By Major Van Harl
You might already be familiar with Mr. Rose’s work if you have seen any of the AMC cable channel’s series Turn, Washington’s Spies. The show is based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies / The Story of America’s First Spy Ring.
Most military history related books deal with the success or failure in battle of the senior leaders in charge of that campaign.
How did General X lead his men in combat against General Y’s opposing force? What were General X’s outstanding attributes and leadership skills that saved the day for his nation, or how did he, as one man seemingly all alone, fail his country?
Well, the truth is, it does not quite work that way.
With the exception of launching an intercontinental missile armed with a nuke warhead that takes out your enemy completely in the first opening minutes of a war, it still does and most likely always will take the foot soldier on the front lines of ground combat to prosecute a war by destroying the enemy up close and personal.
As much as I am tired of hearing every civilian TV talking head (who will never be in the military his or herself) use the worn out expression “boots on the ground” – that is exactly what you need to have to fight a war.
You need men who have rifles in their hands, and LPCs (Leather Personnel Carriers–boots) on their feet, viciously destroying the evil that is trying to do the same to them. Private Snuffy is the first, and in most cases, the last line of defense your side has in combat. Statistically speaking, most generals die old men in their beds back home, but Private Snuffy is not as statistically safe as most generals.
Mr. Rose has taken three battlefields that American soldiers have fought in our past history of war- Bunker Hill in 1775, Gettysburg in 1863 and the south Pacific WWII island campaign Iwo Jima and concentrated on the foot Soldier and/or Marine who was there at the forward edge of the battle area. Rose followed the lives of the lowest ranking ground combat troops and their immediate leaders, the sergeants and lieutenants who die-in-place (DIP) right along with their own assigned Private Snuffys.
The life expectancy of a new second lieutenant was the shortest of all officers in the US military as far back as the Revolutionary War and still is in today’s combat fought in the sand.
At Bunker Hill, the Americans deliberately targeted the British officers and Sergeants, which really annoyed the Brits, but their front line leaders would not get off their horses to make themselves a smaller target for the American soldiers. However, even though they thought Americans did not play fair on the battlefield, the Brits also started deliberately targeting the American officers.
- Bunker Hill was a one day battle, and the Americans stopped fighting (but not suffering and dying) as the day ended.
- At Gettysburg, the battle went on for three days. Men who survived the carnage the first two days still got to die the last day of combat.
- Iwo Jima was 35 plus days for the main battle to end, but American Marines and their Navy Corpsmen (medic) continued to die long after the senior leadership declared success in battle.
In all three battles, soldiers died horrible, painful deaths. The dead bodies of fallen comrades lay in the hot sun for days, and-in the case of Iwo Jima, weeks-as combat for the living went on around the bodies of the dead. Marine amphibious tanks landing on the beaches of Iwo drove over hundreds of dead Marine bodies just to get on shore. When they tried to clear the dead bodies, the Japanese rained down artillery on the graves registration troops.
In all three combat scenarios, American Soldiers used the dead bodies of their fellow Soldiers and Marines to stack up in front of them to try and stop the enemy rifle fire.
This is a book that every politician who talks about sending American troops into harm’s way should be required to read. War really is ugly, and our American press works really hard NOT to show that ugly side of combat. Everyone, by virtue of a cell phone, can become a battlefield video reporter, presenting some of the most graphic, horrid film footage of the total destruction of life in combat—but we self-censor. It is graphic, and it is heart breaking to watch.
Some American troops don’t even get to come home in a box because there just is nothing to send home. War is hell but the worst part of hell is always reserved for Private Snuffy and his Sergeant’s on the front line–DIP.
Major Van Harl USAF Ret. / [email protected]
About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School. A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI. His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training. He believes “evil hates organization.” [email protected]