Old Corps? New Corps? It Doesn’t Matter as Long as it’s Marine Corps!
It has always been my objective to use this forum to talk about my passion in life: the history of the United States Marine Corps. I have never intended to use this forum as a personal soapbox. However, today, I am going to do just that…
A few days ago, I happened to have a look at a Vietnam veteran’s website I read from time to time. Normally, I read the message board with a grain of salt. After all, everyone is entitled to their opinion on any given subject. Everyone has issues which are important to them, and in some cases, people just have an ax to grind. But that day I read something which REALLY irritated me. One gentleman was taking the Marine Corps to task for essentially getting “soft” on recruit training. Now, the debate between “Old Corps” and “New Corps” has been going on for decades. In his introduction to the masterful work Fix Bayonets!, Colonel John W. Thomason, Jr., wrote
“The men who marched up the Paris-Metz road to meet the Boche in that spring of 1918, the 5th and 6th Regiments of United States Marines, were gathered from various places….with drilled shoulders and a deep-bone sunburn, and a tolerant scorn of nearly everything on earth. Their speech was flavored with navy words, and the words culled for all the folk who live on the seas and the ports where our warships go. In easy hours their talk ran from the Tartar Wall beyond Peking to the Southern Islands, down under Manila; from Portsmouth Navy Yard…to obscure bushwhackings in the West Indies, where Caco chiefs, whimsically sanguinary, barefoot generals with names like Charlemagne and Christophe, waged war according to the precepts of the French Revolution and the Cult of the Snake….They were the Leathernecks, the Old-Timers: collected from ship’s guards and shore stations all over the earth to form the 4th Brigade of Marines, the two rifle regiments detached from the navy by order of the President for service with the American Expeditionary Forces. They were the old breed of American regular, regarding the service as home and war as an occupation…”
Col John Thomason's drawing entitled Leathernecks, Old Timers
Eugene B. Sledge’s remarkable diary, recounting his experiences with the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu and Okinawa, is entitled With the Old Breed. Indeed, veterans of the 1st Marine Division, who served over the course of many years, still talk about their service with “the Old Breed.” To those who served in Vietnam, those who served in World War II were “the Old Breed.” To those who served in 1980s and in the early 1990s, those who served in Vietnam were “the Old Breed.” Those who served yesterday may always consider today’s Corps “the New Breed.”
So what, you may ask, irritated me so much about this post?” The gentleman who saw fit to pontificate on today’s recruit training, and on today’s Corps, never served in the Marines. A good friend (and the man who originally approached me about writing this blog) felt the need to comment on that message board, stating unequivocally that today’s Marines were better trained, better equipped, and many of them had enlisted or been commissioned knowing full well that this is a Marine Corps at war. I thought about this for some time, and decided that given the opportunity, I would have said much the same thing. This is a well-trained Corps. The young men and women who serve are in better physical shape and are certainly better equipped than in the past. They volunteered for duty, many of them in the years following the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, knowing full well, they would go to war.
But I also started thinking about the Marines I encounter on a daily basis. As one of two Unit historians within the Marine Corps, I interact with units in the field on a daily basis. I have taken calls from Marines on float, in Iraq (prior to the Marine Corps’ exit there), in Afghanistan and scattered around the globe in places most people have never heard of. I took a call from Djibouti one day. I asked the Marine on the phone how his day had been. Without hesitation, he said, “We are in Djibouti. This unit is motivated and it’s a FINE Marine Corps Day, ma’am!!” I am ALWAYS astounded at the motivation and commitment to duty I hear in the voices of these Marines.
Marines Training in Djibouti
I thought about some of the Marines I know, many who have done multiple combat tours….And I thought about some of those Marines who have been awarded medals for bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly, their actions were no different, no less valorous, than those who were awarded similar medals in prior conflicts. I’d like to highlight a few of those Marines today:
First Lieutenant Brian Chontosh- On 25 March 2003, Lt Chontosh was serving with a combined anti-armor platoon, Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 5th Marines. He was in the lead vehicle, directly behind a column of M1A1 Abrams tanks, as the battalion pushed north toward Ad Diwaniayh, Iraq. They moved into a coordinated ambush site, sprung from the berms located on both sides of the highway. Facing incoming mortar fire, automatic weapons fire and rocket propelled grenades, and with the tanks blocking the road ahead, Chontosh was caught in the kill zone. He ordered his driver to head into a breach in the berm on his flank, where they came under fire from an entrenched machine gun. The lieutenant then ordered his driver to advance directly at the enemy position where it was silenced by .50 caliber fire. He then directed his driver into an enemy trench. Chontosh jumped out and began firing on the enemy combatants with am M16A2 as well as a 9mm pistol. When his ammunition ran out, and with complete disregard for him own safety, Chontosh picked up an AK-47, and then a second. A Marine following him handed him a RPG, which he used to destroy another group of enemy soldiers. His Navy Cross citation states, “When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others. By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Chontosh reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps…”
1st Lieutenant Brian Chontosh
Private First Class Christopher Adelsperger- In September 2004, PFC Adelsperger left Camp Pendleton, bound for Iraq as part of Kilo Company, 3d Battalion, 5th Marines. On 10 November, the battalion moved in to the Jolan neighborhood in the northwestern corner of Fallujah. Their mission was to seep the houses, searching each for insurgents. It was dangerous. The insurgents were known to wait inside the homes, high on a concoction of drugs, ready to spray the Marines with bullets.
PFC Adelsperger was the point man of a four-man fire team. As he knocked down a gate into the outside courtyard, they immediately came under a hail of fire. Adelsperger’s best friend was killed. The Navy Corpsman was hit in the stomach and a third Marine was wounded in the leg. Marines and insurgents exchanged fire from no more than a distance of twenty feet. They had walked into what was known as a Chechen Ambush. The strategy is to wound those attempting to enter a building. When others entered the firefight, in an effort to render aid, an insurgent sniper would be waiting. When enough Marines were gathered, insurgents planned to fire RPGs.
Adelsperger single-handedly cleared an outdoor stairway, and although wounded by shrapnel, was able to move the wounded to the rooftop for medical evacuation. Still under heavy enemy fire, Asdelsperger sought to clear the house, firing a grenade launcher to blow holes in the building. As the insurgents fled, he killed four with gunshots to the head. According to his Navy Cross citation, “ Disregarding his own wounds and physical exhaustion, PFC Adelsperger rejoined his platoon and demanded to take the point for a final assault….When the fighting finally ceased, a significant number of insurgents from fortified positions had been eradicated. Through his actions, PFC Adelsperger destroyed the last strongpoint in the Jolan District of Al Fallujah, and saved the lives of his fellow Marines. By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, PFC Adelsperger reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps…”
It should be noted that PFC Adelsperger’s Navy Cross was posthumous. He was killed one month after his actions in Jolan, while on another house-to-house sweep. Wrote a member of Kilo Company, “Thank you for letting all of us come home and live and love. But most importantly for showing us what sacrifice and being a true man is all about.”
Private First Class Christopher Adelsperger
First Sergeant Bradley Kasal- On 13 November, 2004, during Operation Phantom Fury , the fight for the Iraqi city of Fallujah, 1st Sgt Kasal was serving with Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 1st Marines. A number of Marines were wounded when they entered a concrete building during a house-to-house sweep. Now known in Marine Corps lore, as the “House of Hell,” Kasal joined a squad of Marines in an attempt to clear the structure and rescue the wounded Marines inside. Turning into a room, he immediately encountered an insurgent who fired and missed. Kasal killed him, but came under heavy rifle fire from an elevated enemy position. Wounded in the legs, an insurgent threw a grenade into the room. Kasal covered the wounded Marine with his own body, taking the full brunt of the explosion with his back. Although seriously wounded and bleeding profusely, he rendered first aid to the wounded Marine. Floating in and out of consciousness, he pulled his pistol from its holster and waited for help. It was another 30-40 minutes before other Marines arrived. During that time he was shot again.
Kasal was shot seven times, including five bullets to one leg, another to the foot and yet another in the buttocks. He had 30-40 pieces of shrapnel embedded in his back. He lost 60 percent of his blood before he was rescued. Photographer Lucien Reed, photographed 1st Sergant Kasal, covered in blood, being helped from the house by two younger Marines. Today, that photograph has been reproduced as a motivational poster.
According to his Navy Cross citation, “Although severely wounded himself, he shouted encouragement to his fellow Marines as they continued to clear the structure. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, First Sergeant Kasal reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps…”
First Sergeant Bradley Kasal
Sergeant Jeremiah Workman- In December 2004, then-Corporal Workman was serving with Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 5th Marines. Two days before Christmas, his unit was involved in clearing operations in the city of Al Fallujah. While involved in a house-to-house sweep, Cpl Workman heard machine gun fire emanating from across the street, where his friend, Sgt Jarret Kraft was leading a team of ten Marines. Informed by a lieutenant that Marines were trapped on the second floor, a stack line was formed at the bottom of the stairs leading into the building. Leading the way, Workman ran into the house, despite heavy fire from automatic weapons. Advancing through machine gun fire, Workman found himself on a landing, alone. In the confusion, the second man in the stack line hesitated, and kept the stack line from advancing. According to Workman, “These guys were downstairs yelling at me, ‘Get back down here.’ And I’m like “You get up here!’” Finally Workman dove down the stairs.
They formed another stack line. Again Workman led the way. This time, they reached the landing when a grenade was thrown by an insurgent. Workman took shrapnel wounded to the arms and legs. Said the young corporal, “pretty much everyone got hit with shrapnel but we were all able to fight.”
They advanced on the insurgents, who had barricaded themselves in an upstairs room. After an intense firefight, the Marines running low on ammunition, they where forced to move back down the stairs and outside. It was then that Workman saw two Marines, killed in action, in the back of a HUMVEE. He later said, “This was the first time I’d ever seen a dead Marine, ever. It was like somebody flipped a switch, like it wasn’t even me anymore….I grabbed whoever’s standing around and we ran back into the house. Now it’s like vengeance. I want to take out as many insurgents as possible.”
According to his Navy Cross citation, “Although injured he led a third assault into the building, rallying his team one last time to extract isolated Marines before M1A1 tanks arrived to support the battle. Throughout this fight, Corporal Workman’s heroic actions contributed to the elimination of 24 insurgents. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Corporal Workman reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps…”
Corporal Jeremiah Workman
Corporal Michael Ouellette- In 2009. Corporal Ouellette was serving with Lima Company, 3d Battalion, 8th Marines in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. While on a foot patrol in the Now Zad District, he was badly wounded by an improvised explosive device. Another Marine rendered first aid. With the lower half of his leg gone and his thigh and groin torn asunder by shrapnel, Ouellette assessed the situation and took charge of his squad. The IED explosion quickly turned into an ambush as Taliban forces began to close in on the Marines’ position. According to the corpsman who treated him, “When I get there, he’s still calling out orders, he’s still telling the radio operator what to call in for helos, what to call in for mortars, calling his evac nine-line in and making sure that his assistant team leader, Lance Cpl. Rupert, has everything under control.” According to his Navy Cross citation,
“When attack helicopters arrived, he coolly talked his radio operator through the employment of the aircraft as they made repeated strafing runs within 20 meters of the squad's position. These expertly-applied fires suppressed the enemy long enough for a fire team to link up with reinforcements and bring them forward to Corporal Ouellette's position. He held that position and continued to give orders to his squad as they fought, allowing himself to be evacuated only when the entire squad was ready to move out of the area. He continued to give directions to his team leader up until he was loaded into an ambulance, where he soon lost consciousness. He later succumbed to his wounds. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Corporal Ouellette reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps...”
One of the last things Cpl Ouellettte was heard to say was “I’m proud of my Marines.” His Navy Cross was presented posthumously, to his mother.
Lance Corporal Michael Ouellette
And so I can only ask that gentleman who saw fit to cast aspersions on today’s Corps, “Does this sound ‘soft” to you? Does it sound like these men (and women) who serve have failed to uphold the HIGHEST traditions of the Corps? Does it seem to you that those Marines who have done multiple combat tours have not lived up to the title ‘Marine?” I would argue that Marines like this, are of a quality that is a rule rather than an exception in today’s Corps, and they have more than lived up to the honor and traditions that have been handed down to them.
And once again, I am reminded of Col John W. Thomason, Jr.:
“There is nothing particularly glorious about sweaty fellows, laden with killing tools going to fight….All that is behind those men is in that column too, the old battles, long forgotten, that secured our nation…traditions of things endured and things accomplished, such as regiments hand down forever; and the faith of men and the love of women; and that abstract thing called patriotism, which I have never heard combat soldiers mention- all this passes into the forward zone, to the point of contact, where war is girt with horrors. And common men endure these horrors and overcome them, along with the insistent yearnings of the belly and the reasonable promptings of fear; and in this, I think, is glory.
Perhaps LtGen Lewis B. “Chesty Puller, said it most succinctly, "Old breed? New breed? There's not a damn bit of difference so long as it's the Marine breed."
The 5th Marines in France