24 men and a useless lieutenant

Friday, April 26th, 2019

Dunlap had 24 men and a useless lieutenant:

He was not a bad guy; he just did not know anything. In unguarded moments he would even admit it. Had been a lawyer, so when his draft board started looking at him longingly he asked for a commission in the JAG (Judge Advocate General Dep’t.—Army for legal branch) and got it, with a desk which he polished until some unkind son shanghaied him to the South Pacific and eventually he ended in the MP’s because he knew nothing about soldiering whatever. He was a gentle soul and positively no help to me.

I had a corporal, one of the regular MPs, who was OK. Except in air raids. A red alert would drive him into a hole and keep him there, scared as he could be. I never knew a man so allergic to Jap airplanes. Since he was completely unashamed of his fear, no one said or thought anything of it. Had he pretended otherwise, he would have lost all respect from the men.

They ended up directing traffic, which was a surprisingly demanding job:

A man from the Corps HQ came around and gave us a lot of information on territory outside our beat and we had to figure out every outfit we knew of and how far it was to them from us and their nearest town, etc. In a few days we had every outfit listed by branch of service, distance from all towns on maps, and complete traffic information on northern Leyte. When a driver would stop in the road and ask where the 7th Division was, the man on duty would call to one of us to check and we would tell him where both of them were—the 7th Japanese Division and the 7th American Division. Things were fine till a G2 man came around and said we should not have so much information—a Nip might get to see it. So we had to give up our maps and our detailed lists and go on our memories thereafter. Technically, I suppose he was right (personally, my idea was that he was jealous, account of our having more dope than he had).


As far as I was concerned, a reckless driver was practically a traitor.


Some QM trucking companies began to bring loads up from Tacloban. I think all of them were colored units, and practically all the drivers were bad, a menace to the road and everything on it. We began to have a lot of wrecks as the result of speeding, sideswiping, meetings at one-way bridges, etc.


  1. Kirk says:

    So… Here’s the thing: Junior officers are supposed to be useless. That’s what they are, because those positions are essentially training and assessment positions for greater things. You could probably eliminate every single company-grade officer position in the Army, and it would still function. But, where the hell are you going to get the Majors and Lieutenant Colonels from, let alone the Generals…?

    Junior officers exist because that’s the best way you get senior officers. The Romans had the same two-track system–There were the Centurions, who were up-from-the-ranks sorts, and then there were the Tribunes, who were the “better sort of man” coming in from the Equestrian and Senatorial ranks. This same structure was recreated out of necessity during the first days of the Enlightenment military revolution, and it is one that’s persisted. The roles of NCO and officer appear to be natural extensions of human nature when it comes to war, and here we are, re-capitulating the same process that the Romans used to create their higher leadership. With some differences, of course.

    When I was a private soldier, I observed this with regards to a particularly useless 2nd Lieutenant that our platoon had been saddled with. I asked our platoon sergeant why the Army had seen fit to inflict this useless git on us, and his reply was illuminating, something to the effect that the Army gave him a lieutenant so that when things went wrong, as they inevitably would, there’d be someone to blame for it that had a reasonable paycheck to pay for it, and no dependents to worry about. So far as he was concerned, that was the real reason for having a platoon leader–Someone else to sign the hand receipts for equipment and to pay for the gear we broke or lost. When you looked at it from his perspective, the position of platoon sergeant was ideally situated–He was supposed to be there as the “senior enlisted adviser” to the platoon leader, but on paper…? No real responsibility or accountability, whatsoever. The PL was the only one whose name was on the proverbial “blame line”.

    And, in the final analysis, this is how the “Old Army” did function, from a certain perspective. At the company level, the senior NCOs essentially ran everything, and the officers were just there as figureheads that signed paperwork. Since the platoon sergeants and company First Sergeant did not and usually would not sign hand receipts, well… The only people on the financial hook when things went south were the officers, God help them. Thinking back on it, I can remember a number of platoon leaders and company commanders who had to pay ruinously steep charges for lost, destroyed, or damaged gear when they changed command–And, none of the senior NCOs were ever so much as chastised for allowing it to happen! Nice scam, boys… Sergeant Bilko was real, back in the old days.

    When I finally achieved the exalted rank of platoon sergeant, I tried not to fall into this moral hazard, but there were times when I was tempted, especially when I spent many an afternoon getting my ass chewed for things my PL did against my best advice. Under the old system, those PLs would have likely suffered great financial losses, among other petty revenges inflicted by the actual institutional custodians, the senior NCOs.

    Like as not, the same dynamic took place between the Roman centurions and the tribunes… I do wonder who had to sign the hand receipts, there. Nobody seems to have bothered to record that little detail, but I’d be willing to bet money that the centurions weren’t the guys who were on the hook for lost items. “Going down with the ship…” has antecedent reasons going back a long, long way–And, not just at sea. Ships sink, and the chief petty officers are gonna unass those buggers in a heartbeat, because they’re not signed for squat. Captains? LOL… Care to imagine what the statement of charges would look like for a destroyer, let alone an aircraft carrier?

  2. Graham says:

    That was a nice pithy summary. Explains the character of Lt. Fuzz in Beetle Bailey pretty well, too.

    I think both the Royal Navy and US Navy long maintained the practice of automatic court martial for captains who lost their ships, even in combat. They could be and probably were usually acquitted of course, if the circumstances were deemed sufficient. Still, that’s a pretty serious level of accountability.

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