Sandwiched between two generations of Marines, Andrew Lubin now regrets that his own life did not include military service. After hurting his knee playing basketball in high school, he just went on to college. "At the time, I didn’t think it was a loss," he remembers. "But now I think I do. I think being a Marine is a real honor, and I wasn’t one."
Both of Lubin’s parents were Marines. His father was in charge of landing craft used on islands including Iwo Jima during World War II and later fought in the Korean War. His mother was a corporal in charge of 50 women who wrote letters to families of dead soldiers.
Then when his son, Phil, turned 18, he told Lubin that he wanted to do something to make his mark in the world. "He is a smart kid," says Lubin, adding that at that point "college was not really for him." It was natural for Lubin to suggest that his son join the Marine Corps, and Phil ended up serving in a Marine artillery unit called Charlie Battery during the Iraq War.
At 52, Lubin himself, a resident of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is a little too old to try active service but he decided that something he could do would be to tell the story of what Phil and his unit did for their country in Iraq. What began as a family memoir quickly developed into a book, chronicling both the first Iraqi war and the time period January, 2003, through June, 2003, his son’s first tour of duty, with a message: "This is what war’s about. It is more than people waving flags and cheering. This is what your neighbor does in your name."
Lubin will discuss and sign copies of his book, "Charlie Battery: A Marine Artillery Unit in Iraq," on Saturday, August 13, at Classic Books in Trenton.
Lubin’s own admiration for the Marine Corps likely stems from some combination of his pride in his son and his own upbringing. His father always told Lubin, "If you do something, do it well and with style." For Lubin the Marine Corps is high style: "If you want to do something really good," he says, "join the Marines. People sit up and take notice if you’re a Marine." The Marines are an elite fighting unit, numbering only 165,000 as compared to about 2 million in the Army.
What makes the Marines so special, in Lubin’s view, is a combination of their training and their mindset. "They train, train, and train again," he says, "in the worst conditions they can find so that when they are fighting, nothing takes them by surprise." He gives as an example his son’s recent artillery practice in Fort Bragg, where the Marines spent two to three days awake and out-of-doors in extemely hot weather, doing artillery practice. "If you train like that," says Lubin, "you’re not happy doing it in battle, but it’s not the first time."
During the battle of Nasiriyah, which the book details, Phil and his unit were up for five days running, with perhaps an hour of sleep here and there in the nearby mud. "My son chewed ground coffee to stay awake," says Lubin, adding with a father’s pride, "and they didn’t make a mistake the entire time."
The other distinguishing feature of the Marine Corps is its history, which Lubin himself received doses of during his childhood. For example, if he didn’t want to shovel snow because it was too cold, his father might relate the story of the Marines during the Korean War at Chosin Reservoir in minus-50 degree weather. He also heard about the Marines who advanced 800 yards through a wheat field covered by German machine gun and artillery fire at Belleau Wood in France during World War I and about 450 Marines who held off a Japanese invasion at Wake Island for 15 days during World War II.
Lubin received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Allegheny College in 1974 and a master’s degree in international management from the American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Arizona. He spent 30 years in the metals industry, where he now consults in the areas of purchasing, sales, marketing, and international trade. Recently he has also become a professor at the American Military University, where he teaches economics, logistics, and international trade. He got the job through an ad he saw in a Marine Corps magazine that his son had sent him. This fully accredited four-year college provides distance learning for students in the armed forces. "I have students in Iraq and Afghanistan," he says, "and one student on an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean."
Since his return from his second tour of duty in February, 2005, Lubin’s son, Phil, is still an active service Marine, currently based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He has volunteered to return for a third tour of duty in Iraq. Lubin believes that Phil’s experiences with the Marines have left him more self-confident and mature. He is now a lance corporal, one of the senior members of the gun crew, and he knows how to command the battery if something were to happen to the officer.
Lubin believes that the Marines give focus and direction to high-energy kids who may have been drifting before they enlisted. The Marine Corps sends them back to school and promotes them as fast as they can, as long as they are qualified. "When they leave the Marines, these young people "come out with a trade, skills, and a reputation around the world that people know and that is really impressive."
Although Lubin is immensely proud of his son, it hasn’t been easy to be on the home front. "When you see on the morning news that three marines were killed, until you know where, you’re on edge," he says. During the most intensive part of the Iraq War, he feels like he stayed awake for two consecutive weeks. "I needed to know it all," he says, contrasting himself with the families who didn’t need to know anything. "They’re scared of knowing the answer and unless somebody knocks on the door, no news is good news."
Of the families with close relatives in combat he observes, "We walk around with an edge that most of civilian America doesn’t understand." He relates how when a UPS guy knocked on his door, he jumped out of his skin and didn’t calm down until he ascertained that it was not "three guys in blue uniforms."
Lubin has strong feelings about patriotism. "After 9/11," he says, "people ranted and raved," wanting in some way to avenge the terrorist attacks. But Lubin likes to distinguish between "talkers" and "doers," noting that the "gung ho guys from Fox News" are probably not letting their kids go to war. Lubin acknowledges that the military is not for everyone, and he would like to expand the ranks of young people who contribute actively to their country by instituting a national service requirement, either military or civil. "Bush squandered an opportunity to energize the country," he says, by not coming up with alternative service programs as Franklin Roosevelt did.
Lubin also has some frustrations about the situation in Iraq: that the Iraqis are not willing to take responsibility for their own country; that Halliburton gets "success bonuses" while he and other families have had to outfit their own children, from armor for their humvees to water bottles and bug sprays; and that there have been over 1,600 Americans killed since the president declared the war was over. Yet he feels the Marines have an important role in Iraq, fighting against the insurgents. "Better there than here," he says.
"Charlie Battery" describes the experiences of these young Americans, from training to taking leave of their parents, through battle, and finally back home again. Lubin concludes, "I can’t do what they did, but what I can do is talk about it."
"Charlie Battery" booksigning, Saturday, August 13, noon to 2 p.m., Classic Books, 117 South Warren Street, Trenton. Author Andrew Lubin discusses his book about his son’s experience as a Marine in Iraq. 609-394-8400.