The story of a legendary Marine Corps commander who championed innovative tactics in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
In this admiring biography, novelist and biographer Coram (American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day, 2007, etc.) traces the life of Lt. Gen. Victor Krulak (1913–2008), who was born the spoiled only child of a Denver watchmaker and grew up to become “a man of dazzling intellect and extraordinary vision” and “the most important officer” in Marine Corps history. Against the broader story of the modern U.S. Marines, the author shows how Krulak’s tremendous drive and friendships with top officers fueled his rapid rise through the ranks; he eventually commanded all Marine Corps forces in the Pacific. He helped create the Higgins boat (its square bow became a retractable ramp), which famously carried troops onto the invasion beaches of Normandy and the Pacific in World War II; pioneered the use of helicopters in battle during the Korean War; and developed techniques for counterinsurgency warfare in Vietnam. He also successfully fought attempts to dissolve the Corps. But Krulak’s ceaseless quest for recognition was “driven by a dark wind.” The short, flinty officer hid secrets and told lies about himself. He never revealed that his parents were Russian Jews. Nor did he tell anyone—not even his wife and three sons—that he had been married, however briefly, at 16, a fact that would have prevented his admission to the Naval Academy. He claimed falsely that he was raised as an Episcopalian, that his father was a scientist and his great-grandfather had served in the Confederate army. Saddled with these and other lies, Krulak maintained an “icy self-control” to protect his inner self and the reality that “were it not for the Marine Corps, he would be an obscure little Jewish boy working in the family jewelry business in Denver.” Coram suggests that Krulak’s exemplary devotion to military duty and rectitude outweighs his duplicity. Krulak was denied the post of Marine Corps commandant after criticizing President Johnson’s conduct of the Vietnam War.
A revealing—and troubling—portrait of a much-revered figure.