… Happy Birthday, Marines!
One of the greatest gifts bestowed on the American people during their formative period was the wisdom of the nation’s founding members to create, establish, and maintain a small but elite corps of individuals so imbued with patriotism and devotion that they willingly gave up their lives in the service to their country — and to one another. They called themselves Marines. In 1775, they were called Continental Marines. They have never relinquished their sense of duty, or their honor since their creation on that blustery early November day 247 years ago.
The Marine Corps Hymn is both a chronicle of the story of American Marines and an ongoing pledge to the purpose of the U.S. Marine Corps — to which all Marines subscribe.
Although we do not know the name of the individual who penned the words to the Hymn, the words are much easier to trace (historically) than the music, which many scholars seem willing to attribute to the French composer, Jacques Offenbach. Offenbach’s opera was called Geneviève de Brabant. Geneviève’s story is believed to rest on the events surrounding Marine de Brabant, the wife of Louis II, Duke of Bavaria and Count Palatine de Rhine. Marie was suspected of infidelity and subsequently tried by her husband, found guilty, and beheaded (18 January 1256). When the verdict was shown in error, religious officials required Louis to atone, which did very little for Marie, by then long dead. The change in the name from Marie to Geneviève may relate to the so-called cult of Geneviève, patroness of Paris, France.
The opera was first performed in 1859 (or thereabouts). But there are those who claim that Offenbach’s tune originated from a Spanish folk song long before 1859. This too is interesting because Spanish classical music was already in decline by the beginning of the 18th century, replaced in many instances by post-renaissance Italian classical constructs in the 19th and 20th centuries. If we address this question-mark, then we must also understand that symphonic music was never important to Spaniards, who preferred solo instrumental (guitar and piano) and vocal operas by local (regional) composers and then to this, we must add the fact that musically, there are twelve distinctive Spanish cultural regions. Questions of music aside, the words to this song are exclusive “American Marine” — we simply do not know who.
Continental Marines ceased to exist when the U.S. Congress decided that a standing naval and military force was no longer needed in the newly created United States of America — following the war with Great Britain in 1783, of course. But within ten years, it became apparent to President Washington that the United States could not defend its sovereignty at home or abroad without a naval presence on the high seas, or a land army at home to address Indian unrest. See also: At Tripoli.
It was in response to intolerable insults to the United States by various leaders of the Turkish Empire and the barbary states that America’s first three presidents instituted somewhat hesitant and mostly inadequate policies directed at the Barbary States. At Tripoli (Part I) describes the background and naval campaign implemented to address Islamist blackguards and wastrels. In recognition of the extraordinary courage and patriotism of Captain William Eaton and First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, the Marine Corps Hymn recalls … “to the shores of Tripoli.”
During the Mexican-American War (1846-48), American Marines served alongside the U.S. Army under General Winfield Scott. Following the battle of Mexico City, known as the Battle of Chapultepec, American forces captured the Chapultepec Castile, also known as the Halls of Montezuma. It was this victory, in 1847, that effectively ended the war with Mexico.
In 1942, Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb, serving as 17th Commandant of the Marine Corps, authorized a change to the fourth line of the first stanza of the Marine Corps Hymn to include a reference to Marine Corps aviation. The line, originally written “On the land as on the sea,” was changed to “In the air, on land, and sea.”
The Battle Colors of the United States Marine Corps
The official Battle Colors of the U.S. Marine Corps are maintained at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., the oldest organization in the Marine Corps. A duplicate battle color is retained in the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps. What distinguishes the Battle Colors of the United States Marine Corps from all other Marine Corps battle colors is that they contain the battle streamers of every battle fought by Marines since 1775. The flags found in regular Marine Corps units, maintained in the office of battalion commanders and above (air squadrons, regiments, aviation groups, infantry divisions, air wings, and fleet Marine Force headquarters organizations, is that they contain battle streamers only of the battles those units participated in. For example, a battalion that did not participate in World War I would not have any battle streamers associated with World War I.
The Battle Colors of the U.S. Marine Corps contain fifty-five battle streamers; they represent U.S. and foreign decorations and awards for combat service, expeditions, and campaigns since the American Revolution. During the Marine Corps’ first 150 years, Marines in the field carried a variety of flags. It was not until 18 April 1925 that Marine Corps Order Number 4 designated gold and scarlet as the official colors of the U.S. Marine Corps. These colors, however, were not reflected in the official Marine Corps flag until 18 January 1939 when a new design incorporating the new colors was approved. This design was essentially that of today’s Marine Corps standard and was the result of a two-year study concerning the design of a standard Marine Corps flag, and the units to which such a flag should be issued.
The 55 colored streamers which adorn the Battle Color represent the history and accomplishments of the Marine Corps. The newest streamers to be added to the Battle Color are the Afghanistan, Iraq, and Inherent Resolve Campaign Streamers.
The Importance of Symbols
The Marine Corps is one of the nation’s smallest services, its size dependent upon missions assigned to it. So, when we look back into its history, we won’t see vast numbers of Marines killed or wounded in battle. But to provide some context, I want to offer some overall numbers reflecting the size of the Corps at various times along with the numbers of casualties (killed and wounded) in several conflicts.
|Historic Period||Overall Strength||Battle casualties KIA/WIA|
|Quasi-war with France||525||06/11|
|War of 1812||648||48/66|
|Creek & Seminole War||472||08/01|
|Civil War (Union)||3,860||148/131|
|Boxer Rebellion (China)||5,865||09/17|
|Mexican Intervention (1914)||10,386||05/13|
|Dominican Rep (1916-1920)||17,165||17/50|
|World War I (1917-1918)||52,819||2,461/9,520|
|World War II (1941-1945)||475,604||19,733/68,207|
|Korean War (1950-1953)||249,219||4,267/23,744|
|Dominican Rep (1965)||190,213||09/25|
|Lebanon Intervention (1984)||196,214||240/151|
|Persian Gulf (1988)||197,350||02/00|
|Persian Gulf War (1991)||194,040||24/92|
|Afghan War (2001-2015)||183,197||378/4,955|
|Iraq War (2003-2016)||183,420||853/8642|
As with all the other military services, every Marine killed, wounded, and maimed in the service to their country signifies yet another mother/father, brother/sister, or wife/child with a broken heart. War always affects more than those wearing a military uniform. Those who elect to remain home where it is safe and comfortable during times of crisis never seem to understand this reality. There are some Americans who do not even care. It wasn’t always that way in America — but welcome to 2022. But these symbols, our hymn, and the battle colors of the U.S. Marine Corps serve as important reminders of who we are and what we represent — and our commitment to God, Country, and each other. So … Here’s health to you and to our Corps — which we are proud to serve.
Happy Birthday, Marines!
 Note that the opening line of the Marine Corps Hymn is, “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli…” Whoever wrote the hymn has these events out of sequence, but I’ve tried it the other way around and it simply doesn’t work — so we will have to acknowledge some poetic license and I vote we keep the hymn the way it is now.
 The United States did not declare war during World War II until the Japanese first attacked the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941. In 1940, however, the U.S. sent a regiment of 1,000 Marines to Iceland to help prevent an invasion by Nazi Germany. This event inspired another unofficial stanza to the Marine Corps Hymn. It was: “Again in nineteen forty-one, we sailed a north’ard course, and found beneath the sun the Viking and the Norse. The Iceland girls were slim and fair, and fair the Icelandic scenes, and the Army found in landing there, the United States Marines.”
 Source of data: United States Marine Corps University.