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Maverick Marines:
The Controversial and
Politically Incorrect Among Us!
By R.W. Gaines, GySgt USMC Ret.
April 6, 2001

Throughout its history of more than two-hundred years, the U.S. Marine Corps has had a tradition of colorful and controversial Marines within its ranks. Generally, most of these Marines are well known, while the names of a few may not be readily recognized. Many of these notable Marines are from days long gone by, but a few are of more recent vintage.

Although all Marines have always led by example and were part of the team, many of the Corps' best leaders have also fit into that special niche of personal inividualism that has often resulted in their being thought of as mavericks, controversial, and, more recently, "Politically Incorrect." But this is not necessarily a bad thing, I believe. The Marine Corps, in particular,  has had a long line of such men as Smedley Butler, Chesty Puller, Evans F. Carlson, Lou Diamond,  Hiram Bearss, and others.

In every age there have been those who would just not accept that which convention and circumstance would dictate, those who marched to the beat of a distant drum, that sound not audible to the herd--and in so doing they set the pace for others who would follow. They are those who feel an overwhelming sense of duty, honor, and commitment, and  will accept nothing less for themselves nor those in their charge.

The other military services, of course, have also had their share of their Billy Mitchells, George Pattons, etc. So too do all fields of endeavor produce those truly outstanding individuals who rise above the norm. This short essay is not intended to be a comprehensive listing of such Marines, far from it. But, this will, hopefully, remind the reader of the existence of such leaders as individuals of a group distinctly different and a breed apart. A wealth of written information exists by which the serious reader may examine the thoughts, words and deeds of these men and others, and the marks they have left within the legend and reality known as the U.S. Marine Corps, and beyond.

Two professional Marine officers immediately come to mind, Merritt  "Red Mike" Edson and Evans F. Carlson,  both of whom, on separate ocassions,  resigned their commissions in order to fulfill the courage of their convictions for causes that each deeply believed in. 

Evans Fordyce Carlson
"...Captain Carlson arrived in Shanghai for his third China tour in July 1937. Again like Edson, he watched the Japanese seize control of the city. Detailed to duty as an observer, Carlson sought and received permission to accompany the Chinese Communist Party's 8th Route
Army, which was fighting against the Japanese. For the next year he divided his time between the front lines and the temporary Chinese capital of Hangkow. During that time he developed his ideas on guerilla warfare and ethical indoctrination. When a senior naval officer censured him for granting newspaper interviews, Carlson returned to the states and resigned so that he could speak out about the situation in China. He believed passionately that the United States should do more to help the Chinese in their war with Japan. During the next two years Carlson spoke and wrote on the subject, to
include two books (The Chinese Army and Twin Stars of China), and made another trip to China. With the war looming for the United States, he sought to rejoin the Corps in April 1941. The Commandant granted his request, made him a major in the reserves, and promptly
brought him onto active duty. Ten months later he created the 2d Raider Battalion."

"...both Carlson and the concept itself of the raider battalions were controversial subjects in the Marine Corps. Many books written about Marines in the Pacific
during WWII mention Carlson only briefly and in some cases, in rather uncomplimentary terms. I have read several books describing him (and/or quoting others as doing so) as Red but not yellow, an oddball, approaching crackpot level, etc. Others, including general officers, have referred to him as a remarkable man, wothy of better treatment than he received, etc."
Carlson Of The Raider Marines!   

Brigadier General Merritt Edson
"...However, between the years 1946 and 1950 there were those who attempted to "legislate the Marines out of existence." The first attempt came in 1946, a bill--S.2044--was introduced in Congress, its practical effect being to reduce the Marine Corps to the status of a Navy branch, 'like the Bureau of Yards and Docks', as Marine Commandant Alexander Vandergrift indignantly phrased it. General Vandegrift, wearing his Medal of Honor, made an impassioned speech before Congress in May 1946. His action was apparently successful that day, but  the bill returned the following year together with provisions prohibiting comment by any serving officer!
Then, Brigadier General Merritt A. "Red Mike' Edson (formerly CO, 1st Marine  Raider Bn on Guadalcanal, etc.) promptly resigned his commission, and contacted     members of Congress personally and as a civilian. General Edson achieved his goal, but at the expense of his career. And the National Security Act of 1947  provided for the status and mission of the Marine Corps within the Department of Defense."

Lieutenant Colonel Bo Harlee
Back in the Old Corps, at a time when the average
Leatherneck stood 5'8" and weighed scarcely 148 pounds, young Bo Harllee, a square-jawed, hard-nosed,
independent thinker from rural Florida, was already larger than life -- a strapping 6'2", 197 pounds. He came by his commission the hard way, after being discharged from the Citadel for excessive demerits, and later tossed out of West Point (where he stood second in his class, but was deemed "too strong, too colorful, too willful, too independent a character") for "deficiencies in discipline."

He distinguished himself in action during the Philippine
Insurrection of 1899 as a 22 'year old' corporal with the
33rd U.S. Volunteer Infantry. And on February 2, 1900, he
finished first among all applicants in the competitive
examinations for commissioning in the United States
Marine Corps. He was commissioned a year ahead of his less colorful classmates at West Point.

As a Marine, Bo Harllee was always surrounded by controversy. He was very nearly court-martialed a number of times -- especially when, in 1917, on the eve of our reluctant entry into World War I, he testified before Congress: "... The biggest challenge, the most serious problem if war should come, will be working off the old dead wood which has risen to the top by the passage of time." (Politically correct he was not.) He retired a colonel in 1935 but he was advanced to brigadier general (a distinction awarded for his valorous  service) in 1942. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetary by an escort of 8th & I Marines, in November 1944. He is buried next to our 13th Commandant, Major General John A. Lejeune.

So, who was Bo Harllee? Well, he was "The Father of Rifle Practice," regarded in his own time as our nation's preeminent authority on small arms marksmanship training; the first Marine officer to qualify Expert with the service rifle. He was our first Public Affairs Officer,
opening the Marine Corps' very first "publicity office," in Chicago, Illinois, where he revolutionized our recruiting service (and was frequently under investigation by
Headquarters Marine Corps). He was "first to fight" -- a superb combat leader as a Marine who distinguished himself in action in the Philippines, in China during the Boxer Rebellion, at Vera Cruz, and in Cuba, Haiti, and in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

So when John A. Lejeune needed someone to ensure the success and survival of his radical invention, the Marine Corps Institute, he knew precisely who to turn to: Lieutenant Colonel William C. Harllee. And so it was that Bo Harllee became another "first" -- the first Director of MCI.

On February 2, 1995, 95 years to the day after Bo Harllee earned his commission, we celebrated, at Lejeune Hall in the Historic Washington Navy Yard, the 75th anniversary of the Founding of the Marine Corps Institute. And high tribute was paid to the immortal John A. Lejeune, the founding father of MCI. But all these years later, much of what is ours to celebrate is really attributable to a lesser known, always controversial and colorful, unsung "giant" of our Corps -- the man General Lejeune judiciously picked to pull it off and "make it happen," Bo Harllee.

"... Without Harllee's power to defy tradition, without his tremendous drive and vitality, the success of General Lejeune's school, might not have been so successful ... The success of the program was largely due to the intelligent, fiery, and even rebellious nature of Colonel Harllee." (Marine Corps Gazette, February 1950).

If Bo Harllee were to visit MCI today, he would be utterly amazed. He would be enormously impressed, justifiably proud, but maybe more than a little confused as he asked, "So, tell me, Marines, what have y'all done with our vocational courses in beekeeping, poultry management, and equitation...? "Yo, Bo! Where ya' been?"
LtCol Bo Harlee

General Smedley Darlington Butler
(From  Proceedings  U.  S.  Naval  Institute, November 1986, p. 65-72.)
by  Lieutenant  Colonel  Marrill  L.  Bartlett, U. S. Marine Corps (Retired)

The penetrating stare that brought Smedley Darlington Butler the  nickname  "Old Gimlet Eye" was in evidence most of his career -- as was his maneuvering to influence
the  selection of the Marine Corps's top leadership.

Marine  Corps  heroes,  once  accepted,  tend to remain enshrined.   Such was the case  of  Major  General  Smedley Darlington  Butler,  whose  service  began  in 1898 with the Spanish-American War and ended in 1931 -- with  a  reprimand in  lieu  of  a threatened court-martial.  Those dates span probably the most colorful career of  any officer  who  has ever  worn  forest green.  Butler had more than his share of time in
combat and in foreign expeditionary duties; received two   Medals   of   Honor;   saw detached  service  as  the Commissioner of Safety, to clean up Philadelphia during  the "roaring  twenties";  and  commanded a brigade sent to China during a period of domestic turmoil that threatened American lives  and  property. The hawkish,
penetrating stare that brought Butler the nickname 'Old Gimlet Eye" has  transfixed readers  of  Marine  Corps  history  for  more  than  half a century.

Despite  such  a  brilliant  career,  Butler  failed to receive the nod for the Corps' highest post  when  the  14th Commandant  of the Marine Corps (CMC), Major
General Wendell C. Neville, died in office  in  1930.    Many  thought  that Butler  --  a senior major general in the Corps and with his spectacular  record  --  deserved  the position  and  cried "Foul!" Some  of  these suggested  that  a  coalition of civilian politicians and shore-based admirals had  torpedoed Butler   --  convincing President  Herbert  C.  Hoover  and Secretary of the Navy Charles F. Adams to bypass  Butler  in favor  of  the  mild-mannered  and  uncontroversial  Ben  H. Fuller, a Naval Academy classmate of the new Chief of  Naval Operations,  William  V. Pratt.    A more balanced and less hagiographic  examination  of  Butler's   career,
however, suggests  that in this instance the politicians and admiralsacted wisely,  and  in the  best  interests  of  the naval services and the nation. . . .

Please continue by clicking on the following--Thank You!
Re "Old Gimlet Eye" 

LINKS-Smedley Butler
The Bonus Army 0f 1932
An American Cou d' Etat?
War Is A Racket
Vera Cruz MOH Haiti MOH Plot To Overthrow 

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