Monday, 19 October 2015

Give Me Tomorrow: The Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company - Patrick K O’Donnell

Title: Give Me Tomorrow
Author: Patrick K O’Donnell
ISBN: 978-0-306-82044-1
Publisher: DaCapo
Year: 2010
Pages: 261
Photos/Maps: 28/4

O’Donnell’s book, while touching upon the grander strategies of the Korean War – mainly for context – is not about the larger picture. Rather it is a testament to the resilience and endurance of the soldiers at the coal face of battle. It is the story of the soldiers of the 1st Marine Division and, more specifically, George Company (the 3/1st – 3rd Battalion/1st Marines) and their epic, horrific retreat from the Chosin Resevoir in 1950. Indirectly, it is also the story of the Chinese and North Korean soldiers that they fought against and their tenacity in the face of horrible firepower and conditions.

Sound tactical and operational planning and effective logistics are the building blocks of military success; however, the absolute foundation is represented by esprit de corps, leadership and training. This is the message of this book. The author has gathered first-hand accounts of the individual soldiers, senior NCO’s and officers of the 1/3rd and has produced a fine rendition of their experiences and motivations. Korea was unique in that, despite the lessons of the recently finished Second World War, America and the West had very few resources to draw upon to meet the North Korean threat and thus had to scramble to reactivate and train units. Therefore, many of the Marines of the 3/1st had only the most basic of training and had to rely very heavily of a small cadre of officers and senior NCO’s to season them in the field (and very quickly). It was this common experience glue and the reliance each had upon the other that enabled these marines to overcome odds of greater than 10:1 and winter weather that was the coldest in living memory for the region.

O’Donnell’s narrative emphasizes the role of the professional NCO and officer cadre. They are there not only to ensure the baseline training and professionalism of the troops, but also that they stay focussed on the task at hand when everything about them is coming apart. The example and standards set and enforced by these individuals instilled the men with the capacity to endure the severe conditions that they were faced with. It becomes quite evident as the Chosin battle unfolded that it was not belief in the ‘cause’ but the desire to support one another and the pride at being a marine that carried the day.

Another aspect of leadership that was well conveyed in this book were the roles of the officers and NCO’s. The officer’s role was to plan and fight the Company; the First Sergeant and his NCO’s managed the men. These roles overlapped yet were distinct and it is this delineation that is most difficult for junior officers and NCO’s to learn and exercise comfortably. In the case of George Company, the example and experience of the First Sergeant Zullo was critical to the continued effectiveness of the Company.

Give Me Tomorrow is an excellent example of what can be achieved with proper training and leadership. It is also an excellent example of what can go wrong when intelligence and advice is ignored at the more senior levels. At the end of the day, it falls upon the lowest tactical level units to either carry the day or collapse. In the case of 3/1st, they rose to the challenge and overcame the odds. The book is well researched and clearly expresses the sentiments of the men involved. The Korean War may be one that has been largely lost between World War 2 and Vietnam but the lessons are as relevant today as they were then. The men of George Company have been well served by O’Donnell’s work.

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