Audie Murphy would be proud. He fought with the U.S. Army’s “Rock of the Marne” 3rd Division from Africa to Sicily to Italy and during that hard slug across France to Czechoslovakia, where finally, along with millions of other folks, he celebrated V-E Day.
By May 8, 1945, the mighty 3rd had chalked up more combat days on the front line – and sadly more casualties – than any other U.S. division during World War II. Along the way, Audie was awarded more medals than he had places to hang them.
Now the Medal of Honor recipient’s outfit has broken another war record. In just more than two weeks, it has roared from Kuwait to the outskirts of Baghdad, brushing aside Iraqi defenders and following the doctrine of the master of World War II tank warfare and bold and deep penetration, Gen. George “Bypass and Haul Ass” Patton.
Hard-hitting Navy, Air Force and Army aircraft attacks that sliced and diced the Iraqi Republican Guard allowed the 3rd to penetrate reputedly formidable positions with the speed of a red-hot bayonet through Army shoe polish. After a breakneck 300-mile race to the outskirts of Baghdad, the studs of the 3rd then seized that capital’s airport with shock action and incredible firepower and mobility. And even before the airport was fully secured, they dispatched a strong armored reconnaissance-in-force operation into downtown Baghdad to let the Baath Party know they could come-a-callin’ any time they wanted.
The 3rd often outran its supply system, which had been repeatedly cut by serious guerrilla hit-and-run attacks deep to the rear. But it kept pushing toward the prime objective of the war – Baghdad – backed up within days by old buddies from “The Big War,” the 101st Air-Assault Division and the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne, who quickly scratched their vertical insertion missions to rush to the rescue. Dropping in behind the 3rd, these elite troops began mopping up the Fedayeen, and soon enough the beans and bullets and fuel were once more flowing up to the forward edge.
An Army sergeant in Iraq says of the brave truck drivers who ran the guerrilla-ridden gauntlets, “I haven’t seen one supply truck that didn’t have at least one bullet hole.”
The outcome of this war was never in doubt. Picture Paul Bunyan going after an anthill with a 16-pound sledge. The ants – like the Iraqi army – wouldn’t have a prayer. At the start of the conflict, I estimated on “Larry King Live” that it would be “a 4-week war” to take down Saddam. I also said I thought it was reckless of SecDef Donald Rumsfeld to have the 3rd penetrate so deeply without the powerful 4th Mechanized Division on its flank. But probably because soldiers who’ve met the elephant a whole bunch of times tend to safe-side the risks to our soldiers, I was off on the initial number of combat ground forces required. For sure I also didn’t fully figure on the amazing boldness, fighting spirit and hard-hitting professionalism of the 3rd.
The media have covered the 3rd Division’s brilliant maneuver in spectacular detail. Like many Americans, I’ve tuned in to these TV snapshots almost 19 hours a day, long enough to note with surprise that even at times when water wasn’t plentiful, these warriors were shaved, their gear soldierly perfect and their tactical deployments parade-ground precise. There are no disheveled Rambos in the all-volunteer Army’s “Rock of the Marne.”
This war still has a way to go – taking down Baghdad and Tikrit and cleaning up the thousands of guerrillas cut off and stretched out from Basra to Baghdad. But these splendid soldiers are more than up for the tough job ahead.
Especially with the support of smart, pinpoint weapons and the continuing heroism and skill of Marines, airmen, sailors and Special Operations warriors. And the synergy between the services – the unparalleled cooperation – seems to have rendered the interservice rivalry that was once the name of the snafu game dead on arrival.
Over the past three weeks, we’ve witnessed a transformation of warfare.
And my battered steel pot is off to the proud 3rd Division, which so far has written Operation Iraqi Freedom’s most compelling chapter.