Part 2: Bum Phillips trains to become part of a feared light assault force

Aug. 25, 2010 at 3:25 a.m.

Editor's note: The following excerpt is from Chapter Three of Bum Phillips' new autobiography, "Bum Phillips: Coach, Cowboy, Christian." Phillips is the former head coach of the Houston Oilers. He lives outside Goliad.

With a war inevitable in the South Pacific, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the creation of the U.S. Marine Raiders.

The president wanted special amphibious attack forces, highly-specialized units like the British Commandos, who operated behind enemy lines. We were organized, armed and trained to fulfill three primary missions. The U.S. Marine Raiders Association states we were trained to:

Carry out surprise landings and hard-hitting raids on short notice from submarines, destroyers and other transports.

Infiltrate enemy lines and conduct guerilla warfare for extended periods.

Spearhead major amphibious landings where approaches were difficult and beaches confined.

We were also trained for amphibious reconnaissance missions using native transports, such as hollowed canoes. We wanted to hit hard and suddenly.

Immediately, my battalion of Raiders moved from Camp Pendleton to an installment just north of San Clemente, a California city located about 100 miles north of San Diego and a stone's throw from the Coastal Highway.

I joined the 4th Marine Raiders, the last of four battalions designated on Oct. 23, 1942. I served in Company D and Q. Lt. Col. James Roosevelt, son of the American president, commanded my group. Roosevelt greeted us each time with a yell: "Ahoy, Raiders."

During Roosevelt's first meeting, he made it clear that everyone would carry a weapon at all times. We slung our rifles across our backs during meals, and only set them aside during hand-to-hand combat training. I grew fond of jujitsu training. After three weeks, leaders separated my group from the others and moved the battalion to the boondocks, a place we called Tent Camp III.

Van Fleet, my buddy who is now 87, remembers the isolation of the battalion. "There wasn't a darned thing out there," Van Fleet said. "We lived in tents. The floors were dirt. No lights and it was dark out there. We didn't even have any vehicles. We showered on a hill with no hot water. We'd go up on the side of that hill, bathe and walk back naked as a jaybird, and it was winter. Freeze your butt off. Got dirty a lot and they expected you to shower a lot. So, we spent a lot of time naked on a hill."

When we weren't shivering down a hill, we took cross-country marches. We marched on the highway and with very little water. The Army marched 49 miles in 10 hours, so we marched 55 miles in 10 hours. As soon as the 10 hours were up, we quit marching.

Jerry Beau is a 92-year-old U.S. Marine Raiders historian. I never met the Wisconsin native because he served with the 3rd Raider battalion as a major. He said those long marches along the California coast served another purpose.

"We were a light assault force. The heaviest thing we had was a light machine gun," Beau said. "We had to walk forever because during the war we'd scout, take prisoners, do night work. We had to be a potent force, a special group."

Day after day, we boarded destroyers, crammed into troop compartments, went to sea and returned in Higgins boats. We slipped ashore in calm California waters, and practiced landings during high surf. We moved by day and at night, practiced landing quickly, hiding the boats and securing areas along California tree lines. We patrolled, learned to use our bayonets and to Abiscale.

President Roosevelt visited the West Coast one day not long before the 4th Raiders shipped to the South Pacific. He sat in a car atop a cliff overlooking the shoreline, and looked approvingly at our daytime beach landings.

During the few nights we didn't train, Van Fleet, Runt Brown and I talked by the camp fire. Runt died a few years ago, but I'm still friends with Van Fleet. We visit every few months. He's a big storyteller and does most the talking. Around the campfire, he talked about hunting and horses - everything but politics. I've known him for about 70 years and I still haven't figured out if he's a Republican or Democrat. He gripes about them all. After football, I helped campaign for both a Republican and Democratic Texas governor candidate. I flew around with Anne Richards when she ran against George W. Bush. I don't think I helped her much. She lost.

During our off time, Van Fleet and I played touch football or hopped trains to Los Angeles.

"We were kind of the same characters," Van Fleet said. "We both had played football for a semester in college and we're both pretty independent. We was cut the same way, you know. We weren't there to please people and get promoted. Bum got his self into more trouble than me. In the service, you're supposed to say, 'Yes, sir. Yes, sir.' We didn't go for that bull crap."

FRIDAY: Bum does something that lands him in a makeshift military jail.



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