U.S. Maines on patrol in Afghanistan
U.S. Marines on patrol in Afghanistan. Courtesy Department of Defense

On Nov. 10, it will be 244 years since the Continental Congress of America that declared independence from Great Britain and chartered two battalions of 300 Marines patterned after the British Royal Marines.

Marines in any country that has them are sea-going infantry, The Continental Congress defined the Marine Corps as trained fighters — not sailors — on ships against other ships, to seize and hold naval facilities and to protect aristocrat American naval officers from mutineers.

While ships and the sea are critical to the definition of Marines, the United States Marines fought their first battle action, the Battle of Princeton, under command of General George Washington in New Jersey against British forces. Their first amphibious landing was in the Bahamas in which they took Nassau’s British fort without firing a shot.

The next history-making battle was in North Africa, “to the shores of Tripoli” in 1803 after the Marine Corps was reactivated following the successful revolt against Great Britain. Marine Lieutenant Pressly O’Bannon was sent to Egypt with orders to raise a fighting unit of 200 Arab and Greek mercenaries to be led by his eight Marines overland 900 miles to the Barbary Coast to assist naval ships in attacking Muslim kidnappers of American merchant seamen. O’Bannon’s men teamed with a naval attack on the Barbary Pirates for a successful overseas adventure orchestrated by President Thomas Jefferson.

Next came the 1846 battle in Mexico City against the Mexican Army. The infantry of the sea is supposed to operate on seas or close by shorelines, but as in the Battle of Princeton, in Mexico City they fought as bona fide infantry far from the sea. The battle in Mexico City occurred at the castle of Chapultepec in today’s Chapultepec Park, the massive public park this writer picnicked on as a child. Americans know of this because this place and battle is known as having taken place in “The Halls of Montezuma.”

Many in the United States have demeaned Marines over the years calling them “seagoing bellhops” manifesting jealousy of the unmatched Marine dress uniform. Or, President Harry Truman “calling the Marine Corps “the Navy’s police force” with “a propaganda machine almost equal to (Soviet dictator) Stalin’s.”

Marines are, of course, greater than detractors.

James F. Forrestal, America’s first Secretary of Defense, commented to all the world about the Marine Corps’ future when from a ship hundreds of yards away he observed six Marines and one Navy corpsman raise the American flag on Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima in February 1945, the photo of which may be the most published photograph in history.

Forrestal famously said, “The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.”

Quotations about U.S. Marines:

  • “The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of Marines. Lord, how they could fight!”– Maj. Gen. Frank E. Lowe, 1952
  • “Why in hell can’t the Army do it if the Marines can. They are the same kind of men; why can’t they be like Marines,”  Gen. John J. Pershing, 1918
  • “I have just returned from visiting the Marines at the front, and there is not a finer fighting organization in the world!” Gen. Douglas MacArthur, 1950
  • “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem,” Ronald Reagan, 1985
  • “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 Adm. R. Stark, 1995
  • “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle,” Gen. John J. Pershing, 1918

Can any more be said? Yes, one more thing:

“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.”  —1stLt. Clifton B. Cates, future Marine commandant, in Belleau Wood, 1918

Happy 244th Birthday, Marines…Your brother in Green. Semper Fi!

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a Marine Corps veteran, political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.