The Marine Corps Raiders
(click here for all pictures and captions)
On 1 August, 2005 my wife Eugenia (Gene) and I, arrived at Quantico, Virginia. This is the home of Marine Corps Schools and the USMC University, as well as the Officer’s Candidate School (presumptive future Officers), or boot camp, which lasts for twelve weeks of sheer hell. If you are lucky enough to be chosen to become a Second Lieutenant, you then go to The Basic School, where you spend the next eight months being tutored and tested in every means of combat and the skills of artillery, mortars, beach invasion, offensive and defensive tactics, as well as Leadership and Responsibility, before being assigned to lead a platoon of Marines, the greatest honor a man can get.
During the very first months after the ignominious attack on Pearl Harbor, America wanted a chance to strike back at the Japanese. Unfortunately, we had only the slimmest vestige of the American Armed Forces, which went “over there,” as the song said, to save our European allies and grateful friends who were under the gun, from the German Army and Navy, as well as a successful Air arm. Our nation called up its young men, under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These men were sent to places like Camp Upton, on Long Island, to train, using two and a half ton trucks taking the place of tanks (since we did not look to upgrade our tanks, in fact, went back to the cavalry), foresight and defense of our nation never being a strong point with Democratic administrations. As soon as a war was concluded, the Armed Forces were shelved. Realizing that it would be a long time before we could form an armed force of any distinction, to Europe or to answer Japan’s cowardly attack, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, suggested that we train a band of Commandos, which under English guidance had been able to cause havoc amongst the German’s ranks, with quick harmful raids. Simultaneously, Lt. Colonel Everett Carlson had become friendly with Major James Roosevelt, the President’s son. They knew that Churchill had made suggestions to Roosevelt. However, the leadership of the United States Marine Corps, who was used to future planning and upgrading their abilities in special warfare, in this case, landing a large force on a heavily defended beach and thrusting into the enemies midst, by concentrating the thrust into an area which would give under pressure, were therefore not thrilled with the suggestion. Since the Corps was first born on 10 November, 1775, the Army and Navy (and later, the Air Force got into the club) have done their very best to have the Marine Corps declared redundant. The only reason for this was to maintain their share of the annual budget, as well as the honors that come with securing your countries future. Thus, it has been ever since. When the Commandant got the President to send Marines to Europe during WW I, with the European Expeditionary Force, under “Black Jack” Pershing tried to have them placed in a rear guard position, securing warehouses. The Commandant would not hear of it and begged the President to assign them to the front line. Pershing ignored them for some time, but Marines are difficult to ignore, for long. Eventually, he sent them into action at Belleau Wood, which was infested with German machine-guns and artillery. The Germans charged the Marine Corps lines and the Marines began to fire at them from over 800 yards. The Germans were laughing at them, thinking that they were raw troops and undisciplined. However, the began to be hit and by the time they reached 500 yards out, they had lost half of their number and at 300 yards there were only a quarter of the Germans who were not casualties. The Huns began to scramble back to the tree line from which they came, but only a few were left. In the following days, the Marines drove them out of Belleau Wood, taking all of the hills and drove them eventually the town of Belleau. The French handed out an arm full of Croix de Guerre to various Marines who had individually wiped out machine gun nests with frontal charges, often giving their lives to stop the Bosch. The French also renamed Belleau Wood, as “The Woods Of the Marine Brigade,” and so it is to this day. They then were sent to relieve the French it an endless fight at Chateau Thierry. Again the Marines, with rifle and bayonet drove the Germans out of their positions. The Germans now called the Marines Teufel-Hunden or Devil Dogs. By the end of WW I, Gen. Pershing stated that the Marines were the toughest and best soldiers he had ever seen.
However, as soon as the war was over, the old feud arose again and the Corps had to fight for their very existence. The manner in which they did this was the use of vision and a General Corps of military genius. They had kept an eye on the Orient, many of them having served as China Marines and with their ear to the ground, they surmised what the Japanese outlook was for the future. As a result they looked to amphibious warfare and drilled their troops in this requirement. In their hearts and minds, they were sure that the Corps was an elite and especially trained Corps of men. That is why they bridled at the idea of developing an elite Corps of Marines that were unique. But President Roosevelt had already made his decision. There certainly was some provenance in building this unit, since we were not ready for a two-theater war. The Raiders began with the establishment of two Battalions, with Lt. Colonel “Red Mike” Edson, who gained fame in Haiti and Nicaragua (moving on the Coco River in dug-out boats in, perhaps the Marine Corps first amphibious attacks) during what was known as, the Banana Wars, as the Commander of the First Marine Raider Battalion and a second veteran of the Banana Wars, was assigned to be the Commander of the Second Marine Raider Battalion, Lt. Col. Edson F. Carlson. Both men had been awarded the Navy Cross during their fighting tours in Central America. Edson was a squared away Marine, who commanded and taught in the Marine Corps traditional chain of command manner, of course changing the areas of greatest learning and tests in the arena of the jungle, awaiting hand-to-hand combat. These Marines had to be tougher than any Marine. Carlson had different ideas and on the advice of President Roosevelt, sought out Mao-Tse-Dung, in order to learn guerrilla fighting against overwhelming odds. At that point, Carlson took the unique path of resigning his commission and spending nearly two years with the Chinese Communist Army (The Red Army). When war was declared against Japan, Carlson reenlisted as a Lt. Col. And led his Second Raiders as Mao would have taught him, with no real chain of command, but instead, sitting together, explaining the mission and then listening to anyone who had a valid idea. From that point, he would use his staff, such as Major Roosevelt, to outline a plan. As the regular Marines landed unopposed, at first, on Guadalcanal, Carlson’s Raiders were brought in toward Makin Island, not far from Guadalcanal, by Submarine, surfacing and bringing up rubber rafts for the Raiders. Carrying Springfield 03’s, M-1s and often a Tommy-Gun, they would lay out an arc, behind enemy lines and look for contact with the enemy. In nearly every fire fight they would be outnumbered, but never outmanned and while some of these Marines had joined the Raiders at the age of sixteen, such as Ashley “Bill” Fisher (present President of the United States Marine Raider Association) they invariably took on those odds, suffering outrageous casualties, but always had a kill ratio over the Japs of ten to one. While wending their way through the island, on trails, since they felt that would make it inevitable that they would face the enemy and force a fight. Often however, they would have to wade through swamps infested with malarial mosquitoes, snakes and leeches. Despite that, they fought their way across Makin Island and got back to their pick up point. However, with wounded Marines being helped back for disembarking, in the dark and trailed by Japanese soldiers and Marines, they miscounted and several of their number were not aboard the submarine. Over a dozen Raiders were swept up by the Japanese soldiers and they were sent to Guadalcanal, where, in the uncivilized manner that the Japanese dealt with prisoners, nearly all of them had their heads cut off.
Meanwhile, the First Raider Battalion was quickly dispatched to Guadalcanal, where a hoard of Japanese staged Banzai attacks every night and kept up artillery barrages and air attacks, while their snipers, in nearly every tree, tried to take out the Marines leaders, thereby never allowing the Marines to sleep at any time.
The Marines had captured the airfield and renamed it Henderson Field in honor of one of our pilots who was lost in combat. The Japanese were sworn to take it back. Near the airfield there was a long ridge, which would later get two names, in succession, the first being bloody ridge, since to hold the ridge meant you controlled the airfield. The Japanese were relentless in their attacks on Bloody Ridge, coming at the Marines in wave after wave. As soon as the Raiders landed on Guadalcanal, General Vandergrift assigned them to defend Bloody Ridge. The First Marine Raiders dug in and then dug in deeper, after their first attack from the insane Japanese attacks. Before this and shortly after the Marines landed on Guadalcanal, the Japanese Fleet came down the Slot, trailing transport ships full of reinforcements and supplies. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy was wary of losing any ships of the line and, as a result they fled the scene, out of harm’s way, leaving the Marines with little food or ammunition. It also allowed transports to continually renew their troops. As fast as the Marines killed them more were poured into the Island. The Japanese leadership knew that they must hold this ground and keep their invincibility intact. In order to eat, the Marines would have to get the food supplies of the Japanese.
Edson’s First Raider Battalion, listened during the night and heard the Japanese troops closing in and with illumination saw them, as they stated, “They came toward us on their stomachs, moving quickly, like snakes in that grass.” Once they were revealed, the Raiders poured it into them, as they arose and went into waves of Banzai charges, climbing over the dead and wounded bodies of their fellow soldiers. Edson called in air support, as soon as dawn rose. The Japanese who could still move retreated back into the depths of the jungle. Before the Raiders lay the bodies of over eight hundred of elite Japanese jungle fighters. The Raiders had not only withstood their attack, but, in fact, crushed the aura of invincibility of the Japanese. That day, the Raiders feasted on Japanese fish, rice and Saki. For that stand, Lt. Col. Edson was awarded the Medal Of Honor. The Japanese Commanders who fought against the Raiders on Makin Island and Guadalcanal, as well as, the regular Marines who made the first beach landing, backed with close air support (a principle which the Marine Corps created and have now have made an extraordinary basic part of the Corps arsenal), artillery and tanks, some of which could spray napalm over 200 yards for about 60 seconds, were duly impressed and disappointed with their inability to stem the tide of the Corps onslaught. Due to the Naval superiority that the Japanese Navy held, midnight sorties that brought in thousands of reinforcements and replacements, Tokyo, where they were used to victory, was shocked that they threw tons of supplies and men into the battle and were being annihilated, as the Marines moved relentlessly across the Island. The loss of Guadalcanal would be the first in an island hopping series of victories, until V-J Day. We are all aware that, at the climax of these fights, the White House staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, were contemplating the invasion of Japan, where every Japanese would be in the fight, men women and children, dug in, as no one on earth could do equal to the sons of Nippon. With their prewar simulation of a psuedo-Samurai ethic, inculcated in the populace of Japan, including the school children. The culture of the Japanese was inbred and to this day, they have never apologized or taken responsibility for the manner in which their troops and Officers alike, slaughtered men, women and children in every theater of battle that they pressed. Since these be-knighted fools, actually felt that they were the modern class of Samurai warriors, which, in fact, the past Emperor of Edo had first banned and then murdered them during the last charge of the true Samurai, utilizing artillery and Gatling guns, bought from European and American merchants. There never was a day that charging cavalry, with swords and bows and arrows, when such a charge would be anything but the commission of suicide. Those last Samurai had established a code of honor, ethics, morals, loyalty and responsibility, that was lost and gone after the nineteenth century. The Japanese troops in WW II may have worn or carried samurai swords and worn Hachi-maki around their heads, emblazoned with heroic rhetoric, but they lacked moral fiber and any semblance of humanity. They were at their worst with prisoners of war, cutting off the heads of Americans and our allies, with their hands tied behind them. There are Japanese, still alive, who should have been peremptorily judged and hung. Instead, they became rich businessmen, with withered souls. These are the people that the Raiders and fellow Marines had to fight, fanatics and fools who were duped into believing their Emperor was a God and they were invincible.
In assessing our probable casualties during the invasion of Kyoshu and later the main island of Japan, the toll predicted showed a minimum of one-million American casualties. In fact, Japan had three times the planes that intelligence had uncovered. The initial aspect of the invasion was to be made by a landing of the Second Marine Division, who had seen combat throughout the South-Pacific. In the invasion plan, The Second Marine Division, was never mentioned again after the fifth day of the invasion. Meaning that in the initial attack, an entire Marine Corps Division would be annihilated and written off. Justifiably, President Truman decided to drop the atom bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It took three days and a second bomb before the fanatical Japanese High Staff realized the truth of their plight. We know now, that they were ready to bring a Japanese version of the German Messersmitt jet fighter into the war and more frightening, their scientists were catching up to our atom bomb readiness. President Truman’s decision saved the lives of millions of our young men, among them the original Raiders, who had by then been absorbed into the established Marine Divisions, as well as millions more of Japanese citizens.
While they eventually were spread throughout the Corps, these men still hold to the pride of having been Raiders and they are still loyal to their own, but in a speech made by a past President of the United States Marine Raider Association, he likened the modern, tough and ready Marines of this era, to his beloved Raiders of sixty years ago. Several years ago, Commandant Jones, with a background of martial arts, established a permanent Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). The Corps put one and a half million dollars into the building in which the program would be taught. They named the building Raider Hall, because of the intensive Hand-to-Hand Combat instruction the Raiders had to excel at, to save their life in face-to-face situations. In reciprocity, the Raiders closed their own museum and gave Raider Hall all of their memorabilia, which is now proudly displayed throughout Raider Hall, giving the students the inspiration, to get through this incredibly hellish course of training. Several months back, I spent nearly a week with Lt. Col. Joe Shusko and his Instructors, watching the students fight through this truly rigorous challenge. As a result of this visit, Colonel Shusko asked if I would like to take part in the events of the annual Raiders Convention. I jumped at the chance and talked my wife into coming with me. At first, I think she felt that she would be out of her element, but once there, with these gracious men and their families who made us feel as though we were one of their group. Basically, they are quiet, polite family men, who still stand tall, imbued with the inner pride of having been one of the Marine Raiders, the first to face and vanquish the Japanese troops. They all seem to have brought pictures and sat, passing them back and forth, reminiscing about their great adventure. No one bragged about what they had done, seemingly believing that they did what they trained to do. But having spoken to Ashley “Bill” Fisher, the present President of the Raiders Association, by phone and communicated with him by e-mail, I discovered that he volunteered for the Raiders at age sixteen. Now I watched him chat with the other Raiders and watched as he spoke at the convention, in the guise of an emcee and wondered to myself, how did a sixteen year old, climb into a rubber raft at midnight and paddle toward an island full of Japanese troops who had ravaged every force they had faced for over a decade of fighting, including defeating a vast Russian Army, during the Russo-Japanese War. I knew that my heart would be pounding in my throat, sweating profusely and quite possibly sick to my stomach with fear of the unknown, as well as the known, that they would be outnumbered by odds up to twenty five to one, by veteran troops, who were as comfortable in the jungle as a spider or snake. They had to know that some of them would not return, in fact, against such odds they could be trapped and wiped out, never to be heard of again, with no one knowing what befell them, but the enemy. But somehow, that sixteen year old, with a Raider patch, weapon in hand, found the guts to jump onto that foreign beach and with his fellow Raiders moved into the moonless canopy of the jungle, hunting the enemy and looking for a confrontation. That, of course would happen, since they traveled upon well trodden paths, in order to clash with the Japs as they moved about an island they felt they owned. In every account I have read, despite the fact that they often stumbled upon a superior force, without notice other than the sound of firing, often bullets fired from the top of a coconut tree, where some Japanese soldier had strapped himself into the tree. They would immediately disperse, laying out a wall of fire that the enemy could not return. While obtaining information on the Raiders and the battles in the South Pacific, it became evident that that Japanese Snipers were not strapped into some trees, sprinkled through the jungle, but actually infested the tree tops with snipers, so that our troops had to continuously spray the tree tops , as they moved forward, to ensure a safe passage. Even under these conditions, the Raiders would press the fight, moving steadily at the enemy and driving them back from their positions. Time and again, on island after island their courage and training would defeat a superior number of the Japanese. Then the Raiders would melt into the night, move to their rendezvous and leave the island, leaving the enemy bewildered and for the first time feeling vulnerable.
My wife Gene and myself sat with them at breakfast, lunch and dinner and watched these heroes, now in their mid-seventies to eighties, with their families surrounding them, they listened to their wives, children and grandchildren, seldom taking the floor, so to speak. They didn’t strut or boast. They did not need to do that, for they knew what they had accomplished. They became animated when we arrived at the WW II Memorial, which, quite frankly is stunning and stands surrounded by a magnificent view in every direction. The thought popped into my head that Bob Dole must fill with pride every time he passes this gracious monument to the courage and fortitude that our troops showed during those tortuous years. On another occasion, the entire group was treated to the “President’s Own,” The Marine Corps Band and the drill team from the Prussian style Marine Barracks at Eighth and I, where once John Phillip Sousa sat in his office and wrote many of the stirring marches, which still thrill the crowds of people who hear them. The band, in their traditional red uniforms, appeared from behind the Iwo Jima statue, marching from both sides of the memorial of the Marine Corps most famous moment, immortalized by the words of Admiral Nimitz, when he said, in regard to the bravery of the Marines during this battle, on that hellish island, “Uncommon Valor Was A Common Virtue.” Of the six men who raised the American flag, that day, three were later killed and two others wounded, before the battle was finally over. The following evening, our group ushered to front row seats for the world famous, “Sunset Parade,” wherein the Marine Band is in two separate elements, with separate Drum Majors, then melded into one and finally broke back into two groups. Then two companies of Marine Drill Teams marched onto the parade ground, fixed shining steel bayonets and then made the Rockettes look clumsy, with intricate moves, the bayonets coming within an inch of each others face. Then the lights played upon one platoon, which would do a death defying drill, flipping their rifles into the air, whirling over their heads and landing perfectly to either right or left shoulder arms. These tough old warriors of the Raiders were in awe of what these young men could do with a rifle and bayonet. I had seen this performance twice, at the Barracks, but I found myself Oohing and Aahing during their performance. As the band left, they played The Marine Corps Hymn, bringing tears to the eyes of many in the audience, as we fellow Marines stood at Attention, thumbs next to the seam of our trousers. At the very end, with no one on the field, a spotlight shone at the top of the Barracks defining a single trumpeter, who then solemnly played Taps.
During that week, my wife and I made a new and special friend, Lester Gfeller, who lives in Nebraska whom we drove to Raider Hall and watching him look at the material on the Raiders, pictures and weapons, as well as, captured Japanese weapons and flags. But it was at the Archives at the Navy Yard, where they had put together a special movie about the Raiders, with 40’s songs played in the background. When the lights came up and we were leaving the theater, I realized that Les was wiping at his eyes, suddenly reminded of what he went through and friends he lost. Les doesn’t do e-mail, so when I finish this my next item will be a letter to Raider Lester Gfeller, whose memories are still vivid. His seabag, with the names of where he went and fought, sewed onto the seabag with his own hands, will be displayed at Raider Hall, so that I can see it and remember Les every time I go to Raider Hall. Les went to dinner with my wife Gene and me one night and when the check came, he grabbed it and refused to let me pay for dinner, simply because we drove him to Raider Hall a few times, even though we were going there anyway. The Raiders are special people, true blue Patriots who revere their countries flag and love America for its freedom, which they fought to ensure. God Bless the Raiders and their special Esprit. Pray for them, because the last time they issued a pamphlet there were two pages of notice of those who passed away, while this time the memorials covered three pages. Try to meet them next year, if at all possible, because it is a revelation. The Raider Hall is having a larger than life statue in bronze, wrought by a distinguished sculptor, Laurie Barton, whose many pieces are on exhibit in prestigious buildings, educational centers and the War College. The statue will portray a Marine Raider, holding his rifle in the Off-Hand position, covering a modern young Marine, crouched in a defensive position, with the new bayonet in his hand. It appears that the Raider is moving through the decades to protect the young Marine in harm’s way. If you are a Marine or former Marine and you want to help fund this memorial, just go to “The Patrol Statue” on my web sites home page and all the information, plus depictions of what the statue will look like and where it will be placed in front of Raider Hall.
Ed McGrath, Ju-Dan
Grand Master, Isshin-ryu -The Art