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Jason Holliston
Monday, October 27, 2003  
The March Up

Tonight I finished the book, "The March Up", written by two retired Marines, Bing West and Major General Ray L. Smith. They both served in Vietnam, Ray Smith commanding a rifle company in the bloody battle for Hue City in 1968. I think it would be difficult to find two people more qualified to write about their firsthand account of the march from Kuwait to Baghdad earlier this year. For someone who never served in any branch of the Armed Forces, they write to the layman and make the strategy understandable, but at the same time, gives an inside view of what it's like being a Marine in the field during a war.

The two old warriors were given special treatment and respect by the troops and the officers, and it shows. They are present at many of the briefings and planning sessions on the road, given a free hand to go from unit to unit following the action, and early in the war, "lent" a commandeered yellow Nissan Pathfinder (nicknamed the Yellow Submarine, after The Beatles song), complete with an 80 gallon gas tank. Here's a paragraph from the book, about the taking of a key bridge over the Tigris River into Baghdad. They needed to secure a pedestrian bridge that the Iraqis had blown a hole in:

In single file the Marines ran onto the pedestrian bridge, careful not to trip over an Iraqi soldier who lay at the entrance, face up with his shirt open, exposing a belly that was round, either from lack of exercise or from the buildup of gases after death. Two fire teams and a machine-gun team went first to provide cover fire for the plank carriers. The scene wasn't much different from movie scenes, showing the storming of a castle in the Middle Ages -- some attackers shot arrows to cover those who were throwing boards across the moat. The main exception was the crazy press photographers from half a dozen nations who were running alongside the Marines, snapping away with their shutters. They had no idea the danger they were in. On both sides the bridge was lined with oil pipes, steel railings, and thick steel girders crisscrossed to hold it up. One or two RPGs or a few bursts from a machine gun could careen and ricochet down the bridge and only scratch the steel but gouge the flesh. One photographer was so diligent, or nuts, that I made a note to look later at what he had taken. His photo is on the back jacket of this book.

If you're interested in the tactics, strategy, and day-to-day operations of the war, and want to layer the understanding you acquired watching the 24 hour television coverage that was broadcast, I highly recommend this book. My respect for our protectors has grown considerably during this read.

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