They were warriors, trained to fight,
dedicated to their country,
and determined to win.
At Guadalcanal, the Marine Corps' machine gunners took everything the Japanese could throw at them in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II; their position was so hopeless that at one point they were given the go-ahead to surrender. Near the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, as the mercury dropped to twenty below, the 1st Marine Division found itself surrounded and cut off by the enemy. The outlook seemed so bleak that many in Washington had privately written off the men.
But surrender is not part of a Marine's vocabulary. Gunner's Glory contains true stories of these and other tough battles in the Pacific, in Korea, and in Vietnam, recounted by the machine gunners who fought them. Bloody, wounded, sometimes barely alive, they stayed with their guns, delivering a stream of firepower that often turned defeat into victory-and always made them the enemy's first target.
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November 22, 2004
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Excerpt from Gunner's Glory by Johnnie Clark
CPL. TED ELESTON
I fell exhausted onto a white stretch of Virginia Beach, not white with sand but snow and bone-aching cold. I looked over at Platoon Sergeant Hinkle. We had been training hard at Quantico. We lived in these rubber boats, making landing after landing after landing. Day landings, night landings, cold landings, and blazing hot landings. Col. "Red Mike" Edson had taken over the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. President Roosevelt was being hounded by politicians and even Winston Churchill to form up a new unit like the British Commandos. Marine commandant Thomas Holcomb was not impressed and reminded the world that Marines were Marines and ready to fight any enemy, anywhere and at any time, better than any fighting force on earth. Under pressure from the president, the commandant brought in the legendary jungle fighter, Col. Red Mike Edson, and gave him the pick of the litter of the famous 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. He flatly refused to call Marines commandos. For a while we became the 1st Separate Battalion. Still under political pressure, the commandant himself finally named us the 1st Marine Raiders.
Red Mike knew what these new Marine Raiders were in for against the Japanese. He was making sure we were ready. Some of us thought Edson was crazy. We would force march in full combat gear faster and longer than any other outfit and then double-time just to keep up this pace of seven miles per hour. We did it all and we did it often. That's why I didn't think it was unusual that Sergeant Hinkle looked so bad at first glance on that ice-cold beach. We were all exhausted, but his ashen face and fatal stare indicated more than fatigue. The men called him Hink for short. He was fiddling with this little gold wedding band around his neck on his leather dog tag strap. Hink's beautiful new bride had died on their wedding night that summer of '41 when we took over New River, later to become Camp Lejeune. He wasn't the same after that, but there was a war to fight, and if he took a leave now he might not be able to stay with the Raiders, so he stuck it out. I rolled onto my side and tried to sound upbeat, as his low emotional state was obvious. "How ya' holdin' up, Sarge?" My words came out like smoke signals in the cold air.
Fatigue and pain stared back at me through ice blue eyes. He fingered that gold ring again and looked me square in the face.
"I'm going to get killed in this war, Eli."
The guys called me Eli. It wasn't the first time or the last time I heard a Marine voice the thought of not making it. You had to just wave it off, so that's what I tried to do. "Ahh! Don't say stuff like that, Sarge! We're going to kill these Japs and come home and have a beer."
"No," he said, appearing to stare through me and at something beyond. "I'm going to get killed in this war."
I was speechless. He was serious, and I didn't know what to say to him. Then he sort of held out the little gold ring to show me. "I want you to put this on my pinkie finger after I die." He looked straight into my soul. "Will you promise me, Eli?"
"Yeah. Okay. Sure."
The 1st Marine Raiders hit Tulagi in August 1942. It was rough. The Japs counterattacked that first night. Jap grenades rained in on us out of the pitch-black night, their fuses sparkling as they whirled in from all directions. Explosions rocked every part of the ridge we were holding; I lost my bearings from the concussion and I lost my machine gun squad. I searched around on my hands and knees for the light .30-caliber machine gun, but it was gone. It was blown away, and we didn't find it until the next day, at the bottom of the hill. I pulled this piece of shrapnel out of my right ear; it was sticking in my skull and it hurt. In spite of that I could hear my gunner moaning, wounded, but I couldn't see him. I crawled around in the brush, feeling with my hands until I felt something wet, then I touched a body