Happy birthday, Marines! Exactly 41 years ago, I was attending the (very formal) Marine Ball held in Spaso House, The US Ambassador's residence in Moscow. The night when a British Cavalry Brigadier General stabbed Mrs. Beam (the ambassador's wife) in the calf with his spur out on the dance floor. My father, a (real, horse-type) army cavalryman from the 1930's, was appalled. "Everyone knows you take your spurs off before dancing!"
As we Marines – active, Reserve, retired, and former – celebrate the 235th anniversary of our birth in a Philadelphia alehouse during the American Revolution (specifically Nov. 10, 1775), three things come to mind.
First: Yes, we Marines boast. We always have – things like “it’s hard to be humble when you’re the finest” – but much of this boasting stems from the pride in our organization’s amazing successes and our hard-won reputation over the past two centuries. And it also comes from the fact that – because we are the smallest, most unique kid on the block – the bigger kids have always tried to knock us down, put us in our place, dismiss us as cult-like and unnecessary, and either absorb us into their own ranks or disband us entirely.
One example of this was Army Gen. Frank Armstrong, who in the late 1940’s – even after the Corps’ stunning performance in World War II – proposed absorbing Marines into the Army, and referred to us as “a small bitched-up army talking Navy lingo.”
Decades later, in 1997, Assistant Secretary of the Army Sara Lister proclaimed before a Harvard University audience, “I think the Army is much more connected to society than the Marines are. Marines are extremists. Wherever you have extremists, you’ve got some risks of total disconnection with society. And that’s a little dangerous.”
So you see we’ve had to boast a bit, if for no other reason than to counter our detractors.
Second: I’m reminded of the words of pro-Marine outsiders (non-Marines), who heap praise on us because they are secure enough in their own skins and we are so extraordinarily good at what we do (though some might wish we weren’t so good) that it would be insincere to deny us that praise.
Third: I’m reminded of the enemies of America who praise us in the expression of their fears.
So since this week is our birthday, let me share with everyone – the sheer point of this article – some of that praise from the big kids on the block (who aren’t always thrilled that we exist), the pro-Marine outsiders, and America’s enemies.
We begin with a bit of unintentional praise.
During the 1983 invasion of Grenada, Army Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, picked up a telephone and demanded to know why “two companies of Marines [are] running all over the island and thousands of Army troops [are] doing nothing. What the hell is going on?”
We continue with a bit of matter-of-factness.
James Adams, former CEO of United Press International, describes in his 1989 book, SECRET ARMIES, "Marines with 20 percent of the [American] force ended up occupying 80 percent of the island [Grenada]"
Then in a 1992 study conducted by the Heritage Foundation, it was determined that “for every [U.S.] Army soldier in a combat position, one soldier is behind the lines in such supporting roles as administration and supply; for Marines the ratio is two combatants to one administrator or supplier. As a result, the Marine Corps delivers the most firepower in the quickest time when responding to a crisis. … The Marine Corps’ greatest advantage over other services is the speed and muscle with which it can respond to a crisis.”
In 2006, national defense and economics historian Dr. Larry Schweikart – in his book, AMERICA'S VICTORIES – WHY THE U.S. WINS WARS AND WILL WIN THE WAR ON TERROR – describes the performance of U.S. troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq: “The Marines, given their superiority in combat training and despite their youth (Marines are the youngest, on average, of the enlisted troops) generally fared far better than the regular Army in combat situations.”
Now let’s look at some of the subjective praise based on pure observation.
"The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle."
— U.S. Army Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing
"The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of Marines. Lord, how they could fight!"
— U.S. Army Major Frank Lowe
"U.S. Marines have the swagger, confidence, and hardness that must have been in Stonewall Jackson's Army of the Shenandoah."
— A British military observer's report
"Marines have it [pride] and benefit from it. They are tough, cocky, sure of themselves and their buddies. They can fight, and they know it."
— U.S. Army General Mark Clark
"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."
— Rear Admiral J.R. Stark, U.S. Navy
And lastly, let’s look at a few examples of how America’s enemies have traditionally perceived us.
During the Korean War, Chinese premier Mao Tse Tung was so-concerned about the combat prowess of the 1st Marine Division that he issued a death contract on the entire division, which he stated, “has the highest combat effectiveness” of any division in the U.S. armed forces. “It seems not enough for our four divisions to surround and annihilate [the 1st Marine Division’s] two regiments,” Mao said in orders to the commander of the 9th Chinese Army Group. “You should have one or two more divisions as a reserve force.”
During the same war, a captured North Korean officer confessed, “Panic sweeps my men when they are facing the American Marines.”
Years later during the first Gulf War, Iraqi soldiers nicknamed their U.S. Marine foes, “Angels of Death.”
And during the 2004 U.S. assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, an intercepted radio transmission revealed the enemy’s utter fear of America’s few good men.
“We are fighting, but the Marines keep coming,” shouted a panic-stricken Al Qaeda insurgent to his commander. “We are shooting, but the Marines won’t stop.”
Happy Birthday, Marines, and Semper Fi!