All posts by Dominic

New Book: Jungleers At War: The 41st Infantry Division in WWII

INTRODUCTION

When World War II came to the United States the 41st Infantry Division (41ID) would play a crucial role in the Pacific Theater. The 41st Division served overseas longer than any other division (45 months) and was one of the first units to be sent overseas. The 41st Division fought in more campaigns than any other division and killed or captured more Japanese than any other infantry division in the entire war (McCartney 1948). On December 31, 1945, at midnight, the 41st Infantry Division was deactivated in Kure-Hiro Japan (McCartney 1948). The 41st Infantry Division fought in New Guinea and the Southern Philippines (Westerfield 1992). Lessons learned by the 41ID were incorporated and sent throughout the army, especially about training, and the employment of new tactics such as amphibious landings- the most difficult of all military deployment strategies- lessons that were later put to use in the both Pacific and Europe.

A nickname for the 41ID gained during World War II was “The Jungleers.” They earned it after the 163rd Regimental Combat Team, one of three Regimental Combat Teams assigned to the division, fought for seventy-six continuous days in combat against the Japanese at Salamaua. The overlooked battles of the 41ID are important because it is where the American Army blunted the Japanese advance in the Pacific. Although not much is known or has written about the 41ID, it accomplished amazing deeds in its almost four years of combat. The brave men who fought in the division accumulated an incredible record of achievements. There is a significant legacy here.

The campaigns of the Central Pacific carried out by the Navy and the Marines are forever etched in the national memory with the names of battles like Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Peleliu being synonymous with Marine courage and tenacity. The Army’s considerable role in the defeat of Japan was shadowy, almost anonymous – a real irony, because the Army did the majority of the ground fighting in the war against Japan (Catanzaro 2002).

The 41ID’s combat in the Pacific is the story of fighting two kinds of war. One is a war of attrition across the harsh landscape of the islands of New Guinea and the Philippines. The other is a war of classic maneuver, with General MacArthur using the ocean as a highway to bypass Japanese strong points and seize beachheads to attack inland as he and his army steadily made their way to the Philippines and finally to Japan. This portion of the Pacific Theater is less well known, but it is just as important. The remorseless Allied advance across the Southwest Pacific forced the Japanese to divert precious material like planes, ships, and men who might otherwise have reinforced their crumbling Central Pacific front (McManus 2008).

The campaigns of the 41ID are an important part of history. One example is the battle of Buna, New Guinea, fought from July to December 1942. It was the Allies’ first major land victory over the Japanese in World War II. The battle began in mid-summer 1942 but for many months had little coverage in the American press. Guadalcanal received the headlines during this same period. Not until late in 1942 did Americans become fully aware of the bitterness of the struggle for Buna, summed up in Time magazine on December 28, 1942, “Nowhere in the world today are American soldiers engaged in fighting so desperate, so merciless, so bitter, or so bloody,” (Campbell 2007). This would be a description that could be used to describe the division’s march across the Pacific in their war of attrition with the Japanese. How did the 41st Infantry Division, a National Guard Division, contribute to the success of the Southwest Pacific Campaign of World War II? This question can be answered by looking at the 41ID’s campaigns and how they applied the lessons from these battles as a learning organization.

At the tactical level, the U.S. Army in the Southwest Pacific Zone (SWPZ) part of the Pacific Theater engaged an experienced and determined enemy, who at the start of the New Guinea campaign had not been defeated in over a decade of continuous conquest. The 41ID improved dramatically in almost four years of active operations against an experienced and fanatical enemy. How the 41ID fought, learned and evolved is the subject of this book. This is a topic that is largely unexplored, especially in contrast to the American Army in the European Theater of Operations (ETO).

Most history books that talk about the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) focus on broad themes of the war against Japan. The same books tend to address the importance of naval and air superiority in the Pacific and other factors that shaped strategy in the PTO.  The Army fought a very different war, a war in which they encountered a severe introduction to jungle warfare against an experienced enemy. In one example, The Army Field Service regulations specified, “All troops must be thoroughly acclimated before initiating operations.” The men of the 32nd Infantry Division (32ID), a National Guard unit that was to the first unit to fight in New Guinea, was not ready for the jungle. New to jungle warfare, the division lacked even the basics for survival, prompting one military historian to label the soldiers of the 32nd the “guinea pigs” of the South Pacific. The troops of the 32nd Division weren’t issued any of the specialized clothing that later became de rigueur for the war in the South Pacific. For camouflage, their combat fatigues were hastily dyed before they left Australia. In the rain and extreme humidity, the dye ran and clogged the cloth, causing men to develop horrible skin ulcers (Campbell 2007). The men of in the 41ID heard these stories in Australia as they were preparing to deploy to New Guinea and made changes in their issuing of the proper equipment and uniforms. This small example of learning and adapting would become a trait of the 41ID.

The men of the 41ID at the operational level learned how to make the most American material advantage and seized the initiative by keeping the enemy off balance with a series of audacious amphibious landings and a new strategy. The new strategy was built around the very instrument of warfare that the Japanese used to declare war on the United States – the aircraft carrier. The strategy involved “hitting them where they ain’t,” (Johnston 1943). Rather than attacking the fortified Japanese on every island, the Allied forces would pass them while advancing on the Japanese Empire.

This led to Japanese commanders adapting as well with new defensive techniques along with the determination of their soldiers so when they engaged Allied forces, it negated much of the effect of the overwhelming Allied firepower. In time, Allied units, with the majority of the soldiers being American, had to close with the enemy using infantry small-arms along with tanks and demolitions to destroy a tenacious foe. The 41ID did this by improving on lessons learned in previous battles and incorporating them in their techniques and training plans in between campaigns. This would save the lives of thousands of American soldiers as the 41ID would become better at applying new tactics and weapons against the Japanese.

There is a gap in the literature of the historiography of the operations of the U.S. Army in the SWPZ. Most of the great works of World War II talk about strategic issues and the joint nature of warfare but give little detail of how the Allied forces were in a constant state of learning and how ground units trained, improved and fought the enemy more effectively as the war dragged on.  Other histories give a proper accounting of combat conditions but offer almost no examination of how U.S. Infantry Divisions took advantage of the significant resources that the U.S. had in men and material at the tactical level and how the American Army in the SWPZ assimilated lessons of hard-earned experiences in future battles as the war progressed. Some books used in this study, such as Eichelberger’s History of the Buna Campaign December 1, 1942 – January 25, 1943, are based on official unit records and personal interviews of participants of the battle, including a few 41ID soldiers. The report gives geographical information, a tactical background of both the Allies and the Japanese, and insight to how the military operation was conducted and reports by the general staff.

There is an extensive collection of first person accounts used as secondary sources of literature that give brave accounts of battles by platoons and companies. These include such first person chronicles as “With the 41st Division in the Southwest Pacific” by Francis Bernard Catanzaro, who served as a rifleman in the 41ID, and Paul C. Wilson’s “The Sunset War,” describing Wilson’s service in the division throughout the war. In the book “Touched With Fire” by Eric Bergerud describes the fighting in the South Pacific at the platoon level but ignores the middle levels of command of battalions and regiments. A book that highlights the fighting on New Guinea is Lida Mayo’s “Bloody Buna,” which provides detailed viewpoint of a specific battle but does not talk about how lessons were learned from the battle in later combat. Along with this learning process, there was a method of disseminating lessons as they were learned. None of these works talk about how leaders compiled teachings in hard-won knowledge and how this knowledge was used to develop new training programs to win future battles and overcome considerable challenges.

This book adopts as a model The GI Offensive in Europe: “The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945” by Peter Mansoor, which evaluates the U.S. Army combat performance in the march across Western Europe in 1944 and 1945. There is a theory that the Allied victory in World War II resulted from the overwhelming weight of American resources in men and material. Mansoor gives recognition to the American infantryman who fought against a capable and resolute enemy. By examining how the basic army fighting unit was recruited, trained, organized, commanded, and deployed throughout the long three years that America fought in Europe and by analyzing the purpose of the American infantry in action, it can be described how the military worked to man its expanding army despite an inadequacy of means and an abundance of operations competing for them (Mansoor 1999).

Mansoor talks about the how the Army developed new techniques and tactics as it fought through Western Europe. In Europe and the Pacific, the GIs faced an unwavering enemy who tested their abilities in various and gritty conditions. By taking a more concentrated approach than Mansoor and looking at the 41ID rather than an entire Army (several divisions) of several million soldiers this book will look at the 41ID’s time at war. I’ll start from its mobilization stateside, through its training at Fort Lewis, Washington and Camp Hunter Liggett, California through its years in combat in the SWPZ to its final act in the occupation of Japan where the division was deactivated.

Focusing on one organization shows the measure of which Army Forces operating in SWPZ were driven to adapt and learn. How – and in what situations – did the 41ID learn? How did the 41ID incorporate its lessons as it fought other campaigns? By looking at the performance of the 41ID, we can examine how the division met a broad range of tests over time and while at war. This thesis explores the process of learning by the 41ID. Through a study of its historical combat record, we can see the division’s ability to learn, to become determined and to strengthen its chances of success by applying what it learned to become a more effective combat unit. American military leaders were rationally and intellectually prepared to understand and react to the lessons of the war as the conflict progressed.

Doctrine changed the 41ID as an organization, and the division was capable of absorbing and acting on new information as it arrived fresh from the field. In the case of the 41ID, the use of combined arms warfare in the arrangement of organic artillery and naval bombardments to subdue the enemy as it advanced. In the use of tanks, anti-tank weapons and infantry weapons to confront the enemy directly, we begin to see the marriage of war machines matched with the ingenuity of the American GI to overcome the Japanese through organizational learning.

The methodology used in this capstone looks at an organization (the 41ID) and its performance in battle. Using organizational learning, the 41ID was able to identify problems and come up with solutions. These lessons were captured, absorbed and used and in each campaign, the 41ID undertook, the division became more efficient and better. The 41ID altered its training regimes after each campaign with the veterans of the last campaign teaching new recruits what they learned. Part of this learning is organizational, and another part is cultural. The degree of flexibility to learn was not found in the Japanese Army as it was in the American Army.

The experience of the 41ID in the SWPZ is more than an exciting tale of a decorated division in World War II. Most importantly, this book tracks the evolution of a military organization as it trained, fought, and learned lessons in blood that allowed it to adapt to save the lives of the unit’s men while destroying the enemy as it marched across the Pacific.

A Light in the Dark: How Zig Ziglar Saved My Life

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

Why my life has changed so radically in the past month?

These posts have taken a radical new direction in the past month. I started talking about my spiritual transformation. I had to answer the question, “What do you do when your personal world caves in?”

In these posts I talk about bereavement, faith, devastating illness, and resiliency in the face of crushing disappointments. These things can invade our lives so suddenly and immediately.

These posts are the intimate account of how I am learning to live again. I have found answers that I was looking for. Maybe in my story, there are answers for you. If not, or if this is too much, I understand. Just let me know, I understand.

What follows is a recipe that has given me an abundant life full of real joy and happiness.

West Lafayette, Indiana- June 18, 2017

“See You at the Top” saved my life. My wife and I went to a used book sale given by our local library. I got a torn up, dog-eared copy of “See You at the Top” (SYT) by Zig Ziglar.

After reading the first ten pages I was hooked. SYT is the best book I have ever read on self-improvement. After reading it, I underlined and outlined it. I went online and downloaded the audio course and listened to it twice in two days. I noticed a mark improvement in my attitude after reading SYT the first time. In the past six weeks I have read SYT 12 times.

SYT is an event that shook my world and changed the course of my life. SYT instilled hope in my heart. Zig’s book has unlocked invaluable secrets that have guided me on the road to success. I know that success in anything doesn’t happen overnight. Success takes patience, time, guidance and a bit of luck.

Listening to Zig’s positive thinking books and motivational messages have taught me to be my best. The results speak for themselves. I have accomplished more in the last month than I did in the last year. Zig’s “Born to Win” training program has been instrumental in helping to turn my life around.

Zig uses a “cognitive behavioral approach” to change attitudes and behaviors. Zig is straight-talking, easy to understand, entertaining and his work is based on Christian values and sound psychological principles. Zig offers a realistic and positive approach to the problems in my life. The material is broken up into several subjects so that Zig can drive home his points to get maximum learning.

Declaration of Dependence

The most dramatic change is that I recommitted my life to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I started by declaring my complete dependence on Jesus Christ. This declaration has completely changed my personal, family and business life.

The posts are not about converting anyone. I am not a Bible scholar or even a good Bible student, but I do want to share my story. I am not a preaching or moralizing. I am talking about something that has worked for me, nothing else. I am not a religious fanatic, but I am enthusiastic about God.

I am a simple man writing about how my faith and Zig Ziglar helped put my life back together again. My Christian faith is an important part of my life. Using Zig’s “Strategies for Success” training program and applying his message of hope and positive thinking followed by positive action has been a life-changing experience. The program has been very meaningful and has changed my life for the better.

My belief in Jesus Christ has freed me to truly “Be all I can be.” I think the best is yet to come!

A Thank You

I want to thank my lovely bride Muna. She has exhibited the patience of Job as she has tolerated me, an exhausting endeavor! Muna is my rock. My love for her is the foundation on which our life is built. Muna does everything with compassion and grace including loving me.

Muna always gives me her full attention and energy. Her love and support is what I needed the most in my life. She is the gift from God that I cherish the most. My love, I thank God every day you are my wife because you are my life.

Why I Write

I knew from the time I was a little boy, five or six maybe, that I wanted to grow up to be a writer. I was always a constant scribbler and avid reader. I stepped away from this idea for nearly thirty years. From the age of seventeen until I was thirty-seven I was in the Army. Late my life I rediscovered writing

  1. Learning to Write

Learning to write well begins with learning to write exciting and engaging sentences. Exciting sentences are written to paint a picture with words for the reader to enjoy. I struggle to select words and write detailed descriptions in simple, short sentences. Trying to find the perfect words to express my thoughts is a challenge, but one I enjoy. A great story is a series of picture captured in words. It allows the reader to meet new characters, go new places and experience new things.

The best thing about being a writer, is that I am in control of the world I create. I am the ruler of a tiny universe, where the words I write allow the reader to visit new place and experience new things.

  1. A Place to Write

Choosing a place to write is a complicated thing. I have written in basements, bedrooms, hotel rooms, apartments and coffee houses all over America. Maybe criteria for a writing place should be simple. A corner or a place where no one will notice a man scribbling or typing or reading. A place where a man can stare into a blank space and not be noticed. A place that gives you an anonymity of a sort where a man can become a writer.

I found such a place in my home. A corner bedroom that has been converted into an office. There was nothing special about it the first time I went into the room. It had been my step son’s bedroom when he was a boy. In this place I am very far away, at least for an hour or two each day.

  1. A Promise

In that old bedroom I found something. It really wasn’t anything I thought would be there. It wasn’t a book and it wasn’t even an idea. What I found in that room was the knowledge I needed to survive as a writer. I found something a strategy for survival as a writer. In the days that followed I froze, sweated and dealt with my issues.

I made a promise to myself to work on my first novel.

  1. Trial and Error

A great story keeps your imagination racing, your eyes glued to the page and your finger turning the pages. When the story ends, if you loved it, you know were in the hands of a master and feel a sense of loss when the story ends.

A great story has interesting and believable characters, a strong plot and natural-sounding dialogue with lots of action to keep the story moving. To do all this requires practice and patience. No one is born a great writer. It takes years to of practice to become an outstanding athlete, musician and dancer. It take a long time to become a great writer.

You can learn any craft by trial and error or by instruction. Trial and error, undoubtedly, is the more time-consuming, and frustrating method. The frustration often becomes so intense that you become discouraged or just give up. Writers, perhaps more than any, other attempt to master their craft through agonizing trial-and-error method. Yet getting specialized instruction and putting in the necessary hours of practice is exactly the way a writer should learn to write.

Some insist that creativity can’t be taught. Writers can be taught and must be learned if writers want to become successful.

  1. A Page a Day

After sitting my writing space in that old bedroom I did a very strange thing. I started writing a novel. I had no idea what I was doing or why. I promised myself I would write a page to three page a day. At first they were awful pages. They were the pages of a young writer trying to find his way in the dark. I fell in love with writing in that room. As I wrote, I learned how to survive and how to thrive as a writer.

I have attended conferences, classes and seminars on writing. In all the courses I’ve taken I was never told how to survive as a writer. I learned that writing was the school of hard knocks and tough experiences. There are lots of books on how to published and make a bestseller and how to sell books. But to survive in a society that does not recognize as a viable way of life is very tricky. Most people will not do it. If you are looking for a safe way to write, this advice is not for you.

These posts are the writer. These posts are for the person who has no choice in the matter and who makes the decision to be a writer or die. It is that serious. I knew once I wanted to be a writer there was nothing I could do about it, these posts are for other aspiring writers who feel the same way.

America has no patience for artists. America is a can do country with a Puritan work ethic. Artists are outside that charge.

If you are still reading this post, this is a good thing. My experience is my story and my story alone. All writers have a different story. You may hit it early, later or never at all. I have been up and I have been down, but through it all I have always had one goal…to keep writing.

  1. A Declaration

Let me begin by telling what these posts are not. It is not a guide on how to get published, though I will cover some aspects of that. These are not how to write posts, though I will share what works for me. These posts are for the writer in you struggling to get out.

This is a guide on how to survive once you have made the decision to be a writer. This is a decade of experience I bring to the table. I have survived as a writer. There is only one simple declaration needed, “I am writer for better or worse. There is nothing I can do about it. I am a writer.”

Ok. Now. I will tell you how to survive.

  1. A Writer

Do not expect support. It’s not going to happen. Your parents, your spouse, mother, brother, parents, counselor will not tell your decision to become a writer is a good one. Because being a writer in this society does not fit it. It never has. America does not support the arts. America supports people that work regular jobs and come home and do it all over again. America does not support someone who sits down to…what..write?

When I made the decision to become a writer, almost no one supported me. They encouraged me to get a “safe” job to “provide” for my family. Being a writer is like becoming a Priest. It’s a calling, not a conscious decision. It is something I realized in my soul. Once I knew I must become a writer I was powerless. It was a moment of truth. I could not ignore the impulse to write, I could not try to paper over it and go back to a “safe” predictable life. Once I had decided to become a writer, I had come into the light. I knew being a writer was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.

  1. A Writer Writes

When I started to write, I started very simply. I just wanted to write two pages a day of my first novel. When I told my parents I wanted to be a writer, they suggested I try to get a real job. But, this is my job. I AM A WRITER! They rolled their eyes.

I knew I was a writer. A writer is someone who writes as Hemingway put it. That’s it. It is not predicated on published works.

I started simply. I stated a simple sentence that armed me for whatever would come at me: I am going to be a writer whether I am successful at it or not. It is just what I am.

Good. Now everything will be alright.

 

Learning to Write a Thriller with John Gilstrap

“A thriller is an interesting story that has a rapid heartbeat in places.” – Bestselling author John Gilstrap

Imagine taking a master class from a master storyteller. I did that on Thursday with John Gilstrap’s “Adrenaline Rush: How To Write Suspense Fiction”

Our instructor, John Gilstrap- currently a best-selling author and creator of the Jonathan Graves series – lets us know what he planned for our class.

John started right from the beginning. John set the class up as a collaborative learning environment- he asked lots of questions of students. We talked about what makes a great thriller to strong ideas for books.

We dealt with outlines. Outlines are huge. How to create a scene. How dialogue works, the importance of setting and the development of character.

“Write the story, don’t just write sentences,” said John. “It’s a daunting idea to sit down and start a book.” He covered what we needed to learn to start writing our own best-sellers.

“I hope you guys will pick up a lot of tricks of the trade,” said John.

John broke the class into several modules.

1. HOW TO USE THIS CLASS

“Before we dive in, we have a few recommendations for getting the most out of your experience,” said John. John took advantage of the innovative tools and interactive assignments he created to enhance our education. We did three interactive writing assignment.

2. THINGS YOU MIGHT NEED

“To enjoy this class you only need a desire to learn. I’ve found that some students learn best when using a few other tools, so here’s a short list of ‘nice-to-haves’ to help maximize your learning potential, “ said John. Here is the list:

1. Raw ideas- Where do great ideas come from? Writing ideas down and keeping a journal.

2. Plot- Create conflict. Build in surprise with worthy opponents.

3. Outline- Outlining as a tool to troubleshoot your story. A character centered approach vs. an action driven plot. Outline as a tool to step back and start writing.

4. Create characters- Make a complex hero and villain- this creates reader intimacy. The importance of secondary characters.

5. Prose- Favorite first lines. Pulling the reader in with developed prose, this gets the reader invested early. Get the reader invested using simple, short declarative sentences with terse prose.

6. Dialogue- Example of great dialogue that heightens reality and reveal your characters through dialogue. Dialogue move the story forward and allows you to compress time.

7. Ending the book- What the ending needs. Plant seeds along the way. Think of alternate endings. Analyze your favorites and why like them. The secret to great endings.

8. Editing- Remove the distractions. Edit the dialogue. Keep the pages turning. Stay positive during the edit in the 200 page slump.

9. Getting published- Find the right agent. Send query letters. Don’t give up. Enjoy the victories and learn from the failures.

Gilstrap’s Rules of the Roads

“A thriller is an interesting story that has a rapid heartbeat in places. An internal pulse of the action. That’s created through sentence structure, paragraph structure,” said John.

“In movies, you’ve got the soundtrack to give you that sense of pulse. In a book, that’s gotta come from the syntax of the sentences and the word choice. As the action gets quicker, sentences get shorter and verbs become stronger. You don’t knock, you pound. It’s a secret sauce,” said John.

Outcome

I learned a lot from the informative, entertaining day-long class on the craft of writing a thriller. John Gilstrap answered the questions: What makes for a strong plot? How do you take cardboard characters and bring them to life on the page? Through a lively lecture and writing exercises, we all got a peek at the skeleton that gives structure to the stories that keep us reading long into the night.

 

 

Midwest Writers Workshop

Midwest Writers Workshop, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana- July 20-22, 2017

I just got back from the Midwest Writer’s Workshop (MWW). MWW gives writers the opportunity to improve their craft, to associate with highly credentialed professionals, and to network with other writers. The conference offers over 45 different writing sessions with on everything from fiction to nonfiction. The quality instructors offer advice on everything writing, editing, marketing and publishing.

Part I focuses on genre-specific intensive sessions. We had classes with seasoned writers on writing a thriller, horror and romance. Part II is packed with sessions on the craft of writing and the business of writing. The workshop has given me the professional guidance I was looking for! It has helped me, as a writer, to inspire me to become a published author. The MWW gave me the opportunity to improve my writing, to associate with highly credentialed agents and publishers, and to network with other writers.

How It Works?

Imagine taking a master class from a master storyteller. I did that on Thursday with John Gilstrap’s “Adrenaline Rush: How To Write Suspense Fiction” Our instructor, John Gilstrap- currently a best-selling author and creator of the Jonathan Graves series – lets us know what he planned for our class.

John started right from the beginning. John set the class up as a collaborative learning environment- he asked lots of questions of students. We talked about what makes a great thriller to strong ideas for books.

Friday and Saturday were packed with sessions on the craft of writing and the business of writing. I focused on classes on story structure, editing my story, and how to organize my book. I met with experienced agents and publishers, where I learned about the business of writing a book.

What I Learned

MWW showed me how to get the most out of myself and develop my writing skills. MWW revealed the qualities of good writing and provided specific solutions for overcoming and correcting poor writing practices.

MWW guest speakers are rich with anecdote, vivid illustrations and practical applications to become a better writer. MWW provided instruction and gave advice for improving relationships with agents, publishing houses, and family members to become a better writer.

Outcome

Top Performance as a writer and what I expect of myself. So how do I make it a reality?

MWW has taught me to maximize my abilities and manage my skills as a writer. At MWW I learned winning ideas on how to:

– How to direct my energies and fan the flame of inspiration

– How to manage my time better and get the most of my writing

– Some strategies to overcome and correct poor writing practices

– Develop a healthy self-image of myself as a writer

– Establish editing standards for evaluating my own writing

– Improve relationships and communication with my family for support and how to network other aspiring writers

These dynamic principles developed by master writers are applicable to writing in every genre. Sprinkled with sardonic wit, great war stories about the industry, and helpful illustrations, the MWW principles helped to propel me-and those around me-toward being a better man and a better writer.

 

Medal of Honor Upgrade for Leonard DeWitt

Guys,

I really love writing about things I care about. Leonard DeWitt’s upgrade of his Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor is something I feel is very important.

PORTLAND, OREGON- December 6, 2013-

I am at the annual Saint Barbara’s Day Ball, at the Heatherman Hotel downtown. The 2nd Battalion, 218th Field Artillery, Oregon Army National Guard hosted the gala event.

The ball commemorates the patron saint of the Field Artilleryman, Saint Barbara. The ball promotes camaraderie and recognizes outstanding artillerymen.

The battalion welcomed over 200 guests.

The ball had a social hour before the ceremony. During the ceremony, the guests stood for the presentation of colors and toasts from senior leaders in the battalion. It concludes with a tribute to the fallen.

The guest speaker was a local legend- Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Leonard DeWitt.

Leonard DeWitt

Leonard shuffled his way up to the podium. Leonard is 92 years old. His soft gray hair makes him look distinguished. He is wearing a black suit jacket, white shirt, red tie and gray slacks.

Leonard smiles at the crowd. Everything about him was old except his eyes, they were cheerful and undefeated. His grin made him look much younger.  Leonard doesn’t use notes to make his speech, he is legally blind.

He looks out at the crowd with a big smile as he says, “Sorry, for the delay. I’m not as quick as I once was.” Everyone laughs.

“I heard you give a toast to the 2nd Battalion, 218th Field Artillery. I can tell you they did a great job during World War II,” Leonard says. “I know, because I was there. I am alive today because of those brave boys.” The room falls silent in respect and admiration.

The Fateful Night

Seventy-five years ago on December 7, 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, America entered World War II. Leonard joined the 41st Infantry Division- a group of National Guardsmen from Oregon, Washington and California.

NEW GUINEA- July 1943

Leonard’s unit was part of the Allied campaign to re-take New Guinea from the Japanese.

Emotions ran high and adrenaline flowed on a dark ridge in New Guinea. A company of American soldiers- many of them fellow Oregonians- braced for an all-out Japanese attack.

Leonard sank to the bottom of his foxhole and fired his weapon. Other American soldiers fled their positions on the defense perimeter.

Leonard could hear the loud calls of a Japanese commander. He saw the enemy massing at the bottom of the hill. They were going to try and pierce the American defensive ring. The attack could sweep the U.S. troops off the ridge.

Leonard told us his story, “I had to put a stop to it, if I could,” he remembered. “I found a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and a tommy gun (submachine gun). I walked over the to the edge, which was kind of stupid, but I didn’t care.”

He emptied the Browning into the darkness below. He did the same thing with the Tommy gun. He could still hear the Japanese commander yelling.

“I threw a half-a-dozen grenades down, and I tried to catch all these guys, you know, down at the bottom,” he continued, “You have to do what you have to do.”

But it wasn’t over. He ducked a hand grenade, slipped down the hill and ended up side-by-side with enemy soldiers who wanted to kill him. He stabbed one with his bayonet and then looked at the other one.

Wrestling with the other Japanese soldier, Leonard had nothing left to fight with, so he took off his helmet and “whapped that guy in the kisser with it.” That soldier too, screamed and fell.

Enraged, Leonard scrambled back to the ridge top. He flung his helmet down the hill. “They probably thought it was a satchel charge,” he said. The remaining Japanese fled.

Historians said DeWitt turned back over 100 enemy soldiers that night. They found evidence of 20 dead enemy soldiers.

Leonard saved his unit from being overrun.

We Go For Each Other

Later that night I was talking to Leonard and his lovely wife of 35 years Joanne. He told me something I will forget.

Sitting in his chair, he looked a little tired from speaking for almost an hour. I had to keep reminding myself he was 92 years old.

He winked at me and smiled. He said, “I really admire your generation.

I don’t know if I could keep going back over and over again.” This shocked me.

I said, “Sir, I don’t think I could have done what you did. New Guinea was a bad place and the Japanese were tough soldiers.” He waved his hand in the air dismissing what I said.

“Dom, what I am saying is when we over there we knew we were going to stay until the end of the war. There was no coming back and forth,” he said.

“I don’t know if I would have gone back again, if I’d come home. I am amazed your generation does it over and over again,” he said.

He smiled and pointed at me and said, “I think your generation is the ‘next greatest generation.'”

Leonard said, “What really matters is that you volunteer. By stepping forward, you say you will do whatever it takes.”

He laughed and said, “I had no idea what would happen over there. I didn’t know if I would survive the war. It really doesn’t matter what happens or why we go. We go for each other.”

He said, “The uniforms change. The equipment gets better. The soldier’s heart stays the same.”

Deep wisdom of a simple man.

Medal of Honor Nomination

Leonard was nominated for the Medal of Honor. It sat on General Douglas MacArthur’s desk for two years. Leonard later was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, our nation’s second award for valor.

Over the years, several attempts were made to upgrade his DSC to the Medal of Honor. His current nomination is still pending.

After World War II, he went to Korea. He was wounded and received the Purple Heart.

Medal of Honor Controversy

It’s almost impossible to recount all of the gallantry that went on during World War II. Very few Medals of Honor were given out in the Southwest Pacific Theater in World War II.

The 32nd Infantry Division, the unit that Leonard fought in after he was given a battlefield commission, 11 were awarded. Nine of the recipients received them posthumously.  None were given out in Leonard’s original unit of the 41st Infantry Division, although a handful of men were nominated including Leonard.

Remembering Leonard

Leonard died on June 21, 2016, he was ninety-five years old. He was my friend.

The affection that Leonard generated from other people was almost physical. He was a natural leader who could generate great affection in others, even in his 90s.

His smile and simple demeanor made you forget he was a war hero.

Everyone that knew Leonard had a story about him. People would talk about underneath his humble exterior lay a heart of gold. A generous heart that allowed a man in his mid-90s to attend a dozen Oregon Army

National Guard events every year.

To a large extent, armies exist on the myths and deeds of heroes. Woven tightly into the army’s image of itself is the actions of humble heroes that transcend time and even death.

Leonard was a living embodiment of the heroism of the Oregon Guard.

On a small ridge in a land far from home a young man found incredible courage. He single-handedly warded off a column of attacking Japanese soldiers.

He fought in two wars and served his country for over twenty-eight years. The heroism of Leonard’s deeds are immortal, even if Leonard isn’t.

Leonard was a thin man of medium height, a tough man. When I met him five years ago, he still had a steel grip of a handshake.

He was a brave man, physically and mentally. He was a leader who was honest with himself and others. He was a man who loved others more than he loved himself.

He loved soldiers. He went to every event he was invited to. He loved talking to and meeting young soldiers. They loved him back.

Leonard was from a generation of men that didn’t like talking about themselves, but he loved helping other people.

His amazing wife Joanne did the same thing. She would drive him to all these events. She stood quietly to the side while soldiers waited in-line to meet her famous husband.

Leonard was one the good guys. Joanne loved him and he loved her back.

There was nothing she neglected to tell him and nothing he neglected to tell her.

People live, and then they die, as long as they do both things properly, there’s nothing much to regret.

Leonard is an inspiration to those who knew and loved him. He is the hero of the Oregon Army National Guard. His bravery, kindness and generosity will always be remembered.  His memory will be a rallying point for generations of Oregon soldiers to come.

Medal of Honor Upgrade

The Commanding General of the 6th Army approved Leonard’s Medal of Honor nomination for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty.  Sadly, the paperwork never made it past General MacArthur’s Desk.

Leonard has passed on, but I believe it’s fitting to see his courage and sacrifice is remembered.  What it will take is a Presidential action to see that DeWitt receives his Medal of Honor.

Joanne, his wife, started a change.org page to ask Oregon Congressman Greg Walden to carry this request to President Donald Trump and so honor the memory of Leonard DeWitt.

Here is the page:

https://www.change.org/p/oregon-congressman-greg-walden-leonard-dewitt-medal-of-honor-upgrade

Please sign!

 

Themes from Fortunate Son by Lewis B. Puller Jr.

Intro

I love Marines. They are America’s Spartan warriors. They are always ready to do battle. They are closet idealists and pessimists.

Marines have an intense feeling of identity. They have almost a mystical connection of belonging to an elite fighting force of almost invincible warriors.

Some of this attitude comes from their brutal and efficient training. Another part of that comes from their deep confidence and pride in their mission and leaders.

There is no better friend, and no worse enemy than a U.S. Marine.

Lewis “Chesty” Puller, Sr.

No Marine has commanded more respect and admiration than General Lewis “Chesty” Puller. His bulldog face, his barrel chest, gruff voice and common touch made him the epitome of a Marine combat officer.

His long, distinguished career made him a legend. He was the most decorated Marine in history. He was a descendant of Robert E. Lee and a cousin to George S. Patton.

In a forty year career he rose from buck private to general. He fought in five wars. On five separate occasions he was awarded the Navy Cross- a military honor second only to the Medal of Honor.

Chesty Puller was a Marine’s Marine. The men under his command idolized him. He is a legend in the Marine Corps the way babe Ruth exemplifies baseball or the way Yeats stands for the melancholy Irish.

It would be hard to be his only son.

Lewis B. Puller, Jr.

Lewis B. Puller Jr, was a sensitive and intelligent man. He is a gripping writer who tells you about his tragic ordeal after Vietnam in his autobiography “Fortunate Son.”

Puller’s story is a difficult book to read because of the subject matter, but it is wonderful at the prose level. It tells a harsh and forbidding story that made me think about the larger themes of his book.

Puller’s story sounded so much to me like my own story- only bigger, more intense and much more tragic.

His book is an autobiography, a record of the life of a wounded Marine. His writing is haunting, devastating and his story lingers with you long after his book and life have ended.

His book explores his suffering. His telling of that suffering is sincere and brutal. He makes you have sympathy for him. His redeeming quality is his optimism and absolute refusal to give up.

Puller’s thoughtfulness and undiminished patriotism and his heroic battle against injury, alcohol and depression provide a genuinely moving human drama.

He wanted to reclaim his life despite losing half of his body on a booby trap in Vietnam. He endured years of surgery and rehabilitation, alcoholism and a feeling that he had let himself and his father down.

Puller’s book had the blood-red glare of anger and bitterness. But his story had hope, the glow of morning sunlight of a promising new day. His chronicle was moving and powerful.

Puller writes with simplicity and candor, with touches of spontaneous humor. His outcry of agony and isolation is harrowing. It leaves the reader overwhelmed with wonder at the torture a human being can absorb this side of madness.

Puller makes you bear witness to his pain, rage and bitterness. Puller had come so far, only to end his own life in the end. His death baffled and disappointed me.

I wanted to explore some themes from the book.

Father and Son Relationships

Puller’s relationship with his father Chesty dominates his life. Chesty was a loving father. Chesty was nearly fifty years old when Puller was born.

Puller wants to make his father proud. He writes about the unspoken assumptions of responsibility of being Chesty’s only son and heir to his father’s heroic legacy. Almost every decision he makes in his early life is in reaction to his father’s legacy.

Chesty was proud when his only son went off to Vietnam as a Marine Infantry Officer. Puller returned three months later as one of the most grievously wounded men of the Vietnam War.

Human Life

Puller’s greatest contribution to literature is the exploration of the value of human life. Puller constantly wonders how he will continue to “live” and “to function” and most importantly “to contribute and serve” even after the loss of both legs and most of his hands.

Even after a horrific trauma Puller still wants to serve and help his fellow man. His physical loss did not diminish the value of his life to society.

Puller made a conscience choice to do a lot with his life after Vietnam: 1. He became a lawyer. 2. He helped to organize and build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 3. He ran for public office. 4. He served on clemency board that helped thousands of fugitive draft dodgers return to the U.S. from Canada- his feelings on this issue is one of the best parts of the book.

Puller’s story provided hope and a long overdue appreciation for Vietnam veterans. His story inspired thousands of wounded veterans from his war in Vietnam to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Vietnam.

Puller had the courage to go on after a savage wound where he lost half his body. He was grief-stricken and angry about the loss of his legs and hands but he did something heroic by choosing to live.

I think Puller displayed the same steely courage of his father in the face of adversity.

Sacrifice

There is a Greek ideal of “kleos”- the glory that comes from a warrior performing a heroic deed, often at the cost of his own life. Marines embody the ideal of “kleos”-self-service and sacrifice.

Pullers felt he made an honorable sacrifice for an unworthy cause. He felt cheated that his great sacrifice was never appreciated and written off by indifferent public as meaningless.

For years after his physical “recovery” strangers, friends, and acquaintances were “put off” and “uncomfortable” by looking at Puller’s mangled body. This was a constant reminder to Puller how people felt about him and Vietnam.

This is truly a soldier’s greatest fear- for your sacrifice to be unappreciated and forgotten. A soldier can and will endure any hardship as long as he thinks the cause is worth it.

This was the real reason for Puller’s pain. Puller felt he had been tricked into throwing his life away for an uncaring country.

Puller’s second pain was emotional. He was the “fortunate son” of a legendary hero. Puller admired and deeply loved his father. For Puller there was no other path than to become a Marine.

His wounds cut his military career short. Puller feels he let himself and his father down. His sense of disappointment and sorrow of what might have been haunts the book.

Puller’s grisly physical and traumatic emotional injuries were almost too large to be overcome in a single lifetime. In the end, Puller commits suicide. By that act he became another casualty of the Vietnam War.

Hope

Puller’s book gave me hope. His struggled to find a new point of view which supports his “new” life and the sacrifices he made inspired me. Puller taught me to live beyond my injuries and my past.

Ironically, Puller’s closest he gets to peace is when he recovering from another bout of alcoholism. While in Alcoholics Anonymous he sees that life is paradoxical. To be happy human beings must often learn to live with two contrasting viewpoints, to make a compromise of what we feel and what we think.

Writing

Puller is a wonderful writer. His personal voice is engaging and honest. It was a privilege to get inside the mind of such an intelligent, sensitive and caring man. He makes it easy to read about tough subjects (death, trauma and depression).

His prose clear, accurate and most important honest. Puller never shies away from telling us about his life, the reasoning behind his actions, even the parts he is not proud of. His unflinching honesty gives the book authenticity and credibility.

Puller’s Impact

I know what it is like to be the son of a powerful and legendary man. My father was a decorated war hero. My relationship with my father and his early death has dominated my life, the same way it did Puller.

Nearly every decision I made in my life, either consciously or subconsciously, was a reaction to my father’s legacy. Like many dutiful sons, I only wanted to make my father proud, the same as Puller.

I was blessed. As I got older I realized there was no one was keeping score. All the decisions I made in my life, were mine and mine alone. My father loved me and was proud of me, he told me so many times.

I know that my father would have been proud of me no matter what I did with my life. I think he would have been most proud that I try to be a good husband and provider for my family.

He would have been very proud that I became a writer because it made me happy. He would have adored my wife Muna.

Lewis B. Puller Jr.’s book taught me the value of a human life. That no matter what has happened to us we choose what our lives become by the choices we make. Our lives are the sum of the decisions we make.

I prayed for Puller after reading his amazing book. His story gave me a balm for my pain and some much needed closure.

Thank you, Mr. Puller and God bless you. Your service and sacrifice inspired me to write more and to try harder. I hope you finally found the peace that eluded you in life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: My Early Life by Winston Churchill

Intro

Winston Churchill is one of my heroes. His book “My Early Life” is an adventure story about one of the interesting figures in the 20th century.

Background

Few pedigrees read as impressively as Winston’s: a descendant of John Churchill, “the Duke of Marlborough,” according to some historians the greatest military leader Britain has ever produced.

Winston was the son of Sir Randolph Churchill, a man of such political ability he was made England’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons simultaneously at the unheard of age of only 37. His mother was Jeanette Jerome Churchill, a beautiful American heiress. Her favor was sought throughout Victorian high society.

Despite his impressive oratory ability and personal charisma Winston’s father’s ambition and pride drove him to make disastrous decisions. Those decisions led to the destruction of his career with alcohol and drugs. He died in 1892 at the age of 48.

His mother was a young woman of great beauty but questionable morals. She was a notorious adulteress. Her renowned promiscuity saw her married three times and forever scandal-ridden.

The marriage of Winston’s parents was a hushed and hurried affair. Jeanette had gotten pregnant prior to it, presumably by Lord Randolph but no one could be quite sure.  Of his mother, Winston later wrote, “I loved her, but at a distance.”

Lord and Lady Randolph Churchill ignored their two son’s – Winston the first, John the second (believed sired by someone other than Sir Randolph). They devoted their time to far more important matters of high society and career advancement.

What time they did spend with young Winston was hurried and fraught with contempt for their “little monster.” His father thought Winston was retarded, rarely talked to him, and often vented his mounting rage on the child.

They sent off Winston, a sickly redhead with a tendency to throw temper tantrums, to the new nanny’s care as they lived the 19th Century equivalent of “la vida loca”.

His mother spent her time throwing parties and seducing other men. She hired Elizabeth Everest to care for him.

“Woom”

It was in Elizabeth Everest – whom he called “Woom”, it was the closest thing he could to say to ‘woman’- became not only his nanny, but his dearest companion. He would share with her an understanding of his widening world as he grew older.

She was the stereotypical British nanny; plump, simple, cheery, ever optimistic, and always compassionate. Winston grew to love her completely. Her encouragement shaped the man he would become.

Mrs. Everest provided a steady regimen of love, understanding, faith, and Christian instruction. When the his day of destiny arrived, Winston was ready to lead the world with a trumpet call of the solid faith he had learned from his Christian nanny.

When Winston learned that Mrs. Everest was gravely ill he rushed to her bedside. He was the only member of his family to attend to her, and upon her death provided the tombstone for her grave.

Winston later wrote, “She had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole twenty years I had lived. I shall never know such a friend again.”

Winston the Man

Winston had a lifetime of achievements. He displayed physical courage as a Cavalry Officer on the battlefield serving in India, Afghanistan, Africa and Belgium during World War I.

He wrote vivid articles for British newspapers that were well received. The articles advanced both his literary and political career.

His oratory and bulldog determined leadership was instrumental in his country’s defeat of Nazi Germany.  Churchill received both the Nobel Prize Peace and for Literature.

Churchill was the recipient of a remarkable variety of honors and awards at a relatively young age. No matter what his accomplishments were, Winston saw himself, first and foremost as a soldier.

Summary

“TWENTY to twenty five, those are the years.” wrote Winston in his autobiography “My Early Life” in 1930, was Winston looking back on his life from the summit of middle age at fifty-five years old.

Winston recalls his childhood, his schooling and the times that shaped him into being a great leader. He is kind to his cruel parents and speaks warmly of “Woom.”

He saw combat on three continents, won four medals and an order, was mentioned in dispatches, wrote five books, gained international fame, and won a seat in Parliament, all before his twenty-sixth birthday.

His Times

Churchill began his military career in 1895. The world was a very different place. In the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria, Empress of India, was on the throne, her Diamond Jubilee to be held in 1897.

At that time the British Empire covered one-quarter of the earth’s land surface, its 380 millions of inhabitants lived on every continent and on the islands of every ocean. The sun truly never set on the Union Flag. It was a world without radio or television, without automobiles, or computers.

As a young man, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill set out to become a military hero. He exceeded everyone’s expectations, except maybe his own.

Analysis

The material is an adventure story, a story that would defy belief if it were in a novel. Yet, it did all happen to one man.

In the space of one year alone, Winston was in the cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman, he tried to save an ambushed train in the Boer War, and he made a daring escape from a prisoner of war camp in Pretoria, South Africa.

He describes it all with the detail of the war correspondent.

Winston wrote, “We had the very strong spirit of the ‘diehards’ and the ‘young bloods’ of the enemy,” he recalls of his time in the Malakand Field Force, fighting on India’s North-West Frontier in the late 1890s.

“They wanted to shoot at us and we wanted to shoot at them. … So a lot of people were killed and others were badly wounded and hopped around for the rest of their lives, and it was all very exciting and, for those who did not get killed or hurt, very jolly.”

On one punitive expedition among the mud villages of the Mamund Valley (on today’s Afghan-Pakistan border), Lieutenant Churchill found himself with five British officers and eighty-five Sikh soldiers when, in an area that had seemed totally quiet, “Suddenly the mountainside sprang to life. Swords flashed from behind rocks, bright flags waved here and there.”

In no time, “The British officer was spinning round just behind me, his face a mass of blood, his right eye cut out. Yes, it was certainly an adventure. It is a point of honour not to leave wounded men behind. Death by inches and hideous mutilation are the invariable measure meted out to all who fall in battle into the hands of the Pathan (Pashtun) tribesmen.”

Impact

Winston wrote his book was, “a picture of a vanished age.” He’s right. To fully understand Winston Churchill and his times, his book is essential reading.

Winston tells us about trooping and defending the British Empire. His amazing book is a final gun salute to a time when the Victorian British Empire was on full display in all its pageantry and glory. It was a time of hope, expectation, and adventure before the disaster and sorrow of World War I.

 

 

D-Day and World War II- Blood, Sweat and Bravery

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

– General Dwight D. Eisenhower letter to the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force

Beyond Band of Brothers Tour

The first place Ron I went to was Normandy. We retraced the landings of D-Day. We followed the path of the Allied forces as they landed on the shores of Normandy, France. The tour allowed us to step back in time to this important World War II battle. Brave men crossed the English Channel, delving into history in June 1944. We toured the important sites with noted military historian Rudy. We strolled the legendary beaches. We stood on the cratered cliff top at Pointe du Hoc, and visited local villages that still bear the vestiges of war.

History

The endless flow of history touches us all. History defines the past and shows the way to the future. With this trip we journeyed through time and across continents to see World War II as it really happened in the places the war happened.  We relived the events shaped World War II.

Normandy, France

Normandy is a beautiful landscape of northern France. With its miles of beach and a countryside full of charming chateaus. Today, people came here to relax, to unwind, and to remember. To remember a day when this beautiful countryside was a killing ground.

On June 6, 1944- D-Day- the day of the greatest invasion the world has ever seen.

By 1944, World War II is in its fifth year. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi War Machine seem unstoppable. Hitler holds the European continent in an iron grip. Seasoned Nazi troops occupy the entire coastline all the way through France to the border of Spain. Hitler calls it his Atlantic Wall.

Just 30 miles across the English Channel, the British Isles are being transformed into a huge arsenal. Allied forces pour into the island nation in preparation for Hitler’s day of reckoning.

The D-Day operation is a risky proposition- a surprise attack on France. The massive invasion is planned for the late spring of 1944. It is called “Operation Overlord.” The commander is United States General Dwight D. Eisenhower. To get the job done, he’s building a force of 170,000 soldiers, sailors and airman from Britain, the United States and Canada. Where the Allies will strike and when must at all cost be kept top secret.

The Allies dot the countryside with mock-ups of tanks and trucks. They even build false harbors and air fields- all of it decoys to fool German spies. They lay a trail of false information. Hitler is kept guessing.

Some of the Nazi generals can’t believe the Allies would risk sending an army across the unpredictable English Channel. Nature and experience backs them up. June 5, 1944. The worst storm in 25 years whips the English Channel into a fury. Eisenhower waits a day than faces a crucial decision- attack now across menacing seas or wait for two more weeks for favorable tides.

Early on the morning of June 6, 1944 Eisenhower makes the toughest decision of his life. Eisenhower sends his soldiers to war with a stirring message, “This landing is but the opening phase of the campaign in Western Europe. I call upon all who love freedom to stand with us now. Keep your faith staunch. Our arms are resolute. Together, we shall achieve victory.”

Eisenhower knows many of these brave men will not return. 130,000 men in 5,000 ships- the largest armada ever assembled- crosses the stormy English Channel to begin the liberation of Europe.

The invasion fleet avoids the narrowest point of the channel where the coast is most heavily defended. The invasion force heads towards the beaches of Normandy. The line of attack stretches 70 miles along the coast.

British and Canadian troops will land at beaches code named Gold, Juno and Sword. The Americans will land at Utah and Omaha. The most daunting is the six miles of Omaha Beach.

The Germans have dug in on bluffs, some rising 200 feet. From their concrete bunkers, they command the beach. Along the shore are mines, steel spikes, and coils of barbed wire. A direct hit from their big guns can turn an allied landing craft into an inferno.

Landing craft now hit sandbars on their way to the beach. The Americans wade into a hail of machine gun and cannon fire. Casualties in the first wave are 50%. Their first instinct is to hit the dirt. But they must not.

A colonel shouts at his men that there are two kinds of people staying on the beach- the dead and those who are going to die. He adds now let’s get the hell out of here. The invasion is an incredible display of valor and determination. By the end of the day, 130,000 men and their equipment are ashore all along the coast of Normandy. D-Day is a magnificent success and the turning point in the war.

Within a year, Germany surrenders. But the Allies pay a terrible price. More than 10,000 killed, wounded, or missing. The casualties are highest on Omaha Beach where more than 2,000 Americans die. The stretch of sand becomes known as bloody Omaha.

Many of the dead from that day lie in consecrated ground overlooking Omaha Beach and other military cemeteries along the coast of Normandy. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Major Larry Bauguess: The Officer as a Leader

Ten years ago today- My friend and mentor Major Larry Bauguess was killed in Afghanistan.

I wanted to write about the Officer as a leader. I used Larry Bauguess as the subject of this piece. I could not think of a better example of outstanding leadership as an Officer.

Here is why:

When I was a cadet at Kemper Military Junior College in the mid-1990’s I was given a copy of the 1950 edition of the Armed Forces Officer. In its first paragraph, leadership through character is placed at the heart of the officer’s duty:

“Having been specifically chosen by the United States to sustain the dignity and integrity of its sovereign power, an officer is expected to maintain himself, and so to exert his influence for so long as he may live, that he may live, that he will be recognized as a worthy symbol of all that is best in the national character.”

I have served with many great military leaders, but the best was my Company Commander and friend Major Larry Bauguess. He defined the most important leadership quality of all that is stated over and over again in the military: setting the example. Sometimes the example he set was physical like being the first in on a unit run. Other times the example was making sure that the lower enlisted Soldiers ate first.

A military unit tends to have a character of its own; an identity composed of its history and traditions, but most importantly the personality of its commander.  The unit becomes an extension of the likes and dislikes of the commander.  At the company level (300 men) the collective personality of the unit takes on the traits of the person who leads it.

The personality of Delta Troop, 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment was hard-ass Spartan. Delta Troop was perhaps the most Spartan of all the companies in the battalion because it was unique in its mission of reconnaissance and armored capability.  The rest of the companies were infantry. One company was much like the other on paper. Delta Troop drove tanks.

Larry’s ethos was purposefully directed and developed from the esprit de corps, he had learned in the 101st Airborne Division. David Petraeus was his battalion commander.  Larry was huge on the tradition, heritage of the rugged and the tough reputation of the United States Paratroopers.  He would constantly tell tales of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, where the warrior philosophy and a hardcore attitude of airborne soldiers had saved the day.

The stronger a commander the more he affects the men he commands.

Larry ran the Troop with stern exacting leadership.  Larry allowed himself no luxuries while in the field and he allowed his troops almost none. It seemed that in early 2001 that someone forgot to tell Larry that the United States was not yet at war, he strived each day to train like we were getting ready for combat.

Larry infused the unit with a particular spirit of independence.  At the time I worked for him, he always allowed for independent decisions and he would thrust subordinates into positions of constant responsibility and decision making. I made more than my share of mistakes, but under Larry’s patient mentorship those mistakes become lessons in how to lead Soldiers.

This was a part of Larry’s plan in developing his platoon leaders.

Larry preached that each unit from the platoon down (30 men) to the fire team (4 men) was independent and responsible for himself or itself. Responsibility first at that level than up the chain of command, link by link.

Larry’s example of this was little groups of paratroopers who had been dropped all over the countryside during the invasion of Normandy. You can see this in the TV series and book “Band of Brothers” by Stephen Ambrose.

Larry emphasized that most important aspect was that leading is a privilege, especially in leading the very best and brightest of a generation that serves our nation. Larry said that real definitive direction is given by leaders who are willing to sacrifice in the service of those they lead.

Larry Bauguess’ best quote, given in his deep Appalachian accent from his native North Carolina, “Be the leader you would want to be led by.”  He was more than a legendary Soldier who led by physical and personal example in everything he did, he was a friend and mentor who always there for someone else.

In 2005, in Iraq it was at Larry’s urging that I took command of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 42nd Infantry Division after the Commander, my buddy Captain Phil Esposito was murdered by his Supply Sergeant.  Larry’s simple advice was, “You know he would do it for you if the situation was reversed.  We do these things for each other.”

On May 14, 2007, Larry Bauguess was killed by enemy small-arms fire in Pakistan.  Larry was on duty in Afghanistan, but was killed less than two miles inside Pakistan. He left a meeting meant to ease tensions after border clashes between Afghans and Pakistanis. He was 36.

He left behind a wife and two young daughters as well as his parents and a host of people who loved and admired him. He died as he had lived- leading by personal example, trying to save a downed comrade. I was proud to call him my friend.

Officers are commissioned by the Executive Branch of the United States Government.  They are commissioned to act as envoys of the President of the United States and representatives of the Executive Branch.  It is in this role that that Officers as leaders are held to a higher standard. Larry exemplified that standard.

These e-mails are my attempt to do what Larry always talked about in, “Being in the service means being in the service of others.”

Larry, you are missed, my old friend. I have done my best to live up to the example you set for me as my Company Commander and friend.

Bibliography:

  1. Department of Defense, 1950, The Armed Forces Officer.
  2. Ambrose, Stephen. 1992. Band of Brothers, E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne: From Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, Simon & Shuster, New York.
  3. Bartone, Paul T., et al. 2009. “To Build Resilience: Leader Influence on Mental Hardiness.” Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University.
  4. – 2010. New Wine in Old Bottles: Leadership and Personality in the Military Organization. The 71F Advantage: Applying Army Research Psychology for Health and Performance Gains (Chapter 6)
  5. FM 22-6: Army Leadership: Competent, Confident, and Agile (Part 1)