The Best Defense

My favorite Marine photo from WWII

By Eric Hammel
Best Defense guest photo curator

Tom has kindly asked me to select and discuss my "favorite" photo from my latest -- and probably final -- book, Always Faithful: U.S. Marines in World War II Combat, The 100 Best Photos. Each photo in the book bears a caption that identifies only the operation in which it was taken. It is left to the reader to decide what they see in the photo, not read what I think.

I don't have a favorite. I selected each of them from a collection numbering in the thousands, which I have been over many times during the past six or seven years. But some have more meaning to me than others. The selection you see here is one that holds great personal significance. It is of a handful Marines about to crest a hill on Okinawa. My late father fought on Okinawa as a U.S. Army combat medic attached to an infantry company. He was wounded and evacuated. He arrived home just in time to start my personal ball rolling. I think of my father every time I see this photo.

What I see is a technically deficient photo; it's overexposed. But it perfectly captures an important truth about combat, and life: beware what's on the other side of the hill. A little of the body language the combat photographer captured suggests the caution veterans exhibit when they sense or anticipate danger. But look more closely: they're up, they're advancing, they're ready for anything. In a moment they will be gone.

" ...will be gone." On a meta level, this photo represents -- to me -- the imminent passing of the World War II generation. These were the men who raised me, who taught me, who mentored me, who inspired me. And, for the most part, they have already advanced into the great light that will take us all -- willingly, bravely, realistically, with heads held high.

courtesty of Eric Hammel

The Best Defense

21: For real this time

The 21st Navy skipper of the year was fired, for "poor personnel management." (As I noted the other day, that guy down in Norfolk actually had been counted by Navy Times as fired back in the spring, so he wasn't no. 21.) This time it was the CO of the minesweeper Fearless.

Also, the skipper of the USS Momsen, who had been charged with rape, etc., pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years behind bars, with the understanding as part of the plea that he would serve 42 months.

Retired Navy Capt. John Byron comments:

In the scheme of things, this is a pretty tough sentence. 42 months incarceration, probation for the rest of the ten years, maybe registered sex offender, loss of some benefits and retirement, professional disgrace, doubtless fallout in his family life. There are many other ways this could have been handled, from start to finish. That it was seen as an egregious felony is credit to the Navy system and this person's chain of command.

The plea deal kept the two women off the witness stand. Would guess that was a major consideration for the prosecution.

The message this sends to the fleet is inescapable: we meant what we said.

I'm proud of my Navy.

(2 HTs to RD)