When I first read of Marshall’s assertion that less than 25 percent of the American infantry soldiers in World War II fired their weapons in combat, I wondered if my experience was somehow unique. I was a replacement officer, fresh out of Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, sent to fill a personnel gap created by the Battle of the Bulge. In the words of the regimental adjutant who made my assignment to a front-line unit, I went to a “fine fighting outfit that had lost three company commanders in five days”—all killed. As a rifle-platoon leader in Company E, 333d Infantry, 84th Division, I was put with men who were probably typical of those who served in the nation’s armed forces in World War II. Those men had weapons, knew how to use them, and were ready to fire at any target that might appear before them.
At no time during combat did the platoon I commanded have more than one-half the number of soldiers authorized in the Table of Organization. Indeed, at least twice I had to operate for weeks with fewer than fifteen men as a viable platoon. If you divide such a small number into three squads, and just one-fourth or less of the men in each squad fire their weapons, you have no firepower at all.