“Always faithful” for 234 years

Father David Epps's picture

Some would say that it not surprising that the United States Marine Corps was born in a bar — a tavern, actually. On Nov. 10, 1775, the Continental Congress formed the Continental Marines. Captain Samuel Nicholas was commissioned as the first officer in the Corps on Nov. 28, 1775, and set up the first recruiting post in a tavern.

Tun Tavern in Philadelphia is widely regarded as the birth place of the Marines, although Marine historian Edwin Simmons believes the first recruiting station was set up at the Conestoga Waggon Tavern. Whatever the facts may be, Tun Tavern holds the coveted place in Marine legend.

By December 1775, five companies of about 300 Marines were raised. The first Marines were armed but had no uniforms in the beginning. The new Marines had their first fight in the Caribbean and joined Washington’s troops in Trenton, N.J., in December 1776. Two black men were among these first Marines. While the Marines arrived too late to affect the battle at Trenton, they participated in the decisive victory at Princeton.

Since then, the United States Marines, whose motto is Semper Fidelis, or “always faithful,” have participated in every war and conflict the United States has seen. Along the way a couple of nicknames have been picked up.

Now accepted by Webster as a synonym for Marine, the term “Leatherneck” was derived from a leather stock once worn around the neck by both American and British Marines. Legend has it that the collar was useful in deflecting sword blows.

It was in World War I that Marines fought their celebrated battle at Belleau Wood, then the largest in the history of the Corps. There, the Marines’ reputation in modern history was created.

Rallying under the battle cries of, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” the Marines drove German forces from the area. While its previous expeditionary experience had not earned it much acclaim in the Western world, the Marines’ fierceness and toughness earned them the respect of the Germans, who rated them of storm-trooper quality.

First Lieutenant Clifton B. Cates, USMC, reported on July 19, 1918, in Belleau Wood to his commanders, “I have only two men out of my company and 20 out of some other company. We need support, but it is almost suicide to try to get it here as we are swept by machine gun fire and a constant barrage is on us. I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold.”

Marines and American media reported that Germans had nicknamed them “Teufelhunden” or “Devil Dogs.” The name stuck.

Whatever the term, Marines have been seen as among the military elites of the world. At Iwo Jima, the largest all-Marine battle in history. Admiral Nimitz’s ringing characterization of Marines fighting on Iwo Jima was applied to the entire Marine Corps in World War II: “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Major General Frank E. Lowe, U.S. Army, in Korea, Jan. 26, 1952, said, “The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of Marines. Lord, how they could fight!”

“There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines,” said Army General William Thornson. “Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.”

President Ronald Reagan once said, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.”

On Nov. 10 of this year, the Marines celebrate 234 years of American Warrior tradition. Currently, Marines are doing what they have always done — serving in harm’s way so that Americans can enjoy freedom.

As one anonymous Marine in Iraq said, “America is not at war. The United States Marine Corps is at war. America is at the mall.”

Semper Fi, Marines. Happy birthday.

[David Epps is chaplain of the Clyde Thomason Detachment 1325 of the Marine Corps League, serving Coweta and Fayette counties. The detachment meets on the first Wednesday of the month at The Gathering Place in Peachtree City at 7:30 p.m. For information, email George Dienhart at dienhart@comcast.net.]

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SPQR's picture
Submitted by SPQR on Sat, 11/07/2009 - 9:28am.

President Truman(an army veteran)was quoted as saying The Marine Corp was the army with a PR department. He later retracted his comment. However a bell can't be unrung

Submitted by Bonkers on Sat, 11/07/2009 - 10:05am.

The PR part is how they obtain their inductees, mostly.
People (kids) wanting much recognition join. Many stay for other reasons.
However, the training they receive does serve them well in their primary goal---to take but not necessarily hold. They do suffer the highest percentage of casualties for that reason, but not the most overall.
They have been used for the past nine years however as "army" due to shortages of manpower. They have been abused as to their purpose!
I have two Marine relatives and no matter what, I am proud of their guts.
Truman was talking about WW1, where the army did do most of the work and casualties. No so much in WW2 in the far east. Those Islands were hell. The army suffered greatly in the Philippines!

We need a draft badly.

SPQR's picture
Submitted by SPQR on Sat, 11/07/2009 - 1:18pm.

Yes. We do need a draft badly.

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