VAN STOCKUM: Part 2: Remarks recalled from a Marine Corps career

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In three decades in the Marine Corps, a person is exposed to many great lines at great times. In the last of a series, we recall some of those characters and their colorful expressions.

By Ron Van Stockum

In my 30 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, from 1937-1967, when I was promoted from second lieutenant up the ranks to brigadier general, I encountered a lot of interesting characters who had a lot of interesting things to say, some of them amusing and others career-changing. These appear in chronological order:


“The Marine sentry did not salute me when I came across the gangway. I consider this a reflection on the captain of Marines.”

– Note from Capt. J. W. “Black Jack” Reeves, USN, commanding officer, USS Wasp, 1942 to R. R. Van Stockum, captain of Marines, 1942.


“If you can throw a stone at it, you can hit it with a pistol shot.”

Capt. Gus Larson, USMC, a distinguished pistol shot. Easier said than done by the average Marine!


“If you don't believe me, come up here and see for yourself.”

–  A battalion commander on Guam (1944), by radio to his regimental commander in the rear, who had doubted the accuracy of his report that he had reached the objective. It resulted in the battalion commander's removal from command.


“Van, go up there and see what's going on.”

 Lt. Col. Marlowe Williams, my battalion commander, in the midst of a full-scale counterattack by the Japanese on Guam the night of July 25-26, 1944 (a night to remember!). I called for my radio operator, and we two started in darkness to ascend the bluff, scarcely knowing where we were but knowing that the way was “up.” Enemy mortar shells aimed at rear installations passed overhead, and shells from our own artillery, failing to clear the crest, burst not far from us. At dawn, alone, I reached C Company in the front lines, where our position was intact. However, the enemy had penetrated our lines elsewhere, using ravines as protection. I then contacted the battalion commander in the rear by radio to report that the line at that point had held.


“You not only have to fight a good war, you have to write a good war.”

–  The officer who chaired the division’s awards board following the Guam campaign. True to his word, he wrote a long citation for himself and received the Navy Cross.


“Why not give the command to Van?  He has had infantry battalion combat experience.”

Response by the Regimental S-3, Plans and Operations Officer, upon being informed that he was being given command of an infantry battalion and being replaced as S-3 by Lt. Col. Van Stockum.  He immediately was removed, and I was given command of the battalion. Reluctance to take command of an infantry battalion in training for combat was an unconscionable offense, and the offending officer was quickly on his way back to the States.


“We are not retreating.  We are just attacking in another direction.”

– Attributed to Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division in Korea in December 1950.  His command was surrounded near the Chosin Reservoir, close to the northern Korean border, by Chinese forces, which had crossed the Yalu River to enter the war surreptitiously. He carefully extricated his troops, fighting his way out in a remarkably successful withdrawal, bringing back all his wounded and most of his equipment in a retrograde 70-mile march to the seaport of Hungnam.


“Next time serve mine without ice.”

Rear Adm. Thomas Brittain of Richmond, commander of the naval forces for “Operation Blue Jay,” which in 1951 delivered materials for the establishment of a tremendous air base at Thule Greenland, far north of the Arctic Circle.


“The well-named Sappa Creek rammed an iceberg.”

– Another message from Admiral Brittain, referring to one of the oil tankers under his command.  His messages to U S Navy headquarters in Washington were not only a source of information but of amusement.


“Consider your self bawled out.”

Maj. Gen. Phil Berkeley, commander of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to one of his regimental commanders, Col. Van Stockum, in 1959. When my troops were on the alert, standing by for quick deployment, I let them view a boxing match held in a nearby building.  Someone had decided that this would be a good time for a deployment drill!


“To Susanne and “Van” with deep appreciation for all you both have done to make my job so pleasant.”

 Berkeley, endorsed on a copy of his official portrait, 1961.


Ron Van Stockum’s latest book, Remembrances of World Wars, as well as his others, Kentucky and the Bourbons: The Story of Allen Dale Farm and Squire Boone and Nicholas Meriwether: Kentucky Pioneers, may be purchased at Terhune Style Shop in Village Plaza Shopping Center or from Amazon.com.