Boys of '67: From Vietnam to Iraq, the Extraordinary Story of a Few Good Men

Boys of '67: From Vietnam to Iraq, the Extraordinary Story of a Few Good Men

Boys of '67: From Vietnam to Iraq, the Extraordinary Story of a Few Good Men

Boys of '67: From Vietnam to Iraq, the Extraordinary Story of a Few Good Men


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At once a gritty, intimate account of combat, an inside look at military leadership in a turbulent era at home and abroad, and a sweeping saga of the modern-day United States Marine Corps, Boys of '67 tells the story of a trio of extraordinary Marines. James Jones rose to become the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Ray "E-Tool" Smith saw combat in Grenada and Beirut in 1983. Marty Steele reshaped the Marines' tank forces. Together, they represent a generation of Marines who met unprecedented challenges and made the Corps America's premier fighting force.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811733946
Publisher: Stackpole Books
Publication date: 07/17/2007
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.63(w) x 8.74(h) x 1.02(d)

About the Author

Charles Jones, a former staff writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, has also written Boys of '67 (978-0-8117-3394-6), which the New York Post called "riveting and entertaining" and which won the Military Writers Society of America's Gold Medal for Best Biography, and Red, White, or Yellow? (978-0-8117-0402-1), for which he embedded with a military unit in Iraq. Jones lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Read an Excerpt


From Vietnam to Iraq, the Extraordinary Story of a Few Good Men


Copyright © 2006 Charles Jones
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8117-0163-8

Chapter One

The "Warrior Monks"

In late September 2001, Army general Tommy Franks was asked to stop by the Pentagon office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps to attend a "clear-the-air meeting" with Gen. Jim Jones and Adm. Vern Clark, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). The two wanted to ensure that a meeting held the previous day between Franks and the Joint Chiefs of Staff-where Franks had been questioned at length on his plans for the campaign in Afghanistan-had not been misconstrued as being unhelpful in intent. General Franks later dismissed the meeting with the Chiefs as "bullshit."

Franks, in his autobiography, haughtily declared he had no time for high-level interference. He was going to fight a war, and the Joint Chiefs had come across to him "like a mob of Title Ten m-f-ers, not like the Joint Chiefs of Staff." The last thing he needed was the Pentagon four-stars getting in his way when the bullets were about to fly. He recalls, in great detail, telling the Commandant and the CNO exactly where they, too, could get off.

The commander of the U.S. Central Command was well known for his flamboyant behavior, especially in his meetings with the Joint Chiefs. He was also knownfor regaling his subordinates with colorful tales of how he told the brass a thing or two and how he regularly put them in their place. One of those four-stars he claimed to rebuke was General Jones. A Marine. A combat-tested Marine. A Marine who could smell trouble a mile away-and would walk that much faster to reach it.

Jim Jones certainly recalls Tommy Franks in those tense meetings. Only he remembers things a little differently.

"Tom Franks's 'performances' gave us some humorous moments, for which we were grateful," Jones said, assessing Franks's recollection of the events in his book as "flawed, self-serving, and inaccurate. Tom Franks did not exchange harsh words with either of us in my office." For the man who became the first Marine to be appointed NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, this is a diplomatic way of saying "bullshit."

"Despite the absurdity of his behavior towards us, the Joint Chiefs never lost sight of their role of providing military advice [that Franks benefited from] even as he was doing everything possible to emasculate their influence."

Jones said he offered Franks two Marine Expeditionary Units to help in the campaign in Afghanistan. "Franks accepted this offer at a critical time in the mission, with expressed appreciation. They made him look very good at a critical moment in the campaign. One would never know it now, however."

Franks "did not tolerate being questioned by the Joint Chiefs, whose responsibility, by the way, is to critically examine plans involving the use of the nation's combat forces. His complaints of turf battles and parochialism are both incorrect and absurd."

Jones pointed out that Franks retired from his Central Command post in great haste-certainly before the war ended-and that he "has been fortunate, thus far, in avoiding critical scrutiny of his planning for the war in Iraq. When he took over the Central Command, Tommy Franks said, 'I am not Norman Schwarzkopf.' On that point, I emphatically agree."

Getting into a pissing match with other military men is out of character for the first Marine to be named Supreme Allied Commander of American and NATO forces in Europe and Africa. But Franks's personal shots came at a tense time as Jones's own flesh and blood survived some close calls inside and outside Iraq.

On October 8, 2002, 2nd Lt. Gregory D. Jones was a platoon leader with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, during a training exercise on Kuwait's Faylaka Island in the Persian Gulf. His men had just knocked off from work to get out of the late morning heat and struck up a baseball game near the ocean.

Soon gunfire crackled from the coastal highway. "Holy shit," a Marine hollered, "they're shooting at us!"

A white pickup truck with two Kuwaiti men started taking potshots with AK-47s at the baseball players. One of Greg's lance corporals, Antonio Sledd, died in the drive-by shooting, while his radio operator, Lance Corp. George Simpson, was wounded. As part of their training protocol on foreign soil, the Marines didn't have their weapons loaded. But the company's gunnery sergeant, Wayne Hertz, had the presence of mind to keep some ammo nearby. Several Marines loaded their weapons and coolly picked off the assailants.

In his Pentagon office shortly afterward, Jones reflected: "It does hit home when your son is out there and involved in it. It's something both of us have prepared for," he said, referring to his wife, Diane. "We know it's a dangerous world. I've always said to Marines that they are special targets when they're out there. There is no front line and no rear area."

Six months later, Greg Jones was part of the 1st Marine Division's push toward Baghdad. As reports of house-to-house fighting spread, the general wrote his son a letter that expressed his growing sense of frustration at being on the margins of the fight for the first time in his career. He had been elevated to the position of Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and Commander, U.S. European Command, by President Bush in early 2003, shortly before the Iraq invasion. Normally, this would have been a time to bask in the historical moment since he was the first Marine appointed to the leadership position first held by the legendary Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War II. His son, now a Marine captain, was to return for a second tour in Iraq less than six months after returning home. The second trip would be no easier for his parents.

"I'm sitting here feeling rather helpless," Jones wrote. "I still can't get used to the idea that one of my children is over there fighting a war.... It should be me!" He had been tracking the 1st Marines' movements, "so I have a pretty good idea of where you all are," he continued. "Well done; very impressive performance to date. I'm not surprised that it is tougher than the last time, it always is when the enemy has nowhere to go!"

He noted the ambush of an Army unit-and the taking of the first American POWs-and remarked that he had been in Turkey recently "trying to do a few helpful things to speed things along. It isn't easy, but we're making some headway, I think." Mostly, he wrote as a father to a son, and told him to remember the earlier fatal attack on his platoon on Faylaka Island. "Remember, your island experience should remind you every day ... there is no front, no rear, and no safe area ... always watch your six, trust your Marines; even when it's 'over' it never is!"

He concluded, "We love you, take care of yourself and your Marines ... you are writing history."

This was no idle boast. From the time he began Marine officer training in 1967, Jim Jones found himself putting his own mark on the history of the Corps-starting from the ground tip. It had been several decades since he was first thrust into combat in Vietnam, but the faces of his fellow Marines, whose blood flowed into the Asian soil, never left him. The son of a former Marine and nephew of a general, Jim Jones was never one to run from a battle-whether it was taking on a battalion of North Vietnamese regulars or rebutting the ill-chosen remarks of a bellicose Army general.

He also wasn't one to underestimate the enemy. As planning began for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, General Jones emerged as one of the few military commanders willing to openly question the notion-touted by Bush Administration officials-of a quick, surgical victory over Saddam's military and security forces. "Gen. Jones is the latest in a succession of prominent American military figures to issue warnings about the dangers of rushing headlong into war," reported London's Daily Telegraph.

The British newspaper was commenting on an interview in the Washington Times in which Jones warned against underestimating the resistance American forces surely would face in a country used to war. "The defense of a homeland is hard stuff because they're not going to go anywhere," he said.

Jones managed to voice his concerns without directly challenging his superiors, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush. He appeared to use the conservative newspaper to make a point about Iraq that later seemed right on target. "You better have Plan B in your hip pocket," he said, "because when you attack someone who has any kind of well-trained army on their homeland they are going to fight differently than if they engage you, say, in Kuwait."

Despite his cautions warnings to the press, he privately dismissed reports of a rift with his fellow generals and admirals on the six-member Joint Chiefs of Staff, or with others inside the Bush Administration, from Vice President Dick Cheney to Rumsfeld's outspoken deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Such rumors of in-fighting were overblown, he said. Part of the reason lay in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, when the military commanders found common cause in going after the state-sponsored fanatics in Afghanistan. This ended, at least for a time, the quarreling that broke out in the early days of the Bush Administration as Rumsfeld tried to retool the Pentagon's massive spending machinery.

"September 11th, for all of its tragedy, had a forcing function inside this building of recalibrating all of us into focusing on those things that are really the most important," Jones said. The heads of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps discovered in the wake of the terrorist attacks "much more of a sense of teamwork and people being focused on a very, very important set of circumstances that deserved our complete attention," he said.

In a November 2002 interview, a full five months before CNN broadcast the ghostly images of Baghdad under aerial attack, Jones shared what he could about the upcoming battle. His office was full of historical artifacts, including a painting of Marines landing on the volcanic ash beaches of Iwo Jima-a stark reminder of how often young Americans are called to fight, and fall, on foreign soil.

Wearing a dark green jacket with four stars per shoulder, he folded his arms and calmly pondered the military situation. He refused to reveal anything said inside the "Tank," the Joint Chiefs' conference room near the river entrance of the Pentagon. He seemed annoyed at the ongoing media reports about the service chiefs, and their alleged differences over war planning. "Those reports are wrong-the reporters are not talking to me or the CNO [Adm. Vern Clark, Chief of Naval Operations], or the Chiefs of Staff of the Army or the Air Force." Reporters were relying on second- or third-tier sources, he said, "and that's when you get down to guessing. Because what goes on in the Tank, stays in the Tank."

Speaking broadly, Jones said the prewar discussions were frank and, guided by the steely-eyed Rumsfeld, intense. "You would expect disagreement, you would expect discussion," Jim said, because Rumsfeld "fosters it-that's his style. The fact that we have those kinds of meetings is to be celebrated." In those prewar days, before Franks published his critical account, Jim sounded positive about his Army counterpart, remarking that he "brings up his plan, it's debated, and we discuss what's the best course of action. Everything is fair game, so it's a healthy process."

The general fell into the Sphinx-like silence of someone used to keeping secrets. This isn't unusual for a man whose colleagues wonder at his ability to seemingly slide behind an invisible shield, an emotional barrier that many say they've never cracked.

Such a protective shield may be necessary for anyone who spends much time near the nexus of national power, where the pitfalls are just a slip of the tongue away. From the outing of "Deep Throat" to the phone calls of Karl Rove, when it comes to keeping state secrets, Washington, D.C., is as leaky as an old row boat. General Jones steers a safer course by keeping his own counsel and disdaining anyone in uniform who leaks stories to the press.

When Greg Jones decided to join the Marines, he expected his father to be ecstatic. He would continue a family tradition that stretched back to 1938, when Jim Jones's uncle, William K. Jones, was first commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine reserves, and entered the regular Marine Corps in 1940. Around this time, William Jones's older brother, James Logan Jones, returned from Africa, where he was a salesman for International Harvester, and signed up for officer training in the Corps. The fighting Jones brothers distinguished themselves in combat, and Uncle Bill, as Jim Jones knew him, rose to the rank of lieutenant general and became an integral part of the Corps' leadership of the 1960s and early 1970s. James Logan Jones left the Corps after the war, but became a reserve colonel and steeped his firstborn son in the lore and legends of the men known as Leathernecks.

Yet when the time came for Greg to announce his plans to enter the brotherhood, he found his own father oddly unimpressed. Instead of rising and clapping him on the back and offering a toast, the general sat in his chair in the Commandant's house and looked his son in the eye, asking, "Why?"

His father's dispassionate question surprised and disappointed Greg. Only later did he see why his father might have been so guarded. Jones had seen hundreds of men die in combat and had almost perished himself during one particularly bloody night in Vietnam on a bomb-scarred hilltop called Foxtrot Ridge. He led an undermanned Marine company that was ordered to hold a piece of bombed-out real estate against a heavily armed battalion of North Vietnamese regulars-a poorly conceived assignment that left Lt. Jim Jones up against a unit with more than five times his manpower. Foxtrot Ridge became the crucible that would harden the resolve of the young Marine and shape his thoughts for decades to come. Years later, as he flew in a jet on his way to another ceremony as Commandant, he answered a question about Vietnam by requesting a notebook. He carefully drew a diagram of Foxtrot Ridge to show the battle lines and positions of American and North Vietnamese forces. With meticulous detail, he sketched the place he put his company command post inside a saddle-like depression on the hilltop, and where he placed the rest of his unit that had been depleted by dysentery, attrition, and troop rotations.

There was the valley below with the North Vietnamese battalion, and there the landing zone that served as the Marines' command post. It seemed like it happened only yesterday.

With a sad smile, he recalled how he had once been nicknamed "Bulletproof" by his radio operator, because "I just never thought that I was going to be killed or wounded." In his early twenties, this former basketball sharpshooter saw Vietnam "as a kind of athletic contest."

That night on Foxtrot Ridge, though, blew away the thought of war as competitive sport. Ally notions of inavulnerability were left simmering on the bomb-blasted hill-along with the backpack containing his letters and pictures from home. All that went up in a napalm bomb's wall of flame, along with his sense of invincibility.

As he sketched the map on an interviewer's notebook, he commented, "I think it took a slumber of years to realize the impact" of the night-long clash. Afterward, he was amazed to be alive, and knew that only by learning from his experience-and by fighting smarter in the future-would he get himself and his men out of Vietnam alive.

Many of his contemporaries weren't so lucky, and some didn't make it through their first few weeks as platoon commanders in a shadowy war where a friend by day could become a foe by night. Two of Jones's Basic School classmates who did survive, Ray Smith and Marry Steele, did so by never dropping their guard and always keeping their cool in the thick of every, firefight. Smith and Steele, roommates at Quantico, rose through the ranks of the Corps together and joined Jones as Marine generals in the 1990s.

Sometimes their career paths crossed, but they could go for years without seeing each other. Yet wherever their orders took them-from the Middle East to Korea to the Marines' training bases on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts-the three Marines demonstrated a shared passion for their chosen profession. Each had a unique leadership style, an uncanny ability to motivate others, and a free spirit.


Excerpted from BOYS OF '67 by CHARLES JONES Copyright © 2006 by Charles Jones. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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