Theodore's World: Marine Corps Legend Gen. Victor (“Brute”) Krulak Dies at 95

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January 01, 2009

Marine Corps Legend Gen. Victor (“Brute”) Krulak Dies at 95

Gen. Victor "Brute" Krulak, who helped shape strategy for the U.S. Marines from World War II to Vietnam, has died at 95

Lt. Gen. Victor H. "Brute" Krulak, shown during the Vietnam War, at one time commanded all Marine Corps forces in the Pacific. (Union-Tribune file photo


Marine Gen. Victor H. Krulak at HQ.

Victor H. Krulak (L) receiving Navy award on Guadal Canal.

Marine Gen. Victor H. Krulak inspecting troops of the First ANGILCO.April 1965

Marine Gen. Victor H. Krulak (L) and family at home.

Gen. Victor H. Krulak (3L) pinning purple heart on Marines wounded in Vietnam.

Lt. Gen. Victor H. 'Brute' Krulak, shown during the Vietnam War, at one time commanded all Marine Corps forces in the Pacific.

He entered the U.S. Naval Academy as an undersized teenager, but Victor H. “Brute” Krulak rose to command all Marine Corps forces in the Pacific, helped develop a boat crucial to amphibious landings during World War II and spoke his mind in disagreeing with a president over Vietnam War strategy.

Lt. Gen. Krulak, a decorated veteran of three wars, died of natural causes late Monday night at the Wesley Palms Retirement Community in San Diego. He was 95.

Standing barely 5 feet 5 inches tall, he was jokingly nicknamed Brute by his academy classmates. The moniker stuck, reinforced by his direct, no-nonsense style.

“There was nothing undersized about his brain,” Time magazine later said.

One of Gen. Krulak's three sons – retired Gen. Charles Krulak of Wilmington, Del. – said his father “was proud of just being a Marine . . . He never forgot that at the end of the day, everything he did was in support of them.”

As a major in the years before World War II, the senior Gen. Krulak helped create the amphibious-war doctrine that the Marines used to defeat Japan in the Pacific. He championed the Higgins boat landing craft that was involved in every World War II amphibious assault, as well as the prototype for the Amtrack vehicle still used by Marines today.

Gen. Krulak was known as a master strategist, said Mike Neil, a San Diego lawyer and retired reserve Marine brigadier general.

“He brilliantly orchestrated the 1st Marine Brigade to save the day at Pusan Peninsula (during the Korean War),” Neil said.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Gen. Krulak formulated the counterinsurgency theory that would be tried out in Vietnam. His “inkblot strategy” called for small groups of Marines to go into villages and work with like-minded locals to defend them against guerrilla forces – a plan resurrected with considerable success two years ago in Iraq.

While commanding more than 100,000 Marines in the Pacific from 1964 to 1968, he took part in a critical stage of the U.S. buildup of forces in Vietnam.

Before his retirement from the military after 34 years in 1968, he was considered a strong candidate for commandant, the top Marine post that his son Charles attained in 1995.

“You'd be hard-pressed to name another Marine in modern times who has had as great an impact on the direction of the Marine Corps – or, for that matter, the country,” said Gary Solis, a former Marine historian and now a law professor at Georgetown University. “From the late 1930s to the 1970s, Victor Krulak had his thumbprint on absolutely everything.”

As commander of Fleet Marine Force Pacific, Solis said, Gen. Krulak required every commander from the battalion level and up to pass through his Hawaii-based headquarters as they left Vietnam. Those commanders briefed him and his staff on the latest developments.

“These (meetings) were crucial to his understanding of what was going on in Vietnam,” Solis said.

A tenacious critic of the government's handling of the Vietnam War, Gen. Krulak wrote in the book “First to Fight” that the conflict could have been won only if the Vietnamese people had been protected and befriended and if enemy supplies from North Vietnam had been cut off. “The destruction of the port of Haiphong would have changed the whole character of the war,” he said two decades after the fall of Saigon.

In a 1995 interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, Gen. Krulak said he brought up the port during a meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. The conversation didn't last long after Gen. Krulak said the wrong targets were being hit.

“(Johnson) got to his feet and propelled me to the door, politely. That's the last I ever saw of him,” he said. Looking back on his combat operations, Gen. Krulak said, “I never got enthusiasm out of war, and I'm convinced that the true pacifists are the professional soldiers who have actually seen it.”

After leaving the military, Gen. Krulak worked for Copley Newspapers, serving at various times as director of editorial and news policy and as news media president of Copley News Service.

He retired as vice president of The Copley Press Inc. in 1977 and then contributed columns on international affairs and military matters for Copley News Service.

Chuck Patrick, former chief operating officer of Copley Press and a director and executive committee member of the Copley board, said: “An airport delay of six hours turned out to be one of my greatest memories. Brute told me all about his experiences in Southeast Asia, about his good relationship with President John F. Kennedy and about how his disagreements with President Johnson probably kept him from becoming (Marine Corps) commandant.”

Patrick said he and Gen. Krulak became close friends while serving on the executive committee of the Ponderay Newsprint Co., a newsprint mill in Usk, Wash.

But it was the general's annual phone calls to Patrick's daughter that touched him the most. “Brute was her Santa Claus. Every year in November, he'd check with me about how she was doing before he'd call her to tell her what she needed to work on (before Christmas arrived). Those calls meant so much . . . ”

Gen. Krulak, a native of Denver, received his appointment to the Naval Academy before finishing high school. He received a waiver to bypass the Marine Corps height requirement of 5 feet 6 inches.

In 1934, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps after graduating from the academy. In December 1959, Gen. Krulak assumed command of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, a position he held until his appointment in 1962 as an adviser in the Kennedy administration.

In 1963, he was described by his World War II commander, Gen. Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith, as “the most brilliant officer I've known in my 58 years in the Marine Corps.”

A longtime Point Loma resident, Gen. Krulak was honored in 1968 as San Diego's “Citizen of the Year” by San Diego Uplifters, a group of 400 professional and business leaders.

During his retirement, Gen. Krulak was active in many community organizations. His roles included serving as president and trustee of the Zoological Society of San Diego.

Gen. Krulak and his late wife, Amy, were known for their annual Fish House Punch parties held to celebrate Gen. Krulak's Jan. 7 birthday. They started the tradition in the 1940s while living in Quantico, Va. The beverage included brandy, lime juice and apple brandy.

Besides Charles, Gen. Krulak also is survived by sons, the Rev. Victor “Vic” Krulak of San Diego and the Rev. William Krulak of Baltimore; his four grandchildren; and his 10 great-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station chapel. Private inurnment is scheduled for Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

Wild Thing's comment.........

Semper Fi and Godspeed General.

He wrote this book some years back.

First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps -

He is also responsible for the idea of the ramp, or the “lip,” on the Higgins boats that allowed for easier beach attacks.

President Johnson boasted that our military couldn't bomb a viet outhouse without his permission. Gen. Krulak told LBJ to his face that without stopping the flow of material from Haiphong we could not win the war. He knew Commandant was available to him but told his CIC what he did not want to hear, the truth. The mark of a great General—not a great politician.

Krulak and Lew Walt brought to Vietnam the lessons learned in the Caribbean “Banana Wars” and distilled in the USMC Small Wars Manual. They developed the Combined Action Company (CAC) where marines lived in Vietnamese villages serving as trainers and advisers for the indigenous militia. Their formula for victory was also shared by Army Special Forces.

Posted by Wild Thing at January 1, 2009 05:55 AM


What a tremendous warrior. Thank-you General and all your fellow Marines.

Posted by: James M at January 1, 2009 07:37 AM

Semper Fi, General Krulak. You fought the good fight, now enjoy your much deserved rest. You are a hero above heroes. OOH-RAH!!!

Posted by: Lynn at January 1, 2009 09:21 AM

G_d Speed, my brother. Prepare a place for me, ok?

Posted by: Steve Gaston, Extreme Marine at January 1, 2009 10:39 AM

General Krulak is at Heaven's gates. He won't have to worry about seeing LBJ again.

Posted by: TomR at January 1, 2009 11:36 AM

A magnificent Marine and a great officer. Almost all military bases and posts are named to honor a deceased warrior. There was a base about 56 miles southeast of Danang named after General Victor Krulak, the officer who selected the area for a base. Krulak named the base after being told that the area had no previous associated name on the maps of the day, he immediately decided that it would be called Chu Lai. The words "Chu Lai" are not Vietnamese, but a Mandarin Chinese contraction of his own family name because they could not pronounce Krulak. Named in his honor for of all those Marines and Soldiers who fought and died there.
The new Vietnamese government has continued to maintain its name. Rest in Heavenly peace General Krulak, you surely have earned it.

Posted by: Jack at January 1, 2009 01:06 PM

General Krulak, all I can say is "Thank-you" for all the lives that you touched with your service to the country including protecting those of us at home. Job well done.

TomR, great line about LBJ.

Posted by: Les at January 1, 2009 02:42 PM

James M., yes and I love the word warrior is fits so much for all those that have served. Thank you.

Posted by: Wild Thing at January 1, 2009 05:37 PM

Tom, haha thank was great.

Posted by: Wild Thing at January 1, 2009 05:47 PM

Jack, thank you so much for sharing that.

Posted by: Wild Thing at January 1, 2009 05:49 PM

Great General, and got screwed by LBJ like the rest of us did. Semper Fi, General.

Posted by: Mark at January 1, 2009 06:23 PM