Two battle stars later he was a sergeant

Monday, May 27th, 2019

In our army some units were better than others, Dunlap says, and the reason was not always leadership or training:

Morale meant a lot. I do not mean the condition of the men’s minds regarding the home front or the political aspects of victory, but the mental attitude of the unit concerning combat. If an outfit got through its first engagement successfully, defeating the enemy and not suffering many casualties, that outfit was pretty good from then on. When the boys have been shot at and missed, they begin to realize what the score can be if they do not watch their signals in the next period of the game, and the brain cells start working. So help me, I have known dopes who came out of a campaign with higher I.Q.’s than they started with! Above all, combat soldiers get quiet and thoughtful. They get considerate and understanding, sharing whatever they get with each other and helping each other out all they can as a rule. You can never tell who will turn out to be good and who will not. I remember one of the replacements I took on the beach at Leyte — a little Jewish boy, strictly the bookworm type, who went directly into the cavalry. Two battle stars later he was a sergeant, recognized as an able field leader and decorated. Somehow he had been able to adapt himself rapidly and do the right thing at the right time. A more unlikely trooper was never shipped overseas.


  1. Kirk says:

    This goes to my hypothesis that you just can’t tell, until “der Tag“, what someone is going to do. You also can’t tell what they are going to do on the next occasion, either–Today’s hero may well be tomorrow’s abject coward, cowering in the corner. Likewise, the guy who cowers today may well snap tomorrow, and go out killing to be killed against impossible odds.

    It’s all down to the human factor, whose very definition is “variable”.

  2. Graham says:

    That made me think of Audie Murphy and, perhaps even more, Alvin York.

    America seems always to have a reserve of such ordinary men who come into their own when needed.

    Although, looking at the wikipedia pages on both Murphy and York, I see neither was exactly mild-mannered in youth.

  3. Kirk says:

    Murphy came to my mind, as well. York? No; he was a reformed hell-raiser that I would have evaluated as being a likely candidate to do what he did. The man’s youth and subsequent reform are what made him reluctant.

    Frankly, I’d have looked at York, and said “Y’know… This guy has already overcome a bunch of stuff, and I’m afraid if we make him essentially “go back” because it’s convenient to us, we’re gonna break him…”. I like to think that I’d have never asked York to go back on his self-reform.

    I knew a guy in the Army, and if you’d known him the way I did, you’d have been nothing but impressed with him because of the things he’d overcome in order to make himself a “good soldier” and a decent human being.

    However, if you’d known him over the full arc of his life, you’d be horrified at the long-term effect of taking him to war, because he did not cope with the stress and strain of losing men in combat at all well. It broke him, fundamentally and organically, and that entire effort he put into making himself a better human being was expended on the altar of the Army’s cause. He showed strong signs of PTSD, and wound up eventually taking his own life after a series of denouements in his personal life that included a return to alcohol and drug abuse.

    To my way of thinking, the Army should never have recruited him, and having done so, should have ensured he didn’t get put into a series of situations that resulted in his downfall.

  4. Paul from Canada says:

    The problem is, as Kirk put it, the “human factor”.

    The Cooper tests for SF selection seem to work, but nobody can actually articulate how or why, just that it does, more or less.

    There was a study done, in I think WWII by the Americans to try to determine what made a successful fighter ace. They couldn’t do it.

    Other than being aggressive and having superior situational awareness, there was nothing that they could use to develop a test to select an ace out of the larger group of pilot candidates. There were a couple of things like eye colour and being a loner at school, or something like that, but not statistically significant enough to matter.

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