The United States Marine Corps today celebrates the 234th birthday for the American fighting force that has spearheaded victories in battles from Mexico’s ‘Halls of Montezuma’ to Africa’s ‘shores of Tripoli’ and thousands of locales in between.
Whether in the Middle East today, or in the pre-Vietnam War days when my father, Matthew Veasey, served in the Corps, or in the World War II days, when my father-in-law, Robert Marshall, served in the Corps in the Pacific theatre, Americans have served their country in this elite group of warriors and marksmen.
On November 10th, 1775, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the 2nd Continental Congress resolved that a military group be formed to be known as the Continental Marines. The group would eventually consist of 131 officers and approximately 2,000 enlisted Marines.
Five days earlier, the Congress had commissioned Samuel Nicholas of Philadelphia as a ‘Captain of Marines’, the first officer commissioned for the group. He would become accepted in tradition as the first ‘Commandant of the Marine Corps’, the highest ranking officer.
Tradition also holds that much of the recruitment efforts for the group were held at Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern. The tavern was a nearly century old gathering place at Water and Tun Streets, with a restaurant having been added a few decades earlier. The proprietor during the Revolutionary period, Robert Mullen, became the chief Marine recruiter.
The primary service of this Marine force would be to serve as on-board security for naval Captains and their officers. They would also position Marine sharpshooters at the tops of the ships’ masts during naval battles with the assignment of taking out the opposition officers and other important ship personnel.
The first group, consisting of 5 companies with 300 Marines, met up with the Navy in the Caribbean in December of 1775, and under Nicholas they joined the Navy operations quickly undertaken in the Bahamas. Eventually, Marines would fight with George Washington’s troops at Trenton and would participate in many other Revolutionary War actions.
At the war’s conclusion, both the Navy and the Marines were disbanded in June of 1785. It would be 13 years before the now U.S. Congress finally permanently created the United States Marine Corps in 1798 as it prepared the military for a naval war with France. During these early years of re-establishment, the Corps took part in it’s famous effort to capture ‘the shores of Tripoli’ during the First Barbary War against the African Barbary pirates.
During the War of 1812, the Marines were pivotal in what was largely a water-based series of battles with the British empire in the Atlantic Ocean off the American east coast and along the nation’s inner rivers and other waterways. Particularly significant were their efforts to slow the British march to the nation’s new capitol at Washington, D.C. and in the defense of New Orleans.
The Marines next fought in the Seminole Wars, particularly in the 2nd Seminole War of 1835-1842, when the U.S. was battling Native Americans for control of Florida. It was during their next efforts in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 that the Corps battled into those storied ‘halls of Montezuma’ as the United States took control of the territory of Texas.
The Civil War in America from 1861-1865 saw the Marines do little but participate in blockades as many of their ranks split between the two battling sides of the temporarily split nation. In the decade following the Civil War, the Marine Corps emblem and the famous ‘hymn’ were each developed. Then in 1883 the Corps adopted it’s famous motto of Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful, now frequently shortened to the famous cry of “Semper Fi!”
In 1898, the Marines played another significant role in the Spanish-American War, particularly in seizing a military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba which remains American territory to this day. During the early years of the 20th century the Corps saw action as far afield as the Boxer Rebellion in China and the Banana Wars in Haiti and Nicaragua.
It was during World War I that the Marines began to gain their modern reputation. Here the Marine Corps fought bravely at Belleau Wood near Paris, France during the German spring offensive in 1918. It became legend that the Germans so respected the Marines fighting spirit that they took to calling them Teufel Hunden, or Devil Dogs. The nickname stuck and has been a point of pride ever since.
The Marines did not go into hiding between the two massive World Wars, but instead saw the coming 2nd conflict and took numerous measures to study amphibious warfare and prepare for what they believed was a coming war with Japan. When the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbor and the conflict in the Pacific broke out, the Marines were ready. It was during the WWII battle at Iwo Jima that the iconic image of ‘Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima’ captured 5 Marines and a Navy man raising the American flag over that hard-fought island.
Through both Korea and Vietnam, the Marines fought valiantly in defense of freedom around the world. As peacekeepers in Beirut, Lebanon during the early years of Islamic fundamentalism rising up, a bomb ripped through their headquarters building, killing 220 Marines and 21 other service members in what was the worst loss of life during formal peacetime in the Corps history.
The Marines have continued to fight on, leading the way in America’s military battles against the forces of Middle East despotism and radical Islam from the Gulf War through to the ongoing War on Terror theatres in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
From those “Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”, the Devil Dogs of the United States Marine Corps have fought our country’s battles in the air, on land, and sea. They fight for right and freedom, to keep their honor clean, in every clime and place where they could take a gun. Here’s to their health and to their Corps. Happy Birthday, Marines!