from The Water's Edge

Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps!

Marine Corps Birthday
Marine Corps Birthday

November 10, 2014

Marine Corps Birthday
Marine Corps Birthday
Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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The Marine Corps turns 239 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 190,000 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 490,000 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.

Want to learn more about the Marine Corps? I asked Col. Stephen Liszewski, 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. Here are five books he recommends, with his brief summaries:

  • Krulak, Victor H. First to Fight: An Inside View of the U. S. Marine Corps (1984). Lt. Gen. Krulak writes that “This book, therefore, is an effort to set down what I perceive to be the qualities that have caused the Marine Corps to survive and flourish.”
  • Pressfield, Stephen. The Warrior Ethos (2011). Pressfield served as a Marine after graduating from Duke University in 1965. This book captures the essence of the ethos we strive to teach to our Marines.
  • Russ, Martin. Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950 (1999). Russ tells the story of the First Marine Division and the Chosin Reservoir campaign in 1950 during the Korean War. The 12,000 Marines and sailors of the First Marine Division found themselves surrounded by 60,000 Chinese in the frozen mountains of Korea. The First Marine Division fought its way out of this death trap, taking out their dead, wounded, and equipment while facing relentless Chinese attacks. An incredible story of courage and warfighting skill.
  • Sledge, E.B. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa (1981). The Pacific theater of World War II was the crucible that made the Marine Corps the famed fighting force that is known around the world. The author, E. B. Sledge, was a private first class with Company K, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division, who fought in and survived the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. This book tells the story of Sledge and his fellow Marines in a deeply personal way that highlights the human dimension of the war in the Pacific.
  • Webb, James. Fields of Fire (1978). A novel about young men from different worlds plunged into jungle warfare as U.S. Marines in the An Hoa Basin of Vietnam in 1969. This book is a classic story of men under fire and combat leadership.

Col. Liszewski also recommends the HBO mini-series The Pacific (2010), which tells the stories of three marines, John Basilone, E.B. Sledge, and Robert Leckie, on the Pacific front during World War II. The show is based true stories, drawing on Sledge’s With the Old Breed, as well as Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific(1957).

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

The official video birthday message of the Commandant of the Marine Corps (the Marine Corps just got a new commandant, General Joseph Dunford, last month) 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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