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Paris Diary: The Military

Attending the Marine Ball in Paris last weekend — commemorating the creation of the United States Marine Corps on November 10, 1775 — put me in mind of one of the College’s many soldier/scholars. Several speakers recalled the fighting on “Bloody Tarawa” from November 20-23, 1943, where William C. Chamberlin ‘38, the College’s valedictorian and an economics professor at Northwestern, distinguished himself, winning the Navy Cross. (He later won a Silver Star on Saipan and another one on Tinian.)

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From One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa:

Born February 9, 1916, in Chicago, Chamberlin enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1936 during his student years at Dartmouth. He took summer officer training classes at Quantico, Virginia, in 1936 and 1937, then received his commission upon graduation in 1938…

Chamberlin stood upright, fully exposing himself to the fire from the shore, in an effort to encourage his men. The tactic worked on most, but whenever he saw a Marine drop low to the water and refuse to budge, Chamberlin, certain that they would be cut to ribbons by the hundreds of bullets that flew out from Betio, took out his .45 pistol, waded over to the man, and threatened to shoot him if he did not move. Every Marine thus confronted, most likely wondering what had become of the nit-picking officer from the transport, stood and advanced through the fire…

While Crowe headed in, Major Chamberlin took over onshore. He freely moved among the bullets and eruptions as if they did not exist. Once he shepherded the men toward the seawall, Chamberlin began organizing an advance. He regretted one thing — he had placed his pack containing a box of his favorite cigars in the amtrac, which a Japanese shell demolished when it struck the boat. He would have to lead without a cigar protruding from his mouth, at least until he could bum one off Crowe…

The economics professor walked up and down the left side of the beach telling men to “get the hell over that seawall!” Pharmacist’s Mate Bowen, more accustomed to the stolid officer he had seen aboard the transport, said of Chamberlin, “When he got ashore, he was like a wild man! He was not afraid to jump up and lead his men.”…

Chamberlin’s successful attack removed the last of the three Japanese positions that had confined Crowe to the beach area. His forces now rushed to the airfield, where Crowe halted them to avoid being shot at by Jones’s battalion advancing along the south shore…

Bonnyman, whose body had been so badly mauled by Japanese grenades that only the dog tag identified the corpse, received the Medal of Honor for his bravery. Many Marines believe Chamberlin should have been so honored as well, not only for his deeds on the third morning but for the leadership he exuded throughout the battle. Staff Seargeant Hatch contended that Chamberlin has never received the proper acclaim for what he accomplished at Betio, probably because the quiet college professor declined to engage in self-promotion. “He’s the guy that took the thing,” said Hatch, “yet he doesn’t get much credit.”

The College today enjoys the presence of a disproportionate number of veterans in the undergraduate student body — disproportionate, at least, compared to the other Ivies. However, the exact number of veterans at Top 20 schools is a tough figure to pin down. Suffice it to say that having military veterans in Hanover is my kind of diversity. I have gotten to know some of the vets over the years. They bring a level of forthright confidence that is often lacking in other students. It seems that if you have been in a firefight or faced a clench-jawed drill sergeant in bootcamp, the College’s myriad deanlets do not fill you with fear for your precious future. Semper fidelis.

Addendum: Eight to fifteen Dartmouth students participate each year in the College’s Marshall Islands Teaching Program. However, a recent participant in the program informs me that she was taught nothing of the WWII feats of arms accomplished in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands by American fighting men and Dartmouth alumni, though the program’s website does note in detail the American nuclear testing done in the area after WWII.

Addendum: The remains of over half of the Marines who died on Tarawa have never been recovered. The Times has a story today on the ongoing effort to find them and bring them home.

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