First to Fight by Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak is where the history, reputation, and truth about the United States Marine Corps meet. Within this 252-page book you will find a combination of historical fact, interesting background, and personal recollection from one of the men who helped shape what the Marines are today. The book is organized in seven different sections, each explaining a different facet of the Marine Corps. The first section explains in detail the struggle of the Marine Corps to survive as an entity over its long history.
General Krulak explains how the Marine Corps had to fight for its current status as an equal organization with the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Even a series of Presidents were among those who tried unsuccessfully to merge the Marine Corps with the other services. As the fight to survive raged, the Marine Corps needed to prove herself as a necessary force. General Krulak explains how the need for an amphibious assault force was the niche that the Marine Corps could and successfully did fill.
With interesting and humorous stories, General Krulak shares behind-the-scenes information about the rocky evolution of amphibious vehicles needed to assault enemy beaches. On pages 103-104, General Krulak tells of one demonstration of such a vehicle. After convincing a hesitant Admiral to board the amphib for a demonstration, Krulak proceeded to attack a coral reef that subsequently knocked off one of the tracks. Enraged, the Admiral, who was originally hesitant because he was short on time, proceeded to walk in the knee-deep water to the loading dock and eventually was taxied back out to his ship.
Part three, the Improvisers, tells of how Marines stumbled across a way to provide high level bombing accurately even at night and in inclement weather. Together with the story of Inchon, where a severely scaled-down Marine Corps mushroomed into a provisional brigade consisting of the 5th Marine Regiment Reinforced and Marine Aircraft Group 33, this chapter shows how the Marines make due with what they are given. This philosophy is further explained in the next chapter which immortalized the Marine Corps’ frugality and “inventive requisitioning” techniques.
Parts five and six bring together the personal and professional relationship between Marines themselves and the American public. These relationships, forged by the millions of men and women who have donned the Marine Corps uniform, are a result of training methods and careful selection. General Krulak gives the reader a taste of why Marines do what they have come to be known as America’s force in readiness. First to Fight has many good traits. The book, while easy to read and addictively interesting, never sugarcoats the intense conflicts between high level officials.
General Krulak enhances the “official” record with personal accounts of events and people now legendary. His no-holds-barred approach to his writing makes General Krulak’s book both honest and educational. His explanations of the struggle to keep the Marine Corps alive and the early development of amphibious doctrine make First to Fight a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the modern Marine Corps. In parts of the book, General Krulak provides a mountain of detail.
While these facts would be of great historical value for a reader who knows military structure and nomenclature, they tend to bog down the reader at points. The political volleys also tend to get tedious when the General describes the how the Marine Corps had to fight tooth and nail for institutional survival. These faults were few and far between and did not subtract from the wealth of knowledge that the book provides. First to Fight is a book that every Marine must read.
The effect of this book is comparable to a father telling his son of the ways of the world. General Krulak provides plenty of stories that Marines can beat their chests about but more importantly, the book explains the combined nature of the Marine Corps and why today’s force benefits from yesterday’s warriors. For the other services, the book is the first place to start in order to understand the Marine Corps. In one book, General Krulak captures the family history of America’s force in readiness and explains why their reputation is well-deserved.