Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 27, 2017. It is being republished in conjunction with the announcement that Army General John Nicholson is relinquishing command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan today (September 9, 2018). Like the various senior officers mentioned below, General Nicholson’s questionable track record deserves to be highlighted to illustrate the moral decay in the upper echelons of our military leadership so that readers can demand change.
America’s military has a serious problem with a two-tiered justice system that destroys lance corporals and pardons the gross misconduct of general officers. One doesn’t need to look any further than the Marine Corps for a long history of this.
A fine example is General James “Hoss” Cartwright, a no-combat four-star F-18 pilot that was reportedly sleeping with his female major aid and was recommended for punishment by another four-star investigating officer, yet SecDef Ray Mabus let him retire without prosecution in 2011.
General Cartwright also revealed classified material to a reporter regarding the Iran Stuxnet leak which damaged national security, and then he lied to an FBI agent about his actions. In 2016, he pleaded guilty in Federal Court to lying to an FBI agent for a crime he committed in uniform, yet he was pardoned by President Obama in 2017. Many feel he should have been brought back onto active duty, court-martialed, and reduced in rank at the very least. To this day, he gets four-star retirement pay. Meanwhile, we have people in Leavenworth for far less-severe offenses.
Former Commandant of the Marine Corps Charles Krulak, like many frequent public speakers, has certain often-repeated and well-rehearsed speeches that he gave in various forums over the years. One of General Krulak’s most well-known speeches which he gave at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1993 at a symposium on “Integrity and Moral Courage” was videotaped and is now publicly available. There is also a transcript of the very same speech from 1999. In fact, General Krulak has given this same speech scores of times to various audiences spanning the years. The problem is that General Krulak’s story is a total lie. Not an exaggeration or “war story” – a lie.
In the story, Krulak describes in precise detail the story of a combat action that, according to him, took place on June 3, 1966, in Vietnam when he was the Company Commander of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. Krulak describes a platoon pinned down in an open rice paddy by heavy machine gun fire coming from a .50 caliber heavy machine gun. He describes the actions of a Marine who makes a daring single-handed assault across the open rice paddy after being hit by a .50 round and being knocked down only to regain his footing and continue the attack until struck by a second .50 caliber round. He then rises a third time and kills the entire gun crew and is found shot three times by the .50 caliber machine gun.
Krulak curiously makes a major point of telling the audience the Marine was black more than once. He then describes how this black Marine — supposedly named Corporal Grable – was posthumously awarded a Navy Cross for heroism. A search of the database of those killed in Vietnam reveals only one Marine named Grable having been killed, but this Marine was white and was killed in another part of Vietnam on another date. A search of the database of Navy Crosses awarded during the entire Vietnam War reveals there was no Marine named Grable or Gable or anything close to that name being awarded a Navy Cross.
Interestingly, there was a Marine in 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines awarded a Navy Cross for an action curiously similar to the one Krulak describes involving a one-man assault on a machinegun position. That Marine’s name was PFC Ray from Echo Company 2nd Battalion 1st Marines, and PFC Ray’s heroic action occurred months before the one Krulak describes and PFC Ray was white and in another company than Krulak. Krulak likely heard the story of PFC Ray’s heroism and altered the story to fit his fictional account.
The greatest irony of this false story is that General Krulak uses the story to illustrate integrity and moral courage to his audience, all the while surely knowing the story is false. One has to wonder why General Krulak felt it necessary to emphasize the “fictional” Corporal Grable’s race. It is indeed quite pathetic that General Krulak could not use a real black Marine hero such as PFC Anderson or PFC Jenkins, both of whom were awarded posthumous Medals of Honor, to tell his story if his objective was to combat racism. If a man is willing to stand up in front of an auditorium full of people and tell a fabricated story while “swearing to God” about what he witnessed and crying on cue, one has to wonder about this person’s morality. Stealing a real hero’s story and attributing it to someone else as in the case of Krulak stealing PFC Ray’s story is sickening, but equally sickening is Krulak’s racial pandering when there are plenty of real examples of black Marines displaying heroism that could have been used instead.
Perhaps Krulak sought to place himself at the epicenter of a heroic scene, but it is baffling to think about because he had an otherwise stellar career. He was well-loved by his Marines and had multiple awards for heroism in combat including multiple Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, and multiple Bronze Stars. Regardless of his motive, the fact remains that he is telling a lie that would have ended the careers of so many others.
In an era of rampant General Officer misconduct, it is not surprising that more than one commandant would be caught in a lie. Former Commandant of the Marine Corps James Amos lied about attending The Basic School for decades until he was exposed shortly before retiring. General Amos was also mired in controversy around the decision to promote former Commandant General James T. Conway’s son, then Major James B. Conway, to Lieutenant Colonel. Major Conway was the battalion’s executive officer at the time of the 3/2 sniper platoon urination incident, and while the promotions of others in the command were halted indefinitely, Conway’s was allowed to proceed. The younger Conway was not at fault for the political decisions surrounding his promotion, but unfortunately, he was promoted while 3/2’s then-battalion commander was forced to wait two years until his promotion. During this same period, the young enlisted men of that sniper platoon had their careers and lives ruined after an allegation that Amos stated he wanted the scout snipers “crushed.”
Although Amos was eventually cleared of any unlawful command influence as a result of the inspector general’s report, there was no weight given to his previous record of inappropriate command influence where he was involved in lying about the “mission capable” status of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft in 2001. In a 10-month period, 23 Marines were killed in Osprey crashes, and instead of putting the lives of Marines first, Amos lied about the aircraft’s dismal 26.7 percent mission capable rating and instead claimed in an email to his superior, then Lt. General Fred McCorkle, Deputy Commandant of Marine aviation, that the rating was an average of 73.2 percent.
Amos went on to label the true rating of 26.7 as a “bad story” and that the information should be “close-held.” From a CBS News article in 2001, a question was posed as to why Marine Corps leadership would distort the performance numbers. Their conclusion was “…because the Marines need to show that at least 75 percent of the entire Osprey squadron is “mission capable” before the Pentagon will approve full production of 360 of the aircraft at a cost of nearly $30 billion.”
The irony is that a particular April 2000 Osprey crash within that fateful ten-month period which resulted in the largest loss of life, 19 Marines killed, was blamed on the two pilots of that aircraft for over 15 years before finally being overturned by the Pentagon. For over 15 years, the families of those pilots had to live in shame as they fought to clear the names of their fallen Marines, while Marine Corps leadership knew about the dangerous state of those aircraft all along.
When questioned about his integrity and that of the Marine Corps in regard to the apparent cover-up of the Osprey ratings, Amos stated that it “stings me like a hot poker to my heart.” Fast forward to the present day, and James Amos now serves on the Board of Directors for LORD Corp alongside retired Lt. General Fred McCorkle. Additionally, Amos serves on the Board of Directors for the organization, Semper Fi Fund, with none other than James T. Conway and his wife Annette Conway in their respective roles.
Former Commandant, General Michael Hagee, was caught wearing ribbons that he did not rate including a Navy Unit citation (NUC), a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and a Humanitarian Service Medal. Sure, this is not as bad as the other offenses mentioned in this article, but any Staff NCO that would have worn awards they did not rate would have been punished without question, and no amount of apologies would have ended the situation as it did for Hagee. Let’s also not forget that Hagee was the one who slow-rolled procurement of the MRAP for several years while Marines were dying in droves in worthless up-armored HMMWVs despite the MRAP being available. Hagee decided the long-term needs of the greater Marine Corps were more important than the lives of enlisted Marines in combat. Hagee didn’t want to spend the money on the MRAP because he wanted to instead compete with the U.S. Army on Capitol Hill and spend it on the Advanced AAV and the Osprey in spite of how many Marines died from IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We still have the greatest military on earth, but America needs to wake up to the rot and moral decay among its senior officers before it is too late. The change needs to start with our current crop of young officers, and they must too be purposeful in choosing to have true integrity and moral courage.