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PostLandmark Events in US Military History, June 1-6 (David Duggan, USA, 06/08/18 4:24 am)
Sorry to disturb my fellow WAISers, but I'm surprised that several military anniversaries have gone unnoticed. June 1-6 should be commemorated annually for what the battles fought on those days have meant to freedom, military technology, and undaunted courage.
June 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Belleau Wood, which perhaps more than any other battle, remade the United States Marine Corps. Having just arrived in France, the Marines were itchy to get into the fight, but when ordered to retreat against a German assault by his French overseers, Capt. Lloyd Williams said, "Retreat, hell we just got here." Two days later, Sgt. Dan Daly, leading his troops through a wheat field into an entrenched German position, said, "Come on you sons of bitches. Do you want to live forever?" When I mentioned this event last Sunday to the Rev. Wes Smedley, grand-nephew of Marine Gen. Smedley Butler (of "high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers" fame), he said, "That will preach every day."
Before Belleau Wood, the Marines had been largely an expeditionary force in the "savage wars of freedom," quelling the Moro Rebellion in the Philippines, taking over the port of Veracruz ("halls of Montezuma") during the Mexican civil war, and occupying Haiti to protect it from falling to the Germans in World War I. After Belleau Wood, where the Germans gave the Marines the title "teufelshunde" or "devil dogs," the Marines were a full-scale military force.
June 3-6 marked the 76th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the decisive Pacific theater naval battle, and the first in world history when the opposing ships never sighted or fired on each other (the Battle of the Coral Sea, fought a month earlier, has a tenuous claim to this distinction: the difference is that at Coral Sea, the vectors of opposing ships intersected each other during the five day battle; at Midway the opposing ships never crossed each others' paths or even got within 100 nautical miles of each other). Gone forever was Lord Nelson's admonition: "no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy." Broadside to broadside blasts, like two punch-drunk fighters wailing on each other, were relics of the past, just like triremes trying to ram into each other. Aircraft carriers, with destroyer escort, became and remain the way to project force and repel attack.
And June 6 marked the 74th anniversary of D-Day, the largest amphibious assault in world history. Amphibious assaults are the most difficult military operations undertaken, and Operation Overlord was the culmination of the costly experiences at Gallipoli and Tarawa (where the Navy had failed to consider the effect of a neap tide). Had the invasion been called off for weather and tide reasons, the Allies would have had to wait for two weeks for favorable conditions, and then would have lost the element of surprise. The Channel weather on June 6, 1944, while not ideal (it almost never is), was good enough to take the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, and the five beaches lining the Normandy coast.
Two years later, in post-World War II bliss, American military planners thought of disbanding the Marine Corps. The Army had proved itself successful in amphibious assaults at Guadalcanal and Normandy, so why have a separate unit committed to forcible entries from naval vessels? Gen. Eisenhower and Pres. Truman favored this. In testimony before Congress, Marine Commandant Arthur Vandegrift, himself a battlefield commander at Guadalcanal, said that the future of the Marines lay with Congress, and not desk jockeys. "We have pride in ourselves and in our past, but we do not rest our case on any presumed ground of gratitude owing us from the Nation. The bended knee is not a tradition of the Corps."
June 1-6: may they forever live in our memory as testaments to our freedom, our ingenuity, and our courage.
JE comments: Great job, David. One nit to pick: the "Halls of Montezuma" refer to the Marines storming Chapultepec Castle in September 1847, during the Mexican-American war. The battle also yielded an iconic event in Mexican history: the suicides of the "Niños Héroes," the six military cadets who jumped to their deaths rather than surrender to the invading Gringos.
I had no idea the Marines were nearly disbanded in the wake of WWII. How is this near-death experience remembered from within the Corps? David, your late father James was a Marine officer during that time. Did he ever speak of the Corps' mood at that time?