Marines’ Hymn

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Some people work an entire lifetime and wonder if they ever made a difference to the world.? But the Marines don’t have that problem.

Ronald Reagan

Something for the weekend.  The oldest of the official songs of a branch of the US military, the composer of the Marines’ Hymn is unknown, but is thought to have been a Marine serving in Mexico during the Mexican War, hence the “Halls of Montezuma”.  The music is taken from the Gendarmes Duet from the Opera Genevieve de Brabant, written by Jacques Offenback in 1859.

Prior to 1929 the first verse used to end:

“ Admiration of the nation,
we’re the finest ever seen;
And we glory in the title
Of United States Marines”

which the then Commandant of the Marine Corps changed to the current lines.  On November 21, 1942,  Commandant Thomas Holcomb approved a change in the words of the first verse’s fourth line from “On the land as on the sea” to “In the air, on land, and sea”.

My favorite rendition of the hymn is in the movie The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)  This film earned John Wayne his first Oscar nomination as best actor.  (Broderick Crawford would win for his stunning performance in All The King’s Men.)   Wayne was initially reluctant to take the role, partly because he had not fought in World War II, and partly because he saw script problems and didn’t like the character of Sergeant Styker as initially written in the screen play.  (There is evidence that Wayne, 34 at the time of Pearl Harbor, and with 3 kids, did attempt to volunteer in 1943 for the Marine Corps with assignment to John Ford’s OSS Field Photographic Unit, but was turned down.) 

Wayne was convinced to take the role because the film had the enthusiastic backing of the Marine Corps, which viewed it as a fitting tribute to the Marines who fought in the Pacific, and to help combat a move in Congress to abolish the Corps.  Marine Commandant Clifton B. Cates went to see Wayne to request that he take the role and Wayne immediately agreed.  (Thus began a long association of John Wayne with the Marine Corps, including Wayne narrating a tribute to Marine Lieutenant General Chesty Puller.)  

 Appearing in the film were several Marine veterans of the Pacific, including Colonel David Shoup, who earned a Medal of Honor for his heroism at Tarawa, and who would later serve as a Commandant of the Corps, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Crow who led a Marine battalion at Tarawa.  The Marine Corp hymn is sung in the film after the death of Wayne’s character, one of ten films in which a Wayne character died, and as the raising of the flag is recreated. 

 Taking part in the flag raising were Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John Bradley, the three survivors of the six flag raisers who survived the battle.  (The three men who raised the flag and subsequently died in the battle were Franklin Sousely, Harlon Block and Michael Strank.)  (First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, who led the flag raising party that raised the first, smaller, flag on Mount Suribachi, and who was awarded a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for his heroism on Iwo Jima, also appeared in the film.)  The flag on top of Mount Suribachi could be seen across the island, and was greeted with cheers by the Marines and blaring horns by the ships of the Navy.  A mass was said on Mount Suribachi at the time of the flag raising and I have written about that here.  Go here to see the ending of the Sands of Iwo Jima and listen to 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;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.
Our flag’s unfurled to every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in every clime and place
Where we could take a gun;
In the snow of far-off Northern lands
And in sunny tropic scenes;
You will find us always on the job
The United States Marines.
Here’s health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve;
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.

  1. Some people work an entire lifetime and wonder if they ever made a difference to the world.? But the Marines don’t have that problem.

    I am reading the use of “difference” in this statement as expressing something positive. And I accept this statement as probably true in a very general sense. As the son of a Marine, I have long admired the discipline and structure that the Marine Corps introduces into the life of its soldiers, and, believe me, that rigor trickles down to how a Marine raises children!

    But, as my father, who served during Vietnam, often tells me, many actual Marines harbor deep, deep regret and guilt over what their service entailed. The difference these Marines think they made is one that they wish they hadn’t made. So while I think that military training, which the saints and doctors often pointed to as an analogy for the rigorous regiment of the spiritual life, is something admirable, I equally think that we must be cautious about unqualified claims about the difference that the soldiers of the U.S. make, since, in the actual, historical world, that difference is not always one they and/or the citizens of the U.S. are and should be proud of. The reality of being a soldier is that you are not in command of yourself, which means that it is possible that you will be used in ignoble ways.

  2. “But, as my father, who served during Vietnam, often tells me, many actual Marines harbor deep, deep regret and guilt over what their service entailed.”

    Considering that they were fighting to keep South Vietnam free from the Communist despots who now oppress what was South Vietnam I find that odd, except for the usual feelings of regret that many men have for actions necessary in a war, no matter how just the cause, and our involvement in Vietnam was a completely just war. The Marines I know who fought in Vietnam have told me that their only regret is that politicians lost what was won on the battlefields of Vietnam. A good recent book on this topic is linked below:

    http://www.amazon.com/This-Time-Win-Revisiting-Offensive/dp/1594032297/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1294524739&sr=8-1

  3. Considering that they were fighting to keep South Vietnam free from the Communist despots who now oppress what was South Vietnam I find that odd, except for the usual feelings of regret that many men have for actions necessary in a war, no matter how just the cause, and our involvement in Vietnam was a completely just war.

    Again, this is a far to general and naive way of thinking about war. What makes “actions necessary in a war” necessary, and who determines this? Here’s what I mean:

    Suppose Vietnam was a just war for the U.S. to engage in (I doubt any sound argument can be made that it was just, but let’s just suppose it was true for the sake of argument). It would not follow from this hypothesis that every specific action within that just war would be just. Hence, the Church has always distinguished between jus ad bellum and jus in bello. A nation could both have a just cause to go to war (ius ad bellum) and go to war for the right reason (recta ratio), while it’s soldiers nonetheless perform specific unjust actions in that war. The unjust actions would not make the war itself unjust, but the actions would nevertheless be immoral. These are very basic concepts in war ethics.

    When my father and I talk about the Marines and Vietnam, he often talks about unnecessary and horrendous actions that many Marines committed against both South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese. By our hypothesis, these actions would violate jus in bello), but not violate jus in bellum. It seems entirely possible to me that the Marines you know had different operations than my father and the Marines he knows had. So why would it be “odd” that my father personally knows many Marines with whom he served who regret their actions in Vietnam?

  4. “It would not follow from this hypothesis that every specific action within that just war would be just.”

    Of course not, just as not every American action in defeating the Nazis in World War ii was just. That is why we have courtmartials to punish troops who engage in crimes during wars. By the way, if your father knows of any Marines who engaged in crimes during the Vietnam War he can contact the Pentagon, and, depending upon the offense, prosecution can be undertaken.

    As to the justness of the Vietnam War, I consider it to be self-evident. Ho Chi Minh and his Vietnamese Communists seized power in the North and kept power through the usual terror apparatus that all Communist regimes relied upon to maintain power. They sought to unify all of Vietnam under their rule. Several million North Vietnamese, many of them Catholic, fled to the South.

    Ho and his regime sponsored the Viet Cong (Vietnamese Communist) movement in the South to bring this about, supplying weapons and manpower. The US aided the non-Communist forces in the South to resist. Finding that the Viet Cong were being defeated, the North Vietnamese sent regular North Vietnamese (PAVN-Peoples Army of Vietnam) units south to support the NLF (National Liberation Front) units of the Cong. On the battlefield, units of the US and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) were largely successful at defeating both the NLF and the PAVN. America tired of the war before final victory could be obtained and Congress cut off support for South Vietnam in 1974, with the PAVN conquering South Vietnam in 1975 in a lightning conventional offensive. Since that time Vietnam has amassed an appalling human rights record with millions of Vietnamese fleeing the country, and with the Church in Vietnam undergoing periodic bouts of persecution. American attempts to prevent this outcome were not only just but noble.

  5. As to the justness of the Vietnam War, I consider it to be self-evident.

    I think if it were “self-evident,” there be much wider agreement. And the detail of your argument suggests that it is not self-evidently just (I am thinking of the two senses of “self-evident” that Aquinas outlines in the Summa, neither of which seem to apply to your claim). But you and I can have that discussion another time, and I am especially interested in having it.

    All I intended to point out in my first comment was that a general claim such as “No Marine will wonder whether he/she made a (positive) difference to the world” should be qualified in a manner that reflects the actual service of real (as opposed to idealized) soldiers. As my father recounts, there are plenty of counterexamples to that unqualified claim. Coming from a military family, which represented three branches of the military, I do not think what I expressed in any way denigrates the military or soldiers themselves.

  6. I wait with eager anticipation MJ your support for your belief that the Vietnam War was manifestly unjust. Any time you wish to address the subject I will be happy to take up the gauntlet, but I agree that I do not want this thread to become a rehash of stale debates from the Sixties over Vietnam.

    As to the Reagan quote, I think it is accurate. I believe the Marines have been a force for good in this world. This of course does not excuse any crimes that individual Marines may have engaged in, nor would any reasonable person think that it does, just as any reasonable person would not think that any praise for priests as a group would mean to include pedophile priests and the criminal bishops who protected them.

  7. MJ: You and your father are in the minority.

    I am a Vietnam Era USAF veteran. I am in close contact with many combat air crewmen whom I have known for over 40 years. Our unit (I couldn’t fly) staged B52 raids that helped stop the Easter 1972 NVA invasion and the Christmas Bomb Campaign that brought the Paris Peace Accords BUT in 1975 the vietcongress refused to honor that treaty and denied supplies to the ARNV allowing the glorious liberators to take everyhthing and methodically murder 500,000 Vietnamese.

    Surveys of VN vets show 91% believe their service was positive, and 74% said they would do it again. I am not saying any of it was pleasant.

    One difference between WWII and Korea Marines and Vietnam marines was they needed to draft marines. By the end of the war, the Army was demoralized – sad. I saw it in West Germany.

    The USAF somehow stayed the course.

    Apply one huge grain of salt to anything any retired-hippy/pothead/LSD/SDS/VC symathizer prof ever told you. To wit: the comintern agents that ran the pro-VC, er, peace campaign in the US always called CONTAINMENT (US Foreign Plocy in effect since 1946) “imperialism.”

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