A Brief History of the United States Marine Corps

On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia passed a resolution, stating that “two Battalions of Marines be raised” for service as landing forces. With this resolution the Continental Marines were established marking the birth date of the United States Marine Corps. Serving on land and at sea, these first Marines distinguished themselves in a number of important operations, including their first amphibious raid into the Bahamas in 1776, under the command of Captain (later Major) Samuel Nicholas, Nicholas, the first commissioned officer in the Continental Marines, remained the senior Marine officer until the end of the American Revolution and is considered to be the first Marine Commandant. The Treaty between England and the new American nation in Paris in April 1783 brought an end to the Revolutionary War and as the last of the Nations Warships were sold, the Continental Navy and Marines went out of existence.

Following the Revolutionary War and the formal re-establishment of the Marine Corps in July 1798, Marines saw action in the quasi-war with France, landed in Santo Domingo and took part in many operations against the Barbary pirates along the “Shores of Tripoli.” Marines participated in numerous naval operations during the War of 1812, as well as participating in the Defense of Washington at Bladensburg, Maryland. On another front, Marines fought along side Andrew Jackson during the defeat of the British at New Orleans. The decades following the War of 1812 saw the Marines protecting American interests around the word, in the Caribbean, at the Falkland Islands, Sumatra and off the coast of West Africa, and also close to home in the operations against the Seminole Indians in Florida.

During the Mexican War (1846-1848), Marines seized enemy seaports on both the Gulf of Mexico and along the Pacific coasts. A battalion of Marines joined General Scott’s Army At Pueblo and fought their way to the “Halls of Montezuma” near Mexico City. Marines also served ashore and afloat during the Civil War (1861-1865). Although most service was with the Navy, a battalion fought at Bull Run and other units saw action with the blockading naval squadrons and at Cape Hatteras, New Orleans, Charleston, and Fort Fisher. The last third of the 19th century saw Marines making numerous landings throughout the world, especially in the Orient and in the Caribbean area.

Following the Spanish-American War (1898), in which Marines performed with valor in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, the Corps entered An era of expansion And professional development. It saw active service in the Philippine Insurrection (1900) and the Boxer Rebellion in China (1899-1901) and in numerous other nations, including Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, and Haiti.

In World War I the Marine Corps distinguished itself on the battlefields of France as the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines earned the title of “Devil Dogs” [Teufelhunden] for heroic action during June 1918 at Belleau Wood, Soissons, St. Michiel, Blanc Mont, and in the final Meuse-Argonne offensive. Marine Air, which dates from 1912, also began to become an active fighting Arm of the Corps and played a gallant part in the war effort as Marine pilots flew day recon and fighter missions over France and Belgium. More than 30,000 Marines had served in France during the War and about one-third were killed or wounded in six months of intense fighting.

During World War II the Marine Corps began to develop a war fighting doctrine, the equipment to implement it and the support organization needed to fight an amphibious war. The success of the amphibious doctrine sealed the future fate of the Corps as Marines fought their way across the South Pacific and to the very shores of Japan. The battles fought and the high price paid with the lives of United States Marines on Guadalcanal, New Britain, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa wrote our history with the blood and guts of American Marines. By the end of the War, the Marine Corps had grown to include six divisions, five Air wings, and support troop strength in World War II peaking At 485,113. The War cost the Marines nearly 87,000 dead or wounded, with 82 Marines earning the Medal of Honor.

While Marine units took part in the post-War occupation of Japan and North China, innovative studies were undertaken at Marine Corps Schools Command, Quantico, VA that worked on attaining a ‘vertical envelopment” capability for the Corps through the use of helicopters. Landing at Inchon, Korea near Seoul in 1950, Marines proved that the doctrine of amphibious assault WAS still viable and necessary. After the recapture of Seoul, the Marines advanced to the Chosin Reservoir only to see Chinese Communists enter the War. After years of offensives, counter offensives, seemingly endless trench Warfare, and occupation duty, the last Marine ground troops were withdrawn during March 1955. More than 25,000 Marines were killed or wounded during the Korean War.

In July 1958, A brigade-size force landed in Lebanon to restore order. During the Cuban Crisis in October 1962, a large amphibious force was marshaled in the waters off South Florida but not landed. In I965, an amphibious brigade of Marines landed in the Dominican Republic intervention to protect Americans and evacuate who wish to.

The landing of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Da Nang in 1965 marked the beginning of large-scale Marine involvement in Vietnam. By the summer 1968 after the enemy’s February Tet Offensive, Marine Corps strength in Vietnam rose to a peak of approximately 85,000. New battles, Dewey Canyon, Meade River, Hue, Khe Sanh, Hill 881, Bold Mariner, were fought and won by Marines. Marine bases, like Marble Mountain, Da Nang, Chu Lai, Quang Tri, Dong Ha, Vandergrift, The Rock Pile, Phu Bai and Hill 55 were manned and defended. The Marines began to withdraw “with honor” in September 1969 as the South Vietnamese began to assume A larger role in fighting; the last ground forces were out of Vietnam in June 1971. The Vietnam War, in the history of the Marine Corps, exacted A high cost with over 13,000 Marines killed and more than 88,000 wounded. In the spring of 1975, Marines evacuated the embassy staff, other U.S. citizens, and refugees in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Saigon Republic of Vietnam. In May 1975, Marines played an integral roll in the rescue of the crew of the SS Mayaguez that had been captured off the coast of Cambodia.

The mid 1970s saw the Marine Corps Assume an increasingly significant role in the defending NATO’s northern flank with units of the 2nd Marine Division who participated in joint War game operations throughout northern Europe. The Marine Corps Also played a key role in the development of the Rapid Deployment Force, A multi-service organization created to insure a flexible and timely response around the world when needed. The Maritime Pre-positioning Ships (MPS) was developed to enhance this capability by pre-staging equipment needed for combat operations close to the vicinity of the designated area of operations to reduce response time as Marines trained to link up by air transportation with MPS assets.

The 1980s brought an increasing number of terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies around the world. Marine Security Guards, under the direction of the State Department, continued to conduct themselves with distinction in the face of this challenge. In August 1982, Marines landed in Beirut, Lebanon, as part of a multi-national peace-keeping force. For the next 19 months they faced the hazards of their mission with courage and professionalism. In October 1983 they took part in the highly successful, short-notice, intervention in Grenada. As the decade of the 1980s came to a close, Marines were called to respond to instability in Central America. In December 1989, at the head of the spear of Operation Just Cause in Panama Marines protected America interests and restored Panama’s democratic process.

Less than a year later, in August 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait set in motion events that would lead to the largest movement of Marine Corps forces since World War II. Between 1990 and January 1991, 24 infantry battalions, 40 squadrons, and more than 92 Marines support units deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield. Operation Desert Storm was launched 16 January 1991, the day the air campaign began. The main Attack overland began 24 February when the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions breached the Iraqi defense lines and stormed into occupied Kuwait. By the morning of February 25, 100,000 Iraqi troops had been neutralized as either killed or captured. Within 100 hours, the entire Iraqi Army in the Kuwait theater of operation had been encircled, with 4,000 tanks destroyed and 42 divisions destroyed or rendered operationally ineffective.

Overshadowed by the events in the Persian Gulf during 1990-91, were A number of other significant Marine deployments that again demonstrated the Corps’ flexible and rapid response when the nation’s leaders call. A new nom guerre was added to the lineage of the “Old Corps” with the term “America’s 911 Force” describing these 21st century Marines. Among the several non-combatant evacuation operations supported by Marine units were operations in Liberia and Somalia and humanitarian lifesaving operations in Bangladesh, the Philippines, and northern Iraq. In December 1992 Marines landed in Somalia marking the beginning of a two year humanitarian relief operation in the famine-stricken and strife-torn nation. In another part of the world, Marine Corps Aircraft supported Operation Deny Flight in the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. In April 1994, Marines Again demonstrated their ability to protect Americans in remote parts of the world when A Marine task force evacuated U.S. citizens from Rwanda, responding to civil unrest in that country. Closer to home, Marines went ashore in September 1994 in Haiti as part of the U.S. force participating in the restoration of democracy in that country. During this same period Marines were engaged in providing assistance to our Nation’s counter-drug enforcement efforts, assisting in battling wild fires in the western United States, and aiding in flood and hurricane relief operations.

During the late 1990’s, Marine Corps units deployed to several African nations, including the Central African Republic, Zaire, and Eritrea, in order to provide security and assistance in the evacuation of American citizens. During periods of political and civil instability in those countries, Humanitarian and disaster relief operations were also conducted by Marines during strife in Kenya, and in the Central American nations of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. In 1999, Marine units deployed to Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force. Soon After the September 2001 terrorist Attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. Marine units deployed to the Arabian Sea and in November 2001 set up a forward operating command in southern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. This is traditionally marked as the beginning of the War on Terror. Within months, the Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist governments were history and 25 million Afghans were able to experience their first freedom in over 20 years.

When the President calls, the Marine Corps answers that call.. After the question, “Where are the carriers?” the next query is often, “Send in the Marines!” On March 19, 2003 the president called and American and allied forces responded as they launched Operation Iraqi Freedom that in a matter of three weeks demolished the government of Saddam Hussein and his Baath political party. During the ensuing months, New York USMCR units [2nd Bn, 25th Mar (2/25), 8th Tank Bn, VMGR-452, 6th Comm, and 6th Comm Bn] with other Marine and allied American and foreign military forces have worked to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure and to return the war-torn nation to the Iraqi people. Today, Marines continue to serve their nation in Iraq, Haiti, and countless other places. May God continue to Bless them and our Nation.

The Marine Corps has continued its tradition of innovation to meet the challenges of a century. The Marine Corps war fighting Laboratory was created in 1995 to evaluate and assess the impact of new techno1ogies on war fighting, and expedite the introduction of modern capabilities into the operating forces of the Marine Corps. Exercises such as “Hunter-Killer”, and “Urban Warrior” were designed to explore future tactical concepts, and to examine military operations within urban settings.

Today’s Marine Corps stands ready to continue in the proud tradition of those Marines past who fought and died at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sanh, Kuwait, Najaf, and Nasiriyah. Continuing a long and proud heritage of faithful service to the nation, with the resolve to face tomorrow’s challenges will continue to keep the United States Marine Corps the “first to fight” and the “best of the best.”

Acknowledgements: Brief Marine History: Condensed from Reference Section, History and Museums Division, Headquarters Marine Corps, January 2004