet again, only this time those threats are much closer to home with the influx of people we know nothing about. My greatest concern is that there are too many wolves amongst the sheep taking up residence in America. Such an enemy against our nation is much harder to identity and root out.

The troubling thing is I have now fought in two wars. First as a Marine in Vietnam; and later as a Navy chaplain in Iraq. In both of these wars we veterans of those wars came home to a nation that had soured on the war, and by association, on our service members. We lost those wars. In fact, the last war America won was World War II. It’s no fun to lose a war, with the sacrifices of the blood of patriots. But those of us who returned home, came back to an America that was still a safe haven.

Because our current threat may find us fighting an enemy within our own borders, even on the streets and byways of our communities, we must not lose our nerve. If we do, our precious liberty and freedoms will be lost to future generations of Americans. This we cannot abide.

A strong America insures a world at relative peace. A weak America throws the world into chaos. This is why our strength must come from the Lord. Dare we utter the words again, “God Bless America”?