Through the Wheat; by Col. Joseph Alexander (USMC, ret) & BrigGen Edwin Howard Simmons

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Click on cover image to purchase a copy

MWSA Review

Recipient of the 2008 MWSA Gold Medal for a book about the Marine Corps

More than just a recitation of history, "Through the Wheat" is a well-written and interesting book that describes how the Marine Corps burst onto the international scene at Belleau Wood and became known as one of the world's premier fighting forces.

Veteran authors (and veteran Marines ) Brig Gen Edwin Simmons and Col Joseph Alexander have combined forces to give us a history of the Marine Corps in World War 1. Prior to the war, the Marines were a tiny expeditionary unit that was used primarily to fight guerillas in Mindanao or Nicauragua; its most public large battle was as active participants in China's Boxer Rebellion of 1900. But as the United States's entry into WW1 transformed the American military into a cohesive instrument of national power, it also changed the Marine Corps from a seaborne expeditionary unit into a major fighting force that was capable of defeating the established army of a western country.

But unlike the Army, the Marine Corps values its small unit leaders, and in telling their stories, authors Simmons and Alexander excel.From young officers and future Marine commandants ) like 2ndLt Clifton Cates and 2nd Lt Lemuel Shephard, to the old breed like (2x Medal of Honor recipient) GySgt Dan Dailey and Col Albertus Catlin, Simmons and Alexander weave a story of how the Marine Corps passed its traditions and small unit expertise from one generation to the next. "Through the Wheat" also presents the stories of a few of those Marines killed while building these traditions; Yale grad and world mile record-holder Lt Johnny Overton never made it home, whilr LtCol Fritz Wise was never the same mentally after his battalion suffered such horrific casualties. Many old photos, all back & whites, serve to personalize the Marines encompassing this slice of history.

"Through the Wheat" chronicles the Marine fight in Belleau Wood against German poison gas and machine guns where on a single sunny June day, they suffered more dead than in thyeir previous 142 years of existence combined.  In both the days preceeding and following Belleau Wood, the Marines fought and won at Lucy-le-bocage, Soissons, Blanc Mont, St Miheil and the Meuse-Argonne.

"Come you sons-of-bitches; do you want to live forever?" bellowed GySgt Dailey when his men were hung up in the wheat at Belleau Wood. While many of them did not, their tradition and quiet heroism did, and "Through the Wheat" is their fine story.

MWSA Reviewer: Andy Lubin

Author's Synopsis

U.S. Marine participation in World War I is known as a defining moment in the Marine Corps' great history. It is a story of exceptional heroism and significant operational achievements, along with lessons learned the hard way. The Marines entered World War I as a small force of seagoing light infantry that had rarely faced a well-armed enemy. On a single June day, in their initial assault "through the wheat" on Belleau Wood against German machine-guns and poison gas shells, the Marines suffered more casualties than they had experienced in all their previous 142 years. Yet at Belleau Wood, Soissons, BlancMont, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne the Marines proved themselves to be hard-nosed diehards with an affinity for close combat. Nearly a century later Belleau Wood still resonates as a touchstone battle of the Corps. Two retired Marines, well known for their achievements both in uniform and with the pen, have recorded this rich history in a way that only insiders can. Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Simmons and Col. Joseph H. Alexander recount events and colorful personalities in telling detail, capturing the spirit that earned the 4th Marine Brigade three awards of the French Croix de Guerre and launched the first pioneering detachments of "Flying Leathernecks." Here, hand-to-hand combat seen through the lenses of a gas mask is accompanied by thought-provoking assessments of the war's impact on the Marine Corps.