Commanding Officers Report:
George Marsh The Failure of Leadership in America....continued
Leadership—or rather the lack of it—has made the headlines lately. Sadly, some of these stories reflect upon agencies of the American government: the Veteran’s Administration; Internal Revenue Service, and others. Looking back in history, one can find many shining examples of leadership. There are many who may be cited, ones who earned themselves the admiration and respect of their countrymen. My personal favorites are: George Washington, John Winthrop and Audie Murphy. George Washington, our first president and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, still stands as one of the most honorable and respected leaders of all time. He did more than lead his men into battle; he suffered as they suffered at Valley Forge, as the cold, biting winter caused hardship beyond measure. He put other’s interests above his own, demanding his troops be paid for their service while denying payment himself. He insisted on having all his soldiers inoculated against smallpox, drastically reducing death, in the ranks (from 17% to 1%) from this disease. 
 Washington studied and prepared for leadership by emulating successful people he met, as well as following—and carefully transcribing—a volume of “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour.” His words, from General Orders given July 6, 1777: Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak and esteem to all.” Above all, Washington possessed a trait that is noticeably lacking in our modern day leaders—humility. It seems only fitting that since 1879, we have set aside a day to celebrate and honor this great man. Before the establishment of our nation, another great man emerged—John Winthrop. Leader and first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Winthrop was granted almost unlimited power in ruling the colony under the charter granted by the King of England. He knew that true leadership did not simply mean the raw exercise of power. He recognized when to exercise temperance and compassion and when to exercise firm resolve. Winthrop agreed there should be no compromise on fundamental moral matters where God had made a clear distinction between right and wrong. Yet, on many other lesser matters, things were not so black and white. This distinction was well-illustrated in a number of instances. In the early 1630’s, several ministers protested that Winthrop was not following the precise letter of the law while governing the colony. They accused him of independently taking action without first seeking the approval of other leaders. Charges were that: Winthrop loaned twenty-eight pounds of gunpowder to Plymouth; he built a fort at Boston, and allowed the people of Watertown to build a weir on the Charles River—all without authorization. Winthrop defended his actions. He argued that matters of life and death required urgency. He held that the gunpowder was his own, and badly needed; the fort had been built at his expense, and the people of Watertown were low on provisions therefore urgency was needed in building the weir before the fishing season was over. It was further charged that Winthrop had allowed men who’d been sentenced to banishment, to remain extra weeks in the colony. Winthrop’s response was that if those men had been banished in the dead of winter, their lives would have been at stake. These early colonists were fortunate to have John Winthrop as a leader. He clearly realized, as all great leaders do, that on many matters, common sense and compassion are essential for just and honorable governing. Another example of honorable leadership is Audie Murphy. Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II, was awarded every U.S. military award for valor available from the U.S. Army. Born on a sharecropper’s farm in Hunt County, Texas, Murphy’s growing-up years were harsh. His alcoholic father abandoned the family and his mother died when he was just a teenager. As a young boy in the 5th grade, he dropped out of school to pick cotton. Earning a dollar a day wasn’t enough, however, to keep his three sisters from being placed in an orphanage. Murphy, determined to improve his life, enlisted in the United States Army. Because of his small physical frame—he stood only 5’5”—he was offered a desk job. He refused, insisting he was able to fight. In combat, Murphy soon earned two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star. He suffered three combat wounds, earning him the Purple Heart. But his greatest act of heroism came on January 26, 1944. Near the Colmar Pocket, an area that extended into France, on the west bank of the Rhine River, First Lt. Murphy, leading Company B, was confronted by six German tanks. Supported by infantry, they quickly put two American tank destroyers out of action. Murphy ordered his men to fall back, yet he remained and called in artillery fire on the advancing German tanks approaching to his sides. Murphy climbed aboard a burning tank, manned a .50 caliber machine gun and killed dozens of German soldiers, forcing their temporary retreat. Although wounded during this battle, he returned to his company and refused medical aid. He rallied his men to counter attack, forcing the enemy to retreat. For this heroism, Murphy received the Medal of Honor. After returning to civilian life, Murphy would recover from his physical wounds, but would never recover from what we today call PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the time, this was referred to as battle fatigue or shell shock. We are just now beginning to comprehend the severity and long-term affects of this disorder. What he’d seen—men dismembered and killed by machine gun fire or mortars, and those he himself killed, some 240 German soldiers single-handedly, haunted him forever. Murphy told others of his recurring nightmares and bouts with insomnia, in which an army of faceless men attacked him on a hillside. Plagued by these nightmares and sounds, he began sleeping with the lights on, a pistol under his pillow. Beset by financial worries, he still refused lucrative contracts to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials, saying it would set a bad example for young people. Audie Murphy’s life evidenced honorable leadership in countless ways. He allowed his men to escape while he single handedly faced the enemy; he refused much needed finances so as to set a good example for youth. While on a business trip, May 28, 1971—Memorial Day weekend—Murphy’s private plane crashed into Brush Mountain, near Roanoke, Virginia. He was 46. On June 7 he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Normally, headstones of Medal of Honor recipients are adorned with a gold leaf, but Murphy chose to refuse this honor, insisting that his head stone remain plain and inconspicuous, like any other soldier. Ironically, like Washington before him, while not seeking personal glory, he would remain beloved and admired by the American people, even in death. Murphy’s burial plot is the second most visited site at Arlington, next only to that of John F. Kennedy. The saying goes that history repeats itself. We should be so lucky. With all our government’s scandals and failures, it would be refreshing to see more leaders emerge in America with leadership traits mirroring these three great men—George Washington, John Winthrop and Audie Murphy. "The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Marine Corps Veterans Association or its officers or members" "



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