March To Glory
by: Jim Cobb
Article Type: Book Review
Publication Date: June 19, 2002
Author: Robert Leckie's March to Glory describes the First Marine Division's withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir in Korea during Novemberand December of 1950. Many authors have described the events of this trek but none capture the pure physical torment each side
went through as well as Leckie. Leckie also adeptly criticizes MacArthur's headquarters by simply not mentioning it more than three times.
Instead he uses Marine commander Major General Oliver P. Smith's slow advance north to illustrate Smith's skepticism of MacArthur's "There's
No Chinese Here" policy. Rather than strictly following MacArthur's plan of quickly advancing, Smith moved gradually and established strong
points along the road to Yudam-ni. He was right in doing so because, when the Chinese attacked on November 27, 1950, the Marines were not clustered in a fashion that would make them easier to surround, but had maintained a posture that allowed them to react to any unanticipated event.
Despite Smith's caution, the early Chinese attacks did cut the road. Roadblocks and captured positions overlooking key sites split the Marine
Division into four sectors. The story of the fight is how each sector held, and how they actually improved each position by building vital airstrips,
and then eventually moved 78 miles south to Hungnam in order to conduct a naval evacuation. The actions that took place were at the company
and platoon level against huge numbers of Chinese. Leckie, though, makes it clear that the weather was as much an enemy as the Chinese.
Weapons froze. Engines had to be started and run every two hours. Food had to be thawed in the troopers' mouths before it could be chewed. The simplest bodily functions became major tasks. Frostbite took a greater toll than hostile fire. Leckie's prose is so clear and moving that the reader
feels the pain and fatigue suffered by Leathernecks fifty years ago.
Vignettes sketch the scenes better than any map. A huge Marine sergeant breaks the initial Chinese attack on his position by fighting barefoot for
five hours. Combat often becomes a matter of bayonets and tossing each other's grenades back. Subtle movement is not an option. Each side
attacks frontally into withering fire. Unbelievable events occur such as a Chinese grenade detonating on a Marine's helmet; he fights again after waking up in thirty minutes. Gallant acts of humanity happen often such as the Marine captain who crawls all day across a frozen lake to rescue over 300
wounded soldiers left behind by their leaderless comrades. A combination British and Marine relief force comes heartbreakingly close to their goal
only to be stopped by overwhelming numbers and terrible terrain. These events are chronicled to make a seamless whole so that the reader can
easily follow the stages of the battle.
Although written in 1960, March to Glory is surprisingly free of Cold War rhetoric. Leckie describes the Chinese commander, General
Sung Shin-Lun, as an intelligent, skilled professional whose plan should have worked. The Chinese tactics were not one of mindless hordes but of disciplined waves led by grenadiers to disrupt the Marines, followed by riflemen to finish the job. Leckie expresses sympathy for the Chinese footsoldiers who were even less prepared for the weather than their opponents but conducted their attacks with courage and skill.
The military lessons learned underscore the American way of war. The Marines were saved by tactical air support and well-placed heavy artillery strikes. The Chinese had no air cover and could only bring mortars along for support. This combination led to a massive slaughter: the Marines inflicted at least 37,500 casualties on their tormentors by December 10 at the cost of 7,500 casualties of their own. Massive firepower used
effectively can overcome large numbers. However, spirit and determination alone accomplishes the crucial tasks of holding and taking ground.
These traits are the underlying themes of Leckie's work and he describes them well.