In Many a Strife
General Gerald C. Thomas and the U.S. Marine Corps 1917-1956
Allan R. Millett
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018
Paperback. xx+457 p. ISBN 978-1682472972. $29.95
Reviewed by Timothy J. Demy
U.S. Naval War College, Newport (Rhode Island)
In the constellation of luminaries of United States Marine Corps history, General Gerald C. Thomas (1917-1956), is not the brightest or most well-known star, but he is one of the most important. Overshadowed at times by twentieth-century figures and legends such as John Lejeune (1867-1942), Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith (1882-1967), Chesty Puller (1898-1971), A. A. Vandergrift (1887-1973), and Victor H. “Brute” Krulak (1913-2008), Thomas was instrumental in shaping and transforming the United States Marine Corps of post-Second World War and Korean War eras into a highly effective Cold War amphibious assault force. The volume provides a detailed study of the life and service of Thomas beginning with his service as Marine Corps sergeant in the First World War fighting in the battles of Belleau Wood (June 1918), Soissons (July 1918), and Blanc Mont Ridge (October 1918), during which Thomas received military decorations of the Purple Heart and the Silver Star, as well as a battlefield commission. The volume ends with Thomas’s retirement, post-retirement recall to active service in the Eisenhower administration’s Net Evaluation Subcommittee of the National Security Council, ventures in the business world, and last days and death.
After the First World War, Thomas served in Haiti in Marine Corps operations and it was there that he met Major Alexander Archer Vandergrift for whom he would later serve as adjutant to Colonel Vandergrift in Peking and as Major General Vandergrift’s aide when the Marines went ashore at Guadalcanal in 1942 during the Second World War. During the postwar years and brief years before the Korean War, Thomas served in Washington, D.C., in Quantico, VA, and as Commanding General of the Fleet Marine Force, Western Pacific.
During the Korean War, Thomas was given command of the 1st Marine Division in the days following its withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir in November and December 1950. However, it was during his years in Washington, D.C. that Thomas probably had his greatest effect on the United States Marine Corps as he worked and networked tirelessly to shape the Corps into a modern amphibious force with global readiness. This force included Marine Corps tactical air support (opposed by the U.S. Air Force). Thomas successfully argued that the Commandant of the Marine Corps should report to the Secretary of the Navy rather than the Chief of Naval Operations. Fearing that the Joint Chiefs of Staff would diminish the role of the Marine Corps in favor of the U.S. Army, along with budgets, Thomas successfully argued that the roles and missions of the Marine Corps should be defined by Congress. These “Beltway” battles demonstrated an astute, articulate leader skillfully and successfully navigating the civil-military relations and political worlds of Washington, D.C. Such endeavors had a lasting effect on the United States Marine Corps that remains to the present.
Allan R. Millett’s masterful book, first published by the Naval Institute Press in 1993 in cloth edition, has been reprinted in a paperback edition and made available once again to a new generation of military historians, leaders in the profession of arms, and those interested in organizational development within the context of civil-military relations and intra-service relationships. The volume’s title, appropriately, is taken from the third stanza of the “Marines’ Hymn,” the official hymn of the United States Marine Corps (the entire stanza might be understood as a synopsis of the book).
The author is a well-respected military historian who currently holds the Stephen E. Ambrose Professorship at the University of New Orleans. He previously served for 37 years in the history department at Ohio State University and is the author and co-author of several books. Among his writings on military history are: For the Common Defense : A Military History of the United States from 1607 to 2012 (2012), The War for Korea (2 vol. 2005, 2010), A War to be Won : Fighting the Second World War (2001), and Semper Fidelis : The History of the United States Marine Corps (1991). He is also a retired colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.
The final chapter, appropriately titled “Sunset Parade, 1956-1984” brings the volume to a compelling conclusion and recounting of the final days of the Thomas. Millett’s graceful style remains consistent in this chapter as illustrated by the chapters opening words, “Even for general officers not wedded to the regal trapping of their rank, the march into retirement can be a night patrol without a compass” .
Beyond its detailed and thorough documentation the volume is complemented by numerous photographs, 15 maps, and an extremely helpful bibliographic essay. The book is well-written and should remain a standard work on Marine Corps and military biography and history reading lists for many years to come.
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