Brief history of 2nd Plt. E 2/5, 1st Prov Mar Brigade Korea
You're staring into the eyes of the gallant young Platoon Leader and equally gallant Marines of the 2nd Platoon, Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines,
1st Provisional Marine Brigade.
The very name Platoon Leader would change in the next few weeks to Platoon Commander. Why? Because those who made such decisions believed that their Second Lieutenants were taking the word "Leader" to indicate that they had to be in front literally "Leading" the platoon. One company in particular was always mentioned to buttress that argument. That company had lost all three of its Platoon Leaders within a few minutes. Two had been killed and the other lost the back of his head, and, at least temporarily, the power of sight. The Marine Corps could not sustain those types of casualties and remain a potent field force.
It cost a great deal to train a Second Lieutenant even in 1950. It also took a full academic year of classroom and field experiences to graduate from Basic School, which the Marine Corps insisted on in those days. Made no difference what the intended future of the Second Lieutenant, Aviator, Engineer, Tanker, Artillery man, Supply etc. was to be. First and foremost they were trained to lead a platoon into battle.
I'm not positive where the picture was taken, but my guess is that it was shortly after the Platoon arrived in Korea. 2dLt Jack Nolan is that earnest looking young man in the right center foreground.
Jack was young, having been born August 13, 1928. He had been orphaned at an early age, and raised by an older sister. He was the youngest of five siblings. At the time the picture above was taken he would have been 21 or 22. Jack had enlisted in 1946, worked his way to Sergeant in some two years, which is phenomenal in the Corps, and been commissioned in 1948 at the minimum age of 20 on the recommendation of that paragon of all Marines, Colonel "Chesty" Puller. Jack would go on to acquire two Purple Hearts in Korea, in addition to the Silver Star and Bronze Star with Combat "V." Old "Chesty" could pick 'em. He also acquired the reputation as an outstanding Platoon Commander, and possibly the greatest accolade that one Marine can pay another. Jack was indeed a "Stout Sword." (That young Platoon Leader would retire from the Corps in 1970, after a full and satisfying career. He lives today with his wife of some 50 years in retirement in Tyler, Texas. I am pleased to claim him as my Basic School Classmate, and like to think that he was typical of our year group.)
The Platoon Sergeant is the Marine at the extreme lower left. His name is Russell Jeremiah Bogomaniero. "Bogy" was a veteran of several Marine WW II battles in the Pacific, the names of which Marines stood at attention for at their annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball, and will continue to stand at attention for so long as there is a Marine Corps. He had a number of combat decorations going into Korea, and would earn more there. His friends, of whom I am proud to say I was one, called him "Bogy."
Bogy was wounded, probably at the Battle of the 1st Naktong Bulge, about 17/18 August, 1950. I was in the hospital at Yokosuka, Japan when I first became aware that "Bogy" was there. We were both discharged from the hospital on or about September 15th, the day of the Inchon landing. Hospital discharge in those days was easy when experienced Marines were needed so badly at the front. All you needed was a real hard scab over the wound. And it helped to give the hospital staff a bad time of it, constantly demanding to be discharged, and complaining of your treatment. "Bogy" arrived back at his company on the 23rd of September, and to the best of my knowledge was not again wounded in Korea. He would go on to become the first First Sergeant created when the Marine Corps reinstated the rank in 1952. He would eventually retire from the Marine Corps, full of years and honors, as a Commissioned Marine Gunner (Warrant Officer).
I lost track of "Bogy" in the early 60s, and our paths did not cross again. Of one thing I'm sure, when the first commitment of ground troops was made to Viet Nam on March 7, 1965, and of course they were Marines, if "Bogy" wasn't with them he did everything in his power to join them as quickly as he could. He was that kind of Marine. There is a line in the Hymn that goes "....First to Fight for Right and Freedom...." Marines take that seriously.
Members of this Platoon had fought during the Battle of Chindong-ni. They were part of Task Force Kean who made the advance on Kosong, before being pulled back to the "Bean Patch" at Miryang. They would have been committed with their company with the first battalion (2/5, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines) who would smash themselves against the North Korean defenses [at the First Battle of the Naktong Bulge].
Their battalion would not take a foot of ground, but so depleted enemy resources that the battalion that passed through them would seize the ridge, while taking crippling casualties themselves. [The press called this "The Battle of No-Name Ridge." We knew better. The ridge, which had been soaked in blood, certainly did have a name, at least one the Marines called it. On the maps it was called O-Bang Ni. The name ascribed by the Marines was somewhat more colorful.] The third battalion of the regiment (3/5), with the enemy retreating, took the next two ridge lines and dug in overlooking the Naktong River, the objective of the thrust.
From the Naktong the Brigade was sent back to the "Bean Patch" to "lick their wounds." Literally. There would be faces missing from that picture above if it had been retaken then. As seen before, their estimable Platoon Sergeant was in hospital, and my guess would be that at least 35% of others pictured above would have been dead or wounded. In the first part of September the Brigade was again called upon to reduce another Naktong River Bulge. Same play, same script. 2/5 attacked first, were bled white, but took no ground. The men of the Platoon would have been in that attack. 1/5 attacked next, were bled white, but managed to seize the first ridge. 3/5 then attacked and achieved the final objective, doing their share of bleeding in the process. Then back to Miryang and the "Bean Patch."
Had a picture been taken then there would have been a lot more faces missing, and my guess would be that something more than half the platoon would be gone.
General Walton Walker, CG 8th Army, protested loudly when he was told he was going to lose his "Fire Brigade" to the 1st Marine Division, who had been tasked to land in the assault at Inchon, and tried to substitute an Army Regiment in their stead. This was not permitted by Mac Arthur, and the Brigade made its way back to Pusan to prepare to board ship for the Inchon landing.
This of course happened in the late afternoon of September 15th for this Platoon. They scrambled, with the rest of Easy Company, up ladders and over the Inchon Seawall, then moved up to secure Cemetery Hill on the left flank of the beach. There was little enemy contact, and things went well until after dark. What happened then was a "Friendly Fire" incident involving a Navy LST, across which I'm drawing the veil of silence.
The following morning the members of this platoon would have set out for Kimpo Airfield, and participate in its capture the following day against moderate resistance. From there they would have swung to the north and the banks of the Han River, where they would cross the next day. By that time their battalion was in Regimental Reserve, and it would not be until the 22nd of September that 2/5 was passed through the ROK Marine Battalion to continue the attack to the east. Easy Company would be in Battalion Reserve, and not until "D" and "F" Companies had been decimated thrice over was Easy Company called into the fray.
The Company Commander of Easy Company was Captain Sam Jaskilka. We called him, lovingly, "Cap'n Sam." I was privileged to be on the Company Tactical Net throughout that fight. The way that Captain Sam spoke to his platoon commanders over the next 12 hours really belongs in an archive. It needs to be studied by all officers who may ever have a command in combat. It would be a masterpiece, if it existed. Cap'n Sam knew exactly what to say, and how to say it. Nothing excited him, and the concern for his troops during the fight remained his primary motivation.
Some of you will ask if his mission should not have been Cap'n Sam's primary motivation. No, and I'll tell you why. If a commander sees to it that his troops are taken care, and casualties are caused by the enemy and not stupid leadership, the troops will see to it that the mission is accomplished. That's loyalty, which is largely misunderstood. A junior is never "loyal" to his senior. What we mistake as "loyalty" is simply the reflection of the "loyalty" that is shown by that senior to his juniors. If you take care of your troops, they will take care of you.
Much later Cap'n Sam would pin on four stars. No one who fought by his side during the Korean War would doubt that he deserved every one of them, and maybe a couple more to boot.
(Cap'n Sam had commanded the detachment on Princeton when she was sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea in the spring of '41 just before the Battle of Midway. I first met him when he ran the Platoon Qualification Course for the G-3 Section of the 1stMarDiv at Camp Pendleton in the fall of '49. He could have been a prick with ears, but he was the gentlest and best of teachers. Most of us considered him some kind of a saint let loose on earth. I'd run into him occasionally throughout my career, as I would the few other officers who had survived that period. We always gave each other what the Mexicans call an embrazo. And we always had tears in our eyes if not running down our cheeks remembering the experiences we had shared and those brave young men whose lives had been snuffed out on those ridges and in the surrounding paddies. Probably sounds funny to you that a bunch of hard bitten professionals who would all do it again tomorrow would be so emotional. But that's the truth of it. The last time I saw him was in the middle 70s when he was the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. His outer office was manned by Colonel Bill White, who had been one of my junior officers years before. As Bill and I were renewing acquaintances, Sam heard us talking and came out and stood against the door jam. When he saw me he walked toward me and we exchanged the usual embrazo, then shook hands, of course. At that point I told him the only reason I'd stopped by was that I'd never hugged a 4 star general before. He was busy, and I only got to spend a few minutes with him, but most 4 stars I've known wouldn't have given you that. A graduate of "Canoe U," he is now living in retirement in Annapolis, very active in alumni affairs, and doing a lot of sailing.)
The Company managed to secure the ridge line between the Iwa Women's University and the beginnings of the built up area that was Seoul. That ended the Inchon-Seoul operation for the battalion, and for the Platoon. The survivors were "Pinched Out" of the line by "Chesty" Puller's 1st Marines who had crossed the river from Yong Dong Po, and 3/5 who had advanced on 2/5's left flank.
It would have been interesting to have taken another snapshot of the Platoon at that point in time. Their young, but now combat savvy Lieutenant had been wounded, but was still with the Platoon. As a matter of fact, two-thirds of the Marines who stood on that ridge were categorized as "walking wounded." The Platoon's erstwhile Platoon Sergeant, Russell Jeremiah Bogomaniero, had returned from hospital and avoided another wound in the fight for Seoul, but only God knows how many of those other lads in the picture would have still been around.
The adventure had not ended for this Platoon. They would board ship at Inchon for Wonson, on the East Coast of Korea, in late September. Landing at Wonson, they would eventually wind their way up the Funchilen Pass to a place just west of a little town called Yu Dam Ni on the northwest corner of the Chosin Reservoir. There, the night of November 27th, 1950, they would wake up under attack by several divisions of Chinese troops.
It was 35 degrees below zero, before they factored in the wind. And the wind always blew. From the north. They would urinate in the water cans of the Heavy Machine Guns to keep those water cooled weapons operating in those temperatures. They would learn that hair oil worked better than rifle oil to keep their individual weapons functioning. They would "advance in the other direction" and eventually, and painfully make their way to Hagaru-Ri at the southern end of the Reservoir, where they would rest for a few days while holding off a horde of Chinese at the same time who wanted to "eat their rice." (An artillery forward observer during this period is reported to have informed his Battery Commander that "A whole Horde of Chinese" were advancing on his position. The Battery Commander came back with "Interrogatory your last, how many men are in that Horde?" The observer replied: "A Whole Shitpotful," at which the Battery Commander said "Why didn't you say so in the first place?")
Then down a few miles to the southern boundary of the plateau, where "Chesty" Puller's 1st Marines, Jack Nolan's old mentor, were to be the rearguard down the miles long Funchilen Pass. And finally, back to Hamhung/Hungnam.
It would be very interesting to know how many of these young Marines would have been there to have their pictures taken together. Some rested in graves from Masan to Inchon to Hagaru-Ri.
During WW II a father had written a poem dedicated to his sixteen year old Marine son who had been killed in action on Okinawa in 1945. The title of the poem was "Forever Sixteen." Some of those lads, newly laid in their graves, would be "Forever Sixteen." And "Forever Seventeen." And so forth. But these were young men, and few of them could vote in a national election or enter a bar and legally buy a drink.
Other members of the Platoon would have been at various points on the chain of evacuation from the 121st Evacuation Hospital outside Hamhung, to several different hospitals in Japan, to Aiea Heights at Pearl Harbor, and to Trippler General and Oaknoll on the West Coast. Eventually they'd drift back to places like Bethesda and Great Lakes Naval Hospital. If the laws of averages are working, one or two of those lads are there today. Those who had survived until then would be taken from Hamhung to fight again in the mountains of South Korea chasing guerillas. And of course there were casualties. There are always casualties.
In February, 1951, they would have finally gotten their tickets home along with other veterans of the Brigade. The Platoon, or what was left of them, would never muster again. So let's hold Virtual Final Muster. The Platoon had, as Andy Worhol would proclaim years later, its 15 minutes in the spotlight and should have disappeared into obscurity. In this instance, however, the Platoon would fool the fates. How? Because here we are, almost 50 years later, peering intensely into those faces to see what we can learn from these men, many of whom have been dead so very long by the time of our projected Final Muster. Let's get them together for one last picture of the living. And, maybe a few ghosts will turn up on the negatives to make their presence known at that Final Muster. Let's arrange them in the same relative positions that they had occupied in Our Picture, after what must seem to them, several lifetimes before.
I must wonder how many faces would be in the picture. I must wonder too how those faces had been changed by the combat they endured. And what would lie behind their faces, how had their psychological processes changed, what new values did they have that they did not possess before, what things that they valued terribly before would they have shed, and how would they look out at a world that for many had suddenly become a very dangerous place indeed. For most of them, I'd guess, they had enough of International Shooting Galleries, and they retired to their homes in villages and cities throughout the United States, paid their taxes, raised families, worked hard at their jobs and rooted for their favorite teams.
Others would be there, ready to go again, when the bugles sounded a need for Marine Regulars yet again in Viet Nam in 1965.
And, the beat goes on at 120 steps per minute.
And, at the Marine Corps Balls in the future three more battles would be added to the Epic Battles of the Marine Corps.
Alongside "The Shores of Tripoli," "The Halls of Montezuma," "Chateau-Thierry," "Meuse-Argonne," "Guadalcanal," "Tarawa," Peleliu," and "Okinawa" would be added: "The Pusan Perimeter;" "Inchon-Seoul" and "Chosin Reservoir."
If you could again assemble what has become of that largely ghostly crew of the 2d Platoon, Easy Company, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, and submit the foregoing to them, they might well grin at one another and say: "Well, three out of three ain't too bad."
I have a favorite book. It's by Arnold Zweig and called "Education Before Verdun." I only permit myself to read this book once a year, and I've read it many time since I acquired it some 45 years ago.
This is literary mind candy in its best form. The heroes are all soldiers of the German Army during WW I. One of the sub-heroes in the book is a 19 year old Sergeant named Sussman who is a sapper and who has seen much combat, having at one time been declared dead after a mine explosion. His Lieutenant is a gifted Engineer and man of real honor and concern for his troops named Kroysing who admires and is admired by Sussman. Kroysing is a Cap'n Sam dressed in German Field Gray. Sussman is sent back to Germany to take an Officer's Course which will lead to his eventual commissioning in the German Army. While waiting for the class to start Sussman is detailed to teach recruits how to throw a grenade. In the process, an armed grenade is dropped, and Sussman is mortally wounded. As he lies dying he tells a Nurse: "Tell my Mother and Father that it was worth it. And tell Lieutenant Kroysing it wasn't."
I can but wonder how many of Our Platoon would have echoed those same sentiments.
Korea, Summer 1950