Today the United States Marines Corps is celebrating its 233rd birthday! On this day in 1775, the Second Continental Congress established two battalions of soldiers to serve as the Continental Marines.
Before I provide you with the rest of the history of the Marine Corps, I need to disclose that our founder, Major James Etter, was an enlisted Marine in Vietnam and after attending college on the GI Bill after the war, became a Marine aviator. He retired after twenty-six years of service. When Jim founded American Military University, he solicited the assistance of General Al Gray, the twenty-ninth Commandant of the Marine Corps. General Gray, a soldier’s soldier, not only provided guidance, but became a member of the AMU board, eventually the Board Chair, and continues to serve as a member of the Board today and as our Board Chairman, emeritus. Writing about the Marines from information available on the web might trigger a call from either individual if I am not accurate, but I will attempt to get the facts right.
Upon its inception, the Continental Marines served aboard naval vessels, offering protection against mutinies and enemy vessels. The Marines served in this capacity (as well as in many others as their mission expanded based on American security needs) until 1990 when the last Marine security detachments were removed from Navy ships. Today, the Marines work closely with the Navy which helps facilitate rapid transportation and logistics for the Marines as they serve around the world.
Even in its infancy as a military force, the Marines served bravely and effectively in the First Barbary War (1801-1805) against Barbary pirates. It was during this conflict that William Eaton and First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon led a force of only seven Marines and three hundred mercenaries in an attempt to take Tripoli; though the effort was unsuccessful (the expedition only reached Derna), the action is commemorated in the Marines’ hymn. In the War of 1812, the Marines participated in the intense naval battles which characterized that conflict. During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the Marines successfully captured the Chapultepec Palace in Mexico City, another victory memorialized in the hymn.
During the American Civil War, the Marines dedicated the majority of their efforts to helping secure the Union blockade of the Confederacy which aided in the Union victory. From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War I, the Marines participated in several international engagements, including the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), the Boxer Rebellion in China (1899-1901), as well as in Panama, Cuba, Morocco, Haiti and Nicaragua.
The fierceness of the Marines in World War I helped develop their reputation as one of the world’s top military fighting forces. World War II brought several significant battles for the Marines in the Pacific theater. During World War II the Marines began using the Navajo Code which was one of the keys to the victory of the western nations over the Axis Powers. The famous photo of five Marines and one Navy Corpsman raising the American flag over Iwo Jima was taken by photographer Joe Rosenthal during World War II.
The Korean War (1950-1953) brought with it a tremendous growth in numbers of the Marine Corps, expanding their ranks from “75,000 regulars to a force of 261,000 Marines…” The Marines played a significant role during the Vietnam War (1959-1975), participating in some of the most intense battles, including those for Da Nang, Hue City and Khe Sanh. Following the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the Marines were called to provide support for several international military interventions. In 1980, the Marines participated in Operation Eagle Claw, the effort to rescue fifty-three hostages being held at the American Embassy in Tehran. Marines also participated in the invasions of Grenada (Operation Urgent Fury) and Panama (Operation Just Cause).
During the first Gulf War (1990-1991), the Marines were the first on the ground. Marines have played a significant role in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as the larger War on Terror. In recent years the Marines have participated in many humanitarian missions. The Marines helped provide relief to the victims of the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Earlier this year, the Marines provided much needed medical and school supplies to citizens in Liberia.
The Marines’ motto is Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful. Throughout their history, the Marines have proven themselves worthy of such a credo. Marines, some of whom are our students, congratulations on the 233rd birthday! If any of you who are not Marines have had the privilege to attend a Marine Corps birthday celebration, they know how to do it right! My neighbor, Lt. Col. (ret.) Ed Hall has hosted a Marine Corps Birthday Ball at his house for twelve years. The tradition honoring Marines present from the oldest military engagement to the most recent, is moving. Jim Etter, Al Gray, thank you for your dedication to American Military University and the American Public University System. You will always be special to us and your service to your nation as Marines will forever be remembered.