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Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon

“After a top-level public scolding over his remarks on the military’s policy regarding gays, the commander of U.S. Army Pacific issued a terse “no comment” yesterday from his headquarters at Fort Shafter.

“Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, one of a few military leaders to publicly denounce the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, received a double-barreled blast yesterday from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“At issue was a three-paragraph commentary by Mixon in the Stars and Stripes military newspaper on March 8, in which he said he does not believe that most military personnel support repeal of the policy.

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Disband the Marine Corps

By: Col. Arthur J. Corbett USMC (Ret.)

It would be better to disband the Corps than see it dishonored and its virtues and values destroyed.

The Pieta in St. Peter's Basillica --Rome, Italy

A vandal once took a hammer to the Pieta. It was a shocking and unexpected event, but the fact that it happened suggests a perverse streak within our nature to desecrate that which others revere in order to gain attention for ourselves. That the vandal could not himself have created an object so sublime did not mean that he could not, with a stroke of a hammer, indelibly mar its beauty or offend its admirers. Such is human nature, and such is tragedy. As individuals, institutions, and cultures, we are all sometimes vulnerable to tragedy through no fault or volition of our own.

Tragedy is not inevitable, but the confluence of political opportunism, ethical narcosis, and moral malaise that dominate and subvert American culture have ripened the opportunity for our political leadership to do what no enemy has done in 217 years—sully the reputation and honor of our proud Corps. While homosexuality is a tragic reality, and those who indulge in its indignities deserve prayerful compassion, they are not fit to lead men in battle. Culture vandals may debate this issue, but as Marines we know this intellectually, morally and viscerally. For the civilian, this may be but one of the many irreverences that he has endured as a member of the declining culture, but for the Marine it is a violation of a sacred trust. We have always perceived that the threats to our honor were external to our borders and could be countered with courage, zeal and competence. We never suspected that the threat to our ethos would come from within our Nation and be sanctioned, however indirectly by the American people. The sorry fact is that this will not be a gross betrayal by a dark and sinister force –rather it will be a culmination of banal evils from a progression of noxious ideologies. The result will he the same, only the intent is more benign.

Ayn Rand made this trenchant observation on the subversion of virtue within a culture:

When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute: when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it’s picked up by the scoundrels—and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.

And so we find ourselves at a crossroads as an institution. Though prayer and reason might yet triumph, it is clearly time to fight and prepare. For such an undeserved indignity to be heaped upon such a noble institution, with but a whimper of protest, would betray the untold thousands who bought with their blood the honor we enjoy. Yet we are constrained in our efforts by the very nature of the political system that they fought to defend, and we recognize that, while this tragedy should not happen, it is ultimately not our decision to make.

America will get both the Government and the Military Establishment that it deserves. God has blessed us richly in the past with remarkable strength in both institutions, but now we choose to go it alone. We have displaced faith in Providence with confidence in technology. We enjoy a wide, but inevitably temporary, advantage over potential adversaries in our technological capability, and so we grow both prideful of our position and forgetful of the very values that ennobled our success. Like all civilizations that have preceded us, we are passing through the culminating point of culture and starting down the precarious slope that lies beyond.

Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak

Soon, we must again answer an important question that has frequently been asked in the past: Do we really need a Marine Corps? As we know, Lt. Gen Victor H. Krulak answered that question in his book First to Fight: America does not need a Marine Corps—the other Services could manage an adequate defense without us but America wants a Marine Corps, because it feels safe knowing that there is a band of warriors always ready to respond rapidly, against unknown odds, to any national emergency. America felt good knowing that men of character, who shared a warrior ethos, stood ready to do its will. But some of America has changed its mind and now seems to regard virile virtues as a vestigial encumbrance upon a society that prefers dissolute equality over honest distinction.

Marine Corps history is replete with examples of uncommon valor and common virtues. The extraordinary successes that Marines have achieved in battle have earned for our Corps a reputation that is the envy of every other Service and that is unequaled in modern history. Our customs are steeped in tradition, and our traditions have been respected and honored by successive generations of Marines. We are esteemed by our countrymen and feared by our enemies. Our dead are remembered, and those who once wore our uniform, are forever entitled to claim the title “Marine.” We are indeed a unique and proud brotherhood of warriors.

Perhaps now is the time to recognize that although America might, for the first time need a Marine Corps, it no longer wants one. It is true that the future portends many littoral conflicts to which a Marine Corps should respond, but the other Services will adapt. They will certainly adapt better to amphibious warfare than the Marine Corps will adapt to recruiting sexual deviates. Marines are an incredulous lot by nature, and brutally honest in their observations and decisions. The young officers who attempt to explain how homosexuality is an “alternate” instead of a deviate life style will quickly lose the respect of their Marines and a bit of their own honor in the process. Sanitized terms like “sexual orientation” may serve to obfuscate the gross realities of a perverse lifestyle to a jaded public, but Marines living in a barracks will rightfully question leadership that discredits by association the sacrifices they are willing to make. The party line will be that homosexuals are Marines, just like you. The cognitive dissidence that this simple, yet official, lie must engender will tug at the credibility and ultimately rend the integrity of our Corps.

Critics claim that homosexuals already lurk in our ranks. The salient difference between the current reality and the proposed policy is that now the homosexuals lie to the Marine Corps. Soon we will find that to accommodate homosexuals, the Marine Corps must lie to Marines, and they in turn to one another. Institutions like the Marine Corps are not built upon deceit.

Official emblem of the United States Marine Corps - the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.

We dare not tarnish the reputation of our Corps. Too many valiant men have fallen in honor for us to allow the term “Marine” to be degraded in a futile attempt to lend dignity to practitioners of unnatural acts. It is time to case the battle colors and ask Congress to disband our Marine Corps. The Army has long sought the Marine Corps as its own, and in many of the world’s navies there are naval troops. We can preserve our reputation, and that of those who have preceded us, by not compromising our values as a Corps. We should transfer our personnel to another Service and don their uniform. It is better to wear proudly the uniform of another Service than to see the Globe and Anchor progressively defamed. As we know, the Marine Corps is not essential for national defense; it is an expression of pride and competence by a strong people. America is our home and the home of our families. There is still much here that is worth defending. By disbanding now we preserve more than a tradition of honor and service—we preserve a remnant of hope for a future generation.

There will be time in the future, as there has always been in the past, when America will be threatened. Survival may become a dim prospect, and ancient virtues and values will be recalled. From such a crucible may emerge a neophyte warrior who remembers that his grandfather, or perhaps his great-grandfather, had been a sergeant major of Marines. If he is confident in his fellow warriors, loyal to his country, resolved on victory,

Marine Corps Color Guard at the Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C.

uncompromising in integrity, and dedicated to both innovation and tradition, then he may have the audacity to claim the title “Marine.” Once again, America will want an elite corps of honorable men to do the difficult today and the near impossible tomorrow. Old battle colors, dusty but unstained, will be unfurled, and proud men will commit their lives to God, Corps, and Country. They will inherit an unblemished tradition, and what will provide the continuity between our Corps and theirs will be a common motto: Semper Fidelis! It will be the intervening years, when there wasn’t a Marine Corps, which will validate for all time the motto itself.

*                                     *                                          *

Arthur Corbett was a student at the Naval War College at the time this article first appeared in the January 1993 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette. He went on to retire from the Corps after 21 years of service with the rank of Colonel.

This article by Col. Corbett expresses the same elevation of spirit one can see in the testimony given by Col. John Ripley before the HASC in 1993.  For information regarding the first cradle to grave biography of Col. John Ripley, click here: An American Knight.

This article is re-printed courtesy of the Marine Corps Gazette and copyright is retained by the Marine Corps Gazette.

Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph

A Review of Richard Botkin’s Recent Book: Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam Story of Honor and Triumph

By Michael Whitcraft
One of the most cited and least understood wars in American history is Vietnam.  Due to these misunderstandings, it has become synonymous with the words quagmire and disaster.

Thus, opponents of current military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan decry our operations there saying that America is getting itself into “another Vietnam.”  However, were US military activities in Southeast Asia really so bad after all?

The answer is yes and no: Yes, they were certainly a worldwide embarrassment as our troops left the field of battle without victory.  However, judged by the performance of America’s military, the answer must be a resounding no.  Sadly, politicians, not warriors, decided the outcome.

Thus, the true story of the American soldiers’ valor must be told.  Such was the task of Richard Botkin in his recent 650-page tome, Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph.  In it, he successfully fulfills this task by doing exactly what his title suggests: telling the story of the Vietnam War in terms of honor and triumph.

The book primarily focuses on three Marine heroes: Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley, USMC and Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Le Ba Binh. In telling their stories, Mr. Botkin seamlessly intertwines a retelling of the history of the entire Vietnam War.  His work is painstakingly researched, yet highly readable.

Certain points stand out among the many details of the book.  First, the immense suffering that the Vietnamese people suffered at the hands of the Communists.  Mr. Botkin vividly demonstrates this with incidents of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA) intentional targeting of innocent civilians.

After the end of the war, more challenges awaited the devastated South, including persecution from their Northern captors. This included the creation of “reeducation” camps throughout the country.  Despite their inconspicuous label, these camps had nothing to do with regaining lost knowledge.  As Mr. Botkin points out, the installation of these camps “was nothing more than organized revenge on a massive scale.” (p. 548)

Ride the Thunder includes the story of how Lieutenant Colonel Le Ba Binh was forced to spend more than eight years in one such camp, during which time he was allowed less than two hours total visit time with his family.

Another important point Mr. Botkin highlights is the military success the American and South Vietnamese armies enjoyed throughout the war.  He convincingly dispels many media-created myths that Vietnam was a lost cause.

The fact is that American forces did not lose a single battle of any consequence in the entire war, in spite of their self-defeating policy that allowed the enemy free communications along the Ho Chi Minh trail and safe havens in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam.  Even the oft-touted Tet Offensive of 1968 was a very real defeat for the NVA.

Despite the operation’s enormous scope, South Vietnamese and American forces had already regrouped and began a counterattack within hours of its first salvos.  They were so successful that other than continued fighting in Hue and Khe Sahn, the entire offensive was defeated within two weeks.  In Hue, expelling the Communists took twenty-seven days, while the enemy eventual abandoned Khe Sahn as well.

Therefore, the North Vietnamese did not gain any ground and loss an estimated 45-50 thousand troops KIA during the offensive.  Many more thousands were captured.  (American deaths during the entire war are estimated at around 58 thousand.)

All-in-all, military leadership classified the operation as a tremendous victory.  The only Communist victory of the campaign had been fought for America’s soul.  As Mr. Botkin described it: “the Communist offensive did achieve a public relations coup with the American public well beyond what a militarily defeated [NVA] could have possibly dreamed.” (p. 146)

However, a Communist operation in March of 1972 dwarfed Tet in size, aggressiveness and overall danger to South Vietnam.  Dubbed the Easter Offensive, it began with a simultaneous attack on twelve bases that spanned the entire length of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  From its very beginning, all known friendly artillery positions came under attack.

With American troops already largely withdrawn, the objective seemed obvious and frighteningly obtainable: break through the South’s weak defensive lines and drive southward to Saigon, thus winning the war and subjecting all of Vietnam to Communist domination.

Fortunately for the South, the Communist troops met unbelievable resistance that was greatly aided by the actions of three tough Marine officers who refused to give up.

The first was Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Binh, whose battalion (known as Soi Bien or “Wolves of the Sea”) held the ground defending a bridge across the Cua Viet River at the city of Dong Ha.  The bridge was highly strategic because it was the only crossing in the area sturdy enough to support the more than 200 tanks the NVA had assembled on the north side of the river.

Lieutenant Colonel Binh persistently held his ground in spite of overwhelming odds.  It was his training and leadership that kept the situation together in Dong Ha as his men faced the fight of their lives.

The Lieutenant Colonel’s determination is well demonstrated in a radio message he sent out to his commanders when rumors began to circulate that Dong Ha had fallen.  He said:

It is rumored that Dong Ha has fallen…My orders are to hold the enemy in Dong Ha.  We will fight in Dong Ha.  We will die in Dong Ha.  We will not leave.  As long as one Marine draws a breath of life, Dong Ha will belong to us. (pp. 327-328)

While the desperation of the situation led scores of South Vietnamese troops throughout the DMZ to desert, not a man of the Soi Bien left his post.

Colonel Le Ba Binh, left, at the funeral of Col. John Ripley with Gy. Sgt. Jason Carrawell.

Their efforts supported American Colonel John W. Ripley, then serving with Colonel Binh as an advisor.  He would need all the help he could get as he took on a mission to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge, in an endeavor so daring that it has become part of Marine Corps legend.

The bridge’s superstructure was a hulking construction that had been made by American Seabees.  It was supported by six enormous I-beams three feet tall.  To destroy it, Colonel Ripley would have to hand-walk and crawl 500 pounds of TNT and Plastic Explosives one hundred feet into its under belly.  All the while, he would be submitted to continual enemy fire.  His difficulties were multiplied by the sleep and food deprivation he had suffered throughout the previous days.

The feat was so difficult that no one believed survival, let alone successful completion, was possible.  Nevertheless, after hours of intense physical exertion, everything had been put in place, the charges were detonated and the bridge was no more.  Colonel Ripley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day.

Some historians have argued that the destruction of that bridge was the single most important factor that postponed the defeat of South Vietnam until 1975.

However, there is another individual on whose shoulders the defense of South Vietnam during the Easter Offensive weighed heavily, but who has received insufficient historic recognition so far.  That is why Mr. Botkin’s description of the role played by Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley is of particular value.

When the Lieutenant Colonel chose to return to Vietnam in 1971, there were only about one thousand Marines still on the ground.  Since President Nixon’s policy of “Vietnamization” was fully underway, the brunt of the fighting was being born by Vietnamese soldiers.  That is why Lieutenant Colonel Turley fully expected to see little if any action during this, his second tour.

His role as assistant senior Marine advisor would consist in helping senior Marine advisor Colonel Josh Dorsey and perhaps filling in for him from time to time.  As such, he would live in Saigon, which, at the time, was far removed from combat.  The closest he imagined he would come to actual fighting was an occasional and uneventful visit to the frontlines.

Colonel Gerald Turley, Vietnam hero and author of The Easter Offensive.

His expectations were shattered when, on a four-day visit to I Corps Tactical Zone, the Easter Offensive broke out.  He happened to be at 3rd ARVN Division forward headquarters at Ai Tu when the Army officer in charge there began suffering nervous problems, abandoned his post and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Turley to take the helm.

Worse yet, communications with higher leadership in Saigon were practically nonexistent, meaning this change in command went unreported.  In addition to facing the largest Communist advance of the entire war, Lieutenant Colonel Turley also had to confront hostile and mistrustful leaders, who continually second guessed his decisions and attempted to countermand many of his orders.  The situation was so desperate, he was forced to take responsibility for disregarding some of the directives he received from higher-ups.

While other players in the offensive faced their predicament with the support of their leaders, expecting praise if they survived, Lieutenant Colonel Turley could only anticipate disciplinary action and perhaps court martial.

Diorama depicting Colonel John Ripley underneath the Dong Ha bridge located in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy.

Even when he ordered Colonel Ripley to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge, he did so against the direct wishes of his commanders.  However, the reality of over two hundred tanks about to cross the Cua Viet River and invade South Vietnam was too dangerous for him to accept when he had the possibility to prevent it.

In spite of having no food, virtually no sleep and a severe case of dysentery, he faced the opposition of his superiors and stood by his post, directing air, naval and ground operations that salvaged a desperate situation.  He continued in this capacity for a full four days until he was ordered back to headquarters for questioning.  The physical, psychological and moral stress he faced during this time can hardly be imagined.

Nevertheless, he survived and emerged as one of the greatest examples of “honor and triumph” of the entire war.

The stories of these three heroes and much more are included in Rich Botkin’s Ride the Thunder.  This makes it a must-read for all military-buffs, American patriots and especially those who are interested in knowing the true history of the Vietnam War – one not tainted by politically correct historians intent on criticizing America and especially its military.

However, readers should be warned that Mr. Botkin’s book, while less offensive than many military volumes, does have its share of profanity, which he mostly limited to the contents of direct quotes from characters in the book.  Similarly, there are references, though not graphic, to those activities that have unfortunately been so closely linked with soldiers throughout history.

Nevertheless, Ride the Thunder is an exciting and highly informative read.  No one’s military library is complete without it.