The Day I Fought an Army
In the early 70’s, a couple of years before I retired from the Marine Corps Reserve, I had an interesting experience involving the U.S. Army. A little background first. When released from active duty after Korea, I decided I wanted to try and get at least 20 “good” years of reserve duty since I already had almost six between service in WWII and Korea. So I kept active in one form of Marine Reserve activity or another, whichever was available where we were living. This worked well until we got to the north woods of Wisconsin and the nearest Marine reserve unit was at Green Bay, 90 miles away, and they didn’t have an opening for a Captain, my rank at the time, anyway. What to do? I found there was an Army Reserve Officers unit active in Wausau and, on contacting them, was told they’d be happy to accept me as a member if the ol’ Corps approved. To my surprise my request to HQ Marine Corps produced a set of orders attaching me to the unit.
Unfortunately, my opinion of the Army had not been very good because of my experiences in Korea. I had seen too many instances when, in my estimation, they had not performed as well as they should have; and I remember how I puzzled over their successes in WWII. Was this the same outfit?
Anyway, I really wanted to find a means to continue the reserve activity and spent the next five years with that unit. During that period my feelings about them changed considerably and I concluded they were really a pretty good bunch of guys and they just must have had lousy leadership in Korea. The objective of the unit’s members was to complete the reserve form of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College course so our weekly meetings consisted of taking parts of that course. I happened to join them as they started Phase 1. The course was to be completed in five years but consisted of ten phases. Phases 1,3,5,7 & 9 consisted of 50 meetings during the year from, each from 7 to 10 in an evening at our local Armory. These consisted of lectures, map work, role-playing and tests. Phases 2,4,6,8 & 10 required the army guys to attend a two-week ADT (Active Duty for Training) session each summer at the College in Leavenworth, KS.
My two-week summer ADT assignments were with the Corps and I saw a lot of the Corp’s bases and had some very interesting tours. However, to keep up with the Army guys, something I really wanted to do because I wanted to show them I could, I had to take the equivalent of what they got in two weeks of ADT by a correspondence course that the College enrolled me in. This was tough. I had to spend the entire year attending meetings and then, on top of that, complete a very difficult correspondence course for phases 2, 4, 6 and 8. At the end of the five years I knew I was getting close to retirement and when I found that the Army unit was going to Leavenworth for the last Phase 10 and they would all graduate I thought “Wouldn’t it be nice to go with them and also graduate and receive my certificate which was equivalent to a Masters degree in Military Arts and Science.”
With tongue in cheek I made that request of HQ MC and, surprise, surprise, got a set of orders by return mail.
On arrival at Leavenworth a General greeted us. Up on a stage in a large auditorium he addressed the 300 or so Captains, Majors and Lt Colonels that were reservists attending this final session. He concluded his speech with this observation:
“It is my understanding that there is one Marine in the audience, a Lt Colonel. I would like him to know that the regular C&GS course has just been completed and in that there too was a Marine, a Major. He finished first in the class and I would expect no less from this one!”
My only reaction was, “Oh shit!” and, even said in an undertone to myself, there were some close by that heard it and laughed. That pretty much set the tone for the two weeks. I had looked forward to a nice, easy two weeks of goofing off and going to the club and instead felt compelled to work my butt off.
To add to my misery, I got the distinct impression I was being picked on. Not a session was concluded without my being asked to answer at least one question – usually the tougher ones for that section of the course. I’m sure there were many other officers that never were asked a question for the entire two weeks. Maybe I was being paranoid?
The last two days of the course were to be a CPX (Command Post Exercise). We were divided into two units - the Red and Blue armies. Everyone was assigned a role as a unit commander of a Division, a Regiment, a Battalion or as a member of their staffs. When the assignments were handed out the night before, I opened mine and found that I was to be the General of the Red Army. I was furious and immediately asked to see the head of the instructors. I met with him and a number of others of the staff and told them I thought it was unfair to do this. For one thing, I was getting close to retirement and this “honor” they were bestowing on me was being wasted and, for another, it seemed a shame to me that they weren’t giving some of their officers a chance at this – officers who would be continuing their careers and get much more value from such assignment. But they wouldn’t budge and I had the distinct impression that they had been told to do so. I have no idea why. Did they want to put me into a position where I might not do so well or did they feel I might be able to show the army something their own officers would not be able to do? I’ll let the reader decide.
The first day went well. They had us set up so each army headquarters staff was in a separate lecture hall filled with desks that were occupied by the staffs of the divisions, regiments and supporting arms, all connected by telephones. Huge map boards showed the progress of the action. It was really very hectic, guys running around, phones ringing, occasionally tempers flaring, and I imagine it would closely resemble the activity that would go on at an army HQ during an engagement.
The second day we started out OK and were holding our own but, as far as I was concerned, things were beginning to drag a little. It looked to me like we were going to end up in some kind of draw if that is possible in a CPX. How was I to know? I’d taken part in small Battalion sized CPXs before but nothing of this magnitude. Then again, the size didn’t seem to matter that much – the basics were still the same. One thing that intrigued me was how serious the army guys were taking it. Boy, one little order from me, and people ran all over the place, including some of their light colonels.
Now I have to go back a little and reveal that, during the course of the entire five-year curriculum we had spent a lot of time learning how to cope with nuclear threats and how to use battlefield nuclear weapons. The one nuclear weapon available to an Army Division at that time was the 8-inch howitzer and its capability of firing an 8-inch nuclear shell. Granted, it was of small yield, about 25 to 50 KT if I remember correctly, but it could make a hell of a bang.
Anyway, the morning dragged along and it began to look like the exercise was going to use the entire day with an hour or so at the end for a critique. Sometime shortly before lunch one of my army staff guys came up to me and told me something interesting. He could hardly control himself he was so excited. It seems that while he was making a head run (a visit to the men’s room) he went past the auditorium that the blue army was in just as one of their guys was going through the door. The door was slow in closing and he got a glimpse of one of their big map boards that showed their positions.
For the benefit of our staff he showed us those positions as best as he could remember them on one of our maps. Obviously this could be of help to us but there was an immediate debate on whether we could ethically use this information. I argued that intelligence was intelligence no matter how obtained and we should use it. Without too much controversy they all agreed. We now had a good idea of where the forward elements of their army were which gave us some indication of what their plans might be. But, I noticed he’d indicated one other item that I found most interesting – the location of their Army’s HQ. It was toward their rear, protected by their reserve unit and also nestled amongst some low hills, out of reach of our weapons except for one, the 8-inch howitzer. My mind was made up!
When I told the staff what I wanted them to do there was a shocked silence. “You can’t do that,” was the vocal response from a number of them. “Why not?” I asked, “There is nothing in the instructions we’ve been given that prohibits it and what’s the sense of putting the weapon in our arsenal and teaching us its tactics if they don’t want us to use it.” I don’t remember us having any kind of “Rules for Engagement” like they talk about now and nothing in our training or instructions said anything about getting permission. They finally agreed, “What the hell, let’s try it.”
When the order was passed on to fire a nuke tipped shell at the coordinates we specified a number of the exercise referees or umpires or whatever they were called immediately descended on us. “You can’t do that!”, “You don’t have approval by higher authority”, were just some of the reactions.
"Show us why we can’t?” was my answer. In the silence that followed I added, “Look, I’m the General of this Army, I have a few nuclear rounds in my ammo supply and I have the perfect target for one of them. Unless you can tell me why this is wrong, or won’t work, or is against my orders, consider the round as having been delivered.” They left with what I could swear were horrified expressions.
Then I was the one surprised when a short time later they announced the CPX was concluded. Our Army was declared the winner. In the very short review that followed we were simply told that our nuclear round had hit the Blue Army’s HQ location and the entire staff had been eliminated which had, for all practical purposed, decapitated them and loose control of the battlefield. They could have just said, “No, you can’t do that, we will eliminate that order and continue the exercise.” And they never asked how we had discovered the location of the HQ!
Although I remember this much vividly, my memory of the remainder of that day is not as clear. I think I met one of the instructors and told him, “See, I told you not to pick on me.” I don’t remember being either criticized or praised except that some of the guys said they were happy the exercise ended early and they had a little free time for the rest of the afternoon that was left. Nothing was said at our graduation the next morning but I did get my certificate for having successfully completed the C&GS course. I’ve always wondered what they talked about afterwards. I’m guessing it was something like, “That goddam jarhead ruined our game.”
I mentioned that completing this course was considered as having qualified for an “Equivalency” Master’s degree. Unbeknownst to me I discovered many years later that a year after I had completed the course the University of Kansas had worked out a deal with the Army to provide its students with a true Master’s Degree in Military Arts and Science, with only one additional requirement, the submission of an acceptable short essay on some military related subject.