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Re: Better trained?
Swan, and you others,
I'm sending this strange and incomple paper to Swan because of his comment on the 24th Division's readiness situation before we went to Korea. I think I have commented on Task Force Smith to you all before, but I've not said much about "Love" Company to you. The work of Hugh Brown was unique as our "second death of a rifle company" has always seemed to me. This paper speaks of its first death, at our first fight. Recall that I had walked back from Osan with a small group and rejoined "Love" Company, where I had always thought I belonged, at Chochiwon on 9 July, 50.
I will try to find what I have written on TFS and "Love's" fight later as well although you all may have seen some of it.
Chief, I'll try to find what I've written on Phil Burke somewhere. That wounded guy we gave to a Korean farmer with a push cart. He got my gold longines wristwatch for recompense, and a note from me telling the first American unit that he met to whom he could deliver this sergeant that they should give him $100. I do not know if it worked, but this guy got to the coast and back down to Pusan before any of us did.
You others. "Chief" is Bill Wyrick, now our regimental historian. He had asked me about Phil Burke, whose walk out with me from Osan I will describe in as much detail
as my aging memory recalls.
Keep the faith,
This is the opening effort to formulate, and then share some lingering perspectives from a distant past. My age and insights have established a fence around me that I want to understand and to share. Several keys to it that have gotten into my consciousness have about the same effect on my mind today that taking my new glasses outside the optometrist's office had when I was 13 years old. The effect of these four works has combined to have much the same effect.
New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder: Fawcett. Golden and Rosenfeld
Love Labor and Laughter, "L" Company, 21st Infantry
The American Soldier, Adjustment During Army Life: Stouffer, et al
The Tunnels of Cu Chi: Mangold and Penycate
The books cited above put my low level infantry combat experience in a perspective that may help other troop leaders make their units more effective, and keep more of their men alive in trying situations.
A niece sent me the book on Bi-polar disorder and strategies for dealing with it. Reading it makes me regret not having had it in hand when I inserted myself into the USMC during the
closing years of WWII. It is not my impression that the ranks of the Army are filled with
people with bi-polar disorder. However, the vicious, emotional roller coaster of combat closely mimics that condition and the coping strategies outlined in the book can easily carry over to
troop leading. I suggest to the Infantry School that this work become a topic for a reading,
followed by a demanding discussion of all its junior officer students.
My enduring prejudice is that our walking infantrymen are not selected from among the men
who should be in our fighting echelons, and they are severely handicapped when committed
to combat. Historically, these units are neither organized nor trained, nor stabilized as they
should be for the missions they must undertake. Those of you who have had a number of
these unprepared and unqualified men killed with you appreciate the burden I am trying to
share. Lifelong guilt is a mild term for what their comrades and leaders suffer.
This book explains the psychic workings of the human animal better than anything else I have
read. It makes our Korean era rifle company's internal relations (we all loved one another)
coherent and understandable. Soldiers' relationships with one another are the most critical component of a fighting echelon's effectiveness. The key is appreciating, understanding and respecting one another. This means getting to know the others, and in helping their transformation from innocent civilians into effective fighters.
Many units never succeed in this critical aspect of becoming an effective fighting element. The reasons for this tragic and costly, failure are many, and endemic to a great many units. The constant and rapid transfer of soldiers and their replacement by inexperienced strangers is, given our current structure, inevitable. costly in lives and effectiveness, and shameful.
These newcomers are susceptible to the emotional isolation that bi-polar sufferers endure
when in the throes of its peaks and valleys. Understanding this problem and its possible
solution is a responsibility for every person involved.
One unit from the early posting of the 21st Infantry Regiment to Korea illustrates the enduring problem of getting into close combat, surviving and then reconstituting the remains into a cohesive force. "Love" Company of the 21st Infantry left Japan for Korea on 3 July, 1950. It lost all its officers but one, and every NCO but one 8 days later in what the Army's official history calls the "…one of the most perfectly co-ordinated assaults ever launched by North Koreans… ." (3 officers KIA, 1 DOW, 1 POW); total EM lost: 93; KIA 34, (NCOs 10), POWs 59 (NCOs 9); repatriated POWs in 1953: 19 (1 officer, NCOs2). The surviving officer from this fight (me) was evacuated for 8 days after the 1 NCO and 14 other survivors were drawn back to the rear.
The surviving NCO, S/Sgt Hugh A. Brown (who had only been in "Love" Company ten days since his desertion forward from the Division's Headquarters Company) drew his 14 remaining fellows about him. He began their transformation from a distressed lot of stragglers to as competent a crew of fighting men as our Army has ever fielded. His process was simple, direct, and encompassed each of the leadership principles and tactics soldiers have used in times of great stress.
His first priority was getting to know them, getting known by them, and opening each of them up to his fellows. He may not have been conscious of organizing a group therapy session, but in fact this is what his days and nights of organizing and counseling each of them under great and immediate stress amounted to.
The significance of Bipolar's discussion of mania and depression was particularly pertinent for me given our focus as young leaders on keeping our charges active despite the disastrous circumstances in which we were operating. Our major resources in this were our rank, standing and presence. The prestige, professional competence, and style of Brown, for example, made others anxious to emulate him as the best of ways to get his approval as well as to survive. This could only have been possible through the process he used to open people up to one another, himself included. His stealing a jeep to return to us each time the bleeding from his wounds was stopped by the medics in the rear was an example widely imitated and a contributing reason for our cohesion. (His battlefield commission was approved in August 50 despite his "unauthorized" presence in "Love" Company). In short, people knew what they were dealing with when it came to Hugh Brown and vice versa. No one was left to endure emotional isolation and "Love" company's leadership took active steps to ensure that that was the case. Remember, at the time there were no field pamphlets to tell us how to deal with combat stress.
My other thrust, stated to many of you again and again, involves Stouffer's work on The American Soldier in WWII. It has a theme that runs through all four volumes. Simply stated: "Assigning a stupid man to the infantry is tantamount to condemning him to death." As in WWII, in Korea, Vietnam and now, however, those posted to the infantry are still almost always those from the lowest intelligence categories. "Love" Company was not an exception. The survivors from our first fight, and the replacements for those we lost were all of this source, yet we functioned very well. Why were we such an exception to Stouffer's grim finding?
The immediate answer to this strikes me these 50+ years later as still correct. We had come to know and value, and hence love one another. Each of us knew, cared for, and hence felt ourselves responsible for all of the others. We did this by opening up to each other in ways that could be construed as a group therapeutic experience.
The fight we've called "The Second Death of a Rifle Company" illustrates very well what we made of ourselves. Following one of the more savage infantry attacks of the war, we recovered the part of our company position seized by a dedicated Chinese regiment on February 6th. It cost us 17 KIA and 65 men wounded but there was never a doubt of our capability, nor our willingness to make such a sacrifice. It was simply understood that we would and we did so as one.
I have also been reading a chapter from The Tunnels of Cu Chi each time I read a chapter from the newer book imparted on me by my niece. These two together are the reason I want to impose them on the Infantry School and every junior officer responsible for our close combat echelons.
Cu Chi was one of our more memorable and costly failures. John Paul Vann had made me responsible for monitoring this district from late 1967 until I was posted to its province headquarters in May 68 until March 69. John's and my time together in an infantry regiment in Germany after our very early experiences in Korea had focused both of us on developing a complete understanding for the wars we were fighting. Our appreciation of Vietnam burdened each of us for the rest of his short life and my longer one.
Both John and I would have been better troop leaders had we gotten the BP book (printed in 2000!) into our consciousness, part of my reason for sharing my reaction to it with the world now. I'm going to impose both works on the old soldier I have always described as the best Army officer I've ever known, Mike Lynch, for his reaction. Mike was even more responsible for Cu Chi than I was as the brigade commander whose forces were constantly there.