THE SAGA OF "IRON MIKE"

 

 

Once WW I was over, General Pershing commissioned a French sculptor to create a bronze statue to commemorate the U.S. Army Doughboy's service in WWI. General Pershing told his staff to furnish a model to pose for the French sculptor for his commemorative statue. Apparently not too much guidance was given, and the individual assigned to pose for the statue was a Marine Private. The Frenchman, having no intramural rivalries in his psyche, modeled the Marine Private "in his entirety" complete with the Marine Corps Emblem on his helmet!

When General Pershing saw the finished statue, he refused to accept the Frenchman's work since it obviously did not commemorate his beloved "Doughboy."   The USMC emblem on the helmet forever dismissed that allusion.  Pershing was, in a word, outraged (and still extremely upset about the breech of censorship which he saw as an unfair overshadowing of the United States Army's exploits in the Great War)!  

 

(Major General Douglas MacArthur was but one of the senior Army officers who were also outraged and continued to hold a grudge even after he fled Corregidor in the early days of WWII.  When safely ensconced in Australia, he immediately wrote each (Army) unit on the Rock up for a Presidential Unit Citation, except for one, the 4th Regiment of Marines. When his oversight was pointed out to him, he ground his teeth and made a statement to the effect that the Marines had garnered unfair publicity in WW I and he was not going to add to their fame and glory in "THIS" war!  It wasn't until the Inchon Landing in Korea that he finally forgave the Marines their earlier indiscretions when they pulled the Army's chestnuts out of the fire. From that time on, they became "his" Marines and apparently all was forgiven, some 32-years after the fact.

 

(It was no accident that the breach of the Atlantic Wall on D-Day, 6 June, 1944, was carried out by British and U. S. Army divisions which had comparatively little training in amphibious operations rather than reach into the Pacific for Marine Divisions which were specifically trained to perform such a mission.  Would such a mission have been possible?  Of course.  The Allies certainly had the wherewithal to move such a force from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and back again when the Force Beach-Head Line was secured by U. S. and British Marines, and the various Allied armies took over the mission of finishing Germany off.)

Help was in the wings concerning the now orphaned statue, with the lonely Marine Corps Emblem however, as General Smedley Butler (holder of two Medals of Honor) saw the statue and fell in love. He took up a collection from all the Marines in the AEF and bought the statue from the Frenchman. They shipped the artwork back to the United States and placed it in front of the old Headquarters Building of the Marine Corps Base at Quantico.

The statue stands there today as a reminder to the Corps of its heritage and remains on guard over the old Headquarters Building of long ago. I often have stood in front of it and harked back to an earlier time. Although uncovered, I have given a slow and meaningful mental salute to those fine Marines who fought and often gave their lives so that later generations would enjoy freedom. My generation (living in the shadow of theirs) would be inspired by the glory and sacrifices of those gallant "Soldiers of the Sea" who went before. When I was a youngster in the Corps, we still had Marines on active duty who had fought at Belleau Wood, and were combat veterans of "The Great War." Two of my first three Commandants had fought at Belleau Wood and received the Navy Cross for their actions (General Shepherd and General Cates). A third, General Pate, was also a veteran of WWI (albeit an Army veteran of the Great War). One of my mentors of the time was a Marine Warrant Officer who had participated in WWI and been assigned as a part of the famous railroad "Mail Guard" in the 1920s.

General Cates had been my Dad's OIC of the Spokane, Washington Recruiting Station in 1925, and I once stood in awe while they talked while stopped on the steps to Little Hall (the old PX) in Quantico. Cates was the Commanding General of Quantico at the time, having stepped down from the office of Commandant after a four year tour. General Cates simply wasn't ready to retire! My point is simply that I felt much closer to the veterans of the Great War than those who now serve. My Dad had joined the Corps in 1918 (a bit underage), and much later had a contemporary with him during WWII who had sailed around the World as a member of the Marine Detachment on a Cruiser with Theodore Roosevelt's Great White Fleet in 1905. It is now a different century of course, and perhaps a bit more difficult to personally identify with those who made history before us, but not so very long ago, such was not the case with the veterans of Belleau Wood!

ROC

SIDE NOTES: The statue in the story is often called "Iron Mike" although another statue of a WWI Marine with a machine gun over his shoulder at Parris Island is also called "Iron Mike." I was aware of both, since I had grown up around Quantico, and when I went to Parris Island, I was told that the statue on "the Island" was also known as Iron Mike! In my youth, I simply assumed that every Marine Corps post must have a WW I statue called Iron Mike! Which came first? I don't have a clue, but my Dad, a Marine in 1918 tells me that the statue in Quantico had been there as long as he can remember (actually it was shortly following WWI), and he was at Parris Island in 1918. The mystery is shrouded in the mists of time!