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Spencer's USMC History Thread

GySgt (Ret) Spencer

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Quotes by people who know Marines, those who are our friends, and our enemies, are part of the lore of the Marine Corps.  Those who have seen Marines in combat best understand what a Marine is.  Marines can say things about themselves all day long, but we are obviously bias.


I'll be posting quotes from friends and foe about the Marines in the future.  Here are two quotes from friendly warriors who fought along side U.S. Marines.

Kyle Quote.jpg

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
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Some of you may have heard that Marine General James "Mad Dog" Mattis is President Elect Trump's choice for Secretary of Defense.  Mattis is very likely the most beloved Marine Officer since Chesty Puller!


Some know Mattis for his many colorful quotes.  The following is one of them.

Mattis Quote.jpg


Mattis was an excellent Marine Officer who loved his Marines!  The following is a story which will illustrate one of the reasons he is so loved and admired and respected.  (He was forced to retire by Pres Obama who gutted the military and Marine Corps of some of their finest officers).

A General Mattis Christmas Story


A couple of months ago, when I told General Krulak, the former Commandant of the Marine Corps, now the chair of the Naval Academy Board of Visitors, that we were having General Mattis speak this evening, he said, “Let me tell you a Jim Mattis story.” General Krulak said, when he was Commandant of the Marine Corps, every year, starting about a week before Christmas, he and his wife would bake hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Christmas cookies. They would package them in small bundles.  Then on Christmas day, he would load his vehicle. At about 4 a.m., General Krulak would drive himself to every Marine guard post in the Washington-Annapolis-Baltimore area and deliver a small package of Christmas cookies to whatever Marines were pulling guard duty that day.


He said that one year, he had gone down to Quantico as one of his stops to deliver Christmas cookies to the Marines on guard duty. He went to the command center and gave a package to the lance corporal who was on duty.  He asked, “Who’s the officer of the day?”


The lance corporal said, “Sir, it’s Brigadier General Mattis.”


And General Krulak said, “No, no, no. I know who General Mattis is. I mean, who’s the officer of the day today, Christmas day?”


The lance corporal, feeling a little anxious, said, “Sir, it is Brigadier General Mattis.”


General Krulak said that, about that time, he spotted in the back room a cot, or a daybed. He said, “No, Lance Corporal. Who slept in that bed last night?”


The lance corporal said, “Sir, it was Brigadier General Mattis.”


About that time, General Krulak said that General Mattis came in, in a duty uniform with a sword, and General Krulak said, “Jim, what are you doing here on Christmas day? Why do you have duty?” General Mattis told him that the young officer who was scheduled to have duty on Christmas day had a family, and General Mattis decided it was better for the young officer to spend Christmas Day with his family, and so he chose to have duty on Christmas Day.


General Krulak said, “That’s the kind of officer that Jim Mattis is.”


The story above was told by Dr. Albert C. Pierce, the Director of the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics at The United States Naval Academy. He was introducing General James Mattis who gave a lecture on Ethical Challenges in Contemporary Conflict in the spring of 2006. This was taken from the transcript of that lecture.


GySgt (Ret) Spencer
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  • 1 month later...

Ramadi, Iraq, approx 2004.

The Marine on the ground was unconscious but alive.  One Marine ran out into the street to drag him off the bullet swept street and another Marine ran out to help.

The Marine shown in the photo dragging the wounded Marine, was badly wounded and couldn't carry on.  He had to let go and tried to get to cover.  He fell approximately ten feet away.  The third Marine was wounded but made it to cover.

The first Marine and the second Marine were shot several more times as they lay on the street and died. 


Wounded Marine.jpg

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
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Off hand, this description sounds like the story of when the Marines were moving up to stop the German advance 30 miles from Paris in 1918. The biggest problem their little trucks had was fighting against the human wave of civilians and French soldiers clogging the roads as they were fleeing toward Paris.

No one thought the Germans could be stopped, including the French High Command, who ordered the US Marines up to the front. They frankly hoped at best, the Marines would slow the Germans down, but certainly did not believe anyone could stop them. The French and Allied HQ was already making plans for losing the war and trying to figure out what their best options would be.

When the Marines got to the front near Chatteau Thierry, they looked across 800 yards of open wheat fields at a heavily wooded forest; an old hunting preserve called "Belleau Wood".


The rest as they say, is History.

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
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"DO OR DIE MEN" by George Smith

For those who don't know, my wife and I are getting our house ready to sell.  Part of the process includes packing away most of our books.  (My wife and I are readers).  I have a large number of books about Marines and the Marine Corps.

I decided it has been too long since I've given a history lesson about my beloved Corps and my Marine brothers, so I'm going to share some short stories taken from some of my books. 

It seems only appropriate that I should start with a story about the original Marine Raiders of WWII.  People today just can't conceive the intensity of the battles and horrific conditions the Marines fought under back then.  It's also hard to describe those men; how hard they were;  how intensely proud and committed they were; and, how much they loved their Corps.


October 1942, the First Marine Division and some attached units, on Guadalcanal.  One of those attached units was the 1st Marine Raider Battalion.   General Vandegrift believed fresh Japanese troops would attack over the ridge of hills south of the airfield, Henderson Field.  The Marines lines were already stretched thin because they had to cover such a large perimeter.  Vandegrift ordered Col Merritt "Red Mike" Edson, to take his Raiders to the ridges and help defend that approach with elements from two other units, including the 7th Marines.   As expected, crack Japanese troops attacked over the ridge of hills that night and kept attacking until near sunrise.      

Pg 119

"Another Navy Cross winner that night was little Edward Ahrens of Alpha Company.  Only five foot seven, and 130 pounds, PFC Ahrens was a whiz with a BAR.  At about 0300, Ahrens spotted a group of men, led by what appeared to be an officer, approaching his foxhole.  He couldn't tell they were Japanese until they were almost on top of him.  Although shot twice and bayoneted several times, Ahrens managed to kill the Japanese lieutenant, a sergeant and several others with his BAR before he fell seriously wounded back into his foxhole.  He was found the next morning by Major Walt, who was inspecting his lines.

"As I came upon his position that morning he was slumped down in one corner of the foxhole covered with blood from head to foot," Walt said.  "In the foxhole with him were two dead Japs, one a lieutenant and the other a sergeant.  There were eleven more dead Japs on the ground in front of his position."

"As the corpsman was administering morphine, Ahrens held a Jap sword up to me and said, "Major, here's a souvenir for you.  Those yellow bastards tried to come over me last night.  I guess they didn't know I was a Marine."


That thin line of Marines held that night, and again one of the best infantry units in the Japanese army was decimated.

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
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  • 2 weeks later...

Story filed on CNN during advance on Baghdad.


Where do they get young men like this?


Martin Savidge of CNN, embedded with the 1st Marines, was talking with 4 young Marines near his foxhole this morning live on CNN. He had been telling the story of how well the Marines had been looking out for and taking care of him since the war started. He went on to tell about the many hardships the Marines had endured since the war began and how they all look after one another. He turned to the four and said he had cleared it with their commanders and they could use his video phone to call home.


The 19 year old Marine next to him asked Martin if he would allow his Platoon Sergeant to use his call to call his pregnant wife back home whom he had not been able to talk to in three months.

A stunned Savidge who was visibly moved by the request shook his head and the young Marine ran off to get the sergeant.

Savidge recovered after a few seconds and turned back to the three young Marines still sitting with him and asked which one of them would like to call home first.  The Marine closest to him responded without a moments hesitation, " Sir, if is all the same to you we would like to call the parents of a buddy of ours, Lance Cpl Brian Buesing of Cedar Key, Florida who was killed on 3-23-03 near Nasiriya to see how they are doing".

At that Martin Savidge totally broke down and was unable to speak. All he could get out before signing off was "Where do they get young men like this?"

We don’t just get men like this.  They are the product of the training and esprit de corps of our nations most elite fighting force, and typical of most U.S. Marines.


Marines March Baghdad.jpg




GySgt (Ret) Spencer
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  • 1 month later...

This is a copy of a speech by Marine General John Kelly.   It is long, but worth reading.  I know we play a game together, but in truth, you should be honored to even pretend to be a US Marine.

This is a story of two young Marines, and how they died.  This is an example of the type of men Marines are, and am honored to be a US Marine.

"Everyone should read John Kelly's speech about 2 Marines in the path of a truck bomb"
Paul Szoldra,Business Insider 20 hours ago

John Kelly Speech.jpg


Nine years ago, two US Marines from very different walks of life met for the first time when they were put on guard duty at 7:30 in the morning.

Just minutes later, the pair of Marines guarding a gate in Ramadi, Iraq, were staring down a large blue truck packed with 2,000 pounds of explosives. They could have sought cover, like an Iraqi policeman on the scene who ran away and lived.  Instead, Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter and Cpl. Jonathan Yale stood their ground. Their split-second choice saved the lives of 50 people.


In 2010, then-Lt. Gen. John Kelly — who now serves as Secretary of Homeland Security — told their story to a packed house just four days after he had lost his own son, Robert, to combat in Afghanistan.


He spoke of the 9/11 attacks, the enemy that America was fighting, and praised the brave men and women who had volunteered to go overseas since then. Then he moved to the remarkable story of these two Marines, which he told the crowd, showed the "quality of steel in their backs."

Here's what he said:


Two years ago when I was the Commander of all U.S. and Iraqi forces, in fact, the 22nd of April 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8 were switching out in Ramadi. One battalion in the closing days of their deployment going home very soon, the other just starting its seven-month combat tour.  Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old respectively, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines.  The same broken down ramshackle building was also home to 100 Iraqi police, also my men and our allies in the fight against the terrorists in Ramadi, a city until recently the most dangerous city on earth and owned by Al Qaeda. Yale was a dirt poor mixed-race kid from Virginia with a wife and daughter, and a mother and sister who lived with him and he supported as well. He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other hand, was a middle class white kid from Long Island.


They were from two completely different worlds. Had they not joined the Marines they would never have met each other, or understood that multiple America’s exist simultaneously depending on one’s race, education level, economic status, and where you might have been born. But they were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible of Marine training, and because of this bond they were brothers as close, or closer, than if they were born of the same woman.


The mission orders they received from the sergeant squad leader I am sure went something like: “Okay you two clowns, stand this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” “You clear?” I am also sure Yale and Haerter then rolled their eyes and said in unison something like: “Yes Sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the point without saying the words, “No kidding sweetheart, we know what we’re doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.


A few minutes later a large blue truck turned down the alley way—perhaps 60-70 yards in length—and sped its way through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically. Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest two hundred yards away knocking most of a house down before it stopped.  Our explosive experts reckoned the blast was made of 2,000 pounds of explosives. Two died, and because these two young infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers-in-arms.


When I read the situation report about the incident a few hours after it happened I called the regimental commander for details as something about this struck me as different. Marines dying or being seriously wounded is commonplace in combat. We expect Marines regardless of rank or MOS to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die in the process, if that is what the mission takes. But this just seemed different.  The regimental commander had just returned from the site and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses to the event—just Iraqi police. I figured if there was any chance of finding out what actually happened and then to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their bravery, I’d have to do it as a combat award that requires two eye-witnesses and we figured the bureaucrats back in Washington would never buy Iraqi statements. If it had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general officer.


I traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police all of whom told the same story. The blue truck turned down into the alley and immediately sped up as it made its way through the serpentine. They all said, “We knew immediately what was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police then related that some of them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion.  All survived. Many were injured ... some seriously. One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up said, “They’d run like any normal man would to save his life.”

What he didn’t know until then, he said, and what he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal. Choking past the emotion he said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and done what they did.”

“No sane man.”  “They saved us all.”

What we didn’t know at the time, and only learned a couple of days later after I wrote a summary and submitted both Yale and Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of our security cameras, damaged initially in the blast, recorded some of the suicide attack. It happened exactly as the Iraqis had described it. It took exactly six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated.


You can watch the last six seconds of their young lives. Putting myself in their heads I supposed it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. Exactly no time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes before: “ ... let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.”


The two Marines had about five seconds left to live. It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up. By this time the truck was half-way through the barriers and gaining speed the whole time. Here, the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were—some running right past the Marines. They had three seconds left to live.


For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines’ weapons firing non-stop...the truck’s windshield exploding into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore in to the body of the son-of-a-bitch who is trying to get past them to kill their brothers—American and Iraqi—bedded down in the barracks totally unaware of the fact that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. If they had been aware, they would have known they were safe ... because two Marines stood between them and a crazed suicide bomber.


The recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two Marines. In all of the instantaneous violence Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.

The truck explodes. The camera goes blank.

Two young men go to their God.

Six seconds.  Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty ... into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight—for you.

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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  • 3 weeks later...



After World War 1, Germans wrote about the war.  Here are some of the quotes from Germans who fought or encountered Americans after the war.

(And, NO, I wasn't there!)

1. Chief of Staff for General v. Einem, Third German Army

“I fought in campaigns against the Russian Army, the Serbian Army, the Roumanian Army, the British Army, the French Army, and the American Army. All told in this war I have participated in more than 80 battles. I have found your American Army the most honorable of all our enemies. You have also been the bravest of our enemies and in fact the only ones who have attacked us seriously in this year’s battles. I therefore honor you, and, now that the war is over, I stand ready, for my part, to accept you as a friend.”

2. Karl Finkl of Bolingen

“The prevailing opinion in Germany before our entry into war, was, that American was a money hunting nation, too engrossed in the hunt of the dollar to produce a strong military force. But since our troops have been in action the opinion has changed, and he says that though Germany is at present a defeated nation, he believes that they would be victors in a war with any nation in the world with the exemption of the United States.”

3. Antone Fuhrmann of Mayschoss

“There were only a handful of Americans there but they fought like wildmen.”

4. Peter Bertram, shopkeeper of Dernau

“I had been told by other soldiers that the American infantryman was reckless to the point of foolishness.”

7. Postal Censorship, April 12, 1919

“Prisoners of war under American jurisdiction continue to send home glowing reports of good treatment. It is clearly deducible that they are more satisfied with their present condition, than they would be at home”

8. M. Walter of Minderlittgen

“The attitude of the American officer towards enlisted men is very different than in our army in which officers have always treated their men as cattle.”

9. Michael Simon of Neuerburg

“Children have constantly talked of the Americans’ arrival, and pictured them as a band of wild Indians, however, when they troops arrived, we were astonished at their behavior and pleasant attitude toward our people.”

10. Karl Schramem, Landstrumer of Zermullen

“The American troops show much more consideration for the private rights of the inhabitants of the village than did the German troops.”

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ramadi, 2004, Golf Company, 2/4, 1st Platoon, aka Joker One.

The four platoons were assigned Joker 1, 2, 3 and 4.  The book, "Joker One, A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood".


The book is written by Joker One Actual, Platoon Commander, 1st Lt Campbell.  The Marines replaced the Army in Ramadi who the Marines always felt really screwed things up.  Hence, the Marines were called in.  One Marine battalion for a city of 350,000.


After losing Corporal Bolden in an RPG attack, the first fatality of the platoon, Lt Campbell was feeling depressed about Bolden's death.  Campbell wrote this in the book talking about his magnificent Marines;


"They weren't bitter, they weren't angry, and, unlike me, they weren't trapped in a selfish spiral of recrimination and angst.  On some level, my men still retained a beautiful, simple, powerful faith:  There was a mission to help a brutalized people, that mission was worth doing, and if someone had to do it, then it might as well be them.  And if anyone tried to stop my Marines in pursuit of that mission, then God help them, because my men would do their utmost to kill our enemies stone dead.


"My Marines were magnificient, and they saved me that time.


". . . I watched them, and I noticed, perhaps more intently than ever before, all the small wonderful things that made my Marines the best.


(long list of examples)


"All these things and more that I can't put into words I noticed, but prepared me to finally receive some sort of absolution in the form of the skinny, filthy, wonderful PFC Gabriel Henderson.  For whatever reason, Henderson's tender heart kept a close eye on me, and one day, roughly two weeks after Bolding's death, he walked up to me and said out of the blue.


"Hey sir. you know that none of the platoon blames you for what happened to Bolding.  It's okay sir."


I didn't know what to say to that.


Henderson broke into a big smile.  "Bolding's in heaven now sir, and I know that he's smiling down at us right now, just like he always smiled at us when he was here.  He's okay sir.  Don't worry sir.  He's okay.  And someday you will get to see him again sir."


I had to turn away to keep from crying.



Joker One was a well oiled fighting machine, just like most Marine infantry units.  And like so many other books by Marines and Marine Officers, they felt like their men were the best and would walk to the gates of hell for them.  It just Marines being Marines, like they've done for over two hundred years!

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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  • 1 month later...

I always find the comments and stories by friend or foe about Marines and/or the Marine Corps very interesting and informative. The following quotes are from the book, "Condition Red: Destroyer Action In the South Pacific" by Frederick Bell. Bell was a senior officer and CO on a destroyer in the Pacific in World War 2.


Chapter "Warriors for the Working Day, page 72


". . . because we destroyer sailors have seen a lot of them during the past year and we think they're the most magnificent close combat fighters the world has ever known. They go about their work with a matter-of-fact confidence; they possess an esprit de corps that is superb. Of all the warriors I have seen - United Nations and Axis, the United States Marines are the ones that I would want most to have on my side."


page 73

"The Japs fight only defensively in the daytime. At night they attempt their bayonet charges and their infiltration tactics. Heretofore this has proved demoralizing to the troops opposing them, but the Marines don't scare. They stay put in their foxholes and fire at anything that moves. It must be very discouraging to the Japanese. They never met first class fighting men before."


Chapter, "Christmas, 40 South


page 141

"It took only a few hours to embark the Marines who were being evacuated. They had been on that damnable island since August 7th and they were ready to leave. In the four months on Guadalcanal they had seen enough close combat, hand-to-hand fighting, air raids, naval bombardment and just plain hell to last any fighting man the rest of his natural life. There were not many of them; a bare handful, as armies go, but they had left their mark on Japan as no one ever had done before. To speak of these men as heroic, magnificent, would be inadequate as well as meaningless, for descriptive words and phrases have been over-worked in the writings of this war."

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
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  • 2 months later...

Marine Corps History by Spencer


Book Reviews




As everyone knows, this summer has been crazy for us.  With the exception of a few suitcases and what we can fit in our car, all our property is in storage, including my collection of Marine books.  That hasn’t stopped me from reading digital books.  In the past month, I read a couple Marine related books from the Vietnam war.  Both books told the stories of specific significant battles involving two different Marine units.


I was surprised to discover both stories had numerous similarities.  Both battles involved one Marine company; both occurred within a couple months of each other in 1967; both companies were ambushed; both companies were surrounded; both companies were involved in larger operations at the time; both companies were heavily outnumbered and outgunned by regular NVA army forces; the battles lasted a day and night; and, both companies took heavy casualties.  Both companies destroyed their attackers!


In one case, radio Hanoi was announcing the annihilation of the Marine company during the battle, so confident were they of victory.  The courage, skill, and determination of those Marines was amazing and incredible, and yet so typical of US Marines!


I’m going to post two separate summaries of these books and battles, using quotes from the books.  The challenge will be to keep the summaries short while doing justice to the books, and the warriors who deserve our respect and admiration.


GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sergeant Herman Hanneken, USMC

Hanneken USMC_1.png


Awarded the Medal Of Honor for action in Haiti, 1919.


Since 1895 Haiti was primarily associated with two characteristics; Voodoo, and revolutions.  In the twenty years between 1895 and 1915, there had been no fewer than thirteen governments in Haiti.  Haiti hadn’t been a stable country since it attained independence from France in 1804, and things had only gotten worse. The people didn’t know what peace and posterity was.  Most were hungry, illiterate and victims of unrelenting corruption.


In 1914, most of Europe was at war.  That didn’t stop German from trying to take advantage of the chaos in Haiti by obtaining control of its commerce.  The US completed the Panama Canal in 1914 and the US Navy Atlantic Fleet operated a coaling station in the Haitian port of Mole St Nicholas.  For these reasons, the US was no longer content to let the dysfunctional situation in Haiti continue.


President Woodrow Wilson ordered the US Marines into Haiti to restore peace, secure the coaling station and rebuild the nation, thereby securing America’s Caribbean flank against German incursions.


The Marines immediately took control of the inept and unreliable Haitian military.  Marine NCO’s assumed commissioned ranks in the Haitian constabulary and commanded Haitian enlisted men.  They began the difficult task of rooting out rebels, bandits and anyone who threatened the peace.    


In 1917, Charlemagne Peralte, a rebel leader, declared himself the country’s ruler and established a provisional government in a heavily jungled region of northern Haiti.  He built a confederation of 15,000 rebels and sympathizers.  The Marines considered Charlemagne the country’s biggest threat and chased him for two years without success.  They were never able to infiltrate his ranks or get close enough to kill him, let alone find him.


In 1919, twenty six year old Marine Sergeant Henry Hanneken, held the rank of captain in the Haitian Constabulary, and commanded a native force near Black Mountains.  Charlemagne’s base of operations was suspected to be in this area so Hanneken considered eliminating Charlemagne his top priority.


Using the native Haitian troops the Marines trained, Hanneken created a fake guerrilla force commanded by one of his loyal Haitian NCO’s.  Hanneken hoped they would be able to convince the naturally suspicious and cautious Charlemagne that this new rebel force were legitimate guerilla’s.  If Charlemagne bought the deception Hanneken’s hoped his fake rebel force might be able to learn where Charlemagne and his army were hidden.  Hanneken armed them with carbines from his own armory, fed them and clothed them, with his own money, because there were no funds available for such an enterprise.


Charlemagne had spies and informants everywhere, so to make the ruse work, Hannaken had his fake guerilla force ambush a patrol he led near a village where Charlemagne sympathizers lived.  Hanneken even faked a bullet wound to enhance the deception.  It worked.  Charlemagne allowed this new small guerrilla force into his base camp.  To test his new recruits, Charlemagne ordered them to attack a government armory and steal weapons.


Hanneken’s “rebels” came down the mountain and told Hanneken what happened.  That night Hanneken devised a plan for his fake rebel force, to include himself and Marine Corporal Button.  Cpl Button was a great hand with a BAR, which he carried that night.  Button and Hanneken, the only white men in the group, spread soot from kerosene lamps over all their exposed skin, and together this force headed into the mountains to Charlemagne’s camp.  After two hours marching up the mountains in the black moonless night, they reached the first of many guard outposts.  Hanneken and Button were concerned their sweat would wash off or streak the soot on their faces and give them away, but they made it through.  After more than an hour and passing several guarded checkpoints, they finally made it to Charlemagne’s camp.


They walked in to a small clearing in the base camp where there was a campfire.  Charlemagne was standing to one side, guarded by two large armed bodyguards in front and to each side of him.  Charlemagne said, “Who is it?”  Without a moment’s hesitation, Hanneken quickly walked right between the bodyguards, so close he brushed up against one of them, drawing his .45 caliber pistol as he moved and shot Charlemagne through the heart.


A woman tending to the campfire dumped a pot of coffee on it, extinguishing the fire and turning the campsite into pitch black chaos.  Cpl Button went to work with his BAR.  Their Marine trained troops, the fake guerrilla force, pitched in.  Hanneken ignored the turmoil around him, and groped in the darkness until he found guerrilla chief’s body, and then shot him twice more for good measure.


Most of the rebels fled into the jungle.  Others stayed and paid with their lives.  Two were captured.  After the shooting was over, Hanneken brought over the two prisoners, lit a match to illuminate their dead leaders corpse.  He set them free, knowing they would spread the word, Charlemagne was really dead.


They took Charlemagne’s corpse with them to a large town down the mountain.  He tore a door off the hinges of a nearby shack, and tied Charlemagne’s corpse to it.  The next day he propped the corpse laden door up in a market place for all to see.  Later they buried Charlemagne in a secret place to prevent his body from being used in voodoo ceremonies.  Hundreds of rebel troops came down the mountain and surrendered.


Sgt Hanneken and Corporal Button were each awarded the Medal of Honor for their amazing feat and Hanneken was given a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant.



That isn’t the end of the story of Marine Hanneken; not by a long shot.  More later. 

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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  • 1 month later...




Hanneken's story didn't end with the death of the bandit and revolutionary Charlemagne.  Here is the rest of his story.



Approximately a decade after killing Charlemagne, now 1st Lt Hanneken was leading an eight-man patrol in Nicaragua, where they were battling another revolutionary, Augusto Sandino.  He paused his patrol and put four men on guard duty while he let the other four take a bath in the river.  Within a short time, one of his men rushed up and whispered that a man was coming down the path toward them.  Hanneken quickly got his men out of the river and set up an ambush.  They easily captured the rider of a mule who turned out to be General Manuel Giron.  Giron was Sandino's top assassin who killed several important Nicaraguan government officials and was also suspected of torturing and mutilating a Marine he had captured.


Giron was interrogated for one month until Giron had given up all his knowledge about Sandino's organization and valuable biographical data on his men.  Giron was tried, sentenced to death and executed shortly thereafter. 


Hanneken was awarded his second Navy Cross for this incident, and also for a series of daring raids and heart-stopping firefights over a six month period, during which he distinguished himself by his gallantry. 


During World War II, as a Lt Colonel, he commanded the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines on Guadalcanal.  Lt Col Lewis "Chesty" Puller commanded the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines at the same time.  He was awarded a Silver Star for Gallantry for his actions on Guadalcanal.  Both he and Chesty Puller were promoted to the rank of Colonel at the same time; Hanneken was given command of the 7th Marines and Puller was given command of the 1st Marines.  Hanneken and Puller commanded their units together in the Peleliu and Bougainville campaigns.


Hanneken retired from the Corps in 1948, as a Brigadier General, ending his magnificent 34 year career.  


In Author Paul Kirchner's book, "More of the Deadliest Men Who Ever Lived", Kirchner compared Hanneken to George Patton, Manfred von Richtofen, and Richard the Lionhearted. 

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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  • 2 weeks later...

“Lions of Medina”

By Doyle Glass


Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st MARDIV

Que Son Valley, South Vietnam

October 1967


Italics are direct from the book.


“Jack Ruffer was five years old and living at Hickam Field in Hawaii when he saw his first Marine, a guard at the entrance to the US Naval Station at Pearl Harbor.  The little boy was both fascinated and intimidated by the Marine wearing starched khakis, spit shined boots, and a .45 on his hip.  Ruffer had seen military men before, but he felt this one was different, so he asked his mother about the man.


“Oh, he’s a Marine,” his mother said.


“What are Marines?” Ruffer asked innocently.


“His mother searched for an answer.  “They’re . . . different,” she finally said.”


SUMMARY:  In October 1967, the 3rd Marines, 3rd MARDIV, were assigned to locate, engage, destroy two crack NVA Regiments that had moved into the Que Son Valley.   The area they were to search was very dense, triple canopy jungle.  It was going to be very hard to locate and defeat the NVA in this terrain.  The plan called for a classic hammer and anvil strategy.  A battalion of the 3rd Marines was assigned as the blocking force, and the attacking or pushing force was 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.


Charlie and Delta Companies, 1/1, were the attacking force.  Charlie Company, assigned to take the lead, was inserted into an LZ, began pushing through the dense jungle cutting their own trails to avoid ambush.  Delta was flown in to the LZ and followed Charlie’s trail.  It was grueling work chopping through such a dense bug infested jungle in the intense heat.  There were few places you could see further ahead than 30 feet.  It was physically exhausting chopping through the dense underbrush so fresh men had rotated to the point regularly.


The progress was slower than planned and the battalion CO was concerned the two Marine companies would not be able to make their first objective before dark.  Late in the afternoon, the battalion CO ordered Charlie Company CO, Captain Major, to move his company over to a known trail, so they could make their objective before dark.  Captain Major protested but his protest was overruled.  Lance Corporal Cahill, a natural leader was an experienced and respected point man.  Cahill complained saying he had a bad feeling about taking the trail.


They found the trail which turned and went uphill.  A short distance later, NVA sprung an ambush with machine guns and grenades. 


Suddenly, the stillness was shattered by the deafening staccato crack of machine gun.  Small arms fire tore through the column of men.  Grenades fell from the sky like rain, sending shards of hot shrapnel though the Marines as they detonated.


The predictable, yet lethal ambush had been sprung.  The North Vietnamese had been waiting for the Marines on the well concealed hill.


Several Marines went down, including Cahill.  The Marines reacted like they had been trained.  They fought to gain fire superiority and after suppressing and killing the enemy, several Marines took the initiative and charged the ridge where the ambush was positioned.


Nelson’s remaining squads arrived quickly to reinforce the point men.  They fired at the enemy, pushing them back a little and securing the area.  Since the enemy had control of the hill overlooking the ambush site, the Marines had to stand in order for their fire to be effective, but standing made them targets for the enemy.  So taking the high ground was essential.  After establishing a base of fire directed at the high ground where the enemy had its best advantage, some of the Marines moved up and took the ridge from the NVA.


Eventually, the entire platoon moved up to the top of the hill where there was a small clearing.   They established a perimeter around the hilltop to create and LZ so they could medevac their wounded and dead.  1st and 2nd platoons moved up the trail, joining 3rd platoon on the hilltop. 


Usually, the appearance of more Marines would cause the sound of battle to taper off as the enemy retreated.  Not this time.  As more Marines got involved, more NVA got involved.


Even though the NVA machine guns had been taken out, the men on the trail were still taking fire from an AK47 somewhere farther up the hill to the left.  The men couldn’t see who was up there.  There could have been one rifleman or an entire squad.  It didn’t matter.  A sergeant wanted to silence all fire coming from that direction.  He looked at Lewis and Jackson and said, “We’re going to assault that hill!”


The three men charged the ridge.  As they moved up, they took fire from their left.


Finally, after about 20 minutes, the enemy broke off contact.  The Marines slowed their rate of fire and then stopped firing altogether.


Doc Hammergren had run out of bandages and had to use pieces of torn clothing to dress wounds.  He also needed water to continue tending to the wounded Marines.


Cahill’s sudden death stunned many of the Marines who knew him.  He was a likeable Marine with great sense of humor and a strong Boston accent that often made the others laugh.  “KC could do anything for anybody,” says Krisko, who was in Cahill’s fireteam.  “He was a Marine’s Marine.  He was always at the front.  Always.  Before he would send you, he would go.”  Cahill didn’t have to be walking point; it was an assignment he volunteered to take.


Even with the trees gone, the LZ was still confined and dangerous.  It measured a mere 80 to 90 feet in diameter.  Only one medevac could come in at a time, and that helicopter could not fully land.  The pilot could put the helo’s (UH-34) front wheels down, but the elevation of the hill falling off behind the LZ would not allow the pilot to drop the craft’s tail section to the ground.


The enemy had used the noise of the helicopters to conceal their movements and creep in on top of the Marines.


PFC Williams Nelson was a Tennessean with second platoon.  He was cut down by a blast of AK47 fire across his abdomen and chest.


Doc Hammergren rush over and tried to stem the bleeding, but the normal techniques weren’t working.  Amidst the confusion and peril of combat, Hammergren decided to perform open-chest surgery on Nelson.  He knew he had to take the chance or Nelson was a dead man.


Through his radio, Yates related instructions to Hammergren from a battalion surgeon who was on a hill behind Charlie Company.  Hammergren worked furiously to stem the bleeding.  Miraculously, Nelson was still alive when the corpsman was finished.


Strong, unceasing automatic weapons unloaded a constant stream of bullets on the Americans.  This wasn’t an ambush.  It was a full scale attack.


The enemy had moved in on them in great strength.  Charlie Company was almost completely surrounded on top of that little knoll by an enemy that outnumbered them three to one.  It would take every ounce of courage as Marines to survive.


On the evening of the main attack, there was no doubt in my mind that their objective was to overrun us.  They kept coming at us.  The purpose of the ambush was to stop us, which they did.  That evening, they tried to wipe us out.


Thompson quickly reported back that there were not enough men in Third Platoon to hold off the NVA onslaught.  They needed reinforcements fast.  (Captain) Major got back on the radio to Lieutenant Ruffer.  “Get down here!” he commanded.


Ruffer saw dead NVA on the trail as he ran, including one body that had been decimated by the intense battle following the ambush.


Seymour and his men started putting mortar fire out just beyond the Marine lines in the direction of the heavy fire.  But it was hard for them to know where to fire, because enemy rounds were coming in from almost all directions in substantial volume.


The second one landed closer to Camil, sending shrapnel into his legs.  His leg instantly went numb, and for a moment he thought it had been blown off.  “Kane”, he screamed.  “The bottom of my leg, is it still there?”  Kane shouted back, “You’re all set”  Reassured, Camil ignored the injury and went back to his task of calculating the enemies location.


George Dougherty had been in firefights before, but nothing like this.  The roar of the battle was unlike anything he had ever experienced.  The uninterrupted fire sounded like the hum of a giant bee rather than the on-and-off staccato that he was used to.


Mike Robinson saw the Marines were surrounded and thought he was a dead man.  Well, I had a good life, he thought.  “I hoped that God was willing enough to help us out here and maybe get us through it, or if I did have to die, maybe it was just my time to go” he says.  “But I was going to do the best job I could until then.”


As darkness fell, the lines of red and greenish tracer fire became more brilliant.  The enemy became bolder.  Down the trail, on the south side of the Marine Perimeter, two squads of NVA soldiers broke through and charged straight at the Marine tenuous position.  A machine gun team headed by Cpl Sherman Betts fired its M60.  “They’re coming this way,” Betts shouted.  A moment later, a grenade exploded among Betts and his men.  All were wounded, Betts with a severe back wound.  But he crawled to the gun and fired more rounds, keeping the NVA at bay.


From his position, he saw Third Platoon Sergeant Thomas Livingston take on the enemy.  Livingston took positions behind the trees, watched for the muzzle flash of an enemy sniper, then shot the sniper and moved to the next tree.  The Marine’s coolness under fire gave Hutchings and the other men courage to follow.


Despite the gravity of the situation, Hartranft observed something remarkable.  The training, the esprit de corps, and the brotherhood in arms held the Marines together: “Picture yourself in a pitch-black setting, except for the flashes of light.  You have to know the guy is on your left and on your right; you have to know their job, what they have with them, what their duties are in your fireteam, where your squad leader is.  These guys knew it all.


Someone yelled, “They’re testing our lines!”  The NVA were looking for a weak spot, a place where they would break through the Marine line.


The Marines were being hit from three directions.


Down the trail near Charlie Company’s front line on the south side, machine gunner Cpl Jimmie Leonard was wounded.  The rest of his squad was down.  He stayed at his gun, firing relentlessly at an enemy machine gun down the trail, killing any NVA who stepped forward to man the weapon.  One by one he picked off seven soldiers until there were no enemy gunners left.  Leonard’s success made him a marked target.  He was shot a second time and put out of the fight.


Zorn watched wave after wave of NVA attack the Marine lines.


Grenades began to rain into the LZ with renewed intensity.  Thump.  Thump.  Thump.  One exploded near Ruffer.  It was at this moment he realized the Marines were facing an overwhelming force and that he wasn’t going to make it home.  He knelt on one knee and prayed, “God, take care of Patty and the kids.”  As soon as I said it, I felt this feeling of warmth and security, he says.  Not that I was going to survive, but that I was prepared to die.  Everything was much easier then.


Ruffer was a Marine Lieutenant, and he was going to do what Marine Officers were supposed to do.  “This was very important to me, he says.  “I wanted to maintain that Marine tradition.  You don’t do that by getting behind the men and pushing them forward.  You get in front of the men and say, ‘Follow me!’  You do what you are asking tham to do.  This meant that as a Marine Lieutenant, I would be where the NVA wanted me.  My chances of survival were low.”


There weren’t many men to put into position.  Many were down – at least a dozen, probably more.  Corpsmen were treating the wounded.  Even wounded men were trying to return fire.


Despite Marine attempts to fill the gaps in the perimeter, NVA soldiers were getting through.


On the east side of Charlie Company’s perimeter, on the low terrain at the bottom of the LZ, SSgt Bill Cooley and his men had been firing into the jungle, trying to bait the enemy into shooting back.  Suddenly a fragmentation grenade exploded nearby.  Cooley fell, wounded, but staggered to his feet and continued to fight.


Second Platoon was holding the line, but elsewhere things were getting desperate.  More Marines were going down.  Ammunition was low. The enemy was still firing on full automatic.


The men of Charlie Company were in dire straits.


It was possible that yet another company of NVA soldiers had joined the battle against the already outnumbered Marines.


The fate of Charlie Company now rested on the shoulders of the young lieutenant.  To the fill the gaps, he had to take the fight to the enemy.  He had to lead his men into the forest.  He had to inspire his men to charge forward in what seemed like a suicide mission.


The enemy was attacking in great strength from three sides.  Many Marines were sure that they were about to be overrun and slaughtered.


It seemed like we just kept shooting, that ammunition was running low and the enemy attacks were not slackening off.


The men were scattered across the battle zone in small pockets concealed by dense foliage.  They had no way of seeing how many of their comrades were left.  They had the only sense that a larger, stronger enemy force surrounded them.  They had no time to rest; they were constantly facing an assault.


We pretty much figured that we were dead.


Just when the NVA assault was at its highest, a wounded Marine yelled, “CORPSMAN UP!  CORPSMAN UP!”  Somewhere, with the bullets flying everywhere, a corpsman yelled back, “I DON’T MAKE HOUSE CALLS!”  The only thing you could do was laugh, Boze says.  “It just broke everybody up.  It took the seriousness away from the fighting to the point where everybody was laughing.


Jack Ruffer had to do something, anything to stop the communist onslaught.  If he didn’t all his men would die.  So he drew the only weapon that his men had in ample supply: Marine spirit.  He jumped to his feet into the line of enemy fire and shouted, “LET’S GO GET SOME!”

Then he drew a deep breath and, at the top of his lungs, began to sing: FROM THE HALLS OF MONTEZUMA, TO THE SHORE OF TRIPOLI,

Robinson heard the singing amid the explosions and thought, Are you out of your mind?  We’re getting our ass kicked and you’re singing the Marines Hymn.


But one Marine voice joined in, then another.  And another.  WE FIGHT OUR COUNTRY’S BATTLES, IN THE AIR ON LAND AND SEA.  Now Robinson thought, “This couldn’t be better!”  It had to be mind-boggling for the enemy,” he says.  “They’re thinking; How can these Marines be singing?  Man, they must have thought we were crazy of nuts or something.


Jackson and the Marines around him started screaming “The Hymn”.  As more Marines joined in, the singing grew louder and louder.  FIRST TO FIGHT FOR RIGHT AND FREEDOM, AND TO KEEP OUT HONOR CLEAN,


“It echoed out there in the jungle,” Robinson says.  “It was just really cool.”  “The Marines Hymn made us fight better,” Robinson says.  “It made us say to ourselves, ‘Hey, we’re not going to die.  We’re not going to let them kill us.”


From that point, we went from being on their terms to putting them on our terms.


Upon hearing “The Hymn”, the surviving Marines, many of the wounded, grabbed whatever weapons they could find.  “Unless you were dead, you had no good reason to lie there,” Ruffer says.


To hear that in the middle of the jungle in the middle of the battle was something you dream about.  It gave me chills; the hair on my neck stood up.  I wanted to go up and join the fight.


About 140 Marines, many of them wounded, facing three or four companies of NVA, which amounted to 400 to 500 well trained, motivated and disciplined soldiers.  Grenades were landing inside the perimeter at the rate of six or seven a minute.  The outnumbered Marines attacked.


Ruffer yelled, “LET’S GO CHARLIE!” and charged down the trail.  His men followed.


Hartranft was impressed by the heroism of the young Marines, many of whom were only 18 and 19 years old.  “It had to be a hard thng to do to get up when that lieutenant gave that order and sang ‘The Hymn’, he says.  “It had to be hard to charge into a thick forest and have no idea what is two feet in front of you.  But they did.  I’ll never forget that.  To a man, when that lieutenant told them to get up and go forward, they did it without hesitation.”


Ruffer’s counterattack lasted 10 to 15 minutes, and then the volume of fire began to taper off.  The Marines seemed to have killed or at least pushed back some of the NVA.  There were sporadic rounds, and the it was quiet.


The counterattack pushed the enemy back and expanded the Marine perimeter.  The men however, were spread thinly, sometimes as much as 15 meters apart.  “I was amazed at how steadfast and committed they were to holding their ground alone,” Ruffer says.  “Many of the men, like SSgt Cooley, were wounded, yet they refused to leave their posts.  “The men were magnificent,” Ruffer says.  “Every man who was down there held his ground alone.”


The men were also in bad shape physically.  Many were wounded and all were fatigued and thirsty.


The lull in the fighting did not last for long.  The NVA were stunned by the Marine counterattack, but it took little time for them to regroup.  Other soldiers might have withdrawn altogether after the deadly Marine charge.  It was clear to the North Vietnamese that these Americans would rather fight to the last man than give up an inch of ground.  The Vietnamese, however were professional soldiers.  They knew they still have an advantage in manpower of almost four to one.


Ruffer had to counterattack again to push the North Vietnamese back.  He grabbed any men he could find and charged down the trail, following the same path he took when he made the first charge.


As the Marines pushed down the hill, the enemy’s volume of fire reduced almost immediately.


The NVA knew that the Marines would eventually run out of ammo.  If Charlie Company wasn’t relieved or resupplied soon, the North Vietnamese would take them.


After hours of fighting, many Marines were out of ammunition.  The perimeter was thinly held.  The Americans were holding, but with one more determined attack, the enemy might break through.  What had seemed like a small ambush had erupted into a battle pitting one company of Marines against an entire battalion of NVA soldiers.  Charlie Company needed help, badly.


Over the radio, Lt Col Belbusti asked: “Are you ready for Delta?”

Yes” Major said.  “It’s time to be reinforced.”

“They’re on the way.” Belbusti said.


Many rifles were useless.  Their owners had run out of ammunition.  The men would have to fight with whatever they had (until Delta could get there).  Fireteam leader Chambers brandished a machete.  Another man had an entrenching tool.  Others stood ready with knives  Ruffer thought briefly about giving the order to fix bayonets.


Ruffer decided to attack once more down the trail at Third Platoon’s weak right flank.  The enemy was down there, still in strength, and moving forward. 


Armed with little more than fierce courage and determination, the Marines advanced again down the trail.  They found the enemy almost immediately.  Chambers killed a man with his machete.  Another NVA fell to a Marine entrenching tool.  Ruffer thought, How much worse can it get?  We are out of ammo and down to E-tools.  This can’t go on much longer.


After killing the NVA soldier, Ruffer advanced fifteen to twenty meters.  The enemy soldiers same out of the darkness in quick succession.  Ruffer fired at the approaching forms until he was out of bullets.  Then another form stepped out of the shadows.  Ruffer threw his pistol at the enemy soldier with one hand and stabbed him with the KA-Bar in his other.  The lieutenant tried to advance, but tripped over a body or a root and fell.  As he lay on his back he was struck in the right abdomen by a piece of spent tracer round.  The bullet fragment burned a hole in his shirt, penetrated his right mid-abdomen, broke his right lower rib, and lodged in the right side of his chest under his right arm.


Before he could get up, he saw a dark form hovering above him.  An NVA standing above, pointed the barrel of his AK47 down at him.  But before the man could fire, Ruffer heard a swish and a thump.  The soldier fell on top of him.  Chamber, still armed with only his machete, had taken out the NVA soldier.


One more determined assault by the enemy would break the Marines.  The men simply didn’t have enough ammunition to stem to tide.  Armed with a few bullets, knives, machetes, entrenching tools, and courage, the Americans waited for the inevitable enemy onslaught.


Yates tuned into “Hanoi Hannah,” a North Vietnamese propagandist who sought to erode morale of American servicemen.  Over the radio, Hannah taunted: “Charlie Company, First Marines, you die tonight!”  Yates and the other men were bewildered.  How did the NVA and Hanoi Hannah know who the hell we were?


“SADDLE UP!” yelled Lieutenant Lampo, commander of First Platoon.  Delta Company was moving in.


Griffin had a great deal of respect for his lieutenant.  A former football player for the University of Missouri, Lampo was wounded on Operation Swift.  Griffin became his radioman upon the Lieutenant’s return from the hospital.  “Lampo was gung ho, straight of the movies,” he says.  “I can remember when he got shot in the foot at Con Thien.  He did a double summersault in the air, landed on his feet, and he yelled at me to get out of my foxhole.  This guy was unbelievable.  He was a Marine’s Marine.  He exhibited no fear, he never let his troops show fear and he always led from the front.”


The incoming NVA fire was heavy, and time was pressing.  As the Delta Company Marines poured into the LZ, the men of Charlie Company who were able, stood up, and joined the charge.  “I had an M16 with my last magazine,” Zorn says.  “Guys to my left and right of me charged with machetes and E-tools.  We ran 50 to 100 feet forward.  We set up new fighting positions further down the slope in the front and pushed the enemy back.


“When we got there, there were dead and wounded laying all over the place,” Gunny Pelkey of Delta Company says.  “There were low on ammunition.  They were practically down to their last round.  They were in bad shape.”


George Boze says, “There was a great sigh of relief that Delta had gotten there in time because we were down to our last rounds.


But Delta Company’s arrival turned the tables on the NVA.  “The firepower coming out toward them (the NVA) was almost quadrupled,” Boze says.  “We were chucking grenades that we got from Delta as fast as we could pull the pins.  It now became an almost constant hammering that we were giving them from 360 degrees around.”


Here was a bunch of Marines who thought that this was going to be their last day on earth, and Delta broke through to us.


“Because they realized a force superior to theirs was mounting a counterattack in their area, they took off,” Captain Gallagher says.

Welsh heard a voice say, “We’re going to take care of you.”  He looked up and saw the sweat covered face of a Delta Marine.  Another American said, “I’m sorry it took so long.  I’m sorry we didn’t get here sooner.  They wouldn’t let us come.”  They were so sincere, you would have thought that I was their dearest brother by the way they treated me for a few seconds before they had to do what they had to do.


As he watched the men of Delta assist Charlie, he thought if Delta had been delayed even ten minutes, they may not have found anyone alive.



At first, it was difficult to determine the effect the battle had on the NVA regiments.  The NVA were good at picking up their casualties, Jack Ruffer said.  This denied US Intelligence.  It was hard for the Marines to know how much damage we were doing.


A North Vietnamese officer capturer by the ARVN after the attack, was transported to Phu Bai where he was interrogated by a Marine Interrogator-Translator Team.  From that officer, it was learned that 177 NVA soldiers were killed on the night of 12-13 October.  In terms of numbers killed, the Marines scored a decisive victory.


The proudest moment of my life was serving with those guys on Medina,” Boze continued.  “They stood the line.”


Phil Hartranft believes all the men of Charlie Company and the attached units should be commended for their deeds.  They held their own with anything the Marine Corps has ever done in its history as far as I’m concerned,” he says.  “I really think that we all should be dead.  When I think about it, I get chills.”


The book gives much detail about the conclusion of this operation, where these Marines went from here.  Charlie company went on to fight at Khe Shan, Hue City and several other notable battles.  The author tells what the men did with their lives, where they lived and what they did, and sadly, how poorly many of them were treated when they got back to the States.

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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  • 5 weeks later...

John Paul Jones


A history lesson few have heard about.


If I were to ask if you knew who said, “I have not yet begun to fight!”, most if not all of you would respond with the correct answer, John Paul Jones.  But do you know the whole story?


On September 23, 1779, Captain John Paul Jones with the ship, the Bon Homme Richard, engaged and defeated the British ship, the HMS Serapis, off the coast of England, during the Revolutionary War.  You probably don’t know the whole story, and as you might suspect, it involves Marines.  In this case, the Continental Marines.


The US Navy, as with the other navies of the world at the time were not the military men we have today.  Most sailors and officers, expected to supplement their salaries by taking booty or receiving prize money for their conquests.  There was no money in fighting another fighting ship; the money was in attacking merchant ships. The sailors and other officers on Jones ships were not only reluctant to fight, they were sometimes down right mutinous.


Scotsman, John Paul Jones was not interested in taking booty.  He wanted to fight the British and fight for his new country. Jones did not make any secret what his intentions were when he recruited potential crewmembers.  He openly advertised his intentions saying, “I propose to go in the way of danger.”  The aggressive Jones planned how he would fight his naval battles so he made sure he had a full compliment of Continental Marines.


The American Navy had few ships during the first war with Britain.  Jones seemed to be the only Captain eager to fight the enemy, and he was popular with his Marines, who he considered an essential ingredient in his personal strategy for winning naval battles.   First he would direct his cannons to take out the rigging of enemy ships so he could maneuver close where his Marines would clear the decks of the crews with musket fire until the enemy ship was not able to maneuver or get away.  Enemy captains would be forced to surrender.


In the evening of September 23, 1779 in the North Sea miles off the Flamborough Head, England coast, Jones spotted a convoy of merchant ships being escorted by two British Navy vessels.  The larger ship, the Serapis was a 44 gun warship commanded by Captain Richard Pearson.  It was faster and more maneuverable than Jones ship, and it was equipped with new protective copper sheathing on the hull.  At the sight of Jones and another ship with him, the merchant ships fled.  The Serapis did not.


Jones made way to engage the Serapis.  It must have seemed like suicide to his sailors as their smaller ship was an old worn out French merchant ship named Duc de Duras.  Benjamin Franklin scrounged up the ship in France using his French contacts as he was the Ambassador to France at the time.  He knew Jones was a fighting man and he wanted to help him get back out to sea from France where Jones was stranded.   Jones refitted and armed the old ship and renamed it using the French name for Benjamin Franklin’s book, “Poor Richard”; the Bon Homme Richard.  Jones cast off from France in the summer of 1779, looking for trouble.


Jones in the Richard took a beating moving close to the Serapis.  He directed his guns to aim for the rigging of the Serapis.  His Marines, stationed in the rigging of his ship with their muskets, opened fire when they were close enough.  The Marines raked the deck of the Serapis eventually killing all their gunners.  The Marines made the deck a haven for dead heroes who tested the Marines.  Eleven helmsmen attempted to control the wheel; all failed.  The Marines threw grappling hooks over to the Serapis and pulled her close.  Repeatedly, British sailors attempted to cut the lines.  Fourteen British sailors tried to cut the lines; fourteen died.  It was reported Jones took a musket from one Marine and took a shot as well.


The top deck of the Serapis was swept clean by Marine fire, so that no sailor or officer could get on deck.  The Serapis’ lower deck guns were still hammering away at the Richard.  Captain Pearson knew the Richard could not take much more and asked Jones if he wanted to surrender.  Jones did not have any offensive power left, except his Marines.  Jones replied, “No sir, I haven’t as yet thought of it.  I’m determined to make you strike.”


A short time later Captain Pearson released a number of British prisoners up to the deck, hoping they would fight for him, but Jones ordered them to stay off his ship and man their pumps or drown.  They pumped.  Captain Pearson again demanded Jones surrender.  Jones may have said something like, “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight.”  Jones reportedly cussed up a storm during the entire three hour battle, and may have chosen other words, but we’ll never know.


Jones had by all reasonable measures lost the battle, except for two things:  he didn’t quit, and, he had Marines.  A sailor threw a grenade onto the Serapis which ended up killing a large number of sailor on the second deck.  Captain Pearson was afraid his main mast was about to give way, so he struck his colors and surrendered.


Jones Continental Marines never faltered or failed him.  They were the backbone of the fighting ship.  Sixty seven Marines were killed or wounded in this battle, which was Jones last.


Jones wasn’t awarded any recognition by his own country until in 1905 when his remains were removed from an unmarked grave in Paris and escorted by an honor guard of American cruisers to the United States.  He was placed in marble shine at Annapolis with these words nearby: “HE GAVE OUR NAVY ITS EARLIEST TRADITIONS OF HEROISM AND VICTORY.




Note:  I looked high and low for a good painting of this battle to include with this story.  I discovered nearly every painting I found labeled for this famous sea battle, did not portray this battle at all.  I even found one with depicting the "British" ship, flying a Confederate Flag.  The painting I've provided with this story is the closest to being historically accurate I could find.

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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Leading the fight is Gunnery Sgt Michael Burghardt, United States Marine Corps, known as “Iron Mike” or just “Gunny”. He was on his third tour in Iraq. He had become a legend in the bomb disposal world after winning the Bronze Star for disabling 64 IEDs and destroying 1,548 pieces of ordnance during his second tour. Then, on September 19, he got blown up. He had arrived at a chaotic scene after a bomb had killed four US soldiers. He chose not to wear the bulky bomb protection suit. “You can’t react to any sniper fire and you get tunnel-vision,” he explains. So, protected by just a helmet and standard-issue flak jacket, he began what bomb disposal officers term “the longest walk”, stepping gingerly into a 5ft deep and 8ft wide crater. The earth shifted slightly and he saw a Senao base station with a wire leading from it. He cut the wire and used his 7in knife to probe the ground. “I found a piece of red detonating cord between my legs,” he says. “That’s when I knew I was screwed.”

Realizing he had been sucked into a trap, GySgt Burghardt, 35, yelled at everyone to stay back. At that moment, an insurgent, probably watching through binoculars, pressed a button on his mobile phone to detonate the secondary device below the sergeant’s feet. “A chill went up the back of my neck and then the bomb exploded,” he recalls. “As I was in the air I remember thinking, ‘I don’t believe they got me.’ I was just ticked off they were able to do it. Then I was lying on the road, not able to feel anything from the waist down.”

His colleagues cut off his trousers to see how badly he was hurt. None could believe his legs were still there. “My dad’s a Vietnam vet who’s paralyzed from the waist down,” says Sgt Burghardt. “I was lying there thinking I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair next to my dad and for him to see me like that. They started to cut away my pants and I felt a real sharp pain and blood trickling down. Then I wiggled my toes and I thought, ‘Good, I’m in business.’ As a stretcher was brought over, adrenaline and anger kicked in. “I decided to walk to the helicopter. I wasn’t going to let my team-mates see me being carried away on a stretcher.” He stood and gave the insurgents who had blown him up a one-fingered salute. “I flipped them one. It was like, ‘OK, I lost that round but I’ll be back next week’.”

Copies of a photograph depicting his defiance, taken by Jeff Bundy for the Omaha World-Herald, adorn the walls of homes across America and that of Col John Gronski, the brigade commander in Ramadi, who has hailed the image as an exemplar of the warrior spirit. GySgt Burghardt’s injuries — burns and wounds to his legs and buttocks — kept him off duty for nearly a month and could have earned him a ticket home. But, like his father — who was awarded a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action in Vietnam — he stayed.

Marine Warrior Spirit on display

Iron Mike USMC.jpeg

GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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Recent or old Marine Corps history?


I could easily share, literally hundreds of stories about Marines and the Marine Corps.  The stories of courage and valor of Marines, to and including today's Marines, are so numerous they can't be counted.  I have assumed you guys were already familiar with many of the stories about modern day Marines in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and the middle east, so I haven't written much about modern day Marine history.  As you've seen, I've instead published older stories from Marine history which I know most of you hadn't heard before.


This could be a mistake on my part.  I started thinking many of you young guys aren't interested in "old" history.  I know many kids these days rarely read, and you don't know anything unless you've seen it in a video or movie (neither venue should be considered accurate).  Maybe these older stories of Marine virtue and courage aren't very interesting to you because, A) you have to read it to know it, and, B) it's ancient history so you don't care!


Therefore, I decided to ask you directly: 









GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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Creech, you are either showing your age, maturity, or intelligence, by asking about an old battle, or all the above.  Very few know the full story of the "Halls of Montezuma", or about the military excursion into Mexico, or how it's connected to the Civil War.  The Marine side is known by even fewer people.  I would be happy to tell another old story about Marines of long ago.


Crowley, I know you are a history buff and love stories of American wars and the Marine Corps.


Apparently, you two, and the Captain, are the only ones who ever read these stories.



GySgt (Ret) Spencer
Critical Skills Operator

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