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On this day, 248 years ago, the United States Marine Corps was created by an act of the Continental Congress, the subcommittee then meeting in Tun Tavern, Philadelphia.
Resolved, That two Battalions of Marines be raised, consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors, and other officers as usual in other regiments; and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken, that no person be appointed to office, or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required; that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress: that they be distinguished by the names of the first and second battalions of American Marines, that they be considered as part of the number which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.
Although only one Battalion was raised, the Marines acquitted themselves admirably during the Revolutionary War, serving as the Marine detachment in each warship’s company and occasionally making an amphibious landing to prosecute the naval campaign ashore.
After the war, the Navy and Marine Corps “waned rapidly and finally disappeared,” as USMC historian Col. R. D. Heinl put it. A parsimonious Congress, looking to save money, fearful of a standing military, and just not seeing the necessity of the Naval Services, just let them fade away.
The subsequent years taught the U.S. a very different lesson. A maritime nation, the U.S. required the Naval Services to protect our seagoing commerce. Thus, on 11 July 1798, President John Adams signed “An Act for Establishing and Organizing a Marine Corps” and created the United States Marine Corps.
For many years, Marines celebrated 11 July 1798 as the birthday of the Corps. The official birthday of the Corps was changed in 1921, at the direction of MGen. Lejeune, the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps. MGen. John A. Lejeune was a Louisiana native who went to the US Naval Academy and worked his way up to commanding the 4th Marine Brigade and the 2nd US Division (consisting of the 4th Marine Brigade and the Army’s 9th Infantry Brigade) during World War I.
MGen Lejeune was the first Marine to command a division in combat and did so quite successfully. He later became Commandant of the Marine Corps (1920-1929) and is recognized as one of the most, if not the most, influential and effective Commandants. He enacted various programs to improve and modernize the Marine Corps and helped lay the groundwork for the Marines’ amphibious doctrine that was to be so crucial to winning WW II.
One of MGen. Lejeune’s improvements was to change the Corps’ birthday. In 1921, he directed that 10 November 1775 be designated the official Marine Corps birthday. As such, he published what has become to be known as General Lejeune’s Birthday Message, which is read at each Marine Corps Birthday Ceremony. You can read it here.
And a Marine Corps Birthday Ceremony is held by every unit in the Marine Corps, no matter what they are doing or where they are. Marines are proud of their heritage (justifiably so, IMHO) and will always take time to celebrate (we do like a party, after all). There’s even a section in the Marine Corps Manual that tells you how to run a proper Birthday Ceremony. If you’re in garrison, you have a fancy ball. If you’re at sea, you hold your cake-cutting ceremony on the fantail. If you’re in combat, you sling lead at the enemy with just a bit more vigor than usual and cut a cake when there’s a lull in the firing.
Why do Marines make such a fuss over the Marine Corps Birthday? Simply put, Marines love their Corps. They are proud of the institution, its history and traditions, and the standards it demands of each Marine. They are proud of what they accomplished in the Corps, whether in combat or during peacetime, because each one tried his best to “be worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ since the founding of the Corps.”
For many, the Corps helped form them into the men and women they are today. It is at the very core of who they are. Being a United States Marine is probably the most significant thing they have done in their lives.
I know it was for me.
Let me leave you with two things. First, the Marines Hymn, played by the US Marine Band (the President’s Own). By tradition, Marines stand at attention during the playing of the Hymn. When we do that and hear the Hymn, we all stand a little taller, puff out our chests a little more, and shed a little tear for all those who have gone before.
The second is a picture of me and Mrs. Tim on May 10, 1980 — the day we were commissioned as second lieutenants in the United States Marine Corps. It was the proudest day in our lives. The happiest came a couple of months later when we were married.
To all my friends here on Ricochet, Semper Fi and Happy Birthday.Published in