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Dial 911 Marines: Adventures of a Tank Company in Desert Shield and Desert Storm by Joe Freitus, with Chris Freitus

Jacket: Paperback
Pages: 321 pages
Publisher: New American Publishing; (June 2003)
Genre: Military
ISBN: 0971332428

Comments about the author: Joe Freitus served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and is the author of several books on nutrition, including "160 Edible Plants Commonly Found in the Eastern USA." His son Chris Freitus was a Executive Officer of Charlie Company during Operation Desert Storm and is now employed as a special agent in the U.S. Department of State.


Review: One of several recently published accounts of the first Iraqi-American War (Desert Storm), "Dial 911 Marines" is a memoir by Chris Freitus, the executive officer of a tank battalion in Task Force Ripper, one of four imaginatively named Marine task forces from the First Marine Division that led the American assault into Kuwait. (The other three were Taro, Papa Bear, and Grizzly.) Transcribed by Chris's father, Joe Freitus, the book is an extended oral history containing both first-hand recollections and some background material that the authors added later to make sense of what was happening.

Since the actual ground war lasts only three days of the more than seven months the troops spend "in the great litter box" (the scornful--and perhaps pardonable--term Freitus repeatedly uses for the Saudi desert), the overall impression is of one of crushing boredom and misery. This is not meant to diminish the contribution of the Marines; rather, Lieutenant Freitus, points out time and again that, for much of their tour of duty, troops "sat around, and waited, mumbled and grumbled," without the amenities of modern civilization. By the end of the war, they "looked downright scary. From head to toe we were covered in sooty oil smoke so ground into our skins that repeated scrubbing with our meager means could not erase it. . . . We stank."

Still, there are some interesting and amusing episodes that break the monotony. We hear about how the Marine Corps handles two servicemen who suddenly decide they are "conscientious objectors" once the prospect of a real war presents itself. The troops encounter Dan Rather (twice), whose attempt to film them is prevented by a warrant officer concerned with their "greasy" appearance. Senator John Kerry visits the front and searches for Lieutenant Freitus in order to deliver a much-needed package of soap from Freitus's father. Scorpions, cobras, camels, goats, and swarms of vile flies both terrify and amuse the troops. Bob Hope and Johnny Bench provide a greatly appreciated respite from the drudgery. But the real action, of course, takes place during the three days of battle and, afterwards, in a terrifying confrontation with MPs of the Saudi Arabian National Guard--our supposed allies. Even under stress, Freitus maintains his sense of humor, mocking himself at one point for tossing a perfectly good grenade at an enemy position--but forgetting to pull the pin beforehand.

Of particular use to all readers is an appendix listing glossary and abbreviations, explaining the meaning of "gedunk" and "REMF" (although I have a hard time imagining the reader who doesn't know what HQ, CNN, and VIP stand for).

Like most oral histories, though, "Dial 911 Marines" suffers from a certain informality and frivolity illustrated foremost by the title itself. To get to the good stuff, the reader has to slog through the authors' exclamatory asides ("Believe me, we took it all in!"), smart-alecky indignation ("What? No practice rounds? ... Excuse me!!"), folksy colloquialisms ("Bummer!" and the embarrassingly overused "pucker factor"), and a boyish exuberance that is sometimes charming but often cloying ("Tough situation, tough questions, indeed!").

In addition, many readers may feel that this book was written more for Freitus's family, friends, and fellow Marines than for the general public. Throughout the text are numerous personal messages and thanks to folks back in the States. Less understandably, Freitus doesn't introduce us to any of the warriors in his battalion, although a roster of the company appears as an appendix. While he points out (correctly) that "thousands of nameless souls" fight a war, his account describes dozens of soulless names. "When all the needs were tabulated I sent them along to Top Sergeant Graham, who was behind us in our company logistic train." "I remember one particular sabot round that skipped between my tank and Lance Corporal Newton's tank." That's the first--and last--we hear of either Sergeant Graham or Corporal Newton. With rare exception (such as Captain Ed Dunlap's resemblance to Phil Collins or Colonel Alphonso Diggs's irrepressible fear of snakes), the personalities and actions of the battalion are discussed in the aggregate, with names mentioned as if they were movie credits. We never meet any of the individual soldiers: their worries, their trepidation, their homesickness, their own funny stories.

Readers who don't know these men or are less than familiar with military maneuvers may well find the book far too insular. Rather than a fully realized personal account, then, "Dial 911 Marines" is an instructive historical document chronicling the battlefield adventures of a company of American Marines during the first Gulf War.

— Reviewed by: David Cloyce Smith
dcloycesmith@hotmail.com

 
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