Happy Birthday to all Marines. Thank you for the last 240 years of service. The two
battalions of Continental Marines raised from the Continental Congress’s resolution on November 10, 1775 became a critical link between land and sea forces. There wasn’t much time for the now famous Marine Corps training. About six-months after the congressional resolution, the Marines were testing their amphibious wings with a March 1776 raid on the Bahamas under the command of Samuel Nicholas.
For 240 years, the United States has depended upon the Marines to be the pointed end of the nation’s military spear. These soldiers have gone places and achieved heights few have known. They’ve also paid a heavy price in lives and pain. The Marines are respected, loved, and feared. The reasons why can be found in the excellent decade-by-decade timeline on the Marine Corps’ web page. Marines adapt and innovate.
The Marines earned their chaps in the Mediterranean along the Barbary Coast on the shores of Tripoli fighting Islamic pirates when Thomas Jefferson’s patience quota overflowed and the Barbary Wars began in 1801:
“…Over the previous fifteen years, as a diplomat and then as secretary of state, Jefferson has tried to work with the Barbary states (Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco). Unfortunately, he found it impossible to negotiate with people who believed their religion justified the plunder and enslavement of non-Muslims….” Thomas Jefferson And The Tripoli Pirates; Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, 2015
The rising cost of tribute and the absolute brutality of the pirates placed a fledgling country at risk. Presidents before Jefferson chose a path of submission. Perhaps they did this because the young country was so vulnerable. Jefferson chose to fight.
American History Central describes the beginning and ending of the Barbary Wars:
“The incident arose over tributes that were customarily paid to these nations by U.S.traders. In 1801, Tripoli increased demands for payment. President Jefferson refused the demand and Tripoli declared war on the United States by cutting down the flagstaff in front of the U.S. Consulate.
Congress authorized the use of military force for the protection of American interests in the Mediterranean. On August 1, 1801, the U.S.Enterprise defeated the Tripoli at sea. In 1802, Jefferson increased the presence of the Navy in the area by deploying additional ships under the command of Commodore Edward Preble.
On July 14, 1804, under Preble’s command, the Navy attacked Tripoli, but the most famous event of the war occurred in April and May of 1805 with the Battle of Derma. General William Eaton and First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon led a force of eight Marines and 500 mercenaries from Alexandria, Egypt across the desert to the city of Derma, which they laid siege to. Upon their victory, the American flag was raised. This marked the first time it had been done in victory on foreign soil…”
During the battle at Derma, Tripoli an estimated 800 enemies died and 1,200 werewounded. The Marines and mercenaries fared well at Derma. The Commander, William Eaton, was wounded, two Marines were killed and three wounded. From those wars, the United States emerged as a force that would stay and the Marines as a legend.
America’s heroes and their captives were welcomed home from the Barbary Wars with parades and celebration. In Virginia, the General Assemble presented LT Presley O’Bannon with a replica of a Mameluke (also spelled Mamluk) scimitar, a curved sword. Today the Mameluke scimitar is represented on the Marine officer uniform; a reminder of the shores of Tripoli. As we hum the Marine Hymn, the shores of Tripoli emerge as a proud past to focus on today’s challenges. Perhaps there are lessons we, the people of the United States, can still learn.
One of the many things the Marine Corps does well is instill esprit de corps, a sense of loyalty, enthusiasm, and devotion to a group among people who are members of the group. Who hasn’t heard “once a Marine, always a Marine”, or “Semper Fi”, or seen the bumper stickers, or witnessed the respect serving Marines and Marines no longer on active duty pay each other. Marines serve, but do not appear to need civilians to be complete. Civilians, however, should never forget they need Marines doing what they do best for 240 years. Happy Birthday, Marine Corps. Celebrate well and thank you.