Marine lieutenant wins Navy Cross
the story of Brian Chontosh
, a Marine platoon commander who—in an exploit reminiscent of Sergeant Alvin York’s in the First World War—single-handedly wiped out an entire Iraqi unit of 20 men that had ambushed his platoon on the road to Baghdad last March. He recently won the Navy Cross, the Navy’s second highest honor (after the Congressional Medal of Honor), for what he did. Somehow we don’t hear about acts of genuine and extraordinary heroism like this from the mainstream media, which has other and opposite pre-occupations.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 20, 2004 07:59 AM | Send
Three cheers for Captain Chontosh, who sounds like a real Marine. Despite my opposition to the administration’s Iraq invasion and occupation, I confess to feeling vicarious pride in Capt. Chontosh’s exploits. He won his Navy Cross while commanding the anti-armor platoon of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5). Once upon a time, I was a rifle platoon commander, assistant operations officer (S-3A) and company commander in 3/5, a battalion of the Marine Corps’ most storied and decorated regiment, the Fifth Marines. During my time in the battalion, 3/5 had the pleasure of working with William Lind, who was preaching the Boyd gospel of maneuver warfare and OODA loops. Capt. Chontosh adds to the Fifth Marines’ laurels, which also include distinguished and effective service on the Western Front in the Great War; on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester (New Britain), Peleliu and Okinawa in WWII; at the Pusan Perimeter, Inchon, the Chosin Reservoir and along the front in Korea; in the An Hoa basin, at Hue and elsewhere in Vietnam; in the Gulf War; and in police actions including Nicaragua and Haiti, occupation duty in Germany and China as well as other chores in between.
For those who might be interested, “Not Going Home Alone” by James J. Kirschke is an excellent account of Vietnam service in 3/5 and 2/5 in 1966-67. Captain Kirschke commanded 3/5’s 81mm mortar platoon, the other heavy weapons platoon of the same Weapons Company in which Capt. Chontosh served. Kirschke was severely crippled in Vietnam, overcame his wounds and is now a professor of English at Villanova. Other storied Vietnam Fifth Marines are James Webb (platoon and company commander, 1/5 1969) and Anthony Zinni (same, 3/5 1970-71). A detailed history is available from another Vietnam Fifth Marine, Ron Brown: “A Few Good Men,” which tells the regiment’s story from 1914 through the 1990s. Two more excellent Fifth Marines books, these by a veteran of my old rifle company (Kilo Company, 3/5), are “With the Old Breed: at Peleliu and Okinawa” and “China Marine: an Infantryman’s Life after World War II,” both by the late Eugene B. Sledge. HRS
I thank Mr. Sutherland for the names and books he quotes—I can’t wait to read those books!
For my money, I’ll take Guy “Gabby” Gabaldon. He risked his neck day in and day out on Saipan and almost single-handedly caused the Japanese to surrender that island, killing countless Japanese and bring in over 1,000 prisoners—in large part because he spoke nearly fluent Japanese and also because he had an unbelievable amount of daring. God only know how many Marines and Japanese lives he saved.
He later started a fishing business in Baja California (Mexico), risking his life yet again while trying vainly to fight the Communists there. He lived on Saipan and tried to teach those islanders democracy and warned them about Communism/Socialism, but the island had other ideas. He was also a bodyguard for Ronald Reagan. The man was (and is) incredible. Those not familiar with Mr. Gabaldon’s life should read “Saipan, Suicide Island”. It is one of those books you can’t put down and have to read in one, long night. I highly recommend it.
Mr. Gabaldon lives in Modesto, CA. He was passed over for the Medal of Honor, but received instead The Navy Cross. President Bush was supposedly going to go to bat for him to get the CMOH, but Iraq pushed that supposed effort aside. Mr. Gabaldon is 80. Those wanting to purchase his book should go to:
I like to second Howard Sutherland’s enthusiasm fop the works of Eugene Sledge. “With the Old Breed” is one of the best, maybe the best, memoir by any infantryman who fought in World War II.
According to his hometown WROC, Lt Chontosh is about to become a father:
This is good news on several accounts. Chontosh is an extremely rare name, apparently of Yugoslav origin, and doesn’t appear in the 200,000 most common US surnames at PlacesNamed.com. (In contrast, Levine is #950; Sutherland 1,320; Levin 2,310; and Auster 88,295.) We need more of his clan!
He is also a New Yorker, and patriotic natives and residents of the Empire State should pray that he return to rear his family there. They need the reinforcements.
It’s too bad PlacesNamed.com doesn’t have a single listing of all names by frequency, which would be quite interesting. As it is, you’ve got to search down one name at a time.
Got curious about surname frequencies, so I poked around at placesnamed.com and came up with this list. Maybe someone else can fill in #25. The list looks pretty Anglo-Saxon until #18. Wonder what the list will look like in the year 2100? or 2050?
To Mr. Coleman,
How did you get this single sequential list? Did you get it as a single list or build it up by looking up a bunch of names one at a time? I thought the only way to get a name’s place on the list was to look up that individual name. By that method, you would have had to know to punch in Martinez, Rodriguez, Lewis, etc. in order to get this list.
Yes, I typed the names in one at a time. Had a few surprises along the way, and eventually flipped through the local phone book for ideas on what was popular. Tried some common Hispanic names, and found that they appeared in a different order than I thought they would. Asian and Jewish and Eastern European names did not come up as being very popular. I think I might have actually typed in #25, but was making a top 15 list at first and discarded it and now cannot remember it. I think it was Anglo-Saxon.
Jose is the 4268th most common last name.
(Note: Jose is pronounced “J” as in “Jack” and “ose” as in “dose” of medicine. It is apparently Belgian in origin, although all of my ancestors are English or Scottish as far back as I can tell (unless you count William the Conqueror - we actually traced back one family line to a duke or something, and from there to good ol’ Bill the Norman).
Mr. Coleman has done a service by digging up this information. The one surprise to me is the number one position of Smith. Of course, Smith is proverbially the most common surname in America, but I almost never come upon people named Smith, whereas people named Johnson or Williams pop up all the time.
One thing for sure, we won’t be seeing in the New York Times the Navy citation describing Lt. Chontosh’s conduct under fire. The Times never tells about heroic behavior by white men with guns who saved lives. In 1998 when a crazed man went on a murderous shooting spree in the U.S. Capitol, and was finally shot down by a Capitol Police Officer named John Gibson who engaged in a direct gun battle with the killer in which Gibson himself was killed, the coverage in the Times was so vague you couldn’t get a simple blow-by-blow of what had actually happened. I had to look at a few different papers to piece together the facts. The Times placed more emphasis on the first security officer whom the man had killed, Jacob Chestnut, whom he had shot down without warning when he entered the building, than on Gibson, who had engaged him in a gun battle and stopped him. I realized that the Times emphasized Chestnut because he was black and was only a victim, while they didn’t want to make clear to their readers the facts of what Gibson had done—using a gun to stop a killer and losing his own life in the process. On top of which Gibson was a white man.
Just so people don’t have to go searching for this, here are the excerpts from the Navy Cross citation quoted in the article linked by Cæsar:
“He had his driver move the vehicle through a breach along his flank, where he was immediately taken under fire from an entrenched machine gun. Without hesitation, 1st Lt. Chontosh ordered the driver to advance directly at the enemy position, enabling his .50 caliber machine gunner to silence the enemy.
“He then directed his driver into the enemy trench, where he exited his vehicle and began to clear the trench with an M1A2 service rifle and a 9 millimeter pistol. His ammunition depleted, 1st Lt. Chontosh, with complete disregard for his safety, twice picked up discarded enemy rifles and continued his ferocious attack.
“When a Marine following him found an enemy rocket propelled grenade launcher, 1st Lt. Chontosh used it to destroy yet another group of enemy soldiers. When his audacious attack ended, he had cleared over 200 meters of the enemy trench, killing more than 20 enemy soldiers and wounding several others.
“By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, 1st Lt. Chontosh reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
I only wish more detail were provided. How did Chontash manage to approach the trench, shoot dead all these Iraqis, and not get hit himself? Weren’t they all firing back at him? It’s amazing.
Mr. Auster wrote: “One thing for sure, we won’t be seeing in the New York Times the Navy citation describing Lt. Chontosh’s conduct under fire.”
Indeed not. The New York Times’ hero of the day is deserter Camilo Mejia, currently on trial at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
The Iraqis were undoubtedly firing at him as well as at the platoon. The fact that Capt. Chontash exhausted his ammo for both the M16 and the 9mm pistol and had to pick up two enemy guns (probably AK 47s or something similar) gives us some idea of the intensity of the gun battle.
It’s so refreshing to see a report of such genuine bravery.
A friend writes:
“I hope the driver got a medal too! Yesterday, Michael Savage read headlines and opening sentences from WWII coverage in the New York Times, pointing out the amazing differences in tone and attitude. They used words like foe and enemy, and our great army and they were clearly on OUR side, and certainly they reported any heroism by us and any treachery by the enemy. The Japanese especially were quite treacherous. When our guys honored a truce flag a group of Japanese soldiers put up and went toward the group with the flag, the group opened fire on our guys, killing 28 of 30. Savage has said in other contexts that our guys had to accustom themselves to this kind of thing in the war with Japan.”
The NYT’s hero, Camillo Mejia, was convicted of desertion today. He is not a US citizen, but the son of a poet/songwriter favored by the Marxist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.
During the Clinton Administration, it was decided to upgrade black DSC recipients in WWII to the Medal of Honor. Clinton made a big pronouncement of this in a TV ceremony. He said in effect, “The racist America of WWII refused to award the Medal of Honor to these courageous African-Americans.” Clinton was thus implying that the America of the past was illegitimate, a favorite them of liberals in BOTH parties.
The Medal of Honor is SUPPOSED to be very hard to get, as are the DSC and Navy Cross. A retired career Army man (multiple tours in Vietnam) told me that, “You have to bleed to get the MOH.” This is why so many of them are posthumous. Clinton, of course, saw that the MOH could be used as a political gift.
David is on target again about President Clinton’s debasing the Medal of Honor, which is analogous to his debasements of American citizenship in the 1996 re-election campaign, and President Bush’s through rushed nationalizations of alien mercenaries in our armed forces.
Which brings me to… Camilo Mejia. Will his conviction prevent his cashing in on Mr. Bush’s quickie-naturalizations for mercenaries? I would not bet on it: the U.S. Army has already gone the extra mile to secure citizenship for at least one illegal alien who defrauded the Army by using forged documents to enlist.
I keep suggesting that we should use Army divisions on the Mexican border (the Marines should return to their amphibious mission, even if the Corps shrinks considerably as a result). President Bush may yet prove me wrong about that, too. If he has his way, our armed forces may soon be so alien in composition that they will be more likely to facilitate the illegal influx at the border than deter it! HRS
Thanks to Mr Coleman for the list, but its “Anglo-Saxon” nature can be overstated. First, many English names, especially the most common, belong to blacks as well. Many Smiths, Browns, and Millers were originally Schmidt, Braun and Mueller. Many Millers, Davises and Robinsons are Jewish. A whole lot of Johnsons and Andersons are Swedes. Joe Hall was a Swede, and Gus Hall a Finn. Martin is the same in at least a half-dozen languages.
But no one changes his name to Rodriguez! The Spanish names may be more common to their language than Smith or Johnson are to ours, even with the padding described above.
Anyone interested in the geographic distribution of these surnames can see it at these sites:
The first site shows the proportion of the name, the second the raw numbers. Both use the 1990 census, though the Hamrick site offers earlier results as well, from 1850, 1880 and 1920.
Thanks to Mr. Cæsar for the links. Oregon keeps popping up at the hamrick site as having the least concentration of names such as Smith, Johnson, and Jones. What’s different about Oregon?
Maybe the humvee had bullet-proof glass…But Savage is right—the driver should get a medal for some pretty heroic and amazing driving through a hail of bullets!
By the way, for those of you in the D.C. area who would like to hear and meet one of WWII’s great heroes, Guy “Gabby” Gabaldon, he will be giving a speech at NARA (U.S. National Archives & Records Admin.) at 700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW on Friday, May 28th at 1pm ET.
Western New York gives us yet another amazing Marine story. Today’s WSJ’s front page tells of Cpl. Jason Dunham of Scio (some 55 mi. due south of Brian Chontosh’s Churchville) who may be awarded the first Medal of Honor in this war.
Cpl. Dunham saved at least two companions by covering a live grenade, apparantly using a technique designed to increase the user’s chances of survival, albeit as a cripple. It nearly worked; Cpl. Dunham survived for eight days and died in Bethesda, where his parents were able to visit him in time.
No disrespect to the late Corporal Dunham, who must have been a brave and selfless Marine, but something about this doesn’t ring quite true. Based on the Marines I have known (from my own time in the USMC in the early and mid 1980s, and after) it is hard for me to imagine the Marine Corps teaching Marines “how to jump on a hand grenade,” or Marines taking it seriously if any drill instructor tried to. American soldiers and Marines have covered hand grenades to save their comrades; I doubt any had any illusions about the likelihood that they could survive their sacrifice. HRS
“Designed to” was a poor choice of words. The Marines aren’t teaching this; it’s the kind of stuff which gets passed among servicemen (or perhaps between servicemen and credulous reporters) when they’re bored. Which is most of the time.
Perhaps this is a stupid question, but I am nonetheless curious: Instead of covering a grenade with one’s body, and in so doing sacrifice oneself for one’s fellow soldiers, why not simply yell for everyone nearby to lie on the ground and to lie down oneself? Isn’t one much less at risk to the effects of an explosion of a grenade or any other type of bomb if one is prone rather than if one is standing?