Monday, July 30, 2012

The Charge of the Lieutenant Brigade

The other day a stray synapse in the pea-sized, shriveled lump of grey matter in the Colonel's brain housing group fired and he found himself remembering fondly a moment of great pain and professional gain.

Twenty-five years ago, this summer, the Marine Corps, in a rare lapse of institutional discernment, judged the Colonel, then a captain, competent enough to command a rifle company of America's best and brightest.

Within the first few weeks following a change of command during which an old friend, Ed Larkin, had reluctantly relinquished command of Charlie 1/8 (Company C, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division) to the Colonel, the company marched from its barracks to a nearby set of ranges for a week of live fire training. 

Bivouacked in a field behind the range firing line, the Marines were in their platoon areas sitting in front of their shelter halves (each Marine carried half of a shelter and buttoned it together with another Marine's to form a pup tent -- a term Marines never used) eating their evening banquet in a bag (MRE).  Evidently, the day had not been too hot or too strenuous for them, because instead of falling quickly asleep as Marines learn to do as soon as strenuous activity ceases, they began to wrestle.

The wrestling matches evolved quickly beyond one on one and, as the Colonel and his lieutenants watched from a safe distance, one squad attacked another squad, and then one platoon attacked another platoon.

Each attacking unit would announce its intentions by standing facing its target and clapping slowly in unison, and then a roar would go up as the Marines rushed each other. 

The company's senior NCOs were doing a fair job of refereeing to make sure that things didn't get too out of hand, and the Colonel and his lieutenants turned their attention back to planning the next day's events.

Whenever a particularly large roar would erupt from across the field, the company officers would look up, chuckle, and comment on the battle's progress, "There goes First and Second Platoon" or "Tony, Weapons Platoon is getting stomped" or "Look at Smitty leading the charge," and then turn their attention back to planning.

Suddenly the low roar of friendly combat quieted. The Colonel and his officers looked up to see the entire company facing them and beginning to clap in unison.

The Colonel quickly scanned the faces of his five lieutenants and couldn't help but laugh at the looks of bewilderment turning rapidly to consternation...on all but the XO's (the Company executive officer -- second-in-command).  Brad McCullough was an accomplished martial artist and the Colonel never saw anything rattle him. The Colonel did see his eyes narrow, however, as he figured the odds and then saw him glance around for an escape route.

The other lieutenants were too shocked to do that much thinking.

"Gentlemen," The Colonel managed to muster without his voice cracking, "we can't run. We have to attack."

The Colonel turned and started jogging tentatively towards the company.

With that, Brad hollered "Keeeyaaa!," or something like that (the company officers laughed for months afterwards anytime one would yell "Keeeyaaa" in a not-so similar situation) and sprinted toward the 150 Marines facing us.

The Colonel and the rest of the lieutenants sprinted after the XO, and the six young Marine officers gave a long, wavering rebel yell that 125 years previous would have been right at home in Stonewall's Brigade rushing yankee earthworks.

The Marines actually stood stunned for a second at the sight of their officers charging them, and then recovered with a roar and charge of their own.

The gap of 100 or so yards closed in a few seconds that seemed like eternal anticipation of the painful collision with the camouflaged tide.

The Colonel picked out a big Marine in front of him who happened to be looking away at his own platoon commander, slanted toward him, and dropped him with an open field tackle that rung the Colonel's bell much louder than the Marine's.

The company engulfed its officers and all six went down under a crush of happily hollering Marines.

The company First Sergeant saved the Colonel from possible serious bodily harm, by reminding in his drill field voice, "Marines, that is your commanding officer!", and pulling Marines off of the pile atop the Colonel.

The Colonel and his First Sergeant did the same at the piles of Marines that marked the positions of the rest of the officers, and as the men respectfully separated themselves and headed back to their tents the Colonel heard a Marine remark proudly,

"Did you see the Skipper and the officers charging us?!?"

Little did they know, their leaders had no other choice.

But now, Company C, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines really belonged to Captain Thomas E. Gregory. 

The next year and a half was the best time of his life.
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