They told me to get you into shape so you can handle a piece of this war.
That’s what I’m gonna do and that means I’m gonna tell you what to do every day,
how to button your buttons and when to blow your noses.
If you do something I don’t like I’m gonna jump and when I land it’ll hurt.
I’ll ride you until you can’t stand up. When you do, you’ll be marines.
John Wayne as Sgt. John M. Stryker, Sands of Iwo Jima
Something for the weekend. The Marines’ Hymn. Seventy years ago the battle of Iwo Jima was underway as the Marines took a giant step forward towards Tokyo. The film Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) 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 Marines’ 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. (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.
- 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.