David H. Hackworth
February 28, 1995
I've written hard-nosed critiques of Army and Air Force brass who failed in their duty, but here's a story of a different kind of leader: General Edward A. Craig, U.S. Marine Corps, who lived by the principles of leadership and whose first thought was always his warriors.
Retired Marine Norman Kingsley says: "Eddie Craig commanded a Marine unit, Army General Walton Walker's 'Fire Brigade,' during the first months of the Korean War. The brigade was always in the thick of it. Wherever the Reds broke through the U.S. lines, Craig's firemen stopped them cold with hard-hitting counterattacks.
"Craig led from the forward foxholes. He ate with rifle squads and asked the grunts what could be done better. At night, he rolled up in a poncho and slept on the ground alongside his Marines. He lived exactly as they did. He felt their pain, saw their problems and looked at the war through their eyes.
"During the battles along the Naktong River, Craig was always up front, directing the fight and helping the wounded. At the aid station, he went from man to man, holding hands, stroking faces, telling them they'd be okay, and to 'just hang on.' All the time tears streamed down his cheeks. He never tried to hide the tears; that's why his men loved him, fought for him, died for him.
"Later, when the Chinese entered the war and surrounded the 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir, Craig's boss, General Oliver Smith, said, 'How can we fight against 600,000 Chinese?' Craig replied, 'I've been up with the 7th Marines -- they're down to 1,000 effectives; the 5th Marines have maybe 1,300 able to fight; Puller's 1st Marines are still strong with over 2,000...'
General Smith said, 'We've had it, Eddie.'
"Around midnight, with the situation becoming even grimmer and the temperature at 20 degrees below zero, they heard what sounded like a chorus. A recon revealed a squad of nearly frozen Marines singing the Marine's Hymn. Smith said, 'With guys like that, we'll make it, Eddie.' And, of course, the 1st Division did, adding a brilliant battle honor to the Corps' proud reputation."
Caring leaders like Smith and Craig inspired their warriors to do the impossible.
The leadership qualities Eddie Craig displayed didn't jump out of a book. He learned how to lead from the example of his leaders. The pre-WWII generation of Marine skippers, from shavetail to general, wore the same dirty green dungarees, carried their own packs and bedrolls and lived by the rule: "Know and care for your men and always set the example."
After he retired, Craig still followed this axiom. Looking at a photo album, he'd recall names of his Marines as if it were yesterday: "That's PFC Will Hurstman, here's Cpl. Brandenhorst and there's Sal Di Carlo -- baked the best bread I ever ate." Those pictures dated back 60 years, to campaigns in Haiti, Santo Domingo, Nicaragua, China, Philippines and WWII.
Until his death last December, the General kept in touch with hundreds of Marines who served with him. A few years ago, one of his sergeants who had been crippled during the battle of Seoul, was having a hard time putting a daughter through college. Craig moved a few mountains and got her a scholarship.
Since the Vietnam War, most U.S. generals have become carbon copies of corporate managers: they're too busy being executives to spend much time down in the mud with their warriors.
In eight years of combat in Vietnam, there is not one case of a U.S. general officer spending a night with a rifle company. During the Gulf War, Somalia and Haiti, the only generals I saw down at the grunt level were the "streakers": a chopper lands, then a general trots around the perimeter saluting, patting, shaking and chewing -- ten minutes, in and out.
No damn wonder today's top is not in touch with the bottom.
The brass must get back to the basics. Eddie Craig would be a good role model, and there are others, from "Stonewall" Jackson to Hank "The Gunfighter" Emerson, including a dozen or so serving generals -- but not enough to provide our warriors with the Craig-like leadership they deserve.