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J. ARNOLD, S. SINTON, illustrated by DARKO PAVLOVIC
Born in 1885 in Elkton, Maryland, Julian Smith did not attend the Naval Academy but, rather, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware. He joined the Marine Corps and received a commission in 1909. After service in the Panama Canal Zone, he participated in the action at Vera Cruz in 1914 and at Santo Domingo the following year. He was an instructor at Marine Corps Schools from 1918-19 and, thereafter, commanded a machine gun battalion in Cuba. He performed various staff and training duties between the wars, including director of operations and training division at the Marine Corps headquarters from 1935 to 1938. He continued in training assignments through May 1943. Holding the rank of major- general, he then assumed command of the 2d Marine Division.
Smith led the division in the assault on Betio, the two-mile-long island that commanded the Tarawa Atoll. The navy promised to "obliterate the defenses on Betio." Believing the navy was being too optimistic, Smith reminded planners, "Gentlemen, remember one thing. When the Marines meet the enemy at bayonet point, the only armor a Marine will have will be his khaki shirt." The day before the assault, he sent a message to the troops: "What we do here will set the standard for all future operations in the Central Pacific Area ... Our people back home are eagerly awaiting news of victories ... your success will add new laurels to the glorious traditions of our Corps. Good luck, and God bless you all."
General Julian Smith is shown aboard the Maryland during the Tarawa landing. Smith's 2d Marine Division had a three-day fight to capture Betio. When a senior general inspected the island's 291 acres of ruined fortifications, he said with shock, "I don't see how they ever took Tarawa. It's the most completely defended island I ever saw." Looking at the survivors, the general added, "I passed boys who had lived yesterday a thousand times and looked older than their fathers. Dirty, unshaven, with gaunt almost sightless eyes, they had survived the ordeal, but it had chilled their souls. They found it hard to believe they were actually alive." (US Naval Historical Center)
Confronted by an incredible array of defenses, including British 8-inch artillery captured at Singapore as well as defenders determined to, in the words of their leader, "withstand assault by a million men for a hundred years," the assault foundered. By noon of the first day, November 20, 1943, the marine loss rate had climbed over 20 percent. Reports from the beach said, "Issue in doubt." Smoke obscured Smith's view of the assault from the deck of the Maryland. Smith and Admiral Turner held an emergency staff meeting. In the uncertainty over whether the requested reinforcements would arrive, Smith planned to lead ashore an emergency force composed of his headquarters personnel. In the event, this proved unnecessary when a late afternoon report came from the commander ashore, "Casualties many. Percentage dead not known. Combat efficiency: we are winning!" According to official records, the three-day campaign to capture Betio's 291 acres was "the bitterest fighting in the history of the Marine Corps." The loss of 1,300 Americans killed shocked everyone.
Smith went from divisional commander to command the expeditionary forces of the 3d Fleet from April to December 1944, and then returned to his training duties as commander of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island from 1944 to 1946. He was a lieutenant-general upon his retirement at the end of 1946 and died in 1975.
Mild mannered but determined and decisive, Julian Smith will forever be associated with the terrible battle at Tarawa.
Lemuel Shepherd Jr was born in 1896 in Norfolk, Virginia. Most male members of his family had fought for the Confederacy so it was no surprise when the young man chose to attend the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). When the United States entered World War One, Shepherd volunteered for the Marine Corps. He won the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Silver Star for his conduct during battles at Belleau Wood and Mont Blanc. Shepherd also received three wounds during this process of earning a heroic reputation. He explained his leadership style to a reporter: "You can't find out how a battle is going sitting in a command post."
General Lemuel Shepherd in a 1952 photo, at the time this distinguished World War Two veteran became Marine Corps Commandant. (US Naval Historical Center)
Between the wars. Shepherd served as an aide to the Marine Corps Commandant and was with the 4th Marine Regiment in China from 1927 to 1929. Four years of duty in Haiti followed. He graduated from the Naval War College in 1937. Shepherd's most notable interwar service involved testing the Marine Corps' newly developed doctrine for amphibious warfare. A colonel serving on the staff of the Marine Corps Schools when World War Two, after Pearl Harbor Shepherd applied for a combat command. In March 1942, he became commander of the 9th Marine Regiment. He served as Assistant Divisional Commander in the 1st Marine Division and saw action at Cape Gloucester in New Britain in December 1942. Dense jungle, deep mud, and stiff Japanese opposition characterized the three-week Cape Gloucester campaign. In the campaign, Shepherd renamed the savagely contested Aogiri Ridge "Walt's Ridge," after the lieutenant-colonel whose battalion had taken it. Throughout the campaign, Shepherd performed admirably and won the favorable attention of General Douglas MacArthur. As a reward, he received command of the 1st Provisional Brigade in April 1944.
This unit took part in the difficult Guam invasion in July 1944. During a well-designed Japanese nocturnal counterattack, Shepherd characteristically led from the front. When the American flag was raised over the recaptured former site of the marine barracks, Shepherd said, "On this hallowed ground, you officers and men of the 1st Marine Brigade have avenged the loss of our comrades ... Under our flag this island again stands ready to fulfill its destiny as an American fortress in the Pacific." For his exemplary conduct on Guam, he received promotion to major-general and command of the newly formed 6th Marine Division. This unit would take part in the Okinawa campaign. To prepare it, Shepherd conducted a rigorous training program that earned him the nickname "the Driver" from his men. On Okinawa, the division confronted the heavily defended hills near the city of Naha, including the infamous "Sugarloaf." It took two weeks of heavy fighting to capture this height. Later in the campaign, Shepherd avoided a frontal assault by designing an amphibious flanking move that succeeded brilliantly.
When the war ended, Shepherd held a series of increasingly important commands until June 1950. He worked closely with MacArthur, who well remembered his conduct on Cape Gloucester, to help plan the Inchon landing. At Inchon, and later during the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir, Shepherd continued to circulate among the front-line troops to inspire and lead. In 1952, Shepherd advanced to four- star general and assumed command of the entire Marine Corps. Showing that he was not only a brave combat soldier, Shepherd reorganized marine headquarters into a modern general staff. He also promoted the development of new amphibious tactics based upon helicopters and high-speed naval transports. President Dwight Eisenhower pulled him out of retirement to assume an important administrative duty involving a 21-nation anti- communist coalition. For four years. Shepherd combined his habitual drive with unsuspected tact to tighten the bonds of the coalition. He retired permanently in 1959.