Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Few. The Proud. The Unforgettable.

The Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told: Unforgettable Stories of Courage, Honor, and SacrificeThe Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told: Unforgettable Stories of Courage, Honor, and Sacrifice by Iain C. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me first say that I am proud to have served our nation as a U.S. Marine, and that upon finding the familiar lyrics of The Marines' Hymn following the title page, I thought this could be a great book. Then I began having concerns that it actually would be a great book; I began wondering how I'd be able to avoid sounding hopelessly biased while providing an honest review of The Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told. After reading and savoring it, and with the “birthday” of the Corps (Nov 10) fast approaching, I decided I should share my thoughts—because it is a great book.

This anthology's subtitle claims it contains “unforgettable stories of courage, honor, and sacrifice,” and Martin has certainly delivered. Marine Corps history is filled with countless moments that have defined the USMC as an elite fighting force, and the endurance, resiliency, valor, honor, and courage of the Corps bursts forth from this book's pages. The editor guides his readers on a tour of major and minor conflicts. We are made witnesses of unyielding Marine heroism from the Barbary Coast, to the Mexican War, and the American Civil War. We are offered a ringside seat as Marines battle through two World Wars. We are invited to accompany them to the frozen mountains of Korea, to the jungles of Vietnam, and to the sands of Iraq.

In this collection spanning some 230 years of USMC history, editor Iain C. Martin shares twenty-three accounts of the Corps as seen through the eyes of Marines, war correspondents, and historians. The book includes an introduction by retired USMC Colonel Joseph H. Alexander (senior historian on the exhibit design team for the National Museum of the Marine Corps) and features selections written by such notables as Stephen Crane, Ernie Pyle, and Medal of Honor recipient, Joe Foss.

This compilation is an ambitious attempt to capture Marine esprit de corps between the covers of a book. As one might imagine, Martin is no better suited to the task of defining that elusive Marine spirit than anyone prior, though not for a lack of effort. On page 174 of Martin's book, we learn that beloved WW2 correspondent, Ernie Pyle, once wrote, “Before I came into the field, several Marine officers asked me to try to sense just what the Marine spirit is, what is its source, and what keeps it alive.” Yet, after spending time with the 7th Marines on Okinawa, even Pyle was forced to admit, “I never did find out what perpetuated it.”

In his firsthand account, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, Eugene B. Sledge offered these thoughts on what it means to be a Marine: “War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste... The only redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their devotion to each other. Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other — and love. That espirit de corps sustained us.” The ephemeral but ever-present essence of Marineness defies classification, categorization, and even reason. Any Marine will agree that esprit de corps cannot be precisely defined, but by gathering and presenting these brief glimpses of USMC history, Martin has nearly done so.

Much of the Marine Corps' colorful history is steeped in heroics, time-honored tradition, and unswerving devotion to duty—-so much so that, at times, the stories of the Corps take on legendary proportions and the Marines in them seem larger than life. In the selections that comprise The Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told, editor Iain C. Martin has gathered battlefield epics and personal insights from all periods of the USMC's history, presenting them with care, skill, and, I believe, pride. These are “unforgettable stories of courage, honor, and sacrifice,” true stories that bridge the gap that so often separates history and legend.

Happy birthday, Marines, and Semper Fidelis!

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