Pride in the Corps has been a Marine Corps tradition for a long, long, time. In “Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller”, by Burke Davis, the author relates an anecdote of Puller accompanying his 6th Marines to a new area. A member of, ahem, another military unit saw them marching by in formation and said, “There goes the G__d___ 6th Marines!”
Puller overheard the remark. Speaking to the 6th Division after they reached their destination, he told them: “I was amazed that one of you didn’t step out of ranks and knock him cold!”
This article is going to be a little different. With apologies to legendary warriors of special units in other branches of service (whom we will hear about later) there is so much bravado and esprit de corps about the Marine Corps that a large part of this article will be letting that spirit show, through the observations of those who have served in and alongside of the Marine Corps. I am going to, unforgivably briefly, review just several battles the Corps fought, interspersed with those observations. I think you’ll understand why, and I beg you not to stand on the tables, shout so loud that someone calls the Shore Patrol, or spill your drinks. If you do, Duckie will make me clean up the mess.
“The Force Fitness Division is the service level agency responsible for the development of policy, standards, oversight, synchronization, and coordination of all elements of physical fitness in order to enable a professional, service-wide approach to enhancing the physical conditioning of the warrior athlete.”
This may be a new division in the Corps, but they are only ensuring the continuation of a tradition of battle-ready, hardened bunch of … crazy, maniac, devil-may-care warriors wearing the eagle, globe and anchor.
How did the US Marines get the name “Devil Dogs”? The moniker was ostensibly used by German soldiers to describe U.S. Marines who fought in the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918. The Marines fought with such ferocity that they were supposedly likened to “Dogs from Hell.” And we’re not talking poodles here. This came from the nation that produced both Rottweilers and Dobermans.
“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.”
1st Lt. Clifton B. Cates, USMC in Belleau Wood, 19 July 1918
“The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”
Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, U.S. Army
Commander of American Forces in World War I
Michael Ruane, writing for the Washington Post on May 31, 2018, said this about the three-week fight in Belleau Wood in France:”In April, French President Emmanuel Macron gave the White House an oak sapling from Belleau Wood, where, he said, ‘the blood [of Americans] was spilled to defend France.’ … The battle was a modest affair compared with the titanic World War I struggles that went on for months. But, fought across open fields and in the dark, overgrown woods, it seemed especially grim, with hand-to-hand fighting, fixed bayonets and poison gas attacks … ‘It has been a living hell,’ Lt. Clifton B. Cates, 24, a future Marine Corps commandant, wrote his mother. ‘We were shelled all night with shrapnel and gas shells. … It was mustard gas and a lot of the men were burned.’ It was a battle that changed the Corps. ‘For all intents and purposes, the old warriors of the U.S. Marine Corps were virtually wiped out,’ wrote historian George B. Clark. As they attacked, the Marines ‘left behind fourteen decades of small-scale skirmishes with insurgents [and] pirates … and entered the industrialized world of massive fire power and wholesale slaughter,’ historians Edwin Howard Simmons and Joseph H. Alexander have written. ‘The minute they got into the woods our boys found themselves in a perfect hornets’ nest of … gunners, grenadiers and riflemen,’ Catlin recounted. ‘There were machine gun nests everywhere — on every hillock … every ravine … and every gun was trained on the … Marines.’
On June 30, the grateful Sixth French Army issued an order renaming Belleau Wood ‘Bois de la Brigade de Marine.’
To earn the honor, the Marines had taken about 4,000 casualties, including about 1,000 killed, said Annette Amerman, a branch head and historian with the Marine Corps History Division.
That was about 55 percent of the brigade’s original strength, according to historians Simmons and Alexander. It was, they have written, the largest number of casualties suffered by a single American brigade during the war.”
The Battle of Iwo Jima:
From National World War 2 Museum
“U.S. Marines invaded Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, after months of naval and air bombardment. The Japanese defenders of the island were dug into bunkers deep within the volcanic rocks. Approximately 70,000 U.S. Marines and 18,000 Japanese soldiers took part in the battle. In thirty-six days of fighting on the island, nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines were killed. Another 20,000 were wounded. Marines captured 216 Japanese soldiers; the rest were killed in action. The island was finally declared secured on March 16, 1945. It had been one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history.”
During the landing, the fighting was so fierce and constant that units of the landing force began to run low on ammo. One green lieutenant radioed back to Commanding General Chesty Puller that he only had six cartridges left per man. He asked where Puller wanted them to fall back to when they ran out. Puller growled, “You have bayonets, don’t you? Use them, but hold that line!”
On July 7, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade was activated at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. The core of the ground element was the 5th Marines, while Marine Aircraft Group 33 made up the air element of the brigade. Just five days after its activation, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, with a strength of over 6,500, sailed from San Diego en route to Pusan, Korea.
On Sept. 15, the 1st Marine Division, under the command of Major General Oliver P. Smith, led the first major U.N. force strike in North Korean-occupied territory, with a surprise amphibious assault at Inchon … From late April to early July, the division took part in* the U.N. defense against a Chinese communist spring offensive, in which U.N. forces faced nearly 500,000 enemy soldiers. The Chinese offensive ended in mid-May with heavy enemy losses.
* Lawngren’s note: “Took part in”, my foot. US military forces WERE the defense. Per https://www.britannica.com/event/Korean-War , US casualties numbered more than eleven times the total of all UN troops’ casualties. Even CNN acknowledges, “The United States sent about 90% of the troops that were sent to aid South Korea.” Without the US forces, South Korea would have been “unified” with the North almost immediately.
Truce negotiations began, and then – “Chinese forces mounted a massive offensive across the U.N. front line that hit 1st Marine Division outposts in the right sector … In particularly bitter fighting, Outpost Reno fell to the enemy, but the stubborn 5th Marines maintained control of Vegas and Carson. Marine Corps casualties totaled more than 1,000, with communist losses at least twice as high … During the first week of July, combat outposts Berlin and East Berlin in the 7th Marines right regimental sector came under attack during the Marines’ relief of the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division. The Marines did not concede any key terrain, and at 10 p.m. on July 27, 1953, the lengthy truce negotiated at Panmunjom finally went into effect, ending three years of fighting in Korea … During the Korean War, units of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing flew more than 118,000 sorties in support of U.N. forces. Almost 40,000 of these sorties were close-air support missions. Marine helicopter squadrons evacuated more than 10,000 wounded personnel and greatly increased the survival rate for wounded Marines.
In 1950, the Korean War saw the Marine Corps expand from 75,000 regulars to a peak strength of 261,000 Marines, most of whom were reservists. Complete mobilization of the organized ground Reserve had been accomplished in just 53 days, from July 20 to Sept. 11, 1950 … The Marine Corps emerged from the Korean War with the highest sustained peacetime strength in its history. The suddenness of the war, and MacArthur’s immediate request for Marines, had emphasized the importance of maintaining the Corps as a ready striking force.”
We need to remember that lesson.
US Army soldier to General “Chesty” Puller in Korea:
“General, keep those yellow leggings on your boys.” Because at that time, Marines were wearing yellow leggings. The Chicoms, after several engagements with Marines, came to the conclusion that the Marines were crazy. They never attacked them except by accident…
“Do not attack the First Marine Division. Leave the yellowlegs alone. Strike the American Army.”
(Orders given to Communist troops in the Korean War.)
Shortly afterward – :E – the Marines were ordered to not wear their khaki leggings. They hadn’t gone to Korea to play soccer.
“The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of Marines. Lord, how they could fight!”
M. Gen. Frank E. Lowe, USA; Korea, 26 January 1952
“You cannot exaggerate about the Marines. They are convinced to the point of arrogance that they are the most ferocious fighters on earth- and the amusing thing about it is that they are.”
Father Kevin Keaney, 1st Marine Division Chaplain,Korean War
“There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.”
Gen. William Thornson, U.S. Army
“Freedom is not free, but the U.S. Marine Corps will pay most of your share.”
The tradition of bravado and legend continues to this day:
“I come in peace, I didn’t bring artillery. But I am pleading with you with tears in my eyes: If you ____ with me, I’ll kill you all.”
Marine General James Mattis, to Iraqi tribal leaders
“Hell, these are Marines. Men like them held Guadalcanal and took Iwo Jima. Baghdad ain’t s__t.”
Marine Major General John F. Kelly
“Marines know how to use their bayonets. Army bayonets may as well be paper-weights.”
Navy Times; November 1994
Lawngren’s note: If anyone doubts that, they should read “Cold Steel”, a manual on fighting with bayonets, sticks, and knives, by WW2 Marine Corps Pacific theater veteran John Styers. You might want to get it on library loan if you can – used paperback versions start at $25 on Amazon. Hardback over $100.
From a grateful mother:
“For all of those that have sons or daughters at boot camp let me pass on what I found. Let me give you a little back ground first. When my son left home he had no motivation, he was lazy, slobby, no pride, no self worth. This is the boy that got off the bus March 18th at Parris Island. The man that I met on Thursday for parents day is AWESOME. There is no way I can describe to you all the difference. He looks different, he walks different, he talks different, he has such a sense of bearing and pride all I could do was look at him in awe. Oh yes, the training is hard, what he went through is unimaginable to any one that has not been there. They are definitely taught to be Warriors. Let me tell you the surprise of what else they are taught. My Marine son has better values, better morals, better manners than any one I know. It is so much more than Yes Sir, Yes Mam…so much more. He cares about how he looks, he cares about what he does, and its not a boastful, bad ass thing. He is a true gentleman. I saw patience, and a calmness in him that I have never seen. I could never express my gratitude enough to the Marine Corps for what they have given my son. I know this, I have an 11 year old Devil pup still at home. When the time comes for his turn if I had to I would take him kicking and screaming all the way. Although I’m sure that will not happen. The hero worship I see in my younger sons eyes for his Marine brother tells me I will have two Marines in the family, and I will be one very proud mother.”
~”Cybil”, Mother of a Marine writing to the myMarine Group.
Lawngren speaking: This is my favorite comment:
“We have two companies of Marines running rampant all over the northern half of this island, and three Army regiments pinned down in the southwestern corner, doing nothing. What the hell is going on?”
Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., USA, Chairman of the the Joint Chiefs of Staff
during the assault on Grenada, 1983
Lawngren speaking again: … This comment is a very close second:
“They told (us) to open up the Embassy, or ‘we’ll blow you away.’ And then they looked up and saw the Marines on the roof with these really big guns, and they said in Somali, ‘Igaralli ahow,” which means “Excuse me, I didn’t mean it, my mistake‘. ”
Karen Aquilar, in the U.S. Embassy; Mogadishu, Somalia, 1991
“Marines I see as two breeds, Rottweilers or Dobermans, because Marines come in two varieties, big and mean, or skinny and mean. They’re aggressive on the attack and tenacious on defense. They’ve got really short hair and they always go for the throat.”
RAdm. “Jay” R. Stark, USN; 10 November 1995
“Lying offshore, ready to act, the presence of ships and Marines sometimes means much more than just having air power or ship’s fire, when it comes to deterring a crisis. And the ships and Marines may not have to do anything but lie offshore. It is hard to lie offshore with a C-141 or C-130 full of airborne troops.”
Gen. Colin Powell, U. S. Army, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
During Operation Desert Storm
All this hand-to-hand, bayonet-and-teeth fighting doesn’t mean that Marines are just dumb tough guys:
“I still need Marines who can shoot and salute. But I need Marines who can fix jet engines and man sophisticated radar sets, as well.”
General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., USMC
Commandant of the Marine Corps, 17 May 1974
“I am convinced that there is no smarter, handier, or more adaptable body of troops in the world.”
Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill
“The Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand.”
Attributed to Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916)
Thank God for our Troops and Veterans. Have a safe and blessed RED Friday all.