The Marine Corps turns 243 years-old today. On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution to create a Marine force composed of two battalions. Since then, the Marines have been “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” and many other places as well.
You probably know that the Marine Corps’ motto is Semper Fidelis, or Semper Fi for short. It means “always faithful” in Latin, and it signifies a Marine’s loyalty both to the Corps and to the United States. What you may not know is that Semper Fi wasn’t the Corps’ motto until 1883. During its first century of existence, the Corps had a few unofficial mottos. These included “to the shores of Tripoli,” which commemorates the Marines’ service in the First Barbary War, Fortitudine (meaning “with courage”), and Per Mare, Per Terram (“by sea and by land”), which the Marines borrowed from the British Royal Marines.
No Marine has ever become president, but several have made it in politics. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly were both Marine Corps generals. Secretaries of State James A. Baker and George P. Shultz, Senator John Glenn (who first gained fame as an astronaut), and legendary political consultant James Carville also served in the Marine Corp. Several baseball hall-of-famers are veterans of the Corps, including Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Eddie Collins, Bill Veeck, and Ted Williams. Marines who made it in Hollywood include Gene Hackman, Harvey Keitel, Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, and George C. Scott. Comedians Drew Carey and Rob Riggle were Marines, as was the late, great Jonathan Winters. If you are old enough to remember Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan), he was a Marine. Several famous musicians served in the Corps, including country legend George Jones, hip-hop artist Shaggy, and “The March King,” John Philip Sousa. Marines who made it in the business world include Tom Bell (Taco Bell), Tom Monaghan (Dominos), Bob Parsons (GoDaddy.com), and Fred Smith (FedEx).
The Marine Corps is the smallest of the four U.S. armed services in the Department of Defense, with roughly 185,000 active-duty personnel, deployed in the Pacific, South America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Army is about two and a half times larger with roughly 468,000 troops. But compared to most of the world’s militaries the Marine Corps is a giant. Countries that have armies smaller than the U.S. Marine Corps include France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan.
I asked Col. Matthew S. Reid, a Marine officer spending a year as a visiting military fellow in CFR’s David Rockefeller Studies Program, to recommend some reading for people hoping to learn more about the Marine Corps. Here are Col. Reid’s suggestions.
- Albertus W. Catlin, With the Help of God and a Few Marines (1919). Catlin was the commanding officer of the 6th Marine Regiment in France during World War I. He tells the stories of the Battles of Belleau Wood and Chateau-Thierry, which stand at the heart of Marine Corps history.
- Leo Uris, Battle Cry (1953). This novel tells the story of Marines during World War II. Uris shows their transformation from young men, ready for action, into the Marines who stormed Guadalcanal and Tawara. It’s not a book about the tactics of major battles, but about the men who fought them.
- Seth Folsom, Where Youth and Laughter Go: With the Cutting Edge in Afghanistan (2015). This book concludes a trilogy chronicling Folsom’s time commanding the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Afghanistan. It is story about day-to-day challenges Marines face and the strong bonds forged during America’s longest war.
- Nathaniel C. Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005). This memoir tells the story of Fick’s time leading a platoon in Afghanistan after September 11. In telling his story, Fick reveals what makes officers in the Marine Corps tick and, more importantly, what makes them so special.
Col. Reid also recommended three films:
- The D.I. (1957). This film takes place on Parris Island, the training site where Marines are made. It centers on the tense relationship between a drill instructor and a private who isn’t pulling his weight. The former must make sure the latter turns into the Marine he’s meant to be.
- Full Metal Jacket (1987). Stanley Kubrick tells the story of a Marine covering the Battle for Hue during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. At the center of it all is Private Joker, a Marine who is not only a witness to the physical destruction, but also to the psychological destruction of his fellow Marines.
- Taking Chance (2009). Lt. Col. Michael Strobl volunteers to escort the remains of Private First Class Chance Phelps, who was killed in Iraq at the age of nineteen, back to his home in Dubois, Wyoming. During the process Strobl learns the true cost of war. It’s a powerful story based on true events.
- Chain of Command (2018). This docu-series from National Geographic follows America’s men and women in uniform as they perform their jobs around the world. It’s a deep dive into America’s military commitments overseas and who is doing the work.
The official YouTube page of the United States Marine Corps posted this 243th birthday message, providing a moving reminder of the heroism and sacrifices Marines have made over the years:
A tip of the TWE cap to all the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Marine Corps.
Corey Cooper assisted in the preparation of this post.