Unexpected Journey: A Marine Corps Reserve Company in the Korean War

Article excerpt

Mills, Randy K., and Roxanne Mills. Unexpected Journey: A Marine Corps Reserve Company in the Korean War. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2000. 271pp. $32.95

For authors unschooled in Marine Corps history and newly self-taught in the history of the Korean War, Randy and Roxanne Mills do an acceptable job in following the Reserve Marines of Company C, 16th Infantry Battalion, to Korea and back, from 1950 to 1951. The strength of their homage to their neighbor-veterans of southwestern Indiana is their sympathetic, sensitive reconstruction of personal combat experiences in Korea and the general trauma of sudden wartime service. Its weakness is their handling of contextual and organizational issues. The authors sometimes seem as mystified as their veterans did when they went off to war in 1950.

When Company C formed in 1947, its officers and noncommissioned officers were World War II veterans without troops. They recruited obvious candidates such as Boy Scouts, high school athletes, younger brothers of Marines, and adventurous farm boys. The Millses capture the bucolic, Currier and Ives character of 1950 Indiana (I was there as a teenager visiting my grandparents); the recruits might well have been the Indiana volunteers of 1861. The authors do not press the point, but the reinstatement of the draft in 1948 proved a mighty weapon for recruiters-join the U.S. Marine Corps and escape the Army. It was an empty threat, however, although the recruits didn't know it; virtually no one was drafted into the shrinking Army between 1948 and 1950. It appears that the excitement of field training, company athletics, and a little spending money sufficed as a lure, and the requirements were minimal: drill usually on Monday nights and two weeks annual training duty ("summer camp"). There was no initial active duty training requirement, no boot camp. Company C, not aggressively officered, coasted through its limited training from 1948 through 1950.

No doubt there was tension between regular Army and reservists at the troop level, as the Millses note, but the Marine Corps wanted fresh reservists with no prior experience for its twenty-one infantry battalions, nineteen other combat and combat support battalions, and a mix of independent companies. The 1950 drill-pay reservists numbered almost forty thousand units, a small percentage of the nearly 129,000 Marine reservists, but the best source of unbloodied infantry replacements for a short-handed active duty force. …