from The Water's Edge

Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps!

U.S. Marine Corps Major General Michael Dana uses a saber to slice a cake for the Marines' 237th birthday (Chip East/Courtesy Reuters).

November 10, 2013

U.S. Marine Corps Major General Michael Dana uses a saber to slice a cake for the Marines' 237th birthday (Chip East/Courtesy Reuters).
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The Marine Corps turns 238 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. Secretaries of State James A. Baker and George P. Shultz and Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan all served in the Marine Corps. Senator John Glenn (who first gained fame as an astronaut) was also a Marine. 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 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. Several famous musicians served in the Corps, including country legend George Jones, hip-hop artist Shaggy, and  "The March King," John Philip Sousa.

The Marine Corps is the smallest of the four U.S. armed services in the Department of Defense, with roughly 194,000 active-duty personnel. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Army is nearly three times larger with roughly 550,000 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 Brazil, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan.

Want to learn more about the Marine Corps? I asked Col. Scott Campbell, one of five active duty U.S. military officers spending the year as part of CFR’s Studies Program, to recommend a few books worth reading. Scott has completed multiple combat deployments, and he most recently commanded the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Here are three books he recommends:

  • Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor by Bill Ross provides an hour-by-hour breakdown of one of the pivotal battles of World War II, highlighting how individual bravery contributed to the American victory and placing the Battle of Iwo Jima in the broader context of the war.
  • Fix Bayonets! by John W. Thomason describes the lives of the Fifth Marine Regiment in France during the World War I. Thomason, who served in France in 1918 and subsequently spent twenty-seven years as a Marine Corps officer, draws on his own experience to recount not only the battles but also the daily lives of Marines fighting in what was then known as the Great War.
  • One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa by John Wukovits uses first-hand accounts to tell the story of how 18,000 Marines defeated 4,500 Japanese soldiers in a bloody three-day battle in November 1943 to gain control of the small Pacific island of Betio.

If you want to know what all Marines are required to read, the Marine Corps has kindly posted its reading list online. also has a great timeline of the history of the Marines.

The official video message of the Commandant of the Marine Corps provides a moving reminder of the heroism and sacrifices Marines have made over the years.

Thanks to all those who have served.

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