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First Name: Victor

Last Name: Krulak

Birthplace: Denver, CO, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Middle Name: H.

Date of Birth: 07 January 1913

Date of Death: 29 December 2008

Rank: Lieutenant General

Years Served:
Victor H. Krulak

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)
•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Victor H. "Brute" Krulak
Lieutenant General, U.S. Marine Corps

Victor H. Krulak was born on 7 January 1913 in Denver, CO, to Jewish parents. (He later denied Jewish ancestry and claimed to have been raised Episcopalian.)

Krulak needed a height waiver to be appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was given his nickname in an ironic reference to his short stature, at the age of 16. Graduating on 31 May 1934, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. His early Marine Corps service included: sea duty aboard USS Arizona; an assignment at the U.S. Naval Academy; duty with the 6th Marines in San Diego and the 4th Marines in China (1937-39); completion of the Junior School, Quantico, Virginia (1940); and an assignment with the 1st Marine Brigade, FMF, later the 1st Marine Division.

While stationed as an observer in Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Krulak took photographs with a telephoto lens of a ramp-bowed landing boat that the Japanese had been using. Recognizing the potential use of such a craft by the U.S. Armed Forces, Krulak sent details and photographs back to Washington, but discovered years later that they had been filed away as having come from "some nut out in China." Krulak built a model of the Japanese boat design and discussed the retractable ramp approach with boat builder Andrew Higgins who incorporated elements of Krulak's input into the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) or "Higgins boat," which played critical roles in the Normandy Landings and amphibious assaults in the Pacific.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, Krulak was a Captain serving as Aide-de-Camp to General Holland M. Smith, the Commanding General, Amphibious Corps, Atlantic Fleet. He volunteered for parachute training and on completion, he was ordered to the Pacific area as Commander of the 2nd Parachute Battalion, 1st Marine Amphibious Corps. He went into action at Vella Lavella with the 2nd New Zealand Brigade.

As a Lieutenant Colonel in the fall of 1943, on Choiseul Island his battalion staged a week-long diversionary raid to cover the Bougainville invasion. Later, he joined the newly formed 6th Marine Division and took part in the Okinawa Campaign and the surrender of Japanese forces in the China area.

A PT boat captained by John F. Kennedy helped evacuate Krulak's force from Choiseul at the end of the operation. In response, Krulak promised Kennedy a bottle of whiskey which he delivered almost 20 years later when Kennedy was serving as President of the United States.

After the war, Krulak returned to the U.S. and served as Assistant Director of the Senior School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, and, later, as Regimental Commander of the 5th Marines at Camp Pendleton.

Korean War

He was serving as Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, when the Korean War erupted, and subsequently served in Korea as Chief of Staff, 1st Marine Division.

From 1951-55, Krulak served at Headquarters Marine Corps as Secretary of the General Staff, then rejoined Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, as Chief of Staff.

1956 to 1959

In July 1956, he was promoted to Brigadier General and designated Assistant Commander, 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa. From 1957-59, he served as Director, Marine Corps Educational Center, Quantico. He was promoted to Major General in November 1959, and the following month assumed command of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.

Vietnam War

From 1962-64, Krulak served as Special Assistant for Counter Insurgency Activities, Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During this period, American military advisors were providing assistance to the South Vietnamese in their war against the Viet Cong. In September 1963, Major General Krulak and Joseph Mendenhall, a senior Foreign Service officer, led a fact-finding mission to learn about the progress of the war. Krulak said that the situation was very good and supported President Ngo Dinh Diem, while Mendenhall claimed the opposite, leading Kennedy to famously ask the pair if they had visited the same country. In late December 1963, the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, ordered an interdepartmental group to be headed by Krulak with the purpose of studying OPLAN 34A and selecting from it those targets the U.S. could hit in North Vietnam with the least amount of risk to its people. This was in keeping with the administration's policy of graduated pressure on the North Vietnamese.

On 1 March 1964, Krulak was designated Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and promoted to Lieutenant General. For the next four years, Krulak was responsible for all Fleet Marine Force units in the Pacific, including some 54 trips to the Vietnam Theater. At the beginning of the War, Krulak put forward the "Spreading Inkblot Theory." This promoted a spreading inkblot of small units actions to pacify South Vietnam village by village. When large enemy units were encountered then General Westmoreland's overwhelming firepower should be employed. He also called for intensive bombing of North Vietnam and mining of Haiphong Harbor. Krulak's plans were eventually rejected as Westmoreland favored hammering the enemy into submission through superior firepower and the Johnson administration feared relentless bombing of the North would provoke Soviet and Chinese intervention. Krulak opposed the establishment of a Marine base at Khe Sanh.

Krulak hoped to become the next Commandant of the Marine Corps, but in 1967 Lyndon B. Johnson selected Leonard F. Chapman, Jr. As a result, Krulak retired on 1 June 1968. Military historian Robert Coram states that it was Krulak's comments to President Johnson criticizing the restraints placed on American military operations in Vietnam that resulted in Johnson's selection of Chapman over Krulak. Krulak's son, General Charles C. Krulak, eventually became the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps, serving from 1995-99.

Strategic Vehicle Advocacy

Krulak was an early advocate of using helicopters as attack platforms. He was also instrumental in the development of Higgins boats, which enabled beach landings of men and material in WWII.

Medals and Awards

Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit w/ Combat "Valor" Device (3 Awards)
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart
Air Medal
Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/ 3 Service Stars
China Service Medal w/ 1 Service Star
American Defense Service Medal w/ Base Clasp
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 3 Service Stars
World War II Victory Medal
Navy Occupation Service Medal
National Defense Service Medal w/ 1 Service Star
Korean Service Medal w/ 4 Service Stars
Vietnam Service Medal
The Order of Service Merit, Second Class
National Order of Vietnam, Commander
Vietnam Gallantry Cross w/ Palm
Korean Presidential Unit Citation
United Nations Korea Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal


In 2004, Krulak was the recipient of the U.S. Naval Academy's Distinguished Graduate Award, which honors alumni who have "provided a lifetime of service to the nation or armed forces, have made significant and distinguished contributions to the nation via their public service and have demonstrated a strong interest in supporting the Navy or Marine Corps and the United States Naval Academy. These individuals are the embodiment of the Naval Academy's mission to provide graduates who will be ready '…to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.'"

In Retirement

After retiring from the Marine Corps, Krulak worked for Copley Newspapers, including serving as president of Copley News Service and vice president of Copley Press. He retired from Copley in 1977, though he continued to contribute to their news service. Krulak also wrote a number of books, including the iconic Marine Corps history First to Fight.

Krulak was active in community organizations, as well as participating in Marine Corps activities. He served as president and trustee of the Zoological Society of San Diego.

Books Written by Victor Krulak

First to Fight: View of the U.S. Marines. Simon & Schuster. 1991. 

Panama: An Assessment. U.S. Strategic Institute. 1990.. 

Organization for National Security: A Study. U.S. Strategic Institute. 1983..

Death and Burial

Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak died on 29 December 2008 at age 95 in San Diego, CA. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, CA.

His wife, Amy, died in 2001. He was survived by his three sons - retired Marine Corps Commandant General Charles Krulak, Rev. Victor Krulak (Commander Navy Chaplain Corps), Rev. William Krulak (Colonel USMCR) - four grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

Honoree ID: 2723   Created by: MHOH




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