The Gentle Warrior: General Oliver Prince Smith, USMC

The Gentle Warrior: General Oliver Prince Smith, USMC

The Gentle Warrior: General Oliver Prince Smith, USMC

The Gentle Warrior: General Oliver Prince Smith, USMC


In November 1950, United Nations forces in Korea were stopped in their advance toward the Yalu River by Chinese Communist forces and were in danger of being overrun. Vastly outnumbered by enemy forces, the First Marine Division was cut off from its base at Wonson.

General Oliver Prince Smith, commander of the First Marine Division, is credited with bringing the division and attached army units to safety, leaving no wounded behind and, in the process, destroying the effectiveness of several Chinese units.

Using the general's own notes and diaries, Clifton La Bree describes Smith's long and distinguished career, his command in Iceland in 1940, in the Pacific campaigns, and in Korea. La Bree also acknowledges the key role the army's 31st Regimental Combat Team played in conducting a successful withdrawal from the Chosin reservoir and discusses Smith's wartime dealings with military and political leaders.


The commanding general of the First Marine Division for the historic landing at Inchon, Korea, and for the following eventful eight months, Gen. Oliver P. Smith was a prime example of the ideal man being in the right place. His calm, resolute, studious, and confident character was like a beacon as he led his division. These comments reflect those of a young Marine Corps captain serving as a general’s aide-de-camp when he would have much preferred to command a rifle company.

When General Smith first interviewed me as a potential aide, he was the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. I was a company commander of a rifle company in the Fifth Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, and I wished to remain with my unit. At one point during the interview I sharply stated, “I don’t like to push cookies.” the general looked intently at me, his blue eyes smiling, and said, “I don’t either, and we will not be engaging in that kind of activity.” When I walked out of his office, I was resigned to serving as his aide, but at the same time I realized that the general was a very understanding person.

Once General Smith arrived at Camp Pendleton, the pace quickened; all personnel were engaged in building the division up to strength. the general worked long hours in his office and made daily personal visits to all of the components of the division. Although there was crisis followed by crisis, he never openly lost his temper or exhibited any negative attitude. His manner was always sympathetic, reassuring, and confident, that of a leader who is assembling a winning team. He truly exemplified a teacher and a leader.

There are many examples of General Smith’s leadership throughout his tour in Korea, but there are several favorites of mine. When the First Marine Division’s . . .

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