Grunts: Inside the American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II Through Iraq

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Grunts: Inside the American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II Through Iraq

    Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Introduction

    ? CHAPTER 1 - Guam, July 1944: Amphibious Combat Against a Self-Destructive Enemy CHAPTER 2 - Peleliu, September 1944: Amphibious Combat Against a Clever, ... CHAPTER 3 - Aachen, 1944: Knocking ’Em All Down on a Politically Unrestrained ... CHAPTER 4 - Scenes from the Northern Shoulder of the Bulge: Men Against Tanks ... CHAPTER 5 - Operation Masher/White Wing: Air Mobility, Attrition, and the ... CHAPTER 6 - Counterinsurgency from the Barrel of a Gun: The Marine Combined ... CHAPTER 7 - Attrition and the Tears of Autumn: Dak To, November 1967 CHAPTER 8 - Eleven Mikes and Eleven Bravos: Infantry Moments in the Ultimate Techno-War CHAPTER 9 - Grunts in the City: Urban Combat and Politics—Fallujah, 2004 CHAPTER 10 - “Watch Out for IEDs!” Twenty-First-Century Counterinsurgent ...

    ? EPILOGUE Acknowledgements BIBLIOGRAPHY ENDNOTES INDEX Also by John C. McManus


American Courage, American Carnage: The 7th Infantry Regiment’s Combat Experience, 1812

    Through World War II


    The 7th Infantry Regiment: Combat in an Age of Terror, the Korean War Through the Present

    ? U.S. Military History for Dummies


Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of

    Bastogne Possible


The Americans at Normandy: The Summer of 1944—The American War from the Normandy Beaches to



The Americans at D-Day: The American Experience at the Normandy Invasion


    Deadly Sky: The American Combat Airman in World War II


    The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in World War II


    Published by New American Library, a division of

    Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

    New York, New York 10014, USA

    Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,

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    Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India

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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


First published by NAL Caliber, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group

    (USA) Inc.


First Printing, August 2010


    Copyright ? John C. McManus, 2010

Maps on pages 105, 131, 179, 243, 314, 340, 411, and 426 copyright ? Rick Britton, 2010 All

    rights reserved


    NAL CALIBER and the “C” logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.




    McManus, John C., 1965-

    Grunts: inside the American infantry combat experience, World War II through Iraq/John C.


    p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

    eISBN : 978-1-101-18917-7

    1. United States. Army. Infantry—History—20th century. 2. United States. Army.Infantry—History—21st century. 3. United States. Marine Corps—History—20th century. 4.United States. Marine Corps—History—21st century. 5. Combat—History—20th century. 6.Combat—History—21st century. I. Title.

    UA28.M39 2010

    356’.1140973—dc22 2010009828




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To Michael and Mary Jane McManus, who made all of this possible


    To Charles W. Johnson, who taught and led like a great general


    To the infantry sergeants, lieutenants and captains of multiple

     generations who paid in blood, tears and anguish to teach us the

     lessons we all should heed


     A United States Army or Marine foot soldier; one who does routine unglamorous work




    Facing Our Fears

    THE MOST POWERFUL, EFFECTIVE WEAPON in modern war is a well-trained, well-armed, and well-ledinfantry soldier. To some this assertion might seem naive, simplistic, or even antiquated,perhaps an appropriate statement to make back in Washington’s or Wellington’s day, but surelynot in our own era of dynamic technical sophistication. After all, how can the average foot-slogging grunt with a rifle in his hands possibly compare with the malevolent power oftechnology’s deadly birthlings? Indeed, the variety of modern space-age weapons is impressive:nuclear bombs and missiles with the power to destroy civilization; deadly gases and biologicalconcoctions that could eradicate human life as we know it; super aircraft carriers; nuclear-propelled and nuclear-armed submarines; high-performance fighter aircraft; intercontinentalbombers; computer and electronic eavesdropping technology; net-war computer hackers with thepower to paralyze information-age economies; laser-guided smart bombs and unmanned combataircraft, not to mention the bevy of land weapons (artillery, tanks, missiles, and so on) thattower over the infantryman like an NBA center over a toddler.

    Each one of these weapons exudes a tantalizing, magic-bullet simplicity to fighting and winningwars. In other words, the side with the most sophisticated and deadly weapons shouldautomatically win. The newer the technology, the more devastating the weapon, the moreantiquated the infantry soldier should become. This self-deceptive thinking is nothing new. Inancient times, generals expected the chariot to sweep foot soldiers from the battlefield. Inmedieval times, the mounted knight and artillery would do that job. Later, in World War I,machine guns, frighteningly accurate artillery, and poison gas were supposed to make theinfantryman obsolete. Of course, the rise of aviation created a powerful new brand of techno-vangelism. In the 1930s, air power enthusiasts, such as Giulio Douhet and Hap Arnold, arguedthat henceforth fleets of airplanes would bring war to the enemy’s homeland, destroying hiseconomy and his will to make war, thus negating any real need for armies.

    The advent of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II seemingly elevated the “victorythrough air power” theory to an axiomatic level on par with Newton’s scientific findings ongravity. Indeed, the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki barely had time to dissipatebefore a new flock of futurists proclaimed this latest revolution in warfare. From now on, theyclaimed, wars would be fought by a combination of nuclear-armed airmen and push-buttontechnicians collectively raining untold waves of destruction on the enemy’s populace. “Theday of the foot soldier is gone forever,” one such visionary wrote in 1946. “He is as extinctas the dodo bird. Yet this rather elementary fact seems to have escaped the notice of the hide-bound traditionalists who still cling tenaciously to their predilection for swarming masses offoot soldiers.” Writing a few months later, another self-styled seer (an infantry officer, noless!) agreed that “the days of the ground arms are ending. Warfare has changed. Thescientists have taken over strategy and the military men have got to understand this sooner orlater. The days of battles, as we know them and . . . have fought them, are gone forever.” 1 I must risk posing an acerbic—or at least uncomfortable—question: How did those prognoseswork out? The answer is obvious. They could not have been more wrong if they had said elephantsfly better than birds.

    Predictions regarding the demise of the foot soldier are always wrong because they are based on

     theory , not actual events . There is an old saying that rules are meant to be broken. Well,I would argue that theories are meant to be debunked, especially in relation to warfare. As ahistorian, I am, quite frankly, not interested in the theoretical world of jargon-packed warcollege papers, geopolitical treatises, and predictions about next war wonder-weapons orscenarios. Instead, I am interested in finding out what actually happened , understanding why

    it happened that way, and perhaps coming to some kind of conclusion on what this might bode forthe future. This book, then, is about realities of the modern battlefield, not theories aboutit. On the basis of historical study, I can say this with absolute certainty: From World War IIthrough the present, American ground combat soldiers, especially infantrymen, have been thelead actors in nearly every American war, at the very time when new weapons and technology were

supposed to make them obsolete.

    Thus, even in modern war, more is usually less. Since World War II, no one has, thankfully,ever used nuclear weapons. Instead, nukes settled into a useful role as a terrifying deterrent,assuring potential antagonists mutual destruction if they were ever actually employed. Theirexistence probably dissuaded the Cold War superpowers from making all-out war on each other.Both the Soviets and the Americans understood the pointlessness, and the horrible consequencesfor humanity, of nuclear war. The same has largely been true for every other nuclear power (ofcourse, nuclear-equipped, fanatical, extra-national terrorists would probably have no suchcompunctions). Saddam Hussein notwithstanding, chemical and biological weapons have alsolargely been absent from the modern battlefield. I am not arguing that this absence places thembeneath consideration. I am simply saying that their existence does not negate theinfantryman’s vital importance. The same is true for the other techno-rich weapons I listedabove. The armadas of bombers, ships, subs, missiles, and aerial drones, in spite of theirstaggering array of ordnance, and important though they are, have still never yet replaced theground soldier as the primary agent of warfare. From the invasion beaches of Guam in 1944 tosweaty patrols in twenty-first-century Iraqi heat, the guy with boots on the ground and aweapon in his hand almost always takes the lead in carrying out the war aims of Washingtonpolicymakers, not to mention determining their success or failure. This is the pattern ofrecent history.

    The American Love Affair with Techno-War

    Since the beginning of World War II, no group of people or nation-state has invested moremoney, energy, and sheer hope in technology as a war winner than the United States. The beliefthat technology and machines can win wars of their own accord was prevalent as long ago asWorld War II and it still persists, arguably in even stronger form, in the twenty-firstcentury. In 1947, S. L. A. Marshall, the noted combat historian, wrote: “So strong was theinfluence of the machine upon our thinking, both inside and outside the military establishment,that . . . the infantry became relatively the most slighted of branches.” The country paid ahigh price in blood and treasure for this oversight in World War II, but very little changed insubsequent decades. In 2006, another erudite military analyst, Ralph Peters, wrote somethingeerily similar to Marshall’s passage: “Too many of our military and civilian leaders remaincaptivated by the notion that machines can replace human beings on the battlefield. They cannotface . . . reality: Wars of flesh, faith and cities.” Marshall and Peters both understood thatflesh-and-blood human beings win wars. Machines and technology only assist them. 2

    Shrinking from the horrifying reality of war’s ugly face (more on that later), Americans havea tendency to think of war as just another problem that can be addressed through technology,economic abundance, or political dialogue. 3 These are American strengths so it is onlynatural that Americans would turn to them in time of need. Nor is there anything inherentlywrong with the idea of maximizing these considerable American advantages. But there issomething more at work here. Reared in the comfort of domestic peace and prosperity, mostmodern Americans cannot begin to comprehend that, more than anything else, war is a barbariccontest of wills, fought for some larger strategic purpose. Victory in combat usually comesfrom the resolve of human beings, not the output of machines. Yet, the modern American war-making strategy invests high hopes in the triumph of genielike superweapons and technology. Tosome extent, this is because Americans took the wrong lesson from World War II. Theyerroneously believed that victory in World War II came mainly from Allied matériel,technological, and manpower superiority. This created a zealotlike faith that these advantageswould guarantee victory in any future conflict.

    Hence, ever since, the United States has had a persistent tendency to invest too many resourcesin air power and sea power, sometimes to the detriment of ground power. For instance, in fiscalyear 2007, the Army and Marine Corps collectively received 29 percent of Defense Departmentbudget dollars even though they were doing almost all of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.The technology-rich Air Force and Navy received over 54 percent of the funding. In late 2008,

    even in the midst of two major ground wars, congressional leaders and Pentagon security“experts” were still talking about cutting, in future budgets, the ground forces in favor ofwonder-weapon technology. Bing West, a leading American military commentator, even claimedthat, as of 2006, the American armed forces contained more combat aircraft than infantrysquads, “and more combat pilots than squad leaders.” This in spite of the fact that, based onintelligence intercepts, insurgents in Iraq feared American infantry soldiers much more thanAmerican technology. One result of this misappropriation of resources was the sad spectacle ofoverstretched, overworked ground troops going into combat in Iraq without adequate personalarmor or weapons. 4

     arguing, in some sort of reactionary,notI want to state quite clearly that I am

    antediluvian way, that modern technology, cutting-edge machines, firepower, sea power, and airpower are unimportant for national security. All of these things are of tremendous importance.No serious person could possibly argue that the United States would have won World War II andprevailed in the Cold War without a preeminent navy and air force, not to mention a qualitativeedge in weaponry, automation, engineering, economic largesse, communications, and supply. Norational individual would ever claim that there is no need for a navy or an air force, so whydoes anyone, for even a moment, confer any semblance of legitimacy on the view that groundcombat forces are obsolete, especially when history proves that notion so absolutely wrong? Itshould be obvious to everyone that air, sea, and ground power are all vital. Indeed, Americanswage war most effectively when the services cooperate and fight as a combined arms team.

    So, to be absolutely clear, I am not howling at the rise of the technological moon, pining awayfor a preindustrial time when small, well-drilled groups of light infantrymen decided the fateof empires. I am simply saying that, throughout modern history, no matter how advanced weaponryhas become, the foot soldier has always been the leading actor on the stage of warfare.Further, I am contending that the sheer impressive power of techno-war leads to an Americantemptation to over-rely on air power and sea power at the expense of ground combat power. Theproblem is not the emphasis on technology. The issue is simply too much of a very good thing,to the exclusion of what is truly vital, at least if we are to consider actual history, notjust theory. Embracing an expensive new brand of techno-war while impoverishing land forces isfoolish and self-defeating, but it is too often the American way of war. Time and again sinceWorld War II, American leaders have had to relearn one of history’s most obvious lessons— wars are won on the ground, usually by small groups of fighters, who require considerable

     .logistical, firepower, and popular support

    The question, then, is who supports whom. Modern American military strategists too often havefallen under the sway of the erroneous idea that ground forces only exist to support air forcesor navies. That is exactly backward. 5 In 1950, Bruce Palmer, one of the leading Armyintellectuals of the post-World War II era, wrote with succinct, prescient simplicity: “Manhimself has always been the decisive factor in combat. Despite the devastating power of modernweapons, there are today no valid reasons to doubt the continued decisive character of theinfantryman’s role in battle. All indications are that the infantry will decide the issue inthe next war as they did in the last.” 6 Subsequent history proved him exactly right. SinceWorld War II, nearly every American conflict has been decided on the ground, Kosovo being thelone, and debatable, exception. Even in the Gulf War, with the impressive, and devastating,performance of coalition air forces, the ground army had to carry out the actual job of pushingSaddam’s armies out of Kuwait. So, at the risk of belaboring the point, we must consider notthe theoretical but what has actually happened in recent wars. I realize that just becauseevents unfolded one way in the past does not guarantee they will happen the same way in thefuture. That is quite true. But surely the patterns of past events indicate some level ofprobability that those same patterns will hold true in the future. If ground soldiers were ofparamount importance in every previous conflict, isn’t it reasonable to assume that they willremain important in any future war? After all, human beings are terrestrial creatures. Theylive on land, not in the air or sea. Doesn’t this simple fact indicate a strong likelihoodthat land is the main arena of decision in war?

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