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When "Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War" arrived in my mail for review from the Leatherneck editorial office in Quantico, a brief note was included. Publisher/Executive Editor Colonel Walt Ford, USMC (Ret) wrote: "We usually don't review novels in the magazine, but I thought this one was exceptional. Frankly, I was riveted from page one because it took me right back. The only things that the author changed or altered were the actual units and a few of the locations. Rarely has war fiction impressed me so much."
After reading the first few pages, any rough-and-ready who has experienced bullets whistling by and shells bursting all around will certainly agree.
Writing in the vivid, gritty tradition of Norman Mailer ("The Naked and the Dead"), James Jones ("The Thin Red Line"), and Mark Bowden ("Black Hawk Down"), Navy Cross Marine First Lieutenant Karl Marlantes immediately introduces us to young Marine Lieutenant Waino Mellas (obviously himself fictionalized) and his company as they maneuver into the mountain jungles of 1969 Vietnam.
Advancing as best they can in torrential monsoon rains and knee-deep mud, plucking off leeches and avoiding man-eating tigers along the way, the Marines find themselves surrounded and outnumbered by a North Vietnamese regiment. At that point, autobiography fuses with fiction to make for a stunning "let-me-put-you-there" 600-page read.
In reality, during the first five days of March 1969, Marlantes, serving as executive officer of Company C, 1st Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division (Reinforced) of the Fleet Marine Force, faced the same kind of highly trained, solidly equipped unit just north of the infamous Rockpile, south of the DMZ and east of the Laotian border.
Sustaining numerous casualties from mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, small-arms and automatic-weapons fire, the company was near obliteration. Marlantes combined and reorganized the remaining members of the platoons and led an assault up a mountain infested with fortified bunkers, manned by highly skilled, well-armed enemy soldiers.
Under withering fire from surprised North Vietnamese troops, he ran across the fire-swept hilltop to wipe out four enemy bunkers in succession. Although seriously wounded by now, Marlantes refused medical attention until the perimeter defense was established and the other wounded evacuated. His Navy Cross citation notes: "His heroic actions and resolute determination inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in a decisive rout with minimal casualties. By his courage, aggressive fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger, First Lieutenant Marlantes upheld the highest tradition of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Such is the stuff "Matterhorn's" plot, characters and hero, Waino Mellas, are made of, to say nothing of how the terror and agony of fierce and vicious fighting matures each fictionalized personality. Note that any astute Marine who served during those months in “Bravo” Company's area of operation, and who knew the chain of command there, will place an easy fix on the actual names and locations.
Author Marlantes, who in addition to the Navy Cross was awarded the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts and 10 air medals, needed more than 30 years to complete "Matterhorn," originally a 1,600-page novel. No publisher or literary agent bothered to read it until recently when the unwieldy manuscript was reduced to its present size. The 31-page glossary of weapons, technical terms, slang and jargon alone is worth the price of the book.
It would be easy to hyperbolize "Matterhorn" with any number of glow-words from the reviewer's convenient arsenal of adjectives. But the high praise always remains the same: "Just go buy and read the classic-to-be for yourself."
MATTERHORN: A Novel of the Vietnam War.
By Karl Marlantes.
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press.
$22.46 Member Price. $24.95 Regular Price.
Ron Lunn, Marine Corps Association
On 11 June, the author dropped by The Marine Shop in Quantico, Va., to sign his book. The Marine Corps Association's chief operating officer, Tom Esslinger, himself a Vietnam War veteran, spoke with Marlantes about why he wrote the book. Don't let the title, "Matterhorn," mislead you. This is about war at its most brutal...Vietnam. The only things that the author changed or altered were the actual units and a few of the locations. Rarely has war fiction impressed so much.
- Book Of The Month: What It's Like To Go To War (Magazine Page)
- Matterhorn (Book Review)
- CLASS OF ’67: The Story of the 6th Marine Officer Basic Class of 1967 (Book Review)
- A Time To Betray (Book Review)
- THE LAST STAND OF FOX COMPANY: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat. (Book Review)
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Today in USMC History
1944 - Marines participated in the Luzon Operation in the Philippines during WWII.
2001 - Task Force 58, commanded by BGen James Mattis, rolled through Kandahar, Afghanistan, and secured the city’s airport.
Related Article: World War II: The Acid Test By Frank Hough Marine Corps Gazette (Nov 1950)
Historic Leatherneck Magazine Covers
Leatherneck Staff Artist, Technical Sergeant Robert Fleischauer, felt that our July cover should be commemorative of the Fourth of July. Since the members of the missile units are probably the Corps' best rocketeers, he picked them to perform a standard Fourth of July action. Whether or not the "Honest Johnny" is useful as a combat piece is a matter for debate, but you can't beat it for morale." [July 1957.]
“The Join Up on the Nick” by Major Alex Durr, USMCR, a member of the History Division, Marine Corps University, Quantico, Va.
Hospitalman Daniel T. Bobic, assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 3d Battalion, Second Marine Regiment, rappelled at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan, in late April, 2002.
The oldest post of the Marine Corps, Washington, DC, is celebrating 200 years of excellence. Posed near the Barracks main gate were members of the official Color Guard of the United States Marine Corps (left to right): LCpl Joseph N. Keough, rifleman; Sgt Blake L. Richardson, Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps; Cpl Gerardo A. Guajardo, organizational color bearer; and LCpl Gregory A. Serwo, rifleman.
GySgt Verlando Frazier, East Coast Food Service Management Team, looked ready to dig into some of the new items included in MREs.
This photo by Sgt Earnie Grafton of Marines from Fox Co., 2/4 shows varied emotions as they greeted the coalition forces outside Kuwait city.
A fleet of trucks was needed to transport Dr. Felix de Weldon’s original model of the Iwo Jima flag-raising statue from the sculptor’s home in Newport, R.I., to the grounds of the Marine Military Academy at Harlingen, Texas. After the statue’s arrival, a nearly around-the-clock effort by skilled workmen was required in order to have the memorial reassembled and ready for dedication ceremonies on April 16, 1982.
In April this year (1981), two squadrons of AV-8A “Harriers” sailed for the Mediterranean aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau. Purpose of the cruise was to demonstrate the Navy/Marine Corps team’s capability to augment naval forces in any area of the World on short notice and to provide at-sea training for Marine Harrier pilots.
The cover of Leatherneck’s Bicentennial issue is an oil painting by the late Colonel Donald L. Dickson, USMCR. The painting depicts General George Washington’s Colonial troops at Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Va., during the French and Indian War.
Sightseeing tours for the men of the Marine Barracks, San Juan, Puerto Rico, include a trip to the El Morro Fortress. San Juan is now retired as a Post of the Corps.
The Marines in Vietnam have found that the programs which work best are those which operate close to the people. Our July cover is a mixed media (acrylic and charcoal) by Art Editor James L. Hopewell. It catches the spirit of Marines who enjoy their relationship with the Vietnamese around them.
In Naples, Italy, Marines are responsible for the internal security of the Headquarters of NATO’s Southern European Command, while the elite Carabinieri Corpa provides external security. PFC Robert M. Mallard’s NATO shield was admired by a Carabiniere as the two men prepared to take up their side-by-side posts at the entrance of the imposing NATO Headquarters, which appears in the background of this cover.
"We've Fought In Every Clime And Place": Stamping out the Caco Insurrection in the Republic d' Haiti.
January 2002: The Marines engraved another mark in the rich history of the Corps when they came from more than 400 miles offshore to establish a forward operating base south of Kandahar in the war on terrorism. The Marine CH-46 helicopter on the cover, photographed by PH1(AW/SW) Greg Messier, USN, fought in the desert sand to land and resupply Marines such as the ones (inset) photographed by Sgt Joseph R. Chenelly.
January 2001: This firefight during the Frozen Chosin Reservoir Campaign of 1950 was painted by “Chosin Few” veteran Jack Cannon, who served with Company B, 1st Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment and resides in the warmer climes of New Mexico. The cover was part of Leatherneck’s 50th anniversary salute to the Korean War veterans.
January 1992: This cover photograph of runners during Marine Corps Marathon XVI in Washington, D.C., was photographed by Sgt Deirdre Hallett.
January 1991: This month’s cover by Ross Simpson captures the Marines’ waiting-but-ready posture in the Middle East.
January 1982: Participants in the Sixth Annual Marine Corps Marathon presented a colorful spectacle as they began the 26-mile, 385-yard run in Washington, D.C., November 1, 1981. The cover photo, by Tom Bartlett, was taken from a bridge overlooking Highway 50 about a half-mile from the starting line.
January 1981: Nearly 7,800 runners participated in the Fifth Annual Marine Corps Marathon held in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. The oldest finisher was 78; the youngest was 10. Leatherneck staffer Ron Lunn pre-positioned himself near the Nation’s Capitol to photograph runners during their 14th mile of the 26-mile, 385-yard course.
January 1972: This month’s cover, by Marine Combat Artist Peter Gish, shows members of the New Corps sightseeing in the Old World. While on liberty in Athens, Greece, the 3d Bn, Eighth Marines, were able to tour the Erektheon Porch and Cariatides. The water color is from the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Art collection.
Originally Published December 1983 -- Something tells us that we could date the cover without knowing when it was published.
Originally Published December 1972 -- We're not sure what's more interesting, Santa or the old style gas pump.
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This November 1992 article in the Marine Corps Gazette looked at the uniform regulations of 1859 and the attempt to standardize uniforms within the Corps. Read the story and see more pics.
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