Tag Archives: military


JRF’s #44: Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis


Every night during Boot Camp, after everyone is snuggled into their racks, Marine Corps Recruits end their long day by uniformly saying, “Good Night Chesty, where ever you are!”  Lewis “Chesty” Puller embodies the esprit de corps of the USMC.  Any Marine worth his salt wants to be like Chesty Puller.

“They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an
enemy that outnumbers us 29:1. They can’t get away from us now!”
- Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, USMC
When the Marines were cut off behind enemy lines and the Army had written the 1st Marine Division off as being lost because they were surrounded by 22 enemy divisions. The Marines made it out inflicting the highest casualty ratio on an enemy in history and destroying 7 entire enemy divisions in the process. An enemy division is 16500+ men while a Marine division is 12500 men.

As a Chaplain working with the Marines, reading this biography was insightful and inspirational.  Obviously, from a military standpoint, there is much to admire about Lt. General Puller.  Dropping out of Military College to enlist during the First World War, Puller fought his way through the conflicts in Haiti, Nicaragua, China, World War II and the Korean War to become the most decorated Marine in history.  In addition he fought his way through the ranks to retire as a three star general.  If he had not been forced to retire early (for not keeping his mouth shut about the incompetency of the Air Force during the Korean War) he undoubtedly would have earned a fourth star.

“Our Country won’t go on forever, if we stay soft as we are now. There won’t
be any AMERICA because some foreign soldiery will invade us and take our
women and breed a hardier race!”
-Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, USMC


His wartime achievements are noteworthy, however it was the intangible things that made him great.  He was a man of uncompromising character and faithfulness – remaining loyal to his wife (and her to him) through all those long years of fighting.  He had the ability to inspire men to joyfully follow him into the valley of the shadow of death, many of them never to return.  He knew that direct, firm, commanding authority did not have to be and should not be in conflict with compassionate, selfless leadership.  He sowed the seeds of honor, courage, and commitment into his character daily so that when the feces hit the oscilating ventilator he could respond wisely without hesitation.

When an Army captain asked him for the direction of the line of retreat,
Col Puller called his Tank Commander, gave them the Army position, and ordered:
“If they start to pull back from that line, even one foot, I want you to open fire on them.”
Turning to the captain, he replied “Does that answer your question?
We’re here to fight.” At Koto-ri in Korea
- Chesty Puller at Koto-ri in Korea

I’m sure there was some bias to this book, as it rarely had anything negative to say about Puller.  But if only half of it was true, Chesty would still be the fiercest warrior and combat officer our country has ever produced.  As long as the Marine Corps keeps Chesty as their measuring stick, the USMC will remain America’s elite fighting force.




“No officer’s life is worth more than that of any man in his ranks.  He may have more effect on the fighting, but if he does his duty, so far as I can see, he must be up front to see what is actually going on with his troops.  They’d find a replacement for me soon enough if I got hit.  I’ve never seen a Marine outfit fall apart for lack of any one man.  I don’t want you to go up under the guns just for show.  It’s only the idiots and the green kids who think they’re bullet-proof.  But if you don’t show some courage, your officers won’t show it either, and the kids will hang back.  It’s that kind of an outfit that always has trouble.”


JRF’s # 36 – A Quiet Reality By Emilio Marrero

In this memoir, Chaplain Emilio Marrero recounts his experiences with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Following the invasion his unit set up operations at Sadaam’s former palace at Babylon.   Marrero soon found himself leading efforts to keep the Babylon Museum and the ruins of the ancient city from getting completely looted in the post-invasion chaos.  Eventually he was dubbed the unofficial “Mayor of Babylon” by the locals because of his influence, compassionate advocacy for the locals, and wise negotiating between the mission of the U.S. Military, the needs and desires of the local Iraqis, the demands of politicians, and the needs of a frail but immensely important archaeological site.

As a fairly new Chaplain myself, this account was both encouraging and instructive.  Marrero’s ministry in Iraq is a great example of immense potential for influence – politically and spiritually – that a creative, motivated, and Christ-led chaplain has.  At many times I found myself stoping and jotting down ideas for my own ministry that were inspired by Marrero’s initiatives.   Other times I felt my heart convicted by the determination and passion with which he pursued people and initiated ministries from the ground up.  Too often have I let the discouragements and obstacles of military ministry drown out the many unique and powerful opportunities for Gospel influence.  It was also a great encouragement to look at the Chaplain Corps through the eyes of a Chaplain who genuinely loves Jesus and people and kept the Main thing the Main thing.

I only had a few criticisms of the book: (1) ironically it seemed at times that Marrero’s quasi-Arminian theology was at odds with the major theme of the book – God’s quiet, behind-the-scenes sovereignty and (2) the book could have used another round of proof-reading as there were a small amount of minor typos scattered about.

Throughout the book Marrero uses the phrase “quiet reality” to describe the intangible experiences and forces behind the types of things that make the headlines of newspapers, military reports, and facebook statuses (statusi?).  The Ultimate “Quiet Reality” of Emilio Marrero’s story is that God is and will continue to be working through the events of the Iraqi Freedom both in the lives of the invaders/liberators and conquered/liberated.

This is an excellent book for anyone who is interested in Military Ministry, Biblical Archaeology, or just likes a good story about the Grace and power of God shown in and through a willing servant.


JRF’s #19 – Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer is one of my favorite living authors.  Whether he is writing an article about the fatal last ride of surfing legend Mark Foo or a book on the nefarious origins of the Mormon Church, I always enjoy the way Krakauer can turn non-fiction into a journey of discovery.   I may not always agree with his final destination, but how he gets there is always captivating.
In Where Men Win Glory Krakauer explores the extraordinary life and tragic death by friendly fire of football player turned Army Ranger turned political pawn Pat Tilman.
The first half of this book was by far my favorite.  Krakauer simultaneously introduces us to Pat Tilman while deftly weaving his story together with the modern history of the land where he would eventually meet his death, Afghanistan.  Watching Tilman grow from child to young man to NFL star, fall in love with, remain faithful to during college and the NFL and marry his highschool sweetheart, and overcome personal and professional odds through sheer force of character gave me a deep sense of appreciation for this man.  It also reminded me of the power of personal integrity, even in unbelievers.
Learning about the modern history of Afghanistan was also enlightening.  In short…what a mess!  A mess in which the United States has been involved in long before 9/11.
The book hits a speed bump in the mid-section.  Here I felt that at times Krakauer weakened his case of a government coverup (which the facts clearly point to without any embelishing needed) by trying too hard to paint all military senior officers and government leaders as corrupt.  Particularly unhelpful was his chapter in which he discusses the questionable results of the 2000 election, in which Bush came out victorious.  Krakuer ended this seemingly out of place section by writing, “…thus did Bush become the forty-third president of the United States, a turn of events that would have no small impact on the life of Pat Tilman.”  He goes on to imply that the Bush administration knew about an imminent threat from Al-Qaeda but turned a blind eye to warning signs…something Krakaer apparently believes Al Gore wouldn’t have done.  This section sounds particularly foolish in light of the fact that Krakauer had previously so skillfully shown that the conflict with Al-Qaeda was a storm that had been brewing since at least the 80′s and was inevitable.  In addition, while most of the narrative about Tilman’s life comes from primary sources such as his family, his journals, and interviews, the sections on the Bush administration rely almost exclusively on books written about the Bush administration by other, often biased authors.  Of course things would have been different in Pat Tilman’s life (and many others) if Bush had not been president, but to conjecture what those differences would have been is futile.
Portions of this book were truly heartbreaking: the vivid account of Tilman’s heroic death by fratricide, Pat’s brother Kevin’s – who was only yards away at the time of Pat’s death – discovery that his big brother had just been killed, the pain that Tilman’s loved ones experienced by losing such a dynamic part of their family, the betrayal they felt once the truth of a coverup became known, and the lack of integrity and accountability by some in Tilman’s chain of command.
But by far the most heartbreaking aspect of Tilman’s story from a Biblical perspective is his determined atheism and self-worship.  He put his faith in no one but himself, and did some truly amazing and admirable things.  However no matter how strong of a person he was, his strength could never overcome his greatest enemy -the slave master of sin.  And thus he passed from this world an enemy of the enemy of sin – the One, True, Holy God.  His lack of fear was admirable, but his lack of the Fear of the Lord was tragic:
“I’ve never feared death per se, or really given a **** what happens ‘after’.  I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.   My concerns have to do with the ‘now’ and becoming the man I envision….I think I understand that religious faith which makes the holy brave and strong; my strength is just somewhere else – it’s in myself….I do not fear what awaits me, though I’m equally confident that nothing awaits.”
Where Men Win Glory is truly a classic account of a tragedy.  A tragedy from every perspective.

Ron’s #3: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

For good reason, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand landed on many Best of the Year lists in 2010, including on Mark’s. I’m not sure I would have picked this up otherwise; I like World War II books as much as the next guy (if the next guy in question also likes World War II books), but this is focused on one man. And it’s 500 pages. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to commit.

I’m so glad that I did. After a few pages, I knew that I would love this book. Unbroken is the story of Louie Zamperini, a hooligan-turned-Olympic runner-turned-pilot-turned-prisoner of war-turned- unbroken and hopeful man. That’s a pretty good one-sentence summary of the book, just in case the publisher is looking for a subtitle for the forthcoming paperback version. I liked Louie instantly; he was a troublemaker tough-guy, but found his escape from his California town by running. Introduced to the sport by his brother, Louie runs in high school, college, and then in the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he met Adolph Hitler.

His life changed soon after as the story follows Louie into his new career as an AAC bombardier, until he crashes in the Pacific. Louie and two others survive at sea for over forty days without provisions (with a troubling scene about a lice infestation in his newly grown beard). If the story ended here, it would be a powerful journey. However, it does not. Much of the book is his horrid treatment in several prisoner of war camps in Japan. Just when I thought all the evil happened to Louie, there is a new chapter of horror.

The title is perfect to describe Zamperini. This man personifies courage, resilience, and hope in ways I have never seen. There were times I gasped aloud to read his ordeals. The squalor and suffering only provide a backdrop to allow Louie’s courage and character to shine brightly.

I hesitate to say to much to avoid taking away the suspense as you read it, but allow me to say that Louie continues to sink lower into despondency and hopeless until God intervenes. In literature, it’s called deux ex machina; in life, it is called redemption.

This book also has much to say about the many Japanese atrocities in World War II, whether it is in prison camps, Pearl Harbor, or Nanking:

The Japanese military surrounded the city of Nanking, stranding more than half a million civilians and 90,000 Chinese soldiers. The soldiers surrendered and, assured of their safety, submitted to being bound. Japanese officers then issued a written order: ALL PRISONERS OF WAR ARE TO BE EXECUTED. What followed was a six-week frenzy of killing that defies articulation. Masses of POWs were beheaded, machine-gunned, bayoneted, and burned alive. The Japanese turned on civilians, engaging in killing contests, raping tens of thousands of people, mutilating and crucifying them, and provoking dogs to maul them. Japanese soldiers took pictures of themselves posing alongside hacked-up bodies, severed heads, and women strapped down for rape. The Japanese press ran tallies of the killing contests as if they were baseball scores, praising the heroism of the contestants. Historians estimate that the Japanese military murdered between 200,000 and 430,000 Chinese, including the 90,000 POWs, in what became known as the Rape of Nanking.

This gives a more complete picture of the behavior and the attitudes of Japan, and why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were last resorts. Japan was on par of the atrocities committed by Hitler and Germany, and the two countries had more in common during treatment of people during the war than they differed. This concept certainly is not in our modern psyche. It is accepted (and often applauded) to denigrate Germany, but it is labeled as racist if we criticize Japan.

In addition to the highlighting of a great man and as a history lesson, Unbroken is simply excellent prose. Hillenbrand has a poetic style of writing even the cruelest events.


He felt as if he would faint, but it wasn’t from the exertion. It was from the realization of what he was.

One engine, for reasons known only to the plane, was thirstier than the others, so the gauges had to be watched constantly

There was one perk to life in the barracks. The bathroom was plastered in girlie pinups, a Sistine Chapel of pornography.

But it was good to feel oriented, to know that they were drifting toward land somewhere out there, on the far side of the earth’s tilt.

Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet.

The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer.

Whether or not you are a fan of war accounts, go read this book. Like me, you will be mesmerized with Louie Zamperini for good reason. He is a man who stands above other men, and his story demands to be told. The more like Zamperini we are, the better the world would be.


Mark’s #32 – War by Sebastian Junger (302 pages)

War is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year.  It is a gripping account of the events, battles, men, dynamics, and psychology of war as experienced firsthand with the men of second platoon of the 173rd Airborn brigade in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley – one of the most intense and bloody corners of the conflict.  In 2007-2008, author Sebastian Junger inteminently spent 14 month’s with the men of second platoon.

As someone who works alongside and ministers within the context of the military community, I was particularly drawn to this book.  This book is very eye-opening for anyone interested in what actual combat experience is like.

Along the journey, Sebastian experiences the terror and thrill of war.  He sees men die in battle right in front of him. Like a drug, most of the men crave the bloody encounters with the Taliban, even while the reality that at any moment their lives could be over is obvious.

The sense of mission and togetherness for a cause bigger than themselves gave their lives a weight and meaning they had never had back in the ‘civilized’ world.  While most of the men could care less about the politics behind the war, they fought and sacrificed for the lives of the men to their right and their left.

Here are a few of the lines that really grabbed my attention while reading War:

(In relation to why some platoons survive surprise attacks and overwhelming odds): “The choreography always requires that each man make decisions based not on what’s best for him, but on what’s best for the group.  If everyone does that, most of the group survives.  If no one does, most of the group dies.  That, in essence, is combat.”

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” – Winston Churchill

(On group accountability regarding things like tying the laces on your boots or drinking enough water): “There was no such thing as personal safety out there; what happened to you happened to everybody”

(A surprising statistic): “Statistically, it’s six times as dangerous to spend a year as a young man in America than as a cop or a fireman, and vastly more dangerous than a one-year deployment at a big military base in Afghanistan.”

***Side note*** This was the first book I’ve read entirely on a Kindle – I rather enjoyed the experience… my only hesitancy is the difficulty it now is to share the book with other friends.

*** Another side note*** I look forward to watching the documentary Restrepo with Sebastian and his photographer/videographer when it comes out  in November.  It was filmed during this same experience.

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