Marine general William H. Rupertus is best known today for writing the Corps’ Rifleman’s Creed, which begins, “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine”—which has been made famous by films such as Full Metal Jacket and Jarhead. Rupertus was one of the outstanding Marines of the twentieth century, standing alongside men such as Smedley Butler, Chesty Puller, and Arthur Vandegrift, but he died in 1945, so his story has never been told.
Rupertus “made his bones” in the USMC’s “savage wars of peace” before World War II: Haiti for three years after World War I, China in 1929 (where he lost his wife and children to the scarlet fever epidemic) and again in 1937 (where he witnessed the beginning of Japan’s war against China that turned into the Pacific War of World War II).
In World War II, Rupertus commanded during four important battles: Tulagi and Henderson Field during the Guadalcanal campaign; the Battle of Cape Gloucester; and Peleliu. It was a series of blistering battles—and ultimately victories—that helped break the back of the Japanese and pave the way for American victory. In the course of these battles, Rupertus became the Patton of the Pacific—ruthless in war, always on the attack, merciless against the enemy, undefeated in battles—even as he proved himself very much like Eisenhower, suavely diplomatic and able to balance war with politics. These skills allowed Rupertus to crush the enemy in the malaria-infested jungles of the Pacific and personally escort Eleanor Roosevelt on her tour of the Pacific.
Old Breed General is the biography of Rupertus and the story of the Marines at war in the Pacific. This is an American story of love, loss, shock, horror, tragedy, and triumph that focuses on Rupertus and the 1st Marine Division in World War II, but which resonates through the 1st, to Chosin in Korea and James Mattis’s command in Iraq.
Amy Rupertus Peacock is the granddaughter of General Rupertus and keeper of the family archives. A graduate of the University of Georgia’s journalism school, she has written for various newspapers. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Don Brown is a former U.S. Navy JAG officer and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. He has written fourteen books, including a series of naval justice novels for Zondervan and the exposé Call Sign Extortion 17 (Lyons, 5/2015). His most recent book is The Last Fighter Pilot, which received coverage in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People, the New York Post, and other publications.He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"What a truly inspirational biography! This was truly one of America’s great military leaders in the Pacific in WW2. The hardships that he and his troops experienced were heartbreaking. This is a must read for the history enthusiast!" —Ron Baumer, NetGalley Reviewer
"All present-day Marines should read this book. Gen. Rupertus was the one of the most highly experienced leaders of WWII. Before the Peleliu nightmare, he had served in WWI, the Banana Wars, 1930's Peking, and alongside the Maoist-oriented Raiders on Guadalcanal. At Peleliu, his 1st Marine Division then faced the most difficult terrain of WWII. Umurbrogol Mountain was not just covered by a maze of caves and jagged coral, but fully hollowed out by erosion. So, while Chesty Pullers' 1st Marines were trying to climb this mountain to quiet the Japanese artillery at its top before the 25,000 Japanese on another Palau island could counterattack, Nipponese soldiers kept popping up behind them. Through on-the-job training, Chesty's boys soon learned how to move across severely broken terrain in a loosely controlled line of semi-autonomous fireteams. This nontraditional skill would later allow them (under a different commander) to occupy Shuri Castle atop Okinawa's infamous defense line. But their former general Rupertus also deserves some credit for that key WWII victory. He had been the one to develop the Rifleman's Creed. So, he considered each rifleman to have strategic value. Only then could fireteams of this caliber be formed.
As magnificent as that effort was on Peleliu, it had still come with a price. And that island would be remembered as the most costly amphibious landing of WWII. Following Admiral Halsey's suggestion that the Peleliu landing may not have been necessary, Rupertus became widely rumored to have followed too high a tempo of operations. Only recently has the tactical sophistication of Peleliu's defenders been realized. But, Gen. Rupertus' reputation had still been tarnished, and he died of a broken heart three months later. With this book, the record should be set straight. The entire 1st Marine Division had performed exceptionally well at Peleliu and then went on to win the most important engagement of WWII in the Pacific. Rest in peace, fine general. The Corps was so sad about Peleliu's loss of life that it was slow to realize its degree of accomplishment."
—H. John Poole, author of "Peleliu Progress"
"Journalist Peacock and novelist Brown (The Last Fighter Pilot) deliver a comprehensive account of the career of Peacock’s grandfather, Maj. Gen. William H. Rupertus, who wrote the Marine Corps’ “Rifleman’s Creed” and led the 1st Marine Division to key victories at Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and Peleliu. The authors note that Rupertus got an up-close view of the Japanese military while serving with the Marines in China in the 1920s and ’30s and had no illusion that Japan would wage an all-out war against America. Blow-by-blow accounts of the campaign to retake the Pacific focus on Rupertus’s command decisions, including his direction of the landing force at Tulagi; his wrestling with dengue fever while defending Guadalcanal’s airstrip against a major Japanese counteroffensive; and his successful campaign to take control of the airport and clear out entrenched Japanese forces on the island of Peleliu ... Peacock and Brown provide plenty of drama and action. This vivid biography gives its subject well-deserved recognition."
NetGalley Review: 5 stars
Last updated on 07 Nov 2021
"This is just a good WWII read!... This book told the detailed story of Marines of the 1st Marine Division "the Old Breed" and their leader Maj.Gen. William Rupertus. The author's tells of the personal side of Rupertus' life, including the loss of his first wife and two children while stationed in China in the 1930's. They go on to give an in-depth look his leadership in the island hopping campaign from Guadalcanal to Peleliu, and some of the smaller, less reported battles of the war. The authors do an great job giving vivid details to events and Rupertus' decision making, One of the author's personal relationship to the General and her access to his personal writings and papers brought the story to life. "—Jim Furno, educator at Polk State College
"It tells the untold story of General William Rupertus, who led Marines through the first four crucial island hopping campaigns of the Pacific during WWII. Many things had to be accomplished. Lessons had to be learned, victories had to be established against an entrenched enemy determined to fight to the last man for their emperor and it had to be done in horrible jungle conditions.
We learn how General Rupertus, through leadership and dedication, inspired his men to acts of bravery and endurance equal and exceeding the historic record of the Marines in battle. His four victories set the pattern for an unbroken string of victories across the Pacific leading to the Japanese surrender.
The story is riveting because it is told in the style of a novel so we are privy to the thoughts and plans of both General Rupertus and the Japanese generals. We are caught up in whether the fake attack will draw the opposing side “off sides” or whether the change in tactics and hidden tunnel fortress will doom the unsuspecting and overconfident Americans. Although we feel like we are reading dialogue, the book is carefully researched and full of pictures backing up the storyline.
It is also a story of separation from those back home that the Marines loved. I was particularly moved by Eleanor Roosevelt’s offer to contact loved ones after touring the 1st Marine Division in Australia."
—William G. Seymour, USMC retired
"General Rupertus Old Breed General indeed. Mrs. Rupertus Peacock has done Military Historians a service by re-introducing us to the pre-World War Two Marine Corp and how the lessons learned in far away uncomfortable places were adapted on a global scale. The Marine Corp has always been the most adaptable of organizations while maintaining its ethos of Light, Austere and Lethal."
—Casper Hileman, NetGalley Reviewer
“Amy Rupertus Peacock and Don Brown, in my view, did an amazing job of providing a very readable flow of the progression of our Marines advancing through some of the Japanese-held islands during World War II, facing many other factors as well like decisions made in Washington regarding command while focusing too on the very human aspects as revealed through elaboration of some of General Rupertus’s more private family-focused thoughts and communications. Good Marine leaders "lead the charge placing their own boots on the ground" as General Rupertus did, but the reader doesn’t often hear about the pictures and thoughts of their families they carry in their helmets and minds. Combining the thinking of General Rupertus behind the inevitable cruelty of battle decisions in the presence of tenderness for family and others so closely involved increases the depth and insight of this book beyond being a well-researched historical account.”
—Kirk Hauser, USMC retired
NetGalley Review: 5 Stars
"I love reading memoir and biographies of WWII heroes, especially Marines, because my favorite part of WWII history is the Pacific theater which unfortunately (I) didn't learn about in my high school or college history classes. I also enjoyed reading about the Marine that gave us the Corps Rifleman's Creed. As the daughter of a Marine, that Creed, along with the Marine Corps Hymn, has long since been committed to my memory. What makes this book even more special is that General Rupertus's granddaughter wrote the book." —Carissa Miller, NetGalley Reviewer
"As a Vietnam veteran I thought of the differences and similarities of warfare and technology as I read Old Breed General. The Japanese had dug extensive underground tunnel systems and pillboxes that were largely unscathed by heavy Naval shelling. In Vietnam they had the tunnels with living quarters and underground hospitals. The tunnels often had to be cleared by small Marine, "Tunnel rats," who crawled into the tunnels with a flashlight and a pistol.
In Vietnam there were mass assaults from the enemy, but I doubt any matched the attack on Henderson Field at Guadalcanal. I was fascinated to read General Rupertus was the Commanding General during the Battle of Henderson Field with two Marine Corps legends under his command, Chesty Puller and SSgt. John Basilone. I was surprised to learn Chesty Puller was a Lt.Col. during that battle. By Peleliu he was Col. Puller. It's difficult to think of Chesty Puller not having General before his name.
Amy mentions that although these battles have been covered by other writers before, other authors did not have access to Maj.Gen. Rupertus' personal diaries. There is a lot of personal insight added with his personal letters with his wife, and the loss of men under his command who he had grown to know and respect.
I particularly liked the book broken into short chapters with headings of the locations and times of action sometimes broken into quarter hour segments as a battle developed. Amy and Don also have some of the progressing battle sequences written from a Japanese perspective.
I preferred the extensive pictures and maps spread through the book with the pertinent texts instead of being in the center of the book as I have found in many books. There is an extensive bibliography in the back of the book."
—John Craig, USMC retired