• U.S.

Armed Forces: Uncle Dave

3 minute read

When Dwight Eisenhower reached past nine senior generals in August of 1959 to select David Monroe Shoup as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, no one was more surprised than Shoup himself.

Said he: “This is the first pot I ever won without having a hand in the game.” Through his performance and personality, Commandant Shoup, 57, has had his hand very much in the game ever since — to the point that he has become President Kennedy’s favorite service chief.

Since taking charge, “Uncle Dave” Shoup has presided over a boost in Marine manpower from 175,000 to 190,000, upgraded the First Marine Brigade on Hawaii as the nucleus of a Fourth Division. With its air support, it can be deployed anywhere on 30 days’ notice, and, says Shoup, “I wouldn’t be ashamed to put it in?” He has ordered promotion exams for officers as well as noncoms.

On the theory that marines do not pause in combat for pullups and pushups, he has discarded such exercises from the annual physical fitness tests, instead has his men climb ropes, march three miles, dash 50 yards to retrieve a presumably wounded buddy while being timed by a stopwatch. He works the men longer, stressing night training and field exercises.

His orders: “Get used to the field mice, screech owls, coyotes and katydids.” Searching Their Faces. Apart from his performance, his brusque manner and salty language has endeared him to the corps. An Indiana farm boy who took a math major at DePauw University and went directly into the Marines from ROTC, Shoup earned a Congressional Medal of Honor by directing the 2nd Marine Division in its bloody, 76-hour assault on Tarawa, despite a badly wounded leg. Terse and tough, he constantly urges his commanders to know their men better. He asks them: “Do you search the faces of your men every day? Do you know their problems? Are you helping them?”

In meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Shoup is as outspoken as he is in running the corps. While he argued successfully for more marines, he has no grandiose ideas about the capabilities of the corps. Says he: “We can’t do six or seven or eight divisions’ worth of fighting, but we sure as hell can do three divisions’ worth.” After a JCS discussion on the use of chemicals to defoliate guerrilla hiding spots, Shoup dismissed the whole thing with the comment: “I’ve been using defoliants at my farm in West Virginia for years, and they don’t work worth a damn.”

“How Damn Good?” In recent weeks, Shoup has made headline news by his insistence to the Senate subcommittee on military “muzzling” that his marines do not need instruction about the theory and practice of Communism in order to fight Communists. All a marine needs to know about an enemy, says Shoup, is “how damn good he is” as a fighter. Nor does Uncle Dave have any opinion at all on where or when the Marines should fight. “Wherever the Commander in Chief sends us,” he declares, “our equipment, weapons and training will stand us in good stead. Whether we go or not is none of my damned business.”

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