David H. Hackworth
August 9, 1994


Damn. the current crop of Marines are awesome. I recently spent a couple days with our Leathernecks and talked to a fair number of young warriors. Most were student's at the Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School (Quantico, Va.).

America is fortunate to have such bright, dedicated and selfless professionals. Their motivation is to defend America, and if that means living in the mud, being constantly away from home on missions and perhaps dying for the Red, White and Blue, they're ready to pay the price. None are interested in becoming CEOs, owning BMWs or flaunting Gold Cards. They're not, members of the greed generation, but rather old-fashioned patriots who want to serve their country, lead its sons and daughters well and keep them alive.

Since the "Halls of Montezuma" the Marines have been a special branch. Had a Marine sergeant not been such a stickler for details, I would've worn Marine green. I tried to join up in 1944, after a recruiting poster Uncle Sam pointed a finger and said, "I WANT YOU" The recruiting sergeant said, "Come back next year, kid." I came back in '45; he looked at me hard, but again I got the big rejection to "Try '46." Even as a dumb kid of 15, I knew that the war would be over before I got big enough to pass the Gunny's eagle eye, so I joined another service and shipped out to the Pacific. I've often wondered if I would have had the right stuff to make it through such infernos as Saipan, Tarawa and Iwo Jima with a proud Marine regiment.

The Marines had invited me to Quantico to give a lecture on guerrilla warfare. I started with a critique of the U.S. Army s combat operations in Somalia, explaining how the Army brass had made the same mistakes as in Vietnam: employing firepower and technology against a fanatic guerrilla and failing to understand the enemy's culture, values, language, methods or motivation. Then I talked about the Vietnam War and gave examples of how successful Army units, such as the 9th Division's famous Hardcore Battalion, out-guerrillaed the Viet Cong, killing over 2,700 enemy soldiers at a cost of 25 American warriors.

Sadly, the Vietnam experience has been forgotten and the hard lessons paid for by the blood of 360,000 men have been lost because the U.S. armed forces never conducted a detached, in-depth study of that bad war. After Vietnam, the Army went right back to refighting WWII, the kind of Desert Storm warfare the Military Industrial Complex so dearly loves, where firepower and the outpourings of our assembly lines, not skill, blow the enemy away.

Many lives will be saved because the Marine Corps is wisely sifting through the ashes of Vietnam, for as Somalia showed, that kind of low intensity combat -- warrior versus warrior -- will be the main event during the next several decades. Hopefully, the Corps' commitment to learning from the past will cause an ever rivalrous Army to follow in their wake.

But many of the young tigers I talked to are worried. Entrusted with the terrible responsibility of leading men in battle, they're rightfully concerned about having both the right stuff and enough training money to prepare their people for this ultimate and lethal Super Bowl. One captain said, "If we don't make our rifles, uniforms and boots big ticket enough, we'll end up fighting the next war with the same stuff our dads used in Vietnam.'

They can't understand how the Pentagon and Congress can continue to buy high-tech rip-offs such as the $2-billion-a-pop Stealth bombers, exotic and costly submarines and ships, and pour billions more into unneeded cold war hardware when their warriors will meet the enemy with worn-out, second-class gear.

These warriors are clued-in concerning pork, politics and history. They know their grandads fought at Guadalcanal with the recycled weapons their dads used against the Kaiser. They can't blow the whistle, but you and I can demand that the brass and politicians get it right for once and stop sacrificing our best and brightest on their altar of greed and wrongheaded priorities.