The United States Marine Corps is an organization to be admired. The facts that create their history, and current capabilities, need no help from fiction to garner respect. With that said, many who say they are Marines, ex-Marines –– or fans of the USMC ––heap myths, lies, and nonsense claims on to the Marines. Not only does the Marine Corps not need any false accolades, but these “errors” are also offensive to the men and women of the other four military services.
A previous article we wrote about the Marines drew a ridiculous amount of comments, most of which were wrong. This article correct many of the mistaken beliefs people have about the Marine Corps. You can read that original article by clicking here.
1. The Marines are the president’s army.
We’ve heard ex-Marines say that the Marine Corps belongs to the president, that he has control over them that he doesn’t have over the other branches of the military. Well, this is complete nonsense. Anyone who believes that should sit with their comic books quietly in the back of the room while the adults talk. When your reading comprehension outgrows comic books, read the War Powers Resolution.
2. The Marines are first to fight.
No, this is not true. The Marines have seldom been the first to fight. While it is a useful recruiting tool for the Marines, it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. We researched the wars of the twentieth century, and here is what we found.
World War One: The Marines contributed only one brigade to that war, and that brigade was attached to the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. Their first fight took place a little more than a month after the Army’s first action.
World War Two: The Marines were first to fight in the Pacific, but not in Europe.
Korean War: The Marines were not the first to fight in Korea. The first ground troops sent to Korea were from the Army’s 24th Infantry Division on July 1, 1950. The first Marines arrived in Korea on August 2.
Vietnam War: The Army’s 1st Special Forces Group was in Vietnam first.
Desert Shield/Desert Storm: The 82d Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, NC, was the first American combat unit to arrive in Saudi Arabia. The first airborne soldier was on the ground within 31 hours of the time of the initial alert. General Hopkins was ordered to begin deploying his Marine brigade on August 10. By the way, the opening volley of the ground war was also fired by the Army, Task Force Normandy of the 101st Airborne Division.
Invasion of Granada: Army and Marines attacked at the exact same time on the morning of October 25, 1983.
Invasion of Panama: When I looked up the order of battle for D-Day in Panama, no Marine units were listed, and none were listed as part of the forces on the two preceding days. But the Marines did contribute a Light Armored Battalion, one infantry company, and members of the Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (their ultimate embassy guards).
Afghanistan: Army was also first to fight here. Gen. Mattis, in his book, Call Sign Chaos, actually writes about the Marines going in only after the Army secured their landing zones.
Going through the rest of our wars also did not lend credence to the Marines' claim that they are first to fight. Do the research; we did. With that said, it’s okay that they use it as a recruiting tool and to feel good about themselves. I’m sure if I went to the 82nd Airborne Division’s website, I would find that same claim. (Not that the Navy considers their carriers America’s 911.) I’m not a general, but I suspect in today’s danger zones, the Joint Chiefs choose the first-to-fight force package based on a criterion that does not include ego. It’s worth pointing out that in the first to fight debate, I didn’t even consider the Air Force or Navy, and they have many men and women with fingers on triggers. But the reason we’re calling out the Marines on this is that they are unique to use this false claim in an attempt to belittle other branches.
3. The red stripe on Marine trousers commemorates Marines killed at The Halls of Montezuma.
The fight for the Halls of Montezuma was actually the attack on the castle of Chapultepec in 1847. The Army, not the Marines, actually took the castle. The assault force that stormed the Mexican position was made up of 500 troops, of which 460 were Army and only 40 were Marines. Today, Marines call the red stripe on their trousers the Blood Stripe in honor of the heavy casualties suffered by Marines in the battle. But according to the Marine’s website casualties were very light. Here’s a quote from the Marine Corps “…bloodless cost for Marines who stormed the stone course of glory atop Chapultepec in Mexico…”
Now let’s see what the National Museum of the Marine Corps says about that red stripe:
“Marine Corps tradition maintains that the red stripe worn on the trousers of officers and noncommissioned officers, and commonly known as the “blood stripe,” commemorates those Marines killed storming the castle of Chapultepec in 1847. Although this belief is firmly embedded in the traditions of the Corps, it has no basis in fact. The use of stripes clearly predates the Mexican War.
In 1834, uniform regulations were changed to comply with President Andrew Jackson’s wishes that Marine uniforms return to the green and white worn during the Revolutionary War. The wearing of stripes on the trousers began in 1837, following the Army practice of wearing stripes the same color as uniform jacket facings. Colonel Commandant Archibald Henderson ordered those stripes to be buff white. Two years later, when President Jackson left office, Colonel Henderson returned the uniform to dark blue coats faced red. In keeping with earlier regulations, stripes became dark blue edged in red. In 1849, the stripes were changed to a solid red. Ten years later uniform regulations prescribed a scarlet cord inserted into the outer seams for noncommissioned officers and musicians and a scarlet welt for officers. Finally, in 1904, the simple scarlet stripe seen today was adopted.”
4. The Marines are The President’s Own.
The people who call the Marines “The President’s Own” are typically Marines and ex-Marines. But the moniker “The President’s Own” belongs only to the United States Marine Band. It got that moniker in 1801 when President John Adams invited the band to perform at the Executive Mansion. Later, Thomas Jefferson initiated the tradition of Marine Band performances by requesting that it perform at his inauguration. The Marine Band has played at every United States presidential inauguration since. The interesting thing about the Marines in this band is that they are not sent to boot camp. The Marine Band recruits experienced musicians and selects them through auditions. They start at the rank of staff sergeant and are giving four-year contracts. So much for the idea that every marine is a rifleman.
5. Every marine is a rifleman.
Our first response to this is "see above," every Marine doesn't even have to go to boot camp. Getting past the fact that not all Marines go to boot camp, USMC Commandant General Alfred M. Gray Jr. once said, "every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman. All other conditions are secondary." That makes no sense. How much time and money do the Marines spend training a jet pilot, and that skill is secondary? The same is true for training jet engine mechanics or other technical skills, after all of that training, they are first and foremost riflemen and jet engine mechanics secondary? I hope General Gray was relieved of command after making such a ridiculous assertion. That comment is also an insult to every infantry rifleman. The notion that clerks, mechanics, and assorted support people are equal to infantry Marines just because they know how to shoot a rifle, is not true. Or, wait for it … being a Marine infantry rifleman is a pretty simple job.
6. The Marine Corps is a light infantry force.
Today, the Marine Corps is more of an air force than a ground force. The USMC has 24 infantry battalions and 58 flying squadrons (not counting over a dozen aviation support squadrons). As of 2017, the Marine Corps numbered right about 182,000 active duty men and women. There are 903 Marines in each infantry battalion, that puts 21,672 in infantry battalions. So, what are the other 160,328 Marines doing? In their fight for relevance, perhaps they should turn their public relations machine against the United States Air Force instead of the Army.
7. The Marines won the war in the Pacific, World War Two.
Of course, we’re talking about the ground war. The Pacific is an incredibly large ocean, and it would be hard not to offer kudos to the Navy here. The Marines fielded six divisions in the Pacific. The Army fielded twenty-two. More Soldiers were killed than Marines. The Army killed more Japanese than the Marines did. At one point in the 1930s the War Department decided that an amphibious corps would be composed of one Army and one Marine division. The Marines never got large enough where they could contribute that much manpower. So that left the Army to do the bulk of the fighting. In many battles, lesser numbers of Marine fought alongside soldiers. Though on Saipan and Iwo Jima, there were more Marines. The biggest amphibious operation in the Pacific, the invasion of Okinawa, was mostly an Army fight. Four Army divisions and three Marine divisions made up the ground force. General Buckner, Army, not Marine, was in command. While the Marines did not win the ground war in the Pacific, their contributions were significant.
8. Marines prepared as a backup in D-Day assault.
There was not a Marine battalion waiting in reserve just in case the Army got in trouble. The Marines at D-Day were the detachments assigned to large Navy warships for security.
9. Germans called the Marines "devil dogs" in World War I.
All Marines in basic training are taught that German soldiers in WW I called Marines "Devil Dogs." But they did not. H.L. Mencken, the famed American writer, clearly stated in 1921 that: "The Germans, during the war, had no opprobrious nicknames for their foes…Teufelhunde (devil-dogs), for the American marines, was invented by an American correspondent; the Germans never used it." That correspondent was most likely Floyd Gibbons. This claim is reinforced by the fact that several American newspapers ran stories in April 1918, claiming that Germans had nicknamed the Marines "devil dogs." These stories were before the Marines' first fight later that spring.
10. The Marine Corps does the most with the least.
The Marines buy some of the most advanced – and expensive -- weapon systems on the battlefield. For example, the Marines are buying 420 of the new F-35 fighter. The military branch that does the most with the least, is without a doubt, the Coast Guard.
11. America needs the Marine Corps
This was the topic of our first article about the Marines, so we include it here again. But, it's worth repeating, no one at Fine Medium and Broad is suggesting we should eliminate the Marines. They are valuable to our security. They are always ready, willing, and able to defend America. They are also culturally ingrained in our history. Of course, we also get so much entertainment from some of their ridiculous chest-beating boastings. But I digress. Does America need the United States Marine Corps? We're going to let Marine Lieutenant General Victor "Brute" Krulak answer that question, and he did in his book, First to Fight: An Inside View of the United States Marine Corps. The general wrote:
“The United States does not need a Marine Corps mainly because she has a fine modern Army and a vigorous Air Force. Her Army fights on the ground—on any kind of ground—and does it well. Her Air Force fights in the air and does it well too. Marines are designed to fight on the ground and in the air just like the Army and Air Force, and have no corner on skill in either place.
The Marines claim to have a mystical competence in landing operations, but they really don’t. There are thousands and thousands of soldiers who have been carefully trained and thoroughly drilled in amphibious matters too, and they can do anything Marines can do. And Marine aviators have no corner on tactical air operations in support of the infantry either. Our Air Force has done a lot of it, and can do it again.”
Based on the responses we received to our first Marine article, we will, no doubt, get even more comments -- and crazier comments -- this time. The article on our Facebook page, so far collected over 380 comments by Marines, ex-Marines, wannabe-Marines, or comic book Marines — and we can’t tell the difference. That article, while true, was simply muckraking honesty written to get attention. What surprised us was the absolute ignorance of the people commenting, including those who claimed to have served in the Marines. It makes you wonder if this nonsense is truly taught by the USMC; things like “the Marines’ is job to take ground, the Army’s to hold ground,” “each Marine division keeps an airborne battalion on alert 24/7,” “every Marine infantryman is trained to the same level as an Army Ranger” –– there is no end to the ignorance. While the ignorance surprised us, the rudeness did not. We can’t do anything about the rudeness, but we can do something about the ignorance. This article will educate all of those Marines, ex-Marines, wannabe-Marines, or comic book Marines. The information here has been researched. You are welcome to leave comments, please site your references if you disagree. Rude comments will be deleted. One of the Marines, ex-Marines, wannabe-Marines, or comic book Marines left a comment suggesting that someone joins the Army because they couldn’t make it in the Marines. Nonsense, men and women join the Army instead of the Marines because … why be Robin when you can be Batman.
If you want to read our original Marine article click here.