The Marine Corps turns 241 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.
The Marine Corps has distinguished itself at some of the most famous battles in U.S. military history: Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Inchon, Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sanh, among others. Nearly three hundred Marines have been awarded the Medal of Honor for their individual valor. Two Marines, Daniel Daly and Smedley Butler, have been awarded the medal twice. The Marine who received the Medal of Honor most recently was Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter. In 2014 he shielded a fellow Marine by throwing himself in front of a grenade during an attack on a Marine patrol base in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan. Though grievously wounded, Lance Corporal Carpenter survived.
No Marine has ever become president, but several have made it in politics. Secretaries of State James A. Baker and George P. Shultz both served in the Marine Corps, as did Senator John Glenn (who first gained fame as an astronaut) and legendary political consultant James Carville. 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 184,000 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 475,000 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? Col. Tom Gordon, one of five active duty U.S. military officers spending the year in CFR’s Studies Program, recommends five books in particular worth reading. Here they are, along with his brief summaries:
- Sinek, Simon. Leaders Eat Last (2014). In researching his book, Sinek asked Lt. Gen. George Flynn why the Marine Corps is the best. He replied that it is because our officers eat last. Sinek visited Quantico and observed the most junior Marines eating first and the most senior Marines taking their place at the back of the line. What he found symbolic in the chow hall defines Marine Corps culture. The price of leadership in the Corps is self-interest.
- Zinni, Anthony. Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom (2009). Drawing on forty years of service in the Marine Corps, retired General Zinni’s book on leadership examines the trends that have reshaped our world and the ways in which visionary leaders and organizations can effectively respond.
- Garcia, Fred. The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively (2012). This book builds on the U.S. Marine Corps’ capstone publication Warfighting and shows how to apply the Corps’ proven leadership and strategy doctrine to all forms of public communication.
- Calvin, Thomas. The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat (2009). This is the story of 234 heroic marines from Fox Company who held off a force of 10,000 Chinese soldiers in subzero weather to secure the Toktong Pass during the Korean War.
- Ricks, Thomas. Making the Corps (1998). Ricks visited boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, to learn how old values are stripped away and new Marine Corps values are instilled. The author follows sixty-three recruits from their hometowns to Parris Island, through boot camp, and into their first year as Marines. As three drill instructors forge and sharpen a group of young men, a larger picture of the growing gulf that divides the military from the rest of America emerges.