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If you are frequent reader of
my column, then you know I love to read. In general, I love history. Further, I
am a big fan of military history. And in particular, I enjoy anything about the
Recently, my friend, Eddie Erdilatz, suggested I
read a book he had recently finished. It’s entitled, Brute: The Life of Victor
Krulak, U.S. Marine. This is my kind of book! History and the Marine Corps.
Can’t get enough of it. The moniker “Brute” was obtained on the day he arrived
at the Naval Academy. A rather imposing midshipman took one look at the
diminutive five-foot five Krulak, and said, “Well, Brute!”
So, who is this guy Victor “Brute” Krulak,
anyway? You may be asking yourself, “Why haven’t I heard of him before?” That
would be a good question.
Make no mistake, Vic Krulak was a warrior. But he
was also exceptionally cerebral. His mind was always pushing against what is,
and instead, asking the question, What if? From the time Krulak was a 2nd
Lieutenant he was pushing the envelope when it came to what the Marine Corps
could be, and what it ought to be. He loved the Corps and always did what he
believed to be in the best interests of the Corps. In so doing, it would
translate into what was best for the country.
Young Lieutenant Krulak caught the eye of certain
Marine generals who took him under their wing. They recognized his brilliance
and wanted to protect this young, cock-sure Marine officer. Many other flag
officers, both Marine generals and Navy admirals, were less than enamored with
this protégé who hobnobbed with three and four star generals both
professionally and socially. His defenders recognized his acumen, and took
every opportunity to seek his council, as unorthodox as that was in the Marine
Corps of the 1930s and ‘40s.
In 1936 Lt Krulak was sent to Shanghai, China to
serve with the legendary “China Marines.” The China Marines were U.S. Marines
serving a special post in the city of Shanghai, a city of no small reputation
internationally. While there, Krulak was aware of the growing threat of the
Imperial Japanese military, particularly, their navy. The Japanese were
constantly threatening and harassing the Chinese. Finally, in 1937, a flotilla
of Japanese war ships anchored off Shanghai, showing every intention of landing
troops on Chinese soil. Krulak watched daily from the American sector of
Shanghai, waiting to see what might transpire. One morning the Japanese navy
began heavy shelling in preparation for troops landing in an assault on the
city. Krulak commandeered a tugboat from the U.S. Navy command and sailed out
to meet the invading force with a large American flag flapping in the breeze.
The United States and Japan were not at war yet, so this was not perceived by
the Japanese as a threatening move on Krulak’s part. Instead, he wanted to
study the amphibious landing craft the Japanese Marines were using to get from
ship-to-shore. One humorous incident occurred while Japanese warships were
firing their naval guns on Shanghai. “As the tug approached one of the larger
Japanese warships, there was a flurry on deck, and Japanese sailors rushed to
the rail. The shooting stopped. The sailors saluted. Other sailors dipped the
Japanese ensign (small flag), and a (ship’s) horn sounded. Then Krulak, who was
in the wheelhouse of the tugboat, came to attention, saluted, and gave a blast
on the horn.” You can’t make this stuff up!
Once the naval courtesies were over, Krulak had
the tug come right alongside of a Japanese landing craft. He took pictures and
made sketches of the craft, along with copious notes. Later he formalized his
observations and sent a package to the Navy Department for them to see how the
Japanese used these amphibious craft. In the years leading up to the Second
World War, the Marine Corps had not fully established a fully functional policy
for implementing amphibious warfare. Lt Krulak was certain his information
would revolutionize, as well as solidify, the Marine Corps’ policies regarding
amphibious warfare. He would be sorely disappointed in a few years when he
discovered the Navy had no interest in his desire to create amphibious landing
Just prior to the war, Krulak would be serving at
Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, known as “the Crossroads of the Marine
Corps,” where, under the protective hand of General Holland “Howlin’ Mad”
Smith, he was allowed to pursue his interest in developing the much-needed
craft used to transport Marines to the beach. “Big Navy” continued to stiff-arm
him, believing opposing large fleets would be the naval battles in the future. This
was true as well for the army, using large army forces to clash with an enemy
force. Krulak was undaunted, showing brilliance of foresight by pressing the
need for such landing craft. So, he connected with a private boat builder by
the name of Andrew Jackson Higgins.
This union of Krulak and Higgins would be
fortuitous for both men, Higgins Industries, Krulak’s military career, the
Marine Corps, and the United States. The amphibious boat, known as Higgins
Boats, which Higgins built with Krulak’s oversight, revolutionized amphibious
warfare. These craft were contracted to be built by Higgins Industries in the
thousands. They were instrumental in both the D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944,
and throughout the Pacific island campaigns by the Marines, not the least of
which was Iwo Jima, February 19, 1945.
I have more fascinating information about this
brilliant man, but that will have to wait till next week.
In closing, this quote from General Dwight D.
Eisenhower sums it up rather nicely. “[The Higgins’ Boats] won the war for us.”