It’s the U.S. Marine Corps’ 240th birthday today. In honor of the few and the proud, here are four of their many standout characteristics.
1. The Marines Truly Are Always Faithful
Their motto, Semper fidelis, is not only renowned but accurate. Marines are known for their enduring loyalty, fierce tenacity, and lasting faithfulness towards their country and their brothers in arms.
Tony Packowski entered boot camp for the Marines in 1964. He spent two tours in Vietnam. His shelves at home are filled with Marine memorabilia and medals he earned. Despite fighting a war that wasn’t popular and whose troops didn’t exactly get an enthusiastic welcome home, Packowski keeps his memorabilia out to remind him of all the guys who didn’t return.
“Seeing your brothers in body bags and knowing that you’re never going to see them again. You’d figure after 50 years you’d forget about it. You don’t,” he said. Fifty-one years later: Still honoring his brothers; still faithful.
2. They Are Badass
The discipline required to be a Marine truly amazes. The training Marines endure can hardly be rivaled. The wartime situations Marines have found themselves in are the stuff of legend. It’s enough to make women swoon and men, even if they’re not a Marine, cry “Oo-rah!” At the Marine Corps museum in Virginia, you’ll find the atrium wall lined with quotes. Among them, Daniel Daly’s brazen: “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”
While the rest of us might cower under stress and fold under pressure, Marines not only stand strong, they rise to the occasion, especially in tough combat situations. It was Marines who helped secure Belleau Wood, and it later became known as one of the most infamous battles of World War I—it’s depicted in multiple films.
In June, 1918, the Germans were able to break through French lines located near the U.S. Marines. In response, “the U.S. reserve—consisting of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and an element of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion—conducted a forced march over 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to plug the gap in the line, which they achieved by dawn.” Three weeks later, it was reported: “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.” The United States suffered 9,777 casualties, including 1,811 killed. It was one of the bloodiest and most ferocious battles U.S. forces fought that war. Later, to honor the Marines’ bravery, the French renamed the wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” (“Wood of the Marine Brigade”).
3. The Marines Keep Us Safe
With over 194,000 active-duty Marines—even though it’s the smallest branch of the military—it’s nearly impossible to recount the stories of Marines who’ve helped keep Americans safe, both domestically and abroad. Remember in August, the story of the ISIS gunman who was determined to blow up a train in France in an act of terrorism? At least one of the men (some reports say all) who stopped that gunman was a Marine, preventing what would have been a massacre.
In this speech John Kelly gave a few years ago, he recounted the incredible story of two Marines choosing, in a split second of incredible bravery, to face a truck of explosives head-on in Ramadi. Their heroism saved 150 lives and, in doing so, they lost their own. One can’t help but feel a bittersweet pride and an overwhelming gratitude for those who sacrifice their lives to keep us safe, here and around the world.
4. They Are Humble Heroes
Sure, you can always tell a Marine for his chutzpah: They’re always the ones shouting and grunting. But that’s just a show, their braggadicio on display for sport. Most Marines are humble heroes. My husband’s grandfather, Roy Gallatin, was a Marine who fought in World War II. He was aboard the USS Princeton when it sank during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was stabbed with a bayonet, still bears the Marine Corps emblem tattoo on his bicep, swam in the ocean with sharks when his ship sank, and when he came home he just went on with his life–worked two jobs and raised five kids.
Twenty years after stopping a gunman in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Marine Bill Leone is still regarded as a hero. Leone was shot in the shoulder and tackled the gunman, though police were already on the scene. He doesn’t even see what he did as an act of heroism. It was just his duty as a Marine, an act of courage because he’s “from New Jersey.”
Happy 240th, Marine Corps. We honor your tenacity, your courage, your loyalty, and your sacrifice. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”