The United States Marine Corps celebrates its birthday on November 10th every year. This year the Marine Corps will be 245 years old, which is interesting because the Declaration of Independence is only 244 years old. I didn’t believe it when I was first told that the Marines were created in 1775 before the United States officially existed, but it is true.
The history of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) begins with the founding of the Continental Marines on 10 November 1775 to conduct ship-to-ship fighting, provide shipboard security and discipline enforcement, and assist in landing forces. Owing to the availability of Marine forces at sea, the United States Marine Corps has served in nearly every conflict in United States history.
You are, no doubt, familiar with the Marine Corps Hymn, which begins, “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli;” These phrases refer to early conflicts that the Marines participated in.
“The Halls of Montezuma” refers to the Battle of Chapultepec that marines fought during the Mexican-American War. This was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848. It followed the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas, which Mexico still considered Mexican territory since the government did not recognize the Velasco treaty signed by Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna when he was a prisoner of the Texian Army during the 1836 Texas Revolution. Although the Mexican army was larger, the American forces had superior leadership, training and supplies. General Winfield Scott led his forces from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, stopping at Chapultepec to capture the fortress. I learned about the opposite side of this battle when I visited Chapultepec park during my visit to Mexico City a few years ago. Just before the US forces stormed the castle, a young soldier grabbed the Mexican flag and jumped to his death, to prevent the enemy from capturing the flag. Marine Corps tradition maintains that the red stripe worn on the dress-blues trousers of officers and non-commissioned officers, and commonly known as the blood stripe commemorates the high number of Marine NCOs and officers killed storming the castle of Chapultepec in September 1847.
The Battle of Derna and the ‘Shores of Tripoli’, April 27, 1805
At the beginning of the 19th Century, the most dangerous maritime area in the world lay between Gibraltar and the shores of North Africa, at the narrow entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. The Muslim states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunis and Tripoli formally promoted some of the most successful and brutal incidents of piracy in that era. The Tripolitan pirates became a by-word for the regular destruction of European, Mediterranean, and American shipping in the region. The line “To the shores of Tripoli” refers to the First Barbary War, and specifically the Battle of Derne in 1805. After Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and his Marines hoisted the American flag over the Old World for the first time, the phrase was added to the flag of the United States Marine Corps.
It is sometimes surprising to discover who went through basic training and became a Marine. (Don Adams) Other times it doesn’t come as a shock to us at all. (Lee Marvin). Here is a small list of people who maintain “Semper Fi” (Always Faithful) as their personal motto:
Don Adams, Bea Arthur, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Bork, Drew Carey
Clint Eastwood, R. Lee Ermy, Glen Ford, John Glenn, Gene Hackman
Bob Keeshan (aka Captain Kangaroo), Bill Kurtis, Lee Marvin, Ed McMahon, Steve McQueen
Hugh O’Brien, George Peppard, Robert Ryan, Tom Selleck, James Whitmore
It shouldn’t surprise you that a few of my friends were in the Marine Corps. They are not currently active, but “once a Marine, always a Marine”. They are trained to “improvise, adapt, and overcome”. I was witness to this “failure is not an option” mentality when my girlfriend and I were invited to attend a large banquet celebrating the Marine Corps birthday. It was very much a “dress up”, “Prom Night” atmosphere, and all the Marines were conspicuous in their dress blue uniforms. Naturally, some uniforms fit more snugly than when they were in active duty, however the intense pride and integrity was still as evident as ever. For reasons I still do not understand, we were informed that the kitchen staff had spontaneously disappeared. However, within a few minutes of this discovery, I was recruited to help carry meals to the guests sitting at the many tables. The Marines had quickly improvised an assembly line in the kitchen, where empty plates were handed down the line to be filled with meat, potatoes, and vegetables. It only took fifteen minutes for these Marines to adapt and overcome the problem. It was an amazing spectacle, and I am proud to have been a minor player in that social victory.
Many of us take our many American freedoms for granted, but Thomas Jefferson warned us that we only have the rights we are willing to fight for. We should never forget that we can exercise our freedoms in large part because the Marine Corps was there to do the fighting for us.
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
of United States Marine.