Manual Marine Corps Traditions

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One cannot help but be impressed with the singleness of purpose with which Marines have performed the tasks assigned them. The Corps throughout its history has been small and its personnel scattered. Large commands have been rare. They have been called upon to perform arduous and thankless duties in every part of the world. Ninety per cent, of their tasks are performed in times of peace. There is none of the pomp and circumstance of war surrounding their departure and return. Many times their employment has been freely criticized. Contrast their going and coming with the wartime hysteria which accompanies a national emergency, when the uniform becomes a symbol of patriot- ism and the soldier a hero.

Yet, whether the Marine was suppressing pirates, protecting a banana plantation, safe- guarding American lives in a foreign port, or fighting in a real war, he has always given his best. He has learned the true meaning of service and has performed it with a single- ness and sincerity of purpose whose reward is a task well done. And we have one- more tradition to uphold. Singleness of purpose without tenacity would be of little military value. Almost a century ago when war with Mex- ico was eminent and the acquisition of California by Great Britain was a possibility, President Polk felt it imperative to send instructions without delay to the American consul at Monterey, the senior naval officer afloat in Californian waters, and to Captain Fremont, who was on an exploring mission in California.

He selected Lieutenant Gillespie of the Marines as his confidential agent. Gillespie made his way to the east coast of Mexico, crossed Mexico, disguised as a merchant, during the turmoil preceding the war, re- ported to Commodore Sloat on the Cyane at Mazatlan and proceeded thence to Monterey, where he communicated his instructions to Mr. Larkin, the consul. He found that Cap- tain Fremont was somewhere in northern California and set out to find him. After a trek of six hundred miles through a strange country inhabited by unfriendly Indians, he located Fremont near the Oregon boundary and and deliver- ed his message.

As far as can be gleaned from contempor- aneous accounts, the instructions from President Polk were [in The Traditions of to resist any attempt at foreign acquisition of California and to encourage its annexation.

Some people spend their life wondering if they made a difference. Marines don't have that problem.

It is history now that our western boundary was extended to the waters of the Pacific snortly thereafter, and Gillespie, by his courage and tenacity of purpose was largely instrumental in setting at work the agencies which saved California to the Union. Modern methods of communication would remove the necessity for Gillespie's perilous trip, but he has handed down to us a tradition for tenacity of purpose which science and invention cannot improve upon.

Gillespie possessed individual tenacity of purpose. The Marine division of the Cumberland which stuck to their guns in the action with the Merrimac and fired the last shot from their sinking ship, despite the fact that the first shot from the Merrimac had killed nine of their number, ilus- trated a collective tenacity of purpose whose foundation was discipline.

War by its frightfulness cannot help but disorganize our mental and physical processes. Because of this disorganization the average man must be taught to instinctively obey.

What is a Marine Corps Mess night?

The leader is the officer or man whom other men will instinctively follow. In time of peace we call an organization disciplined when it presents a neat and smart appearance on the parade ground, when the men are willing and their conduct record is good.

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These qualities indicate the recognition of authority, an essential of dis- cipline in action. The Marine division on the Cumberland must have had this essential quality. Much bloodshed has been saved by discipline. None but a disciplined organization would preserve its equilibrium in the face of the threats, curses, stones and occasional shots from an angry mob and yet disperse the mob without bloodshed.

Man is not prone to "turn the other cheek," and it requires the strictest kind of discipline to keep him from striking back. Discipline is firmly fixed as a tradition of the Corps ; the consideration of the present-day Marine is to live up to that tradition. Sometimes it takes courage to make a decision, but more often it is the carrying out of the decision which demands the utmost in courage and devotion to duty.

At Ghapul- tepec, General Scott made the decision to carry the castle by assault; Major Levi Twiggs, of the Marines, led the as- sault at the cost of his own life. He, no doubt, considered the head of the assaulting column a post of honor, as his predecessors did, and as tradition bids us do. The words of Commodore Shubrick, "The Marines have behaved with the fidelity and constancy which characterizes that valuable Corps,. They [12] The Marine Corps referred to the conduct of Marines in the Pacific Squadron in the Mexican War, but the same sentiments had been ex- pressed before and have since been embodied in our motto, "Semper Fidelis.

In the greatest of all wars the Marines stood as they should stand, ever faithful. The Marine who interposed his arm to ward off the sword thrust aimed at the head of Decatur practiced fidelity to the point of self-sacrifice. He lost his arm but added lustre to the traditions of the Marine Corps. Can we help but "glory in the title of United States Marines" when we cast our glance backward?

Pride of person and pride of accomplishment are qualities which we strive to instil in every Marine, and what better way can we accomplish this than by arousing in him the desire to emulate these qualities in his predecessors. Pride is a heritage of Marines. Companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades have distinguished themselves, but their accomplish- ments have become traditions of the Corps as a whole.

We have an "esprit de corps" which implies "sympathy, en- thusiasm, devotion and a jealous regard for the honor of the body as a whole. The divisions and regiments have theirs. It is the Infantry team which played the Marines for the President's Cup. Never the Army. This branch, division, or regimental spirit in the Army is inevitable because of its organization.

We are fortunate in that our traditions have given us an esprit de corps, a spirit of the whole. In this respect the Navy resembles the Marine Corps. Our traditions are bound up with those of the Navy. We differ in our adaptability. There is something incongruous in the consideration of a bluejacket in the trenches, although the Naval medical personnel were there.

Yet the Marines adapted themselvs to the trenches as well as they ever did to the quarterdeck and the gun deck. The traditions of the [13] The Traditions of Navy are mainly sea traditions; ours spring from accom- plishments ashore as well as afloat. We also differ in our conception of discipline as handed down to us hy tradition. The Marine has always been the watch-dog of the ship, the backbone of the military organization, and to him has been entrusted the ceremonial details. This employment has left its imprint.

The Marine knows he is a better soldier than the bluejacket, that he can handle himself better in the field and that he is given positions of trust over his shipmates. He is apt to laugh at the bluejacket under arms and at drill, but he will gladly lend a hand in the fireroom on a full-power run or go in the handling room to assist a turret crew in target practice, because he cannot help but admire the spirit with which the bluejacket does a blue- jacket's work. There is something inspiring in the clock- work precision of a turret crew in action; there is much to be admired in the "black gang" who give their best to keep the engineering record clear.

A Marine finds that a blue- jacket, too, knows discipline. The wardroom is a clearing house for traditions, both good and bad. Sometimes one is inclined to believe that Shakespeare was right when he had Mark Antony declaim: "The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft in- terred with their bones. These traditions remain the property of the wardroom. But it was not such traditions which prompted the foremost naval commanders of their time to overwhelm Congress with protests against the proposition in to transfer the Corps to the Army, nor would they prompt the Admiral of the Navy to the state as he did in , "From time immemorial the Corps has held a high position in the estimation of the most experienced officers of the Navy, and whenever an effort to reduce it has been made and the matter has been carefully examined into by Congress, such attempt has uniformly failed.

Our mission demands harmonious cooperation with the Navy. Understanding is necessary before cooperation is possible. The Marine Corps tions. It is too late to do this after the emergency arises. The tradition of-tough discipline, established in the infancy of the Corps, remains to this day, although disciplinary forms have changed a good deal. There is a record of a private who had been found asleep on sentry go sentenced to walk post for the next two months encumbered by a ball and chain. In , a private court-martialed for desertion was sentenced to wear an iron collar, with a six-pound shot attached, for four months, to forfeit all pay during that period, and then to be drummed ignominiously out of the service.

A minor offender might be deprived of his daily rum allowance for a stated period; marines who got drunk were often punished by being forced to drink one or two quarts of salt water. The legend was full-blown by now, and the special Marine spirit of separateness and superiority was well established. There was a certain amount of justification for it, because the Corps by mid-century had soaked up an uncommon amount of fighting in many widely separated places. There had been the brief, semiofficial naval war with France, and the intermittent wars with the Barbary pirates and other freebooting inhabitants of the African shore of the Mediterranean.

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Amid this, in , there had been the astonishing Goo-mile march from Egypt to Derne of a heterogeneous force under General William Eaton, an American diplomatic agent who had recruited a highly mixed little army in the Near East to come overland and unseat the Bashaw of Tripoli, with whom the United States was at war. That the Bashaw of Tripoli was not unseated but instead was able to make an excellent peace with the Americans took none of the glamour from this exploit.

There had been many other fights, too. Marines served in the War of —it was a force of marines and sailors who provided what opposition the British encountered at the Battle of Bladensburg, just before the capture of Washington—and there were marines in Fort McHenry when the unsuccessful British bombardment of that place led Francis Scott Key to write the song that became the national anthem.

It is also of record that there were marines with Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, and of course marine detachments served on such ships as the Constitution , the United States , and the Essex. The marines on the Essex had quite a time. Under the energetic Captain David Porter, the Essex sailed around Cape Horn where she met such a storm that many of the marines were at one time noticed in an attitude not common in the Corps: on their knees in prayer and got into the Pacific for a raid on British whalers.

The raid was successful, and Porter finally sailed clear to the Marquesas, where he established a base on Nukuhiva Island. Then he sailed off for new adventures, leaving Lieutenant John Gamble, U.

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Gamble was ordered to stay there five months; if Porter did not return, he was then to make his way home. This marine officer, incidentally, had already shown that he was capable of commanding and navigating a ship. Porter was captured by the British and never did return. There were desertions, and a mutiny, and a fight with the natives—and, at last, Gamble sailed off for Hawaii with a naval midshipman, three sailors, and three marines, all that remained of his original command.

A British cruiser gobbled him up in mid-Pacific, and by the time the prisoners were returned to the Atlantic, the war was over. Between formal wars, the Corps was kept busy. The Civil War brought the same problem to the Marines that it brought to the other services: that is, officers of southern birth mostly resigned and went oft to serve the Confederacy. Another problem was also shared with the other services. Congress had set up no retirement system for superannuated officers, and many officers tended to be downright aged, since an officer with no income but his pay would never retire voluntarily and there was no way to make him retire except by preferring charges of misconduct.

The Corps served in the Civil War, of course, although perhaps less prominently than in some other wars. Farragut used a detachment of marines when he occupied New Orleans in , and a battalion of marines fought at the First Battle of Bull Run, but for the most part the marines performed their service afloat. Actually, the Corps at that period was neither organized nor trained properly for amphibious operations, and landing parties—as at Fort Fisher in —were usually composed of marines and sailors together, with the marines playing no outstanding role.

It was during the years after the Civil War that the Corps emerged with its modern character fully established: as an ever-ready striking force that could be used anywhere. It took part in landings in many, many places: in Formosa and in Uruguay, in Mexico and Egypt and Haiti, in Argentina and Chile and Nicaragua and in North China, in Panama and—away back in , this was—in Korea, where no fewer than six marines won Medals of Honor for bravery.

One important factor was that marines could be put ashore in places where the Army could not be used without a formal declaration of war. Technically, the United States was mostly at peace with the nations which were favored by marine landing parties. Concerning these interventions there has been much argument.

That they have profoundly irritated many Latin Americans is undeniable, and that at times they served chiefly to protect certain Wall Street investments is equally undeniable. At the same time, until fairly recently it was taken for granted—in Washington, at least—that if the United States lets no European power intervene in the affairs of any New World nation, it must itself intervene if revolutions bring chaos, bankruptcy, and rioting to an unstable land. They live up to the motto 'We Love to Say Yes! If they could help me with a loan, they can help anyone!

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