“Happy Birthday, U.S. Marines!”
The United States Marine Corps was founded as the “Continental Marines” on November 10, 1775, two hundred forty-five years ago.
I became a United States Marine on November 4, 1959, when I graduated from San Diego’s MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot); Private First Class Raoul Lowery (Contreras) reporting as ordered, sir!
The new Marines of 1775 started fighting on foreign shores with a landing on March 3, 1776, in the Bahamas. Disbanded after the War of Independence, the Marines were reconstituted as the United States Marine Corps by the Navy Act of 1794; six officers and 310 enlisted men were authorized.
“To the shores of Tripoli…” are words in the Marine Corps Hymn that honor one Marine officer, Presley O’Bannon. He and seven enlisted Marines and some Arab and Greek mercenaries on April 27, 1805, attacked a Barbary Coast fort in North Africa. LT. O’Bannon’s group marched 600 miles across the North African desert in the longest Marine march in history until the war on Iraq in 2003.
70,000 Marines served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Exactly 16 years ago this week, 6500 Marines supported by British and U.S. Army detachments fought the bloodiest battle in Iraqi, in the Second Battle of Fallujah, November 7-16, 2004.
Of note: Two Mexican American Marines were awarded Navy Crosses, the second highest military award of the United States for what they did in the Second Battle of Fallujah: LCpl Dominc Esquibel of New Mexico and Mexican citizen Sgt. Rafael Peralta (who was granted U.S. citizenship posthumously). The United States Navy named a new destroyer – The USS Rafel Peralta, the first United States Ship named for a Mexican citizen.
Fallujah is the last major battle the U.S. Marines have fought.
Seventy-five years ago, World War Two ended when Japan surrendered. The defeat of Japan started on August 7, 1942, when 6000 U.S. Marines landed on an island — Guadalcanal — few had ever heard of in the Southwest Pacific Ocean.
The Marines landed unopposed. They were abandoned by the U.S. Navy as a Japanese fleet approached. The U.S. ships were loaded with artillery, food, vehicles and bulldozers the Marines needed to finish the Japanese airfield the Marines needed. The Marines had no food, no big guns, little ammunition and no naval guns to provide help and cover.
The Marines ate Japanese food.
The Americans won the six-month long battle; the Japanese lost 24,000 dead; U.S. casualties were 1600 killed in combat, 4200 wounded and several thousand killed by malaria and other tropical diseases.
The U.S. Marines grew from 14,000 in 1940 to over 485,833 in 1945. During those years, names like Bougainville, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Peleliu were names of islands unheard of before Marines landed to defeat the Japanese Empire, island by island. 24,479 Marines died between Guadalcanal and Okinawa.
Then came Korea where 17,000 Marines of the 1st Marine Division were surrounded by over 100,000 Chinese Communist troops in December 1950 at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Hour by hour, mile by mile, Marines fought their way out of the mountains to the port of Hungnam, killing 30-40,000 Chinese; casualties and dead so high, the Chinese withdrew from combat for a year. Two of my three Boot Camp Drill Instructors were there.
Vietnam War – a total of 294,000 Marines served there between 1955 and 1975. 66,227 were killed or wounded, 22.5% of Marines who served, one in four.
And, then, there is the War to End All Wars, World War I, the war that introduced the 20th Century to the United States Marines. America was reminded of that war because 1800 U.S. Marines are buried at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France, that were killed in the Battle of Beaulieu Wood in June 1918. It was a visit to that cemetery that President Trump refused to make (because of rain), to honor those Marines because, he allegedly said, they were “losers” and “suckers.” Slurs corroborated by Fox News and the AP.
Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels reported in 1918: “The marines fought strictly according to American methods – a rush, a halt, a rush again, in four-wave formation, the rear waves taking over the work of those who had fallen before them, passing over the bodies of their dead comrades and plunging ahead, until they, too, should be torn to bits. But behind those waves were more waves, and the attack went on…In all the history of the Marine Corps there is no such battle as… Belleau Wood. Fighting day and night without relief, without sleep, often without water, and for days without hot rations, the marines met and defeated the best divisions that Germany could throw into the line.”
“The heroism and doggedness of that battle are unparalleled… officers… seeing their men so dog tired that they even fell asleep under shellfire, hearing their wounded calling for the water they were unable to supply, seeing men fight on after they had been wounded and until they dropped unconscious; officers seeing these things, believing that the very limit of human endurance had been reached, would send back messages…that their men were exhausted.”
The United States Marines won that battle; it lasted almost 30 days. They killed thousands of Germans. Four months later, after four years of fighting, Germany surrendered. The Marines returned to the fight in 1941 to do to the Japanese what they did to the Germans in the Battle of Beaulieu Wood 102 years ago. Marines, Happy birthday…Semper Fi!