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Happy 240th Birthday U.S. Marine Corps

2015 marks several anniversaries for the United States Marine Corps:

  • it’s 240th birthday (November 10, 1775);
  • the 100 year anniversary of opening its recruiting/training site at Parris Island, South Carolina (November 1, 1915);
  • and the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

On November 10, 1775 the Continental Congress commissioned “two Battalions of Marines be raised” for service as landing forces for the recently formed Continental Navy.

From the official site of the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC):

Over the last 240 years Marines have executed more than 300 landings on foreign soil.

Today, there are roughly more than 200,000 active-duty and reserve Marines, divided into three divisions stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Camp Pendleton, California; and Okinawa, Japan. Each division has several expeditionary units capable of launching major operations anywhere in the world on short notice.

The Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis, means “Always Faithful.”

Its emblem, “whether it appears on a uniform, printed page, or a flag, the Eagle, Globe and Anchor is an icon of greatness.”

“Reflect on our history, remember those who have sacrificed and reaffirm your commitment to the strengthening of our Corps.”— 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller

Every year the Corps remembers their 13th Commandant’s admonition:

“Our legacy is the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation.”

History of the USMC hymn, from the USMC official website: 

 

The “Marines’ Hymn” is the official hymn of the United States Marine Corps. It is the oldest official song in the United States military. The “Marines’ Hymn” is typically sung at the position of attention as a gesture of respect. However, the third verse is also used as a toast during formal events, such as the birthday ball and other ceremonies.

Some of the lyrics were popular phrases before the song was written. The line “To the shores of Tripoli” refers to the First Barbary War, and specifically the Battle of Derne in 1805. After Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and his Marines hoisted the American flag over the Old World for the first time, the phrase was added to the battle colors of the Corps. “The Halls of Montezuma” refers to the Battle of Chapultepec, during the Mexican-American War, where a force of Marines stormed Chapultepec Castle.

While the lyrics are said to date from the 19th century, no pre-20th century text is known. The author of the lyrics is likewise unknown. Legend has it that it was penned by a Marine on duty in Mexico. The unknown author transposed the phrases in the motto on the Colors so that the first two lines of the Hymn would read: “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli”, favoring euphony over chronology.

The music is from the Gendarmes’ Duet from an 1867 revision of the 1859 opera Geneviève de Brabant by Jacques Offenbach, which debuted in Paris in 1859. Correspondence between Colonel Albert S. McLemore and Walter F. Smith (the second leader of the Marine Band) traces the tune: “Major Richard Wallach, USMC, says that in 1878, when he was in Paris, France, the aria to which the Marines’ Hymn is now sung was a very popular one.”

Some websites claim that the Marine Corps secured a copyright on the song on 19 August 1891, but this is in error; the copyright was vested on 18 August 1919. In 1929, the Commandant of the Marine Corps authorized the three verses of the Marines’ Hymn as the official version, but changed the third and fourth lines:

Pre-1929 version:
        Admiration of the nation,
we’re the finest ever seen;
And we glory in the title
Of United States Marines.

Authorized change:
        First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.

This older version can be heard in the 1950 film Halls of Montezuma. On 21 November 1942, Commandant Thomas Holcomb approved a change in the words of the first verse’s fourth line from “On the land as on the sea” to “In the air, on land, and sea” to reflect the addition of aviation to the Corp’s arsenal.

Bethany Blankley

Bethany Blankley is a political analyst for Fox News Radio and has appeared on television and radio programs nationwide. She writes about political, cultural, and religious issues in America from the perspective of an evangelical and former communications staffer. She was a communications strategist for four U.S. Senators, one U.S. Congressman, a former New York governor, and several non-profits. She earned her MA in Theology from The University of Edinburgh, Scotland and her BA in Political Science from the University of Maryland. Follow her @bethanyblankley facebook.com/BlankleyBethany/ & BethanyBlankley.com.

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