Growing a Marine Hero: Haiti, 1919

Haiti MapThe island of Hispaniola has a long and troubled history. Spanish colonization disposed of the native inhabitants and imported African slaves in their place. In 1697, the French took over the western one-third of the island and christened it Haiti—an area consisting of 11,000 square miles, three-quarters of which is mountainous interior, the rest being coastal plain. The primary products of Haiti were coffee, sugar, and other cash crops. By 1791, Haiti had a population of 25,000 whites, 30,000 free mulattoes, and 500,000 black slaves and their French masters did not treat them well, or wisely. The slaves rebelled, and over ten years of conflict, reduced the free inhabitants of Haiti by 70 percent —including all whites. Due to a long procession of rebellions and Coup d’état the nation never again achieved any degree of prosperity.

Haitian mulattoes advantaged their status under colonial rule, maintained French culture, and governed the country, but the real power brokers were the Cacos—lawless rural blacks who formed gangs and intimidated everyone with their violence. Wealthy political hacks often paid the Cacos to do their bidding. Meanwhile, mulattoes and Cacos abandoned most of Haiti’s citizens to languish in the squalor of their depressing slums.

The foregoing describes the political and economic environment into which young Private Lewis B. Puller arrived in 1919. From the vantage point of a naval vessel approaching the Haitian coast, the island was exciting to behold. There were white stucco buildings with red Spanish tile roofs, which contrasted with lush forests in the background. This favorable impression changed quickly, however, as the ship neared the coastal region, where the fresh sea breeze transformed into a revoltingly pungent odor.Haiti 002

During the period between 1908 and 1915, the Haitian government changed hands seven times. Four incumbent presidents left office in coffins and it was thus that convinced President Woodrow Wilson (D) to send a brigade of 2,000 Marines to “restore order and protect American interests.” Clever diplomats convinced the Haitian government to sign a treaty, which effectively made Haiti a protectorate of the United States. Consequently, Haitian politics stabilized.

The Marine Corps role in Haiti was to perform as a constabulary. Marine officers and NCOs provided experience and political neutrality needed to help reorganize the Haitian national police and military. To accomplish this, Marine NCOs received commissions and Gendarmerie lieutenants, while officers served in billets two or three grades higher than their American rank. Marines assigned to the Gendarmerie received a salary from the Haitian government in addition to the pay as U. S. Marines. For a corporal working as a constabulary lieutenant, the extra $720.00 per year more than doubled his Marine Corps pay.

Haiti 001Not all Marines served well in these billets. Some brought with them their prejudices toward blacks and there were language difficulties owing to the fact that most Americans did not speak French. By 1919, Marine commanders shipped out nearly a third of the Marines assigned to the constabulary due to their unsatisfactory performance in this unusual “independent” duty. There was nothing remotely similar between the normal duties of a Marine Corps officer or NCO and that of a member of the Haitian Gendarmerie. In addition to pacification duty, young Marines also exercised civil powers. They enforced the law, supervised the jails, prepared criminal cases for courts, approved all local government transactions, and paid local government employees. Young Marines also supervised education programs, directed sanitation efforts, agricultural pursuits, and all military construction projects within his area of responsibility.

Private Puller became part of the Gendarmerie not long after his arrival in Haiti. His on the job training consisted of observing the interaction between Haitian NCOs and the common constables; his captain instructed him to learn to speak and understand Creole. He learned that in order to be successful in this assignment, it would be necessary that he learn local customs and traditions. For example, one new twist to military life was that Haitian wives accompanied the men, seeing to all of their needs. The decisions that Puller would make about his men would affect their wives and children, also.

Haiti Mule TrainUpon Private Puller’s arrival in Haiti, his superiors assigned him to the Gendarmerie. His on the job training consisted of “observing” the Haitian NCOs drill their subordinates and what he saw amazed him. The black NCOs used long wooden rods to strike the head of any soldier whose drill performance was substandard—he may have wondered how it was possible to generate loyalty and devotion from subordinates when their leaders abused them. In any case, his first duty was to provide security for mule-trains transporting supplies to inland units. Within a week, Puller took charge of the supply run to Mirebalais and Las Cohobas, small towns located within Cacos infested countryside. With 25-armed escorts, Puller led his mule train out of Port Au Prince toward his objectives 40 miles distant. Without accurate maps, he had only a verbal description of the route to guide him; his troops spoke no English. He had no previous experience with mule trains, and so he set upon a quick pace of march.

Late in the afternoon, Puller’s small force surprised a column of about 100 Cacos moving in the opposite direction. Without hesitation, Puller ordered a charge into the enemy force, and even though his troops did not understand a word of English, they followed their aggressive leader. Several of the Cacos were shot and killed, and the rest scattered. This was “Chesty” Puller’s first armed confrontation with an enemy and it taught him a valuable lesson that he would take with him for the balance of his career: courage and coolness under fire, aggressive action, leading from the front of the line. Nevertheless, in spite of these attributes, Private Puller’s first mission was not an unqualified success: he would have to learn how to better manage and care for the pack mules that suffered under Puller’s grueling pace.

Enduring Grief

EB Sledge 001“Johnny Marmet came striding down the incline of the valley to meet us as we started up. Even before I could see his face clearly, I knew from the way he was walking that something was dreadfully amiss. He lurched up to us nervously clutching the web strap of the submachine gun slung over his shoulder. I have never seen Johnny nervous before, even under the thickest fire, which he seemed to regard as a nuisance that interfered with his carrying out his job.”

“His tired face was contorted with emotion, his brow was knitted tightly, and his bloodshot eyes appeared moist. It was obvious that he had something fearful to tell us. We shuffled to a halt.”

“My first thought was that the Japanese had slipped in thousands of troops from the northern Palaus and that we would never get off the island. No, maybe the enemy had bombed some American city or chased off the navy as they had done at Guadalcanal. My imagination went wild, but none of us was prepared for what we were about to hear.”

“’Howdy Johnny,’ someone said as he came up to us.”

“’All right, you guys, let’s get squared away here,’ he said looking in every direction but us. (This was strange, because Johnny wasn’t the least reluctant to make eye contact with death, destiny, or the general himself.) ‘Okay you guys—Okay you guys,’ he repeated, obviously flustered. A couple of the men exchanged quizzical glances.”

“’The skipper is dead. Ack Ack has been killed,’ Johnny finally blurted out, and then looked quickly away from us.”

“I was stunned and sickened. Throwing my ammo bag down, I turned away from the others, sat on my helmet, and sobbed quietly.”

“’Those goddamn slant-eyed sonsabitches,’ someone behind me groaned.”

“Never in my wildest imagination had I contemplated Captain Haldane’s death. We had a steady stream of killed and wounded leaving us, but somehow I assumed Ack Ack was immortal. Our company commander represented stability and direction in a world of violence, death, and destruction. Now his life had been snuffed out. We felt forlorn and lost. It was the worst grief I endured during the entire war. The intervening years have not lessened it any.”

E. B. Sledge
From With the Old Breed at Pelélieu and Okinawa

Eugene B. Sledge passed away in 2001.  The above picture was taken of him during the war in the Pacific.

Groucho Marx

The definitive word in the expression Marine Corps Aviation is Marine. In addition to the development of their considerable aeronautical skills, all Marine Corps aviators go through infantry officer training. This is because there is only one Marine Corps, composed of air, ground, and logistics combat elements. And this is precisely why Marine pilots know exactly what the average grunt is going through down below the clouds.

In fact, many Marine Corps pilots serve a tour with the grunts as air liaison officers, or forward air controllers. When Marine pilots receive a call for assistance or emergency extraction, when they can hear sound of rifles rattling in the background, they know exactly what the ground combat team is going through.

“In modern war you will die like a dog for no good reason.”

—Earnest Hemingway

Razorback Quang Tri 001Phu Bai, Vietnam is located eight miles south of the former imperial capital at Hue. On the morning of 6 August 1966, Phu Bai served as the staging area for an offensive thrust into the coastal flatlands between Hue and Quang Tri, 31 miles further north. The operation was code named Colorado and the assault was determined to drive the enemy out of the now infamous “street without joy.” Three helicopter squadrons were lined up to deliver the grunts into the battle area, including sixteen H-34s, and 20 CH-46s. Before noon, the H-34s had taken nineteen hits and one of the CH-46s had been grounded by a lucky hit that severed an oil line —but the Marines had been landed and the helicopters withdrew to their respective base of operations, one of these being the air facility at Marble Mountain [1].

Meanwhile, in Northern Quang Tri Province, just below the DMZ, the valley eastward from the Razorback was infested with company sized NVA units; Marine commanders decided to whittle away at them with field artillery —less costly than an infantry frontal assault, but the problem is that the use of artillery requires an assessment of battle damage. In order to assess the damage, it was necessary to send in Marine reconnaissance teams—usually consisting of four or five Marines. Their mission was not to fight: it was to establish eyes and ears to discover and report enemy activity. Using battery operated radios, the Recon teams would help direct howitzer fires.

Marine Recon 002One such team was code named “Groucho Marx.” It was led by Staff Sergeant Billy Donaldson [2] and carried with it two field radios (PRC-25 and PRC-10). Beyond standard weapons, the only special equipment was a set of 7×50 power binoculars. They had enough water and rations for three days. Groucho Marx was used to this … they had only recently been extracted from another operation when they came under heavy fire.

A Huey dropped off Groucho Marx in a lush valley twelve miles west of Dong Ha; to the west of that lay dark granite cliffs that formed the eastern wall of the Razorback; the Rockpile jutted 700 feet into the sky just 3 miles to the south. Hill 549 was just east. The team moved to their observation point and settled in for the night.

At 2300 hours the team heard enemy troop movements below them along a streamed; the sound of movement continued for well over an hour and then the silence of the night again returned. It remained quiet until around 1100 hours the next morning.  By then, the Recon Marines could hear the NVA soldiers talking and laughing.  The tell tale smoke from camp fires aided Donaldson in targeting the NVA and he promptly radioed the coordinates to the artillery liaison officer at Cam Lo.  Minutes later, Marine artillery rained down upon the enemy and when the fires ceased, Donaldson succinctly reported, “good cover, out.”

Groucho realized, however, that while the artillery strike had taken its toll on the enemy, the enemy must realize that someone was watching them from somewhere close.  By 1600, Donaldson moved his team to a better vantage point 100 meters (give or take) from their previous position. Soon, Groucho Marx could hear the enemy below them and could detect the scent of livestock [3].  The North Vietnamese commander was no slouch and it wasn’t long before he began sending out probes to locate the position of the American listening/observation posts. The Marines were so well concealed that the NVA did not detect them even when mere yards from their new position [4], but no one in Groucho Marx slept that night.

At daybreak on the following morning (8 August 1966), the NVA commander decided to step up his activities to locate the foreign invaders.  At this point, the Marines weren’t overly concerned; it was a large valley, and the Marines were well concealed.  They believed that the only way the NVA could find them would be if they mistakenly stumbled on top of them in the jungle.  The Marines continued to target the NVA.  A few hours later, however, the NVA had begun conducting on-line search operations. One sweep came within 50 feet of the Marine position.  Donaldson called in artillery within 300 meters of his location. “Good cover” was once more achieved, but now Donaldson knew that the NVA would intensify their search. He reasoned that now would be a good time to radio for air support.

Marine commanders questioned whether it was time to extract Groucho Marx, but the team responded, “Not yet.” The team still might be able to capture an NVA. Plus, Donaldson reported, they were only 150 meters from a suitable landing area. Nevertheless, the Marine commander directed a platoon into the valley, commanded by Second Lieutenant Andrew Sherman [5].  Four CH-46’s delivered their human cargo and departed. Not a shot was fired. Two gunships remained in the area for air support. After the platoon linked up with the Recon team, Lieutenant Sherman wisely organized a defensive perimeter. The fighting holes would come in handy.

A fire team reconnoitered the streamed and reported back that there was no sign of the NVA.  The Marines carefully poked around through the dense foliage within 200 meters of the knoll. They found evidence of the NVA presence, but the enemy had slipped away and had taken their dead and wounded with them.  The problem was Sherman didn’t know how far they had slipped away.

USMC H-34 001By mid-afternoon, the Marine commander decided to extract the 44 Marines; eight H-34 helicopters were fragged for the pickup at the point where Groucho was previously inserted. Sherman reported the landing zone secure, and the first H-34 cautiously made its way and took on its first increment of Marines. No sooner had the aircraft cleared the treetops, the NVA opened fire with automatic weapons.

Four more H-34’s swooped in to extract the Marines, but now the entire ridge line opened up with NVA fire.  Enemy rounds plinked through the helicopter skin as if it was thin paper.  Twenty Marines made it into the H-34s and the barrelhouse birds clawed their way into the air, over the treetops, and back towards Dong Ha. The door gunner of one of the H-34s was shot and killed, his body lying sprawled on the deck as Marines looked on helplessly.

Meanwhile, the remaining Marines noted a sudden increase in the enemy’s rate of fire. The H-34’s remaining on station started to come in for extraction, but Lieutenant Sherman waved them off.  He and the remaining 23 Marines withdrew back to the knoll where they reoccupied their defensive position.  The good news was that the defensive position was a good one; the bad news was that the enemy now knew exactly where these Marines were located.  For the next hour, the Marines readied themselves for the enemy assault; for the next hour, the enemy prepared to make one.

An estimated 200 NVA assaulted the Marine position, transforming the serene countryside into a scene of tremendous agitation and chaos. One Marine reported, “They attacked us; they were screaming like they were crazy drunk or something, so we shot them.”

The NVA attack faltered under a fierce Marine resistance.  The NVA withdrew to regroup and await replacements. The Marines threw back the second assault, but Lieutenant Sherman was shot and killed and nearly every Marines was wounded.  Sergeant Pace assumed command of the remaining Marines, but he was killed in a third assault.  Now command fell to Staff Sergeant Donaldson, NCOIC of Groucho Marx. The Marines were running out of ammunition and daylight, but worse than this was the large numbers of NVA troops filing into the battle area.

By 1900 on 8 August 1966, Pilots and aircrew from HMM-161 volunteered to make an attempt to reinforce the beleaguered Marines.  They made their approach from the Rockpile, but the NVA were waiting for them.  Withering fires drove the helicopters back.  Back at his command post, the Commanding Officer of Echo Company 2/4 knew what had to be done. With six volunteers, Captain Howard V. Lee [6]  loaded two H-34 helicopters with ammunition and all the grenades it could carry and flew to the area between the NVA and the Marines on the knoll. Tossing out all the ammo they could, Lee and three Marines jumped out and began dragging ammo crates to the Marine defensive position.  The second helicopter followed suit, disembarking additional ammunition and three more Marines, but no sooner had that helicopter lifted off, the Marines were quickly surrounded by NVA.

Captain Lee called for close air support from the two gunships circling above. Observing green smoke from the three surrounded Marines, Major Vincil Hazelbaker [7] dove his Huey to the valley floor firing into the NVA with concentrated automatic weapons fire. On his third pass, he flared the Huey and landed and picked up the stranded grunts, taking off again as soon as they were inside the aircraft.

By 2100, Captain Lee was down to 16 Marines, including the wounded that were still able to fight; Captain Lee was himself now seriously wounded by an enemy grenade. The NVA made another assault; the official after action report stated simply, “Enemy repelled.”

Meanwhile, Major Hazelbaker returned to Dong Ha and exchanged his gunship for a slick and loaded with resupply ammunition, decided to try his luck once more on the knoll at the Razorback. He arrived on station at about 22:45 and through gifted night flying, managed to position his slick right above the Marine defensive perimeter. The crew began shoving out ammo crates when a rocket hit the Huey, severely wounding the crew and completely disabling the bird. Major Hazelbaker and his co-pilot joined the fight from inside the defensive perimeter. While Hazelbaker operated the air net, his co-pilot, First Lieutenant Anthony Costa, worked to stop the flow of blood loss in Captain Lee.

Spooky C-47 001A new weapon soon arrived to help the Marines: Spooky was a World War II Era C-47 mounted with three 7.62mm miniguns offering 6,000 rounds per minute to the beleaguered force. Major Hazelbaker aimed his flashlight into the air and asked the Spooky pilot, “What color do you see?” The pilot replied, “I can see your position.” Hazelbaker then requested a fire mission. What the Marines saw was a single finger of fire, a blinding shaft of light slicing down from the sky; what the enemy saw was the angel of death, sitting on a pale horse.

By 0400, Captain Lee could no longer command his Marines. Loss of blood sapped all his strength; he relinquished command of his Marines to Major Hazelbaker. Dawn was still two hours away. The NVA crowded in toward the Marine position; the closer they got to the Marines, the safer they were from Spooky. As the sun began to break over the eastern sky, an A-4 Skyhawk sliced down from the sky. After laying down a dense phosphorous smoke screen between the NVA and the Marines, H-34’s spiraled down and landed within 200 meters, bringing in Marines from Fox and Echo Companies, 2/4 but the rescue force encountered no enemy resistance. The Groucho Marx battle had come to an end.

By now, even the uninitiated should have some inkling about the true meaning of Semper Fidelis.


Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.  —Deuteronomy 4


[1] The Marines did not realize that the Viet Cong had a fully operational field hospital deep inside Marble Mountain, so close that it was likely they could hear voices speaking in English from their recovery wards (William Boyles, Brothers in Arms).

[2] Awarded the Navy Cross

[3] The Vietnamese frequently used water buffalo to carry military supplies and equipment

[4] If you can’t see it, you can’t shoot it

[5] Posthumously awarded the Navy Cross

[6] Captain Lee was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Johnson on 25 October 1967.

[7] Awarded the Navy Cross

Major Levi Twiggs, USMC

Major Levi Twiggs was born in Richmond County, Georgia on 21 May 1793. He was the sixth son of Major General John Twiggs of revolutionary memory, whose patriotic devotion of his person and his purse in the war of independence earned for him an imperishable renown. A faithful son of his country, who at the outset of that unequal contest, raised from his private fortune an effective brigade, which, with his own services, he tendered to the cause of liberty, services which proved most efficient, earning for himself the rank of Major General in our then infant army, and the still higher title of “Savior of Georgia.” The present eminent Major General David E. Twiggs in the fifth son of the same illustrious sire.

1812-1840At the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, the subject of the present notice, then just having completed his nineteenth year, was desirous of entering the service, but failing to obtain the sanction of his parents at that time, he continued his studies at Athens College in his native state, for some months longer. At length, his military ardor was fanned into an irrepressible flame by the gallant exploits of our little navy, and on learning the news of the capture of the Macedonian frigate, by the United States under Commodore Decatur, he immediately left college, and solicited again his parents consent to apply for an appointment in the Marine Corps, which was now granted. He enter the Corps as second lieutenant on 10 November 1813 and, after a brief sojourn at headquarters, was stationed on the Patuxent with the troops which were posted there to oppose the passage of the British fleet, then hovering along the coast of the Chesapeake, which he displayed the energy of character and good conduct which ever after distinguished him. From this duty, Lieutenant Twiggs was ordered to join the frigate [1] President, commanded by Commodore Decatur, on her last memorable cruise under our flag. She sailed from New York on the 14th of January 1815, and soon after encountered a British fleet, consisting of the Majestic razee [2], the Endymion, Tenedos, and Pomona frigates, and a gun brig, and was captured after a most gallant defense —one of the opposing frigates, the Endymion, having been first disabled and her fire silenced in full view of the other ships of the hostile squadron.

By some untoward accident, the senior Marine officer did not sail in the President, and that arm of the service was commanded on this occasion by Lieutenant Twiggs —who by this time had attained the grade of first lieutenant—with such consummate skill and gallantry as to elicit the warmest applause of his commander, and to obtain honorable mention of his name in the commodore’s official dispatches. Lieutenant Twiggs’ command numbered fifty-six men, who, as is stated in Mackenzie’s Naval History, discharged during the action five thousand cartridges, and whose fire was pronounced by Commodore Decatur “incomparable.”

The officers of the President were detained as prisoners of war in Bermuda, until news of the peace reached there, when they returned to their country.

From that period until 1823, Lieutenant Twiggs was attached to the New York station, from whence in that year he was ordered to Philadelphia, having in 1822 united himself in marriage to a daughter of the deceased Captain McKnight, of the Marine Corps, and a niece of Commodore Decatur —the afflicted lady who now deplores his death. In 1824, he was ordered to the frigate Constellation under Commodore Warrington, to cruise among the West India islands, in which service he was absent nearly two years. On his return he was again attached to the Navy Yard at Philadelphia, having been advanced to captain by brevet during his absence, on 3 May 1825.

In November 1825, he was placed in command of Marines at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

In June 1826, Captain Twiggs was ordered to Florida, where he was engaged in the Seminole War until the month of April following, discharging the constant and very arduous duties attendant upon a war with wandering savages, marked by all the perils of treachery and ambuscades, and the more fatal dangers of a pestilential climate, and every species of suffering and exposure.

From the period of his return from Florida until 1843, having obtained the rank of major on the 15th of November 1840, he was from time to time, placed in command of Marines at the several stations of Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, discharging his duty at every post, and on all occasions, to the entire satisfaction of the Navy Department, and of the local authorities and citizens with whom he had either official or personal intercourse.

In 1843, Major Twiggs assumed command of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where he proved himself worthy of the rank and station which his gallantry and long services had earned, by the scrupulous discharge of every detail of his duty as an officer, and no less by his amiable, manly, and exceptionable bearing as a good citizen and high-bred gentleman. During the long period of 34 years’ service, he never but once asked a leave of absence, and then on account of the illness of a member of his family, when he was off duty but a single week.

Battle_of_ChapultepecOn the 2nd of June 1847, Major Twiggs departed for Mexico, having solicited active service. On the 20th of June, he arrived at Vera Cruz. On the 16th of July, he left for the interior with General Pierce’s brigade and reached Puebla on the 6th of August, which place he left with Major General Quitman’s division, a few days after, and on the 13th of September he fell, at the head of his command, leading them to the assault at the storming of Chapultepec; pierced by a bullet through the heart.

Of the details of the operations in which Major Twiggs was engaged, as well on the march to the Mexican capital as on the bloody fields in its neighborhood, no precise accounts have yet been received. We only know that, whilst in the performance of the proudest duty of a soldier, his brave spirit took its flight.

Of an imposing presence and noble mien, he was the personification of courage; dauntless himself, he infused the same quality into all his followers, performing the duties of his profession with a zeal that never flagged, and a singleness of purpose that considered no obstacle. Tenderly alive to the domestic sympathies, he sacrificed them all to his sense of duty to his country. This sentiment was uppermost in his heart. When he left home, therefore, upon his last tour of service, like a wise and good man, he made all his worldly arrangements, based upon the probability that he would never return, whilst he studiously avoided alluding to them to his family.

The death of his gallant son, George Decatur Twiggs, who fell a volunteer in Major Lally’s command at the National Bridge, on the 12th of August, on the way to join his uncle the general, whose aid he was to become, had already excited a sincere and deep-felt sympathy for the bereaved mother. Having but just entered his twentieth year, a young of the finest talents, and with the brightest prospects, already distinguished in the walks of literature, and pursuing his legal studies with the zeal inseparable from an ardent temperament, he also, true to his blood—the commingled blood of heroes, which flowed in his veins—panted for martial fame. In one action, he had already gained the applause of his commander; in the next, whilst activity discharging the duty of a lieutenant in the place of one who had just fallen, the fatal missile of the enemy cut him off in the flower of his age.

“As some fair tree which erst the forest graced

And charmed the eye by blooming vines embraced,

Prone on the earth, a lovely ruin, east,

Yields to the lightning’s stroke, or tempest’s blast!”

Of the many brave men who have laid down their lives for their country’s honour during the existing war, none fought more gallantly, nor died more nobly, than did these kindred spirits—the father, and the son. Neither has it pleased an all-wise Providence to call hence on any of those battlefields, recently rendered immortal by the achievements of our heroic soldiers, a more worthy and well-tried citizen than the one, nor a youth of brighter promise than the other.

Well appreciated by his friends, to whom he was endeared, as well as by his own virtues as those of his estimable wife, the news of the fall of Major Twiggs, almost coincident as it was with that of his son, has created a deep sensation of universal sorrow and sympathy. Generous, humane, social, affectionate, and with a soul of chivalry, he was swayed by the gentlest emotions; considerate to those under his command, without any relaxation of discipline, he was the friend of the soldier, and was rewarded by the soldier’s obedience and devotion. As an officer, long holding most responsible and arduous stations, his conduct always elicited the applause of his superiors; and in all the social relations, and more especially in those of domestic life, his deportment may be pronounced to have been faultless. Of scrupulous integrity, he was conscientious in the discharge even of his minutest duties: a tender and affectionate husband, a most kind and indulgent parent, leaving a wife and three daughters to lament his loss. Alas, it is to those widowed and orphaned hearts that his many virtues are best known, and by them that they will be most fondly cherished; hearts crushed beneath a weight of affliction which few are called upon to bear, for scarcely had they begun to recover from the shock of the loss of a son and brother, before this last stunning blow fell upon them like a thunderbolt. Let them be considered henceforth as the widow and children of the nation, for to their ease the annals of war, with its aggravated horrors, can scarcely produce a parallel. To their prior bereavements it would be out of place to refer here. But that gracious Being, who has seen fit to visit them with such grievous afflictions, will not fail to comfort and uphold them in this our of their bitter trial.

Among the testimonials of respect from senior officers, and different friends, was the following order dated from the Adjutant and Inspector’s Office, Washington on 20 November 1947, and addressed to Captain J. G. Williams, commanding Marines at Philadelphia:

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps with profound and cordial sorrow, announces to the officers and soldiers the death of Major Levi Twiggs, while leading his command to victory and glory, on the 13th September, under the walls of the city of Mexico. In his loss the Corps has to mourn for a gallant officer, who has passed all of his young in its ranks, and his country for an estimable and patriotic citizen, and those who knew him most intimately, for a valued friend and a high-minded gentleman.”

“The usual badge of mourning will be worn for him by the officers of the Corps for one month, and the flag at headquarters will be half-masted tomorrow.”

“By order of Brevet Brigadier General Commandant.”


Off additional interest:

  1. Levi Twiggs was the great uncle of John Twiggs Meyers, the topic of two previous stories of the Corps.
  2. Marine Corps participation in the Battle of Chapultepec and subsequent occupation of Mexico City are memorialized by the opening lines of the U. S. Marine Corps hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma…”
  3. In acknowledgment of the Marine officers and NCOs who died in the Battle of Chapultepec, all officers and NCOs have worn a pronounced red stripe on the trousers of the Dress Blue uniform since 1849. It is commonly referred to as the “blood stripe.”
  4. Among the captains and majors who participated in the Mexican American War were the generals commanding both Union and Confederate armies in the American Civil War, including Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Picket, James Longstreet, and Thomas Jackson.
  5. The entire account (above) was taken word for word from a work published in 1848 by Grigg, Elliot & Company, publishers, entitled The Mexican War and its Heroes.


[1] In the 18th and early 19th Century, a frigate was a ship of war equivalent in length to a ship of the line, but lightly armored, possessing only 28 guns, faster, and used for patrolling and escorting ships of the line.

[2] A razee is a ship that has undergone modifications of original construct, reducing the number of decks, guns, and ship’s company. HMS Majestic was commissioned in 1785 with 74 guns, razeed in 1813 to become a large frigate with 58 guns.