Marine Corps Legend Gen. Victor Krulak Dies at 95

-worth repeating-

Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak, who entered the U.S. Naval Academy as an undersized 16-year-old and rose to commander of all Marine Corps forces in the Pacific, died Monday night at the Wesley Palms Retirement Community in San Diego.  He was 95. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Rising barely 5 feet, 5 inches, Gen. Krulak was jokingly nicknamed Brute by his academy classmates. The moniker stuck, reinforced by his direct, no-nonsense
style. And, as Time magazine later said, “There was nothing undersized about his brain.”  


A sign in his Honolulu office while he commanded Pacific forces expressed Gen. Krulak’s disciplined leadership: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” While commanding more than 100,000 Marines in the Pacific from 1964 to 1968, Gen. Krulak took part in a critical stage of America’s buildup of forces and involvement in Vietnam.

Before his retirement from the military after 34 years in 1968, he was considered a strong candidate for commandant, the top Marine post that his oldest son, Charles, attained in 1995.  Gen. Krulak became, at 43, the youngest brigadier general in Marine Corps history up to that time. By then, he was a decorated veteran of World War II and the Korean War and had been wounded while directing a Marine parachute battalion in the South Pacific against overwhelming odds.

When Gen. Krulak retired from the military, he received the second of two Distinguished Service Medals. For the next nine years, he was employed by Copley Newspapers, serving at various times as director of editorial and news policy and news media president of Copley News Service.  He retired as vice president of The Copley Press Inc., in 1977 and contributed columns on international affairs and military matters for Copley News Service. He also wrote the book “First to Fight,” an insider’s view of the Marine Corps.


A tenacious critic of the government’s handling of the Vietnam War, he wrote that the war could have been won only if the Vietnamese people had been protected and befriended and if enemy supplies from North Vietnam were cut off. “The destruction of the port of Haiphong would have changed the whole character of the war,” he said two decades after the fall of Saigon.  Gen. Krulak once summed up the U.S. dilemma in Vietnam by saying, “It has no front lines. The battlefield is in the minds of 16 or 17 million people.”  His first-hand knowledge of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was enhanced by his 54 visits there during the 1960s.


Before assuming command of Fleet Marine Force Pacific in 1964, Gen. Krulak served as principal adviser on counterinsurgency warfare to then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  “I never got enthusiasm out of war, and I’m convinced that the true pacifists are the professional soldiers who have actually seen it,” he said many years later.


Gen. Krulak, a native of Denver, received his appointment to the Naval Academy before finishing high school. “I was underweight and little so they called me ‘Brute,’ ” he said.  Gen. Krulak received a waiver to bypass the Marine Corps height requirement of 5 feet, 6 inches. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps after graduating from the Naval Academy in 1934.

All three of Gen. Krulak’s sons followed him to the Naval Academy. Each served in Vietnam while Gen. Krulak was commanding the Hawaii-based Fleet Marine Force.  The leadership Gen. Krulak exhibited in combat during World War II marked him as star on the rise.  On the island of Choiseul, he led his outnumbered battalion during an eight-day raid on Japanese forces, diverting the enemy’s attention from the U.S. invasion of Bougainville.  Gen. Krulak’s troops destroyed hundreds of tons of supplies, burning both camps and landing barges. He was wounded on Oct. 13, 1943, and later received the Navy Cross for heroism along with the Purple Heart.


The PT boat that transported Gen. Krulak off Choiseul was skippered by a young Navy lieutenant, John F. Kennedy. Years later, then-President Kennedy chose Gen. Krulak as a special adviser on guerrilla warfare in Vietnam.  Gen. Krulak’s distinguished service in World War II as assistant chief of staff of the newly formed 6th Marine Division earned him a Legion of Merit with a combat V.  He received a Bronze Star at the end of the war for his role in negotiating the surrender of Japanese forces in the area of Tsingtao, China.


In May 1998, Gen. Krulak was inducted into the Navy Department’s Acquisition Hall of Fame for his work in developing landing boats that were crucial to the success of scores of amphibious landings in World War II.  Gen. Krulak worked with Andrew Higgins, a New Orleans boat builder, to produce a model of what became the Landing Craft, Vehicles and Personnel. More than 2,000 of the craft were built for the U.S. military and its allies.


As chief of staff with the 1st Marine Division during the Korean War, Gen. Krulak earned a second Legion of Merit with a combat V. He also received an Air Medal for reconnaissance and other flights in Korea between Aug. 1950 and July 1951.  In December 1959, Gen. Krulak, then a two-star general, assumed command of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, a position he held until his appointment in 1962 as an adviser in the Kennedy Administration.

In 1963, he was described by his World War II commander, Gen. Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith, as “the most brilliant officer I’ve known in my 58 years in the Marine Corps.”


A longtime Point Loma resident, Gen. Krulak was honored in 1968 as San Diego’s “Citizen of the Year” by San Diego Uplifters, a group of 400 professional and business leaders.  Gen. Krulak was known for writing his own military speeches and was a popular speaker before civic organizations. He received several national awards for his patriotic writing and speaking, including one in 1978 from the Freedoms Foundation.  He was active in many community organizations and was a former president and trustee of the Zoological Society of San Diego. He received honorary degrees from the University of San Diego and Loyola University.


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