Air & Space
No Bended Knee: The Battle for Guadalcanal: The Memoir of Gen. Merrill B. Twining USMC (Ret) edited by Neil Carey. Presidio Press, 505B San Marin Drive, Suite 300, Novato, California 94945-1340, 1996, 206 pages, $22.00.
For anyone who has ever had to deal with United States Marine Corps personnel, doctrine, or joint operations, the exasperation factor is high. The Marines are, without a doubt, a most difficult organization to deal with on military issues that infringe on their hard-fought-for turf. After reading Merrill Twining's account of the Guadalcanal campaign, one realizes the Marines have been subjected to a myriad of experiences that left them "high and dry" or, in the case of Guadalcanal, "low and wet."
No Bended Knee is a first-person account of an important time in military history. It also unravels one more reason why marines are reluctant, if not recalcitrant, in letting go of their transports, aircraft, and artillery and depending on other services for support. Twining was the 1st Marine Division's D-3 (operations officer) during the seizure and defense of Guadalcanal. During this momentous battle-which we now realize changed the course of the war in the Pacific ("Guadalcanal is not the name of an island. It is the name of the graveyard of the Japanese Army")-most of the division's records were destroyed by order of Gen A. A. Vandegrift when it appeared that the Imperial Japanese Army was about to overrun them. Twining reluctantly complied with Vandegrift's order out of his high regard and complete loyalty to a superb leader. Later, in the hospital, Vandegrift asked Twining to rewrite the operational reports he could remember. Most subsequent accounts of the Guadalcanal campaign used these reconstructed reports. However, these "after" after-action reports contained a number of shortcomings, which many people used to justify their actions.
Twining gives his firsthand report about the incredible decision of Vice Adm Jack Fletcher to pull the Navy away from Guadalcanal, leaving marines to fend for themselves on half rations, little ammunition, and no combat service support. The marines persevered from August to December 1942 until relieved by fresh, but green, troops. Twining's book sets the record straight on several issues, expanding and clarifying battle plans and their subsequent execution. The timing is fortuitous. No Bended Knee was published in January 1996, and Twining died in May at the age of 92. He uses his own notes and incredibly sharp memory to recount one of the first true joint operations of World War II. We also learn a few more interesting bits of information about his brothers.
Ned (Maj Edward B. Twining) and Nate (Maj Gen Nathan F. Twining) also served during the Guadalcanal and Solomon Island campaigns. Nate was commander, Air Forces Solomon, a rotating joint command with tactical control over all services and Allied aviation assets, a position that made General Twining one of the first true joint force air component commanders (JFACC). Ned served as an Air Corps combat intelligence officer and knew the area well.
Additionally, the reader will find out about other concepts Twining considered during his service in the Marine Corps: Marine Air/Ground Task Forces, the conduct of amphibious operations, the need to understand joint and combined theater logistics, tropical medicine requirements, and the importance of performing J-3/D-3 operations staff duty when most marines-notably, Lt Col Chesty Puller-preferred line duty. Twining also championed helicopters as an essential part of the vertical envelopment of beachheads.
In the preface, Twining mentions how important it is for a staff officer to be able to convert plans and decisions of the commander into ordered and responsive battle actions. For people in the profession of arms, Twining's words about staff duty are important since some individuals still eschew it. Twining was also a good commander, as other historical references prove, but his forte was being a superb operations staff officer-a model for any modern "3." His involvement and complete understanding (at any given time, he could be the D-1, D-2, or D-4) of the Guadalcanal planning-the first decisive land battle of the Pacific war-are important contributions to the study of total warfare.
By reading and studying No Bended Knee, the military professional can gain an appreciation for war at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Twining writes as he served his corps-boldly and straightforwardly, with impeccable detail and superb understanding of things strategic. In light of service involvement in all things "joint," the memoirs of the Guadalcanal campaign-with its associated naval and Cactus air force battles-should be required reading for the Armed Forces Staff College's joint accreditation courses.
Lt Col D. G. Bradford, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama