A Little History and Tradition, Happy Birthday Marines!

 On November 10, 1775, Robert Mullan, the proprietor of the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia was commissioned by an act of Congress to raise the first two battalions of Marines, under the leadership of Samuel Nicholas, the first appointed Commandant of the Continental Marines.

For our 239th Birthday, I thought that it would be appropriate to compose a brief history of our beloved Corps decade by decade.


“On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress approved the resolution to establish two battalions of Marines able to fight for independence at sea and on shore. This date marks the official formation of the Continental Marines.”

1st Commandant: Major Samuel Nicholas (1775-1783)

As the first order of business, Samuel Nicholas became captain and commanding officer of the newly formed Marines and visited numerous public inns and taverns throughout the city of Philadelphia to begin recruiting. One of his first recruits waspopular patriot and tavern owner Robert Mullan. Capt Mullan owned Tun Tavern, which subsequently became part of military lore as the birthplace of the Marine Corps.

Each year, the Marine Corps marks November 10 with a celebration of the brave spirit which compelled these men and thousands since to defend our country as United States Marines.

Resolved, that two Battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors & Officers as usual in other regiments, that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to office or inlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea, when required. That they be inlisted and commissioned for and during the present war with Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by Congress. That they be distinguished by the names of the first & second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered a part of the number, which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.  Resolution of the Continental Congress on 10 November 1775

In 1776, Marines wore green jackets featuring a high leather collar to protect against close-combat attacks, but in 1798, the jacket changed to blue to represent the Corps’ naval tradition. In 1841, Marines began wearing a dark blue jacket and light blue trousers. The high collar remains intact on today’s uniform and is also preserved by the nickname “Leatherneck.”

The dress blue uniform worn by noncommissioned officers, staff noncommissioned officers and officers feature the scarlet “blood stripe” down each trouser leg. Originally it honored those Marines who died in the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican War in 1847. Today, the blood stripe honors the memory of all our fallen comrades.

Dress blues are worn for many events, including ceremonies with foreign officials, visits with U.S. civil officials and formal social functions within an official capacity.


Decade began with 368 Marines (343 Enlisted; 25 Officers)
Decade ended with 523 Marines (513 Enlisted; 10 Officers)

2nd Commandant: LtCol William Ward Burrows (1798-1804)
3rd Commandant: LtCol Franklin Warton (1804-1818)

In 1805, the United States government refused to continue paying Barbary Coast pirates to refrain from raiding American merchant ships. When negotiations for a treaty failed, President Thomas Jefferson assembled an expeditionary force of Marines to respond.

Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and his Marines marched across 600 miles of the Libyan Desert to successfully storm the fortified Tripolitan city of Derna and rescue the kidnapped crew of the USS Philadelphia. The Marines’ victory helped Prince Hamet Bey reclaim his rightful throne as ruler of Tripoli. In gratitude, he presented his Mameluke sword to Lt O’Bannon.

This famous sword became part of the officer uniform in 1825, and remains the oldest ceremonial weapon in use by United States forces today.

The Battle of Derna was the Marines’ first land battle on foreign soil and is notably recalled in the first verse of the Marines’ Hymn: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea.”

Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon led the Marines’ first battle on foreign soil. He and his Marines relentlessly marched across 600 miles of the Libyan Desert to storm the fortified Tripolitan city of Derna and rescue the kidnapped crew of the USS Philadelphia.

The victory helped Prince Hamet Bey reclaim his rightful throne as ruler of Tripoli. In gratitude, Bey presented his Mameluke sword to Lt O’Bannon. This famous sword became part of the officer uniform in 1825 and remains the oldest ceremonial weapon in use by United States armed forces today.

The Battle of Derna is notably recalled in the opening verse of the Marines’ Hymn: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea.”


Decade began with 685 Marines (664 Enlisted; 21 Officers)
Decade ended with 895 Marines (852 Enlisted; 43 Officers)

4th Commandant: LtCol Anthony Gale (1819-1820)
5th Commandant: Col Archibald Henderson (1820-1859)



At the age of 37, Colonel Archibald Henderson became the fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps. He held this position for 39 years, outlasting nine presidents.

Henderson is remembered for his personal commitment to his Marines and his candor. In 1836, Henderson went to fight alongside his Marines in the Seminole War, leaving a simple note on his door: “Have gone to Florida to fight Indians. Will be back when war is over.”


Decade began with 950 Marines (916 Enlisted; 34 Officers)
Decade ended with 1,076 Marines (1,030 Enlisted; 46 Officers)

5th Commandant: Col Archibald Henderson (1820-1859)



The Mexican-American War played a critical role in defining the border between the two nations that remains in place today.

In 1847, knowing that the capture of the Palacio Nacional would greatly disrupt the Mexican army, the Marines stormed the enemy fortress during the Battle of Chapultepec.

After two days of battle, the Marines gained control of the castle, better known as the “Halls of Montezuma.”

The Marines were then given the honor of raising the Stars and Stripes over the palace to mark their victory. Upon returning home, the same Marines presented their flag to the commandant.

The victory at the “Halls of Montezuma” remains a part of Marine Corps tradition, immortalized in the opening line of the Marines’ Hymn.


Decade began with 1,851 Marines (1,804 Enlisted; 47 Officers)
Decade ended with 2,384 Marines (2,314 Enlisted; 70 Officers)

6th Commandant: Col John Harris (1859-1864)
7th Commandant: Col Jacob Zeilin (1864-1876)


Corporal John F. Mackie was the first Marine to be awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award.

Onboard the USS Galena at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff during the Civil War, heavy fire from Confederate forces killed or wounded much of the crew. Cpl Mackie bravely risked his life to lead the gun’s operation for the remainder of the battle.

The Medal of Honor is awarded to a person who distinguishes him or herself “…by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States…”

At Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia, a marker indicates the location of Mackie’s bravery.


Decade began with 1,968 Marines (1,906 Enlisted; 62 Officers)
Decade ended with 1,772 Marines (1,718 Enlisted; 54 Officers)

8th Commandant: Colonel Charles McCawley (1876-1891)


Long before his music inspired the nation, John Philip Sousa took an apprenticeship with the Marine Band at age 13.

He officially became head of the Marine Corps Band in 1880, conducting “The President’s Own” under five presidents. Sousa was a gifted composer and became known as “The March King.”

His music continues to bring honor to the Marine Corps today.  Many of his well-known compositions, including “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the National March of the United States and “Semper Fidelis,” the Official March of the Marine Corps, are still widely recognized.


Decade began with 1,772 Marines (1,718 Enlisted; 54 Officers)
Decade ended with 3,142 Marines (3,066 Enlisted; 76 Officers)

8th Commandant: Charles McCawley (1876-1891)
9th Commandant: MajGen Charles Heywood (1891-1903)


In the midst of fighting enemy forces during the Battle of Guantanamo Bay, deadly fire against Marines increased dramatically. In the chaos, the USS Dolphin misinterpreted a signal and opened fire on Marines.

In order to save the lives of his fellow Marines, Sergeant John Quick risked his own. Exposing himself to the crossfire, he signaled a cease-fire to the USS Dolphin. This courageous act earned Sgt Quick our nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.


Decade began with 3,142 Marines (3,066 Enlisted; 76 Officers)
Decade ended with 9,696 Marines (9,368 Enlisted; 328 Officers)

9th Commandant: MajGen Charles Heywood (1891-1903)
10th Commandant: MajGen George F. Elliott (1903-1910)


At the end of the 19th century, a secret society took hold in China; the “Boxers” fueled anti-Western attitudes in the nation and began burning foreign homes and businesses.

When the Chinese government refused to step in, Western foreign ministers pleaded for relief. Five-hundred sailors and Marines, who had just successfully calmed insurrection in the nearby Philippines, joined international forces to quell the Boxer Rebellion.

In the Philippines and China, the Marines proved indispensable. They deployed at a moment’s notice and fought admirably.

These two triumphs established America’s military presence in the Pacific and laid the groundwork for the role of the Marine Corps in the upcoming world war.


Decade began with 9,696 Marines (9,368 Enlisted; 328 Officers)
Decade ended with 48,834 Marines (46,564 Enlisted; 2,270 Officers)

10th Commandant: MajGen George F. Elliott (1903-1910)
11th Commandant: MajGen William Biddle (1911-1914)
12th Commandant: MajGen George Barnett (1914-1920)


With only two hours and 40 minutes of training, First Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham courageously embarked on the Marine Corps’ first solo training flight.

Cunningham reported to the nation’s first aviation camp in Annapolis, MD, on May 22, 1912, but was immediately ordered away on military duty. After a three-month delay, Cunningham received instruction on August 20 and began the rich legacy of Marine Corps aviation.

Cunningham’s flight was the seed for future successful Marine Corps aviation operations, leading up to World War I and beyond.


When the Navy opened the nation’s earliest aviation camp in Annapolis, MD, First Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham was the first Marine to receive training. With this action, the rich legacy of Marine Corps aviation began.

1stLt Cunningham, after only two hours and 40 minutes of instruction, embarked on the Marine Corps’ first solo training flight. After this, Marine Corps aviation operations grew to successfully support ground and amphibious assaults during World War I and beyond.

The date of Cunningham’s solo flight and the original date of his assignment are both recognized as “birthdays” of Marine Corps aviation.


After the British army’s Rolls Royce armored vehicle succeeded in wartime efforts, the Marine Corps quickly developed similar equipment to transport men and supplies from ship landing ramps to interior regions.

The Armor Motor Car Company of Detroit built the first armored cars for American military use, each fully equipped with a powerful V-8 engine and revolving machine gun turrets.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, purchased two of these vehicles for testing. After many successful tests, a total of eight armored cars were acquired and assigned to the 1st Armored Car Squadron of the 1st Marines at Philadelphia.


Not only did Major General Smedley Butler distinguish himself as one of two Marines to earn two Medals of Honor, he earned the prestigious medals in back-to-back campaigns.

MajGen Butler earned his first Medal in 1914, commanding Marine forces during the United States’ occupation of Vera Cruz. A year later, he earned his second Medal for “bravery and forceful leadership” as a commanding officer during the Haitian Occupation.

Butler served for 34 years before retiring from duty, earning 16 medals, five of which were for heroism. At the time of his death, he was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, in Okinawa, Japan, is named in his honor.


During the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, Sergeant Major Dan Daly fought off Chinese snipers and single-handedly defended the Marines’ position until reinforcements arrived. This bravery earned him a Medal of Honor.

In 1915, SgtMaj Daly earned the prestigious medal a second time during the Haitian Occupation. He gallantly fended off Haitian bandits all through the night to ultimately defeat them in the morning.

A courageous leader, Daly is well known for his fearlessness in battle. He was highly respected by his fellow Marines; Major General Smedley Butler described him as “the ‘fightinest’ Marine I ever knew.” Daly and Butler are the only Marines who have been awarded two Medals of Honor.


Marine Corps training is legendary, but the recruit training that exists today didn’t begin until 1911. Major General William P. Biddle, the 11th Commandant of the Marine Corps, formalized and intensified the training, raising the bar for what it takes to become a United States Marine.

In 1915, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, became the first base dedicated to the sole purpose of training. It has been in continuous use since then and is now one of only two bases where enlisted Marines are made.

As WWI broke out, 41,000 recruits trained at Parris Island, and the base has accommodated as many as 250,000 recruits during the Vietnam War. Parris Island began training female recruits in 1949.

All Marine Corps recruits east of the Mississippi and all female recruits are still trained and transformed at Parris Island today.


On August 13, 1918, Opha Mae Johnson became the first female Marine when she enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve.

Although women weren’t allowed in war zones during World War I, Johnson and more than 300 other women served proudly in the United States, helping their male counterparts win in France.


Deep in Belleau Wood, just outside of Paris, the 4th Marine Brigade fought relentlessly against German soldiers. The Marines suffered heavy casualties and were pinned down by machine-gun fire.

On 7 June 1918, with few grenades and no signal flares left, Marine forces launched an assault with fixed bayonets, seizing enemy positions. Marine riflemen demonstrated their superior marksmanship, shredding the lines of an oncoming German counterattack.

After 20 days of intense fighting, the Marines had won the Battle of Belleau Wood. The German survivors, exhausted and wounded, gave a fitting nickname to their relentless opponent: Teufelhunden, or “Devil Dogs.”

The beginning and the end of the war for the Germans were the battles of the Marne—and with the name of Marne will always be associated that of the glorious American Marines…

French Consul General Gaston Libert, 1918


Decade began with 19,432 Marines (18,052 Enlisted; 1,380 Officers)
Decade ended with 85,965 Marines (78,715 Enlisted; 7,250 Officers)

17th Commandant: LtGen Thomas Holcomb (1936-1943)
18th Commandant: General Alexander A. Vandegrift (1944-1947)
19th Commandant: General Clifton B. Cates (1948-1951)

The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) is an aviation unit that supplies the Marine Corps with a wide range of aircraft and equipment to support any Marine Corps mission.

Activated in Quantico, VA, in 1941, the 1st MAW aided Marine forces for the first time during the Battle of Guadalcanal. The MAW has been awarded five Presidential Unit Citations for gallantry in wartime, including WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Today the famed unit is stationed at MCB Butler in Okinawa, Japan, and continues to be an integral part of air operations in the Marine Corps.

The transportation of Marines and equipment from anchored ships to docks and beaches proved difficult during the first half of the twentieth century. But the resolve and persistence of Marines soon led to the adaptation of a new invention by Andrew Higgins, a New Orleans-based boat builder.

Originally built for trappers along the Gulf Coast, Higgins’ barge-like boat featured a special bow that enabled it to ascend up a beach for a dry landing.

After several tests and design modifications, the Higgins Boat seamlessly carried men, heavy machinery and weapons without requiring Marines to debark into water. With its safe and effective transportation, the Higgins Boat has become an icon of the World War II era.


With welded steel, padded treads and room for 4,500 pounds of cargo, the Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) was the Marine Corps’ first amphibious vehicle to aid in battle on both land and sea.

The LVT-1 transported men and equipment from ships across fringing reefs and beaches into battle with great versatility and mobility. The Marine Corps adapted the LVT-1 from an amphibious tractor originally used in post-hurricane rescue missions. The transformation from tractor to amphibious vehicle demonstrated the Marines’ persistence in finding technological solutions to operational problems.

The LVT-1 saw its first combat action during World War II, moving Marines and thousands of tons of supplies to the front lines. It was later thrust into more strategic situations, becoming an important element for transporting artillery, holding defensive positions and aiding Marines in machine-gun attacks.


In 1942, as desegregation in America progressed, the Commandant of the Marine Corps issued formal instructions to recruit qualified African-American men.

The men who enlisted in response completed recruit training at Montford Point in North Carolina. Between 1942 and 1949, approximately 20,000 African-American men completed recruit training and became known as the “Montford Point Marines.”

The efforts of the Montford Point Marines proved their courage and paved the way for integrated armed forces. By 1949, training was desegregated, and all recruits trained side-by-side at Parris Island and San Diego.

Montford Point was renamed Camp Johnson in 1974 and is now home to the Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools at Camp Lejeune.



During World War II, coded radio transmission was the fastest way to deliver commands to units overseas. Cryptographers on both sides became adept at intercepting and decoding their opponents’ transmissions. In 1942, the Marine Corps found a new way to keep theircommunications secure with the Navajo Code Talkers.

Marines from the Navajo tribe began to send secure voice transmissions based on their native language. Since only a small group of Americans spoke Navajo, it was impossible for the enemy to gain intelligence from any intercepted messages. Additionally, the Navajo Code Talkers proved faster and more accurate than Morse Code or any machine.

The unique Navajo language gave the Marines a strategic advantage during the Battle of Iwo Jima and countless other World War II battles. The program was highly classified for 25 years and, to this day, there’s no indication any intercepted Navajo code was successfully deciphered.


Decade began with 85,965 Marines (78,715 Enlisted; 7,250 Officers)
Decade ended with 175,571 Marines (159,506 Enlisted; 16,065 Officers)

19th Commandant: General Clifton B. Cates (1948-1951)
20th Commandant: General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. (1952-1955)
21st Commandant: General Randolf McCall Pate (1956-1959)



When the Marines landed at Inchon, South Korea, First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez was ready to storm the shores; he began the attack and was the first man to scale the 10-foot seawall.

During the battle, he raised his arm to throw a grenade just as an enemy bullet hit his shoulder. Injured but determined, 1stLt Lopez smothered his grenade, shielding his fellow Marines from the blast.

He gave his life for his Marines and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his exceptional courage.

A famous photograph of the Inchon landing captured Lopez scaling the seawall moments before his death. Newspapers back home ran the story, describing Lopez as having “died with the courage that makes men great.”


Following the successful Inchon landing, U.N. forces had North Korean troops on the run, but communist China’s unexpected entry into the Korean War threatened that progress.

At Chosin Reservoir, the 1st Marine Division found itself surrounded and outnumbered 8-to-1 by the Chinese army. The worst weather in 50 years cut off air support and assaulted the Marines with snow, wind and temperatures of -40 degrees F.

Even so, the “Chosin Few,” as they would come to be called, decimated 10 Chinese infantry divisions and fought their way back to the sea to rejoin the American forces.

No Marines have ever faced worse weather, terrain or odds than those who fought at Chosin Reservoir, but to anyone familiar with the Marines’ spirit of determination, there was no doubt the 1st Marine Division would prevail.


The Cold War escalated when communist North Korea invaded South Korea in what was seen as a global military challenge. As the head of U.N. forces, Army General Douglas MacArthur relied on the amphibious capabilities of the Marine Corps to reclaim South Korea’s occupied capital, Seoul.

In a surprise attack, Marines landed behind enemy lines on the heavily defended shores of Inchon. Moving from landing craft, they climbed the seawall with close air support from warplanes above.

Within hours, the Marines cleared the beach and began moving toward Seoul. In two weeks, they reclaimed the capital and put the North Korean army on the run.

More than a battle victory, the landing at Inchon is considered one of the most spectacular amphibious assaults in history. The planning and landing became the model for the Marine Corps’ Operational Maneuver from the Sea doctrine.

…These Marines have the swagger, confidence, and hardness that must have been in Stonewall Jackson’s Army of the Shenandoah. They remind me of the Coldstreams at Dunkerque.

A British military officer visiting the U.S. Marines in Korea included the above in his daily report to the British command in Tokyo, 16 Aug. 1950


Decade began with 175,571 Marines (159,506 Enlisted; 16,065 Officers)
Decade ended with 309,771 Marines (284,073 Enlisted; 25,698 Officers)

22nd Commandant: General David M. Shoup (1960-1963)
23rd Commandant: General Wallace M. Greene, Jr. (1964-1967)
24th Commandant: General Leonard F. Chapman, Jr. (1968-1971)


When Marine commander, Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt, received intelligence that the Viet Cong were hiding in a village south of the Marine base at Chu Lai, he didn’t wait to be attacked.

LtGen Walt and his commanders devised “Operation Starlite,” a combined helicopter and amphibious assault that would protect the base and neutralize the approaching unit.

The operation lasted six days and was a true test of courage. In the end, the Marines dealt the Viet Cong their first major defeat.

The success of Operation Starlite not only proved the value of combined amphibious and vertical envelopment operations in combat, it renewed the Marines’ faith in their ability to triumph in “every clime and place.”


While serving as a helicopter gunship pilot, Major Stephen Pless led his unit in unleashing a devastating rocket and machine gun assault during a daring Vietnam rescue mission. Amid enemy fire, Maj Pless maneuvered his helicopter into position to retrieve four wounded American soldiers.

For his courage and remarkable airmanship, Pless became the only Marine aviator to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.


While advancing through the dense Vietnamese jungle, a platoon from the 3rd Marine Division came under intense enemy fire. The platoon moved together protectively as they returned fire.

An enemy grenade landed in the midst of the platoon and rolled next to Private First Class James Anderson, Jr. Selflessly, he reached for the grenade, pulled it to his chest and wrapped his body around it as it exploded.

PFC Anderson saved his platoon from serious injury and death, sacrificing his own life for his Marines and his country.

For this courageous act, he became the first African-American Marine to be awarded our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.


During the war in Vietnam, Marines defended a base at Khe Sanh, a remote but strategic outpost near the Laotian border.

The North Vietnamese army attacked the base, predicting overwhelming victory. The base remained under siege for 77 days, but Marines prevented the enemy from penetrating United States defenses.

The victory was a morale boost for U.S. forces in what proved to be a long struggle for peace


Decade began with 309,771 Marines (284,073 Enlisted; 25,698 Officers)
Decade ended with 185,250 Marines (167,021 Enlisted; 18,229 Officers)

24th Commandant: General Leonard F. Chapman, Jr. (1968-1971)
25th Commandant: General Robert E. Cushman, Jr. (1972-1975)
26th Commandant: General Louis H. Wilson, Jr. (1975-1979)
27th Commandant: General Robert H. Barrow (1979-1983)


Holding a bomb detonator between his teeth, Colonel John W. Ripley swung across the underside of the Dong Ha Bridge. For three hours, Col Ripley attached the explosives with one hand while gripping the bridge with the other.

When finished, he returned to shore and destroyed the bridge, allowing his unit to hold off several thousand North Vietnamese forces.

His courage and determination at the bridge earned him a Navy Cross and a place in Marine Corps history. Ripley demonstrated extraordinary courage throughout his 35-year career.

By the time he retired, he had also earned the Silver Star, two Legion of Merit awards, two Bronze Stars with Combat “V,” a Purple Heart and the Cross of Gallantry.


In 1978, Margaret Brewer advanced to the rank of brigadier general, becoming the Marine Corps’ first female general.

Brewer received her commission in 1952, followed by several leadership positions, including Commanding Officer of the Women Marines, platoon commander for woman officer candidates and the Director of Women Marines, for which she earned the Legion of Merit award.

Brigadier General Brewer’s 28 years of service illustrate the commitment that Marines make to their country and to the Corps.


Lieutenant General Frank Petersen was the first African-American promoted to the rank of general in the Marine Corps. Prior to his promotion, Petersen had been the Corps’ first African-American pilot.

Petersen received his commission as a second lieutenant in 1952. Serving in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts as a skilled pilot, he flew over 300 combat missions with over 4,000 hours in various fixed-wing, fighter aircraft. Petersen later served as the senior ranking aviator in the Marine Corps. He also earned the Distinguished Service Medal for exceptional meritorious service as the Commanding General of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.

LtGen Petersen was more than an outstanding Marine and quality citizen; he broke racial barriers and strengthened the legacy of the Marine Corps while inspiring and paving the way for future African-Americans seeking to be the best in everything they do.


Decade began with 185,250 Marines (167,021 Enlisted; 18,229 Officers)
Decade ended with 196,956 Marines (176,857 Enlisted; 20,099 Officers)

27th Commandant: General Robert H. Barrow (1979-1983)
28th Commandant: General Paul X. Kelley (1983-1987)
29th Commandant: General Alfred M. Gray, Jr. (1987-1991)


The Military Sealift Command has strategically pre-positioned ships around the world, ready to mobilize for any conflict that requires a rapid response. Each Maritime Prepositioning Force squadron carries enough equipment and supplies to sustain more than 16,000 Marines and sailors for up to 30 days, including tanks, ammunition, food, water, cargo, hospital equipment, petroleum products and spare parts.

The ships were developed and specifically configured for the Marine Corps in the 1980’s, providing critical new supply capabilities and reducing reliance on available infrastructure in other nations. Many ships in the force are able to transfer cargo to shallow-draft boats, which can transport supplies to shore in places where ports are non-existent, thus allowing Marine Corps forces to easily operate in undeveloped areas.


Conflict in Panama began escalating when Dictator General Manuel Noriega came to power. During his reign, he broke international treaties, supported drug trafficking and declared war on the United States.

He openly encouraged attacks on Americans, and when a Marine was killed by Panamanian forces, the United States decided Noriega would no longer be tolerated.

The United States launched Operation Just Cause with the goal of deposing the dictator and returning order to Panama.

The Marine Corps Security Force, infantry, and a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) played a critical role in the short but complex operation.

Within just two weeks they had achieved success. Noriega surrendered, and the people of Panama began to restore their nation.

Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world, but the Marines don’t have that problem.

President Ronald Reagan (Written Sept. 23, 1983 in a personal note to LCpl Joseph Hickey, the son of a close friend of the President. The Marine was scheduled to deploy to Lebanon.)


Decade began with 196,956 Marines (176,857 Enlisted; 20,099 Officers)
Decade ended with 171,154 Marines (153,302 Enlisted; 17,852 Officers)

29th Commandant: General Alfred M. Gray, Jr. (1987-1991)
30th Commandant: General Carl E. Mundy, Jr. (1991-1995)
31st Commandant: General Charles C. Krulak (1995-1999)
32nd Commandant: General James L. Jones (1999-2003)



From the air, Marine pilots used fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft to destroy Iraq’s air and naval forces, anti-air defenses and ballistic missile launchers.

The 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions broke through Iraq’s southern border while 8,000 Marines kept the Iraqi army distracted in the north.

On Iraqi soil, Marines crossed minefields, barbed-wire obstacles, booby traps and fire trenches while under attack from Iraqi artillery.

With precise air operations, tenacious amphibious assaults and versatile land tactics, the Marines led one of the most successful assaults in modern warfare.


With warring factions ravaging Somalia, Rwanda and Zaire in the 1990s, the Marine Corps used its resources to provide vital humanitarian aid. When widespread violence and famine escalated in these countries, global support was needed, and the Marine Corps led the way.

In these peacekeeping missions, Marines occasionally came under fire while providing security and distributing food, water and medical supplies.

These missions reasserted the role of the United States Marines as defenders with the courage to take action in the face of injustice.


Sarah Deal Burrow graduated from Kent State University with a pilot’s license and a degree in aerospace flight technology. After Officer Candidates School, Burrow wanted to fly. With no female pilot roles at the time, however, she specialized in Air Traffic Control instead.

Burrow’s desire to fly was fulfilled when women were permitted to fly combat aircraft in 1993. She trained at Naval Air Station Pensacola and earned her wings on April 21, 1995. Lieutenant Colonel Burrow piloted a CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopter that same year.

LtCol Burrow’s determination to become an aviator led the way for future female Marine Corps pilots.



The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), commanded at the time by Colonel Martin Berndt, was chosen to conduct a mission for the rescue of Air Force pilot Captain Scott O’Grady, who was shot down in enemy territory during a peacekeeping mission over Bosnia.

Military leadership debated who would lead the rescue, but the Marine unit’s rapid deployment capabilities and extensive training made it the most qualified force. Marines secured the perimeter, and Col Berndt’s Marines pulled O’Grady aboard the helicopter. Avoiding two shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, the unit landed safely on USS Kearsarge 45 minutes later.

Berndt’s leadership in preparing his Marines set an example for future military rescue missions.


During a peacekeeping mission over Bosnia, Air Force pilot Captain Scott O’Grady was shot down in enemy territory.

Undetected, he survived by sleeping under camouflage netting during the day and moving at night. Capt O’Grady avoided patrolling Serbs until he made contact with NATO forces six days later.

Military leadership debated who would lead the rescue, and chose the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) to conduct a TRAP (Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel) mission. The unit was chosen for its rapid deployment capabilities and extensive training prior to the assignment.

After pulling O’Grady aboard their helicopter and flying low to the ground, the unit dodged two shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. Forty-five minutes later, they landed safely on USS Kearsarge.


The Marine Corps was among the first organizations to address the growing concern of chemical and biological threats with the creation of the Marine Corps Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) in 1996.

Despite a relatively short history, CBIRF’s track record is impressive. Marines from CBIRF provided a critical response to the anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill in 2001 and supported the United States Capitol Police in responding to the 2004 ricinincident on Capitol Hill. In 2011, the CBIRF was dispatched to Japan during Operation Tomodachi to aid during the nuclear crisis resulting from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.

The CBIRF remains a leader in preparing the United States to respond to any chemical or biological attack.

They told (us) to open the embassy, or “we’ll blow you away.” And then they looked up and saw the Marines on the roof with these really big guns, and they said in Somali, “Igaralli ahow,” which means “Excuse me, I didn’t mean it, my mistake.”

Karen Aquilar, in the U.S. Embassy, Mogadishu, Somalia, 1991


Decade began with 171,154 Marines (153,302 Enlisted; 17,852 Officers)
Decade ended with 204,153 Marines (182,945 Enlisted; 21,208 Officers)

32nd Commandant: General James L. Jones (1999-2003)
33rd Commandant: General Michael W. Hagee (2003-2006)
34th Commandant: General James T. Conway (2006-2010)



After the attack on our nation on September 11, 2001, the entire American military focused its might on defeating Al-Qaeda. Two months later, Marines were the first major ground forces inAfghanistan. In mid-December, 2001, Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit captured Kandahar Airport and converted it into one of the first coalition command centers in the country.

Since the initial invasion, much progress has been made. The threat of violence has been greatly reduced, hundreds of schools have been constructed and millions in aid have been distributed. In October of 2004, Afghanistan held its first direct elections, and one year later, they conducted the first Afghan parliamentary election.

At the start of 2010, Marines lead Operation Moshtarak, the largest military operation since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan and reclaimed cities across southern Afghanistan, including the Taliban stronghold of Marjah. The War in Afghanistan officially became the longest war in U.S. history in June of 2010. Marines continue to fight the Taliban and train Afghan soldiers to eventually shoulder the burden of Afghanistan’s national security.


Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States government declared a “Global War on Terrorism.”

In response to the Taliban government’s refusal to respond to known terrorist activities within their borders, Marines were deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In 2003, Iraq became a second front in the war on terrorism with Operation Iraqi Freedom, with Marine responsibilities ranging from combat and security operations to humanitarian efforts. In September of 2010, Operation Iraqi Freedom officially ended, and Operation New Dawn began with the goal of advising and assisting Iraqi forces in rebuilding.


Marines wore the same camouflage as other armed forces for years—until identifying a need for concealment from new surveillance technology.

In 2002, the Marine Corps developed a new pixelated camouflage pattern for use in utility uniforms.

The Marine Pattern (MARPAT) is made of a computer-generated pattern of overlapping squares. The green and brown woodland pattern provides the best concealment for forest areas; the khaki desert pattern works best in urban or sandy environments. Both feature theEagle, Globe and Anchor insignia embedded within the pattern.

This patented innovation represents the most significant change to the Marine Corps uniform in more than 30 years. It is the first military camouflage designed to avoid detection by both human eye and digital lens, and has become the standard for all Marine Combat Utility uniforms and gear.


During ground combat missions, sniper teams cover long-range targets, while rifle squads provide short-range fire. In 2002, the Marine Corps found a way to increase the effectiveness of the team with the addition of a Designated Marksman to cover mid- to short-range targets.

The best rifleman in each squad is assigned to the Designated Marksman position. This Marine uses an M14 automatic rifle or M16 assault rifle with telescopic sight to provide fire on mid-range targets at two to five hundred yards.

With the accuracy of a sniper and the rapid-fire capabilities of a rifleman, the Designated Marksman is able to adapt to various conditions and increase the efficiency of the ground combat team.


As a Marine, Colonel Matthew Bogdanos did more than just make history – he helped preserve it.

After several years in the Reserves, Col Bogdanos returned to active duty following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In 2003, when the National Museum of Iraq was looted, he was chosen to lead the investigation.

Bogdanos and his team are responsible for recovering approximately 5,500 artifacts from humanity’s earliest civilizations. They also exposed the link between the black market art world and terrorist funding.

In 2005, Bogdanos received a National Humanities Medal for his leadership in recovering the stolen artifacts. He returned to his previous work for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and published a book about the looting in Iraq. Proceeds from the book go to the Iraq Museum.


One of the key objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom during 2003 was the capture of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. A convoy of 30,000 Marines advanced 500 miles from the border of Kuwait in just 10 days.

On April 9, 2003, Marines secured the center of Baghdad. That same day, Coalition forces declared an end to the dictator’s rule.


During a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, Corporal Jason Dunham and his men heard gunfire erupt nearby. Cpl Dunham ordered his squad toward the fighting, receiving enemy fire as they moved.

At the scene, they discovered seven vehicles scrambling to depart. As they halted the vehicles to search for weapons, an insurgent leapt out. He attacked Dunham and then released a grenade. Without hesitation, the corporal tore off his Kevlar helmet and used it to cover the grenade. He bore the full force of the fatal explosion, saving the lives of at least two other Marines in his squad.

Dunham’s brave actions distinguished him as the first Marine to earn the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.


Hundred-foot waves swept the shores of Indonesia, Thailand and India in a series of tsunamis that proved to be one of the deadliest natural disasters ever. While the world was in shock, the Marines mobilized.

Along with a number of United States and international relief efforts, three Marine Corps disaster relief assessment teams were immediately deployed to the region.

Seven ships from the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group arrived with the 15thMarine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to help produce critically needed fresh water. Marines also provided additional supplies for survivors.

After providing much-needed supplies and assistance, the Marines left the region, allowing local governments to take over.


The potential for tilt-rotor aircraft, an aircraft which can combine the vertical takeoff and landing ability of a helicopter with the speed and long-range capabilities of a fixed-wing plane was patented as far back as 1930, but no workable prototype was created until 1954. A series of experimental models followed, but it wasn’t until 1981 that work began on developing the first tilt-rotor aircraft for military use: the MV-22 Osprey.

The Marine Corps began crew training on the MV-22 Osprey in 2000, and in 2006, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (VMM-263) became the first operational MV-22 Osprey Squadron in the U.S. Armed Forces.

In 2009, the MV-22 Osprey saw its first combat mission in Afghanistan, transporting over 1,000 Marines and 150 Afghan troops to the Now Zad Valley, and in 2010, the aircraft was deployed to Haiti in its first humanitarian mission.

In 2011, two MV-22s participated in the recovery of a downed Air Force crew member during Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, proving the aircraft’s usefulness in a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP) mission.


Major Zembiec was nicknamed the “Lion of Fallujah” as a result of his heroic actions during Operation Vigilant Resolve in 2004. As a rifle company commander, he lead Echo Company 2/1 in the first conventional ground assault into Fallujah, Iraq. He was awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device and two Purple Hearts due to wounds incurred in action. His brave actions are detailed in the book No True Glory: A Front-line Account of the Battle of Fallujah by Bing West.

Major Zembiec was killed by small arms fire while leading a raid during his fourth combat tour in Iraq. Zembiec warned his Marines to seek cover before doing so himself and was hit by enemy fire. Zembiec’s warning saved his men and the initial radio report of the incident said there were, “five wounded and one martyred.”


In 2008, Major Jennifer Grieves became the first female to pilot Marine One, the helicopter of the President of the United States. Of the 70 pilots in the Marine Helicopter Squadron (HMX), she was one of only five cleared for the honor and responsibility of commanding the president’s helicopter.

While most Marine One pilots serve in that position for one year, Maj Grieves’s tour extended through July 2009. She then advanced to the Command and Staff College in preparation for a future assignment in the operating forces.

Grieves enlisted in 1990 and earned her commission eight years later. After leading as a sergeant, becoming an officer put Grieves in a position to make command decisions and to prove herself as a pilot.


When the forward element of his combat team was hit with intense fire in the Kunar Provence of Afghanistan on September 8, 2009, Dakota Meyer (then a Corporal) mounted a gun truck, enlisted another man to drive, and raced to attack the ambushers. During a six-hour firefight, Meyer returned four times, single-handedly turning the tide of the battle and personally evacuating 12 wounded Marines and soldiers, providing cover for another 24 Marines and soldiers to escape. For his actions, he became the first living Marine to earn the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

Meyer said of his citation, “The main thing that we need to get from that day is that those guys died heroes, and they are greatly missed. This isn’t about me.”

The men in his unit who lost their lives were: 1stLt Michael Johnson of Virginia Beach, VA; SSgt Aaron Kenefick of Roswell, GA; Hospital Corpsman Third Class James Layton of Riverbank, CA; and GySgt Edwin Wayne Johnson Jr. fromColumbus, GA.


Decade began with 204,153 Marines (182,945 Enlisted; 21,208 Officers)

34th Commandant: General James T. Conway (2006-2010)
35th Commandant: General James F. Amos (2010- Present)


The Improved Modular Tactical Vest (IMTV) is the latest body armor innovation designed to allow Marines to scale their body armor up or down, depending on mission requirements. In addition to superior weight distribution, the improved vest provides increased torso protection with less exposure under the arms.

The modular capability of the vest also allows Marines to attach optional lower back and groin protection sections, as well as a removable collar, which is half the size of the previous model.

Lighter and more comfortable, the armor will provide protection from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and small arms fire while allowing greater freedom of movement.


After a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook Haiti to its foundation in January of 2010, the Marine Corps responded quickly, deploying both the 22nd and 24th Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) to restore order and stability.

Arriving amidst violence and looting, Marines provided security to the ravaged nation and distributed food and water to the Haitian people. Rebuilding hospitals and distributing medical supplies were also top priorities for Marines in Haiti. During the two-month mission, Marines distributed nearly 560,000 liters of bottled water, 1.6 million pounds of rations and 15,000 pounds of medical supplieS.


One of only two active-duty female Generals in the Marine Corps, Brigadier General Loretta Reynolds became Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Parris Island’s first female base commander in 2011. Her command at Parris Island also put her in charge of the Marines’ Eastern Recruiting Region, which covers the 23 states east of the Mississippi River.

Commissioned by the Marine Corps in 1986 after completing her undergraduate degree at the Naval Academy, Reynolds has commanded Marines in numerous deployments in Okinawa, Japan; Quantico, VA, Iraq and Afghanistan, notably becoming the first female Marine to hold a command position in a battle zone.

During her historic command in Afghanistan where she took charge of five battalions of the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), she is credited with helping to double the capabilities of a base initially able to house 10,000 Marines and sailors stationed in Helmand Province.

An avid scholar, Reynolds has also attended the Marine Corps University in Quantico, VA, the Naval War College in Newport, RI, and the Army War College in Carlisle, PA.


In 2011, Marines were sent back to the shores of Tripoli in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. The goal of the operation was to prevent the forces of Muammar Gaddafi from carrying out airstrikes on the Libyan rebels.

As the situation in Libya began to deteriorate into a civil war, President Obama made the call to reposition the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) off the coast of Libya. Once Operation Odyssey Dawn was officially underway, Marines were among the first troops to enforce the no-fly zone and conducted numerous successful airstrikes against Gaddafi’s forces.


Hours after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the resulting 124-foot Tsunami decimated Japan, Marines stationed in Okinawa responded with supplies and support as the government mobilized Operation Tomodachi.

With over 45,000 buildings in ruins and a snowstorm dropping temperatures to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, the Marines deployed the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and joined forces with the Japanese Self-Defense force, supplying vital water, heating fuel and other supplies to displaced residents in difficult to reach areas.

Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant was one of the buildings badly damaged by the tsunami. Marines from the Chemical, Biological and Incident Response Force (CBIRF) were also deployed to aid the Japanese in the event of a reactor meltdown.

During Operation Tomodachi, Marines strengthened our alliance with Japan by responding quickly and decisively to avert greater disaster.

The 26th MEU also conducted a successful Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP) mission using the MEU’s MV-22 OspreysCH-53E Super Stallions and KC-130J Hercules aircraft.

Maj Kenneth Harney, one of the rescued Air Force pilots, recalled the moment of his rescue saying, “As that backdoor opened I see a group of young Marine recon units jump out; that was probably the best feeling I ever felt in my entire life.”


The history of Marine Aviation is best summed up in the words of Marine Aviator #1, First Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham: “The only excuse for aviation in any service is its usefulness in assisting troops on the ground.”

Since its infancy, Marine aviators have always demonstrated both agility and resolve. From the 1st Marine Aviation Force providing bomber and fighter support to the Navy in WWI, to the perfection of close air support during the Banana Wars, to making aviation history through the combination of rotary-wing and fixed-wing capabilities in the MV-22 Osprey, every chapter was forged by those in the cockpit and the crews that kept them aloft.

Marine Pilots do not fly above the combat zone but at the top of it, forming the lethal air-ground team that continues to sharpen the tip of the spear—and the next 100 years will be no different.

For an in-depth look into this centennial, download 100 years of Marine Aviation: An illustrated History.



Each year, Marines all over the world celebrate the birth of the Marine Corps on November 10th, 1775. No matter where they’re stationed, whether they’re forward deployed or in combat, Marines take time to remember the honor, courage and commitment of their fellow Marines and listen to the Commandant’s birthday message to the Corps.

Over the years, other birthday traditions have evolved from the annual Birthday Ball, to the custom of cutting the cake with the sword and serving the first piece to the oldest Marine present and the second piece to the youngest Marine.

This year, the Corps commissioned a video to commemorate some of the great milestones of the past 237 years.  From the Revolutionary War to Operation Unified Response, the Marine Corps has been liberating, restoring and protecting our nation with honor, courage and commitment. Happy Birthday, Marines.


This year is the 239th Marine Corps Birthday. “On 10 November each year, wherever we are, we pause to celebrate the anniversary of our Corps, and reflect on who we are, what we do, and why we do it.” — Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. (Produced by Headquarters Marine Corps Combat Camera)


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Examine

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