Marine Corps legend 'Brute' Krulak dies

San Diego Union-Tribune:

He entered the U.S. Naval Academy as an undersized teenager, but Victor H. “Brute” Krulak rose to command all Marine Corps forces in the Pacific, helped develop a boat crucial to amphibious landings during World War II and spoke his mind in disagreeing with a president over Vietnam War strategy.

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Standing barely 5 feet 5 inches tall, he was jokingly nicknamed Brute by his academy classmates. The moniker stuck, reinforced by his direct, no-nonsense style.

“There was nothing undersized about his brain,” Time magazine later said.

One of Gen. Krulak's three sons – retired Gen. Charles Krulak of Wilmington, Del. – said his father “was proud of just being a Marine . . . He never forgot that at the end of the day, everything he did was in support of them.”

As a major in the years before World War II, the senior Gen. Krulak helped create the amphibious-war doctrine that the Marines used to defeat Japan in the Pacific. He championed the Higgins boat landing craft that was involved in every World War II amphibious assault, as well as the prototype for the Amtrack vehicle still used by Marines today.

Gen. Krulak was known as a master strategist, said Mike Neil, a San Diego lawyer and retired reserve Marine brigadier general.

“He brilliantly orchestrated the 1st Marine Brigade to save the day at Pusan Peninsula (during the Korean War),” Neil said.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Gen. Krulak formulated the counterinsurgency theory that would be tried out in Vietnam. His “inkblot strategy” called for small groups of Marines to go into villages and work with like-minded locals to defend them against guerrilla forces – a plan resurrected with considerable success two years ago in Iraq.

While commanding more than 100,000 Marines in the Pacific from 1964 to 1968, he took part in a critical stage of the U.S. buildup of forces in Vietnam.

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“You'd be hard-pressed to name another Marine in modern times who has had as great an impact on the direction of the Marine Corps – or, for that matter, the country,” said Gary Solis, a former Marine historian and now a law professor at Georgetown University. “From the late 1930s to the 1970s, Victor Krulak had his thumbprint on absolutely everything.”

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A tenacious critic of the government's handling of the Vietnam War, Gen. Krulak wrote in the book “First to Fight” that the conflict could have been won only if the Vietnamese people had been protected and befriended and if enemy supplies from North Vietnam had been cut off.

“The destruction of the port of Haiphong would have changed the whole character of the war,” he said two decades after the fall of Saigon.

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In 1963, he was described by his World War II commander, Gen. Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith, as “the most brilliant officer I've known in my 58 years in the Marine Corps.”

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My favorite story about Gen. Krulak involves an inspection gone awry. Marines are taught to release their rifles as soon as the inspecting officer moves his hand to grasp it. Krulak had spotted a piece of lint or a loose thread on a Marine's collar and made a move to look at it closer. The Marine thinking Krulak was reaching for his rifle released it and it dropped on the General's spit shined shoes. Krulak wound up apologizing to the young Marine who was beside himself.

His son Charles was a captain and an instructor at The Basic School for officers in Quantico while I was there. There was an unconfirmed rumor that he named his daughter Marina Corey. If it was untrue, it is one of those rumors that should have been true.

Gen. Krulak is a legendary figure in the Marine Corps and Marines will be studying his leadership for centuries. Semper Fi Gen. Krulak.

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