Medal of Honor Monday; An interview with Col Wesley Fox, U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam
Col Wesley Fox served 43 years in the Marine Corps. He first saw combat during the Korean War, where he was wounded for the first time, and then did two tours in Vietnam. During his first, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in February 1969 during Operation Dewey Canyon in Quang Tri Province, (northern A Shau Valley) where he was wounded twice while directing a fight against a much larger North Vietnamese Army force. By the time of his retirement, Fox held every officer and enlisted rank in the Marine Corps except SgtMaj and General. Afterwards, Fox served for eight years as the deputy commandant of cadets for the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. Currently, Col Fox gives lectures and presentations on his experiences to America's next generation of military officers, business executives, students, and civic leaders.
Why did you enlist...and why the Marine Corps?
I was in my early teens during WW2 and like everyone, followed the war on the radio and in the newspapers. Plus I had some cousins who fought in the Army, so the concept of service to country was part of my growing up. When the Korean War began, very simply, it was my turn to go. Then I debated becoming either Army Airborne or a Marine, and one of my Army cousins recommended that I join the Marines, so I did.
You went directly from boot camp to Korea ?
You need to remember that after WW2, Truman tried hard to get rid of the Marine Corps, and cut manpower back to 68,000, but then when MacArthur and the Army needed to be bailed out in Korea, they needed Marines quickly, Most active-duty Marines were rushed to Korea, so my Junior Drill Instructor in boot camp had only graduated boot camp himself some 2 months prior. Our Senior DI was only a Cpl, as compared to a Sgt or SSGT normally. They didn't have Marine Combat Training back then; we shipped out immediately to Korea and learned on the job.
You were awarded the Medal of Honor for your actions in a fight in Quang Tri Province...
A platoon from Charlie Company captured two NVA 155mm howitzers four days prior to the fight and the NVA wanted them back. Another Marine unit (Alpha Co, C rifle platoon) made contact with them the next day, but didn't get heavily involved., but their report caused our battalion commander, to order me to send a platoon (3rd Platoon) to reconnoiter, and it was their heavy contact he then ordered me to engage my company against this large NVA force. We did what Marines are trained to do; we attacked, and I think we just about killed them all.
They couldn't recapture their howitzers; in fact one is on display at the Marine base at Quantico, VA and the other is at the artillery school in Fort Sill, OK.
You enlisted when the draft was in effect; is there a difference with today's all-volunteer military
Not really, but remember, the Marine Corps is historically a volunteer force. But let me say that today's young men and women are impressive; they've got the gumption to enlist and serve their country, so I have no fears that as a country our military is weakening.
You wrote three books after retiring from Virgina Tech?
Yes, I wrote them within a span of ten years. "Marine Rifleman" is the story of my 43 years in the Marines, from Korea to retirement; I wrote "Courage & Fear" as an attempt to describe how I attempted to handle fear when in combat. It focuses on the military, but there's a strong link to overcoming fear in a civilian capacity as well. Then two years ago I wrote "Six Essential Elements of Leadership" in which I describe how care, personality, knowledge, motivation, commitment, and communication are the keys to building a successful organization.
What makes someone a leader?
Oh, many things, and they include personality and expertise in your field. But leadership includes the ability to inspire your Marines or your employees, to do the right thing even if you're not around. There is a difference between leading by example or managing by fear, and those who know the difference are the type of leader Marines and others want to follow.
"I've been a believer in leadership since my days in Korea and Vietnam," Col Fox said, "My squad leader in Korea, Cpl Myron Davis was a combat veteran of the Pusan Perimeter, and he showed that he cared for us and that with his combat experience, we could trust him to get us through. Then as an officer in Vietnam, where the jungle was so thick that it was impossible to lead by standing up and shouting; I realized that I had to have my Marines sufficiently trained so they knew what to do without my being there. Leadership is training your people properly and then trusting them complete the mission without hovering over them."