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VAN STOCKUM: 30 Years in the Marines: The Rest of the Story (1942-1967), Part 27 (concluded): The Brute and I

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By Ron Van Stockum

In my new assignment as Commanding General (Forward) and Deputy Commander, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, I may have carried an impressive title, but it was less significant than appeared. I was Lt. Gen. Victor H. (Brute) Krulak’s man at the Okinawa Marine Logistics Base, which supported the Vietnam War.

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My task was to coordinate this support and trouble-shoot logistic problems under his supervision from his headquarters, over 4,500 miles away in Honolulu.

I could expect instructions by phone or dispatch at any time day or night. Brute would delegate, but never lose control.

Despite his distance from Okinawa, Krulak visited at least once a month, with little advance notice, spending a night in my quarters. Shortly after arriving, he would use a secure phone to call the Marine Corps Commandant, to report his candid observations on a back channel, rather than through regular avenues of communication.

Gen. Krulak became a supporter of mine, awarding me the Legion of Merit upon my detachment in March 1967.

Coming to Kentucky and Allen Dale

My last assignment was at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, where I served my last few months until retirement on July 1 of 1967. I then attended George Washington University at night to obtain a masters degree, and to prepare myself for civilian life.

On Ground Hog Day, Feb. 2, 1970, my wife, Susanne, and I moved into the main residence on her farm, Allen Dale in Shelby County, Kentucky.

Postscripts

1: “Brute” Krulak’s finest hour

In a review of Robert Coram’s biography, Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak U.S. Marine, Max Boot, military historian and a Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council of Foreign Relation, has written:

In 1967 he told President Johnson that if the U.S. approach did not change, “he would lose the war and . . . the next election.” It wasn’t what LBJ wanted to hear, and it probably cost Krulak a chance to get four stars and become commandant. He was forced to retire the next year. He could take solace, however, in having displayed more moral courage than his seniors who went along with the administration’s failed strategy.

Writes his biographer, Robert Coram: Krulak fully expected to be punished; in fact, from the White House meeting, he went to the Pentagon and told McNamara, ‘I will be fired tomorrow.’

He wasn’t. In fact, his name was mentioned even more prominently than before as the leading candidate for Commandant. “He was the choice of Wallace Greene [the retiring Commandant], of the secretary of the Navy, and the secretary of defense. He seemed a shoo-in.

However, instead of appointing Krulak Commandant of the Marine Corps, President Johnson chose Gen. Leonard F. Chapman, whom I had known since I my early days as a second lieutenant.

All three of Krulak’s sons served in Vietnam: Charles and William as Marine infantry officers, Victor Jr. as a Navy chaplain. After retiring from the Marines, William followed his brother into the Episcopal clergy.

Brute lived long enough to take solace and great pride in congratulating his son, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, who in 1995 became the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps, the top position in the Corps, the goal that Victor Krulak, himself, had so ardently pursued.

2. Attending the Derby in style

Gen. Louis Wilson, near the end of his tour as Commandant of the Marine Corps, was our houseguest for the 1979 Kentucky Derby. Lou had been my comrade-in-arms for the Marine Invasion of Guam in 1944, where he won the Medal of Honor. Frank Hower, Marine veteran and community leader, CEO and Chairman of the Liberty National Bank, hosted a luncheon for him at the prestigious River Valley Club. We were then driven to Churchill Downs, escorted by police on motorcycles, where we were his guests at his well-located Derby box. A memorable event!

3. A hero returns to battle ground

A year or two later, former Commandant David M. Shoup, a winner of the Medal of Honor on Bloody Tarawa in 1944 and an old friend, called me while passing through for a visit to his birthplace in Indiana, coincidentally named Battle Ground. In distinct contrast to the bombastic officer I had known, he was quiet and subdued, obviously not well. We were privileged to take him and his wife, Zola to the Pendennis Club in Louisville for dinner.

Next: A penchant for peaks – Climbing Mt. Fugi:

In addition to his numerous columns and magazine articles, Brig. Gen. Ron Van Stockum has published six books: Kentucky and the Bourbons: The Story of Allen Dale Farm, Squire Boone and Nicholas Meriwether: Kentucky Pioneers, Remem-brances of World Wars, Coming to Kentucky: Heaven is a Kentucky of a Place, My Father: British Sergeant Reginald Bareham (1894-1916) and the Battle of the Somme, and his latest La Maison de Charette de la Contrie. Copies can be obtained at Amazon.com by searching RON VAN STOCKUM, at Terhune’s Style Shop in Village Plaza, or by contacting him at ronvanstockum@mac.com.