CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, November 10, 2015 – While most Americans are aware that Wednesday, November 11, 2015 is Veterans Day, it’s also true that every United States Marine on the planet knows today, November 10th, is the birthday of this elite American fighting force.
But this Marine Corps Birthday 2015 is a very special one: it marks the 240th anniversary of the Marine Corps’ founding. Yes, the Marines are older than our country by eight months, and proud of it.
But what has made this branch of the United States Armed Forces so remarkable in its nearly two and a half centuries of existence?
On November 10, 1775, two battalions of Continental Marines were formed in Philadelphia. Their purpose was to fight for independence both at sea and on shore. Since then, the role of the modern Marine Corps has also expanded into the sky as well.
From its inception, the United States Marine Corps has distinguished itself by serving in the majority of American wars, gaining particular prominence in the 20th century thanks to its expertise in amphibious warfare.
The USMC became a component of the Department of the Navy in 1834. It is one of the four branches of the Department of Defense represented on the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and, as one of seven uniformed services of the United States, the Marines are the most highly decorated service branch in the nation.
So adept has the Marine Corps become in all phases of warfare that they are known as “America’s third air force” and “second land army.”
The most decorated Marine in the history of this most decorated military force was United States Marine Corps Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, who served in the USMC for 37 years. Puller is one of two U.S. servicemen to be awarded five Navy Crosses, and, combined with his Distinguished Service Cross, he is the only person to be honored with six of the nation’s second-highest awards for valor.
With such a remarkable record, there can be no doubt that “Chesty” Puller was the ultimate Marine. But if his service is not a testament to that fact, his words confirm it.
Responsible for memorable statements such as, “You don’t hurt ’em if you don’t hit ’em,” or “Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines,” or “We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them,” Puller faithfully represented the ideology of every U.S. Marine.
Historically, the Corps has seen more action in non-naval combat than the other way around. Among its best known successes were the action in Tripoli, the War of 1812, the Battle of Chapultepec and the Korean War.
The Marine Corps was initially founded to serve as an infantry unit aboard naval vessels, providing security for the ship and its crew during boarding actions. They were also responsible for defending officers from mutiny.
Their first amphibious landing took place in March of 1776 during the Revolutionary War when the Marines gained control of Fort Montague and Fort Nassau in New Providence in the Bahamas.
During Thomas Jefferson’s administration, the Corps distinguished itself against the Barbary pirates when William Eaton and First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon led eight Marines and 500 mercenaries to capture Tripoli. As a result, the action has been immortalized in the Marine Corps Hymn with the words, “To the shores of Tripoli.” An important symbol of that action is the Mameluke Sword which is carried by Marine officers today to commemorate the Battle of Tripoli Harbor.
Another interesting historical side note: President Barack Obama often refers to the Koran that Thomas Jefferson had in the White House during this period as an indication that the third president was an advocate for Islam. In fact, Jefferson used that Koran as a resource to better understand the enemy that the Marines were fighting in Tripoli.
Jefferson was so appreciative of the efforts by the Marines that he was inspired to name the U.S. Marine Band the “President’s Own.” Today, they still provide the music for state functions at the White House.
Continuing with that musical theme for a moment, we should note that after the Marines successfully assaulted Chapultepec Palace in Mexico City during the Mexican-American War, this key action also found its way into the Marine Hymn, duly referenced by the words: “From the Halls of Montezuma.”
The Marine Corps story would not be complete, however, without mentioning that John Philip Sousa, the great military musician and march composer, enlisted as a Marine apprentice at the youthful age of 13. He served in the Corps from 1867 until 1872, and again from 1880 to 1892, this time as leader of the U.S. Marine Band.
It was also during this time, around 1883, that the Marines adopted the motto that remains their abiding code today: “Semper Fidelis” (Always Faithful).
In more modern times the Marines continued to build on their reputation for fierceness in World War I at the Battle of Belleau Wood. Reportedly, even the Germans respected the ferocity of the Corps to such an extent that the enemy supposedly dubbed them Teufel Hunden, which in translation means “Devil Dogs.”
Though there is no actual historical reference to corroborate this story, the Marines continue to use “Devil Dogs” as one of their nicknames today.
Other favorites nicknames and descriptors for our Corpsmen include “Jarheads”, “the Few, the Proud, the Marines” and “Leathernecks.”
The “Leatherneck” moniker dates from the early 19th century when enlisted men wore a leather neck collar that supposedly kept their chins high and their posture straight. Though posture was one reason for the collar, its more practical use was as protection against slashes to the throat by enemy swords during combat. The Marine dress blue uniform today still sports a stiff cloth collar in tribute.
Between the First and Second World Wars, the Marines were led by Commandant John A. Lejeune. It was under his leadership that the Corps became proficient at the amphibious techniques that were so instrumental in winning the World War II. Today, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina−named in honor of the Commandant−is the largest Marine Corps base in the country.
From Camp Lejeune to anywhere across the globe where America or Americans may be threatened, the U.S. Marines always stand ready to respond with vigor and decisiveness.
As Chesty Puller once said, “Retreat! Hell, we’re just attacking in a different direction.” Or better yet, “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.”
Happy 240th Birthday Marines – “Semper Fi!”
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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