So few Medals of Honor; yet so many are awarded for those quick and usually fatal decisions made in combat; so many citations are of those young Marines who threw themselves on a hand grenade or charged a pillbox. With some 70% of Medals of Honor awarded posthumously, it is rare to have the opportunity to learn about the action from the Marine himself.
"Noble Warrior; The story of MajGen James E. Livingston, USMC (ret), Medal of Honor" provides a unique window into the world of a Medal of Honor awardee who is both a survivor and an officer. An autobiography written with experienced military authors Colin Heaton and Ann-Marie Lewis, MajGen James Livingston's book gives the reader a look at the man behind the medal. From enlisting in the Marine Corps to fighting in Vietnam to his post-combat career, Noble Warrior is a well-written book that begins to shed light on the life of a most interesting Marine.
Not quite a depression baby; Livingston was born just months prior to the start of WW2 in rural Georgia. With his family economically better off than most, he relates how his parents were unique in ignoring the segregationist practices so prevalent at that time, and how those beliefs carried over to his Marine Corps years. "I always believed," he wrote, "in what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said...that a man `should be judged by the content of his character and not by the color of his skin.' This was never truer than on the field of battle, and it is one of the great hallmarks of our beloved Marine Corps"
This was a unique code of ethics for a Georgia boy during those turbulent times, and equally unique was his father's pushing him off the farm in order to obtain a college degree. Perhaps not so surprising was his joining the Marine Corps, in his eyes `the most aggressive outfit,' Soon Livingston received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, sent to Camp Pendleton, and deployed on a southeast Asian float. After a second cruise, Livingston threatened to resign if he was not given command, so he was shipped to Vietnam as commanding officer of Echo Company, 2nd Bn, 4th Marines. The die was cast.
Just weeks earlier, Echo had suffered 60% casualties and Livingston made certain that any casualties suffered in the future would not be due to slipshod training. A hard-charger even by Marine standards, Livingston explains his rationale for the never-ending and sometimes ruthless training programs for which he was known "I led by example," he wrote, "and was always shaved, had my gear in order, and was always in the front of a fight or PT run. You have to lead from the front...anyone can shout orders from the rear, but I would not want to follow such "leaders" into harm's way either." Sound policy as he led his Marines during the firefights so prevalent in pre-Tet Offensive's Quang Tri Province.
Most actions resulting in a Medal of Honor are short in duration; Noble Warrior recounts how Livingston earned his during the pitched battle at Dai Do. Written in an understated style that belies the intensity of the fight, Livingston narrates how an understrength battalion landing team found itself locked in a three-day battle against 7,000 experienced North Vietnamese regulars.
With Golf 2/4 finding unexpectedly heavy resistance when assaulting Dai Do, Livingston's Echo Co was ordered to assist. After their first two attacks stalled, he personally led the reserves in a charge that broke the enemy lines. Although wounded twice, Livingston directed his Marines in killing the remaining NVA fighting from their bunkers. Only 35 of more than 100 Marines remained combat-effective.
Yet the fight was far from finished. Hearing that Hotel 2/4 was pinned down by numerically superior NVA forces, Livingston moved the remainder of Echo to Hotel's position where he led the merged companies in yet another charge. After an hour of hand-to-hand fighting, the Marines owned the field...for the moment.
Later in the day, the reinforced NVA attacked in force, so Livingston ordered supporting fire and smoke in order to bring the Marines out in a phased withdrawl. Wounded for the third time, he was firing at the NVA when two Marines dragged him out.
Recovering from his wounds, Livingston returned to Vietnam, and under the command of Col Al Gray (later Gen, CMC), was involved in the desperate evacuation of Americans and Vietnamese as Saigon fell in 1975.
Retiring from the Marine Corps in 1995, Noble Warrior further describes how Livingston went on to a successful public service career. Written in a blunt and unyielding style that co-authors Heaton and Lewis wisely left unchanged, "Noble Warrior; The story of MajGen James E. Livingston, USMC (ret), Medal of Honor" is well worth reading.