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ELITE: USMC First Reconnaissance Company of the Korean War,


In 4,000 years of war thought, one fundamental tenet towers above all others: Know who and where your enemy is, gauge his strength, and then, without equivocation, kill him.

As early as 500 B.C., Sun Tzu, a military genius and the author of “The Art of War,” advised: “Determine his disposition and ascertain the field of battle. Probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and deficient.” Two thousand years later, General George S. Patton Jr. echoed: “I have never seen a good commander direct his units from a map. Junior officers of reconnaissance units must be inquisitive. You can never do too much reconnaissance.”

Now, in a rare recognition of the role of reconnaissance during the so-called “Forgotten War,” “ELITE: USMC First Reconnaissance Company of the Korean War, 1950-1953” offers a riveting first-of-its-kind history focusing upon those few Marine Corps volunteers who served as the eyes and ears of the First Marine Division that was immediately dispatched to stop the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) and a bit later the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF).

Early one Sunday morning, June 25, 1950, some 60 years ago, after hours of har­rowing barrages of artillery and mortar fire, 90,000 North Korean troops, in seven assault infantry divisions, poured across the 38th parallel, overwhelming the eight light­ly armed divisions of the Repub­lic of Korea. Within two days, Seoul was abandoned. Within 20, the enemy had pushed aside the ill-prepared, poorly equipped U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Division.

By the end of July, the NKPA was poised to break through the Pusan Perimeter and drive the few American and Uni­ted Nations forces into the Sea of Japan. Although they fought bravely, the 24th Division and 34th Regiment were no match until General of the Army Douglas MacArthur launched the incredibly successful Inchon invasion, which resulted in our troops reaching the Chosin Reservoir and beyond.

Ravino, a flamethrower tank command­er with the Flame Platoon, Headquar­ters Company, 1st Tank Battalion, First Ma­rine Division during the Korean War, allows readers to tag along as he recounts the history of the Recon Marines on major operations as they slipped through no-man’s-land into enemy territory to gather urgently needed tactical information.

So thorough is he in following the com­pany’s history that readers are even privy to the exchange of prisoners in 1953 and the postwar transition. Aiding him in depicting the full story of the 1st Reconnaissance Company are recently released declassified official documents, long-forgotten after-action reports, recent person­al interviews and the written recollections of those involved in the actual fighting.

Some military historians and ordinary armchair enthusiasts of combat literature will find Ravino’s cool chronicling depar­ture from the accepted form of storytell­ing irksome. But for those of us who know a little about aerial reconnaissance, and virtually nothing about ground reconnais­sance during America’s previous wars, “Elite” is a must-read. One is tempted to argue that the book was written with such tender faith and tireless attention to factual detail that it automatically places it among the best military titles of this past year.

The hardcover’s hitherto unpublished photographs that validate all the 1st Re­con Co’s achievements are, by themselves alone, worth the price of the book.
Ravino’s next book, “The Driving Force: USMC Tank Warfare,” about Marine tankers during Operation Desert Storm, is due out this month (April).

Ravino is a member of the Marine Corps Tankers Association and an associate member of the Vietnam Tank­ers Association and the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion Association.

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The United States First Provisional Marine Brigade's Reconnaissance Company on September 4th 1950 at Pusan, Korea

Showing left, background Gunnery Sgt. John W. Slagle Sr. Center is the company's commanding officer Captain Kenneth Houghton and right
pointing high into the hills beyond Masan's enemy positions is Gunnery Sgt. Ernest DeFazio. All were Marine veterans with outstanding leadership
accomplishments during WWII in the Pacific island campaigns.

Photograph courtesy of David Douglas Duncan, Marine photographer with permission to use for the author's book cover
"USMC Reconnaissance Company of the Korean War 1950--1953" Dated and signed on December 20, 2004 Mounas-Sartoux, France
Photograph courtesy of John (Jack) Slagle Jr.