Every Climb and Place

… 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.[1]

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.”

Mexican-American War

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.”[2]

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.[3]

Historic PeriodOverall StrengthBattle casualties KIA/WIA
  American Revolution2,13149/70
  Quasi-war with France52506/11
  Barbary Wars35904/10
  War of 181264848/66
  Creek & Seminole War47208/01
  Mexican-American War1,75111/47
  Civil War (Union)3,860148/131
  Spanish-American War3,80607/21
  Samoan War3,14200/02
  Boxer Rebellion (China)5,86509/17
  Nicaragua (1912)9,69605/16
  Mexican Intervention (1914)10,38605/13
  Dominican Rep (1916-1920)17,16517/50
  Haiti (1915-1934)16,36110/26
  Nicaragua (1926-1933)16,06847/66
  World War I (1917-1918)52,8192,461/9,520
  World War II (1941-1945)475,60419,733/68,207
  Korean War (1950-1953)249,2194,267/23,744
  Dominican Rep (1965)190,21309/25
  Vietnam War195,95113,091/88,594
  Lebanon Intervention (1984)196,214240/151
  Persian Gulf (1988)197,35002/00
  Panama (1989)196,95602/03
  Persian Gulf War (1991)194,04024/92
  Somalia (1994)174,15802/15
  Afghan War (2001-2015)183,197378/4,955
  Iraq War (2003-2016)183,420853/8642

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!

Endnotes:

[1] 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.

[2] 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.”

[3] Source of data: United States Marine Corps University.


246th United States Marine Corps Birthday

In Celebration

Here’s health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve;
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.”

Third stanza of the Marine Corps Hymn

A bit of Marine Corps history:

As my regular readers should know by now, the United States Marine Corps celebrates its birthday on 10 November.  The Marine Corps Birthday is a unique celebration honoring all Marines and their families, past, present, and future.  It rekindles the connection of Marines since 1775.  My readers should also know that the Marine Corps has defended the United States and the American people in every one of those years.  On this day, we Marines honor our traditions with reverence and respect; we pay homage to the distinguished service of the Corps and of those who have worn our uniform.

The Second Continental Congress created the Marine Corps on 10 November 1775, eight months before America’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.  Congress created the Marines to serve alongside the Continental Navy — and have done so ever since.  The first Marine Corps Commandant was Major Samuel Nicholas.  During the 7-years of the Revolutionary War, the Marine Corps increased from its original two battalions to just over 2,100 Marines.  It was then, and remains, the nation’s smallest armed force.  Despite its small size, however, the battle history of the United States Marine Corps is second to none.

At the end of the Revolutionary War, Congress disbanded the Navy and Marine Corps.  Our founding fathers, having experienced the tyranny of the British Army, had no interest in maintaining “standing armies.”  In 1794, however, circumstances changed.  Beginning around 1785, Islamist pirates operating off the North African coastline seized American ships and held them, their crews, passengers, and their cargoes for ransom.

Initially, Congress thought that it might be cheaper to pay these brigands their money, but each year ransom demands increased until the United States was paying out about twenty-percent of its annual budget to Barbary Pirates.  President George Washington asked Congress to bring back the Navy and Marine Corps to deal with the pirates and guarantee America’s sovereignty at sea.  In 1794, the Navy (and Marine Corps) were placed under the Secretary of War.  However, in 1798, legislation was enacted to establish the Navy as a separate department, and the Navy and Marine Corps as separate branches of the armed forces.

Pursuant to Marine Corps General Order No. 47 (1921), the Commandant of the Marine Corps directed that the following be read aloud to all Marines on 10 November of each year:

(1) On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name “Marine”. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

(2) The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

(3) In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

(4) This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

John A. Lejeune,
Major General Commandant

During the Marine Corps Birthday Ceremony, a traditional birthday cake is presented to those in attendance.  After the cake is cut, the first slice is first presented to the oldest Marine present, who then passes it to the youngest Marine.  It is a symbolic transfer of wisdom and understanding from the older brother to the younger.  This is a hallmark of Marine Corps training that begins at boot camp or officer’s candidate school and is repeated throughout a Marine’s entire service.  Understanding Marine Corps history and living up to the high standards of those who went before is an integral part of Marine Corps service.

Our Motto

The motto of the U. S. Marine Corps is Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful).  It reflects a Marine’s unwavering patriotism, tenacity, and their commitment to God, Country, Corps, and their brothers in arms.  The official march of the U. S. Marine Corps is titled The Semper Fidelis March by John Phillip Sousa.  Enjoy the following presentation by the United States Marine Corps Band.

The Marines are known by several nicknames, but some of these aren’t suitable for print and are largely a result of vile lies, misrepresentations, and Army-Navy jealousy.  But two of these nicknames are Leatherneck, which comes from the thick leather collar worn by Marines during the age of sail to prevent decapitation, and Devil Dog [Teufelhunden] which is what the German soldiers named Marines during World War I.

Our Hymn

The Marine Corps Hymn, is one of the most readily recognized songs in the world today and is the oldest of our country’s service songs.  The history of our hymn has been clouded by the passage of time and sometimes confused by inaccurate oral traditions, but there is never any confusion on the part of listeners of the Marine’s hymn.  It is as easily identified with the Marine Corps as the Star Spangled Banner is with the United States of America.

The Marine Corps Hymn has become a sacred symbol of the pride and professionalism of a Marine; when played or sung, all Marines rise to their feet and stand at attention for its duration.  The music to the hymn originated with the opera Geneviève de Brabant composed by the French composer Jacques Offenbach.  One listening to Couplets des Deux Hommes d’Armes will immediately recognize the tune.

We do not know who penned the words to the Marine’s Hymn — but tradition claims that it was an unidentified Marine sometime after 1867.  The first two lines of the verse were taken from the words inscribed on the Battle Colors of the Marine Corps: “To the Shores of Tripoli.”

The Battle Colors were so inscribed after the Barbary War of 1805.  Later, after the Marines participated in the capture of Mexico City and the Castle of Chapultepec (also known as the Halls of Montezuma) in 1847, the inscription on the Colors was changed to read, “From the Shores of Tripoli to the Halls of Montezuma.”  Whoever wrote the words to the Marine Corps Hymn reversed this order.

To all Marines and Friends of the Corps

Semper Fi