This book does not purport to be a history of the United States Marine Corps, which has served in twelve major wars and more than two hundred lesser actions.
It is, instead, the record of certain significant Marine actions which illustrate Marine history as a whole. These incidents and battles do not have significance for Marines alone, but for all Americans.
They are part of our own history, our national story. However, they have largely been forgotten, because Americans have an imperfect sense of our past.
The men in these pages run curiously to type, as that splendid communicator on U.S. Marines, Colonel Thomason wrote. Most of them are professional soldiers; many are of that ubiquitous type without which no standing military body can exist: the professional private.
The gallantry of Marine officers is well-documented. The efficiency of Marine NCOs is indisputable. But still, without the professional private there would be no Marine Corps. He is the man who gets and does the dirty jobs. He is the man who carries them through, without much pay, with little recognition.
He is the Marine who sweats on the rifle range while the drums are silent, and the fires of patriotism not yet lit. He is not the gallant volunteer who rushes into the grandeur and tragedy of war, then, when the war is done, says to hell with it till next time.
He knows, as surely as the sun must rise, there will be a next time, and he prepares for it.
He likes the comradeship of the men around him; he likes the close-knit, parochial community of arms. If war is his occupation, the service is his home. Above all else, the most important thing in his life is the Corps. The Corps gives his life meaning; in return, he gives it his life. And it is a fact that many men, reservists and sometimes Marines, find their service as the defining moment of their lives. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
The men in these pages generally are not imaginative, nor are they sensitive to all the currents around them. Political correctness passed them by. Those who constantly visualize their own blood staining the earth rarely become professional soldiers. Since war is their occupation, most of these men do not much wonder at the tasks they are asked to do. They do not muse over the metaphysical or the meaning of it all, nor does combat come to them as a shock. Their eye on the enemy, until he is proven dead.
When this book was researched most of the Marines depicted in these actions were still living. Most--this was a different age and culture--for various reasons had no wish to be named. Therefore many names were changed. For example, the man identified as Corporal Cherry Reed in the Okinawa action, was the Honorable Blair "Bruzzy" Reeves, last Justice of the Texas Court of Appeals. When the book was first printed, he was entering on his political career and asked me to change his name, so that no one might think he was trading on his heroism. Aurtre temps, autre moeurs.
In the Old Corps few men got medals for doing their job--unlike today, when a soldier who has never heard a shot fired in anger may sprout rows of ribbons.
The names of officers, company commanders and above, which are recorded in history, have not been changed.
Few of these men are now alive. However, Lieutenant Colonel Ray Davis, now General, USMC-retired, was still erect and hearty when I saw him at the proceedings of the United States Naval Institute where I spoke in March, 1999.
Yet, the breed survives. Old and new, the country and the Corps have always needed this breed of man throughout our past.
We shall need him again.