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.
President Ronald Reagan, letter to Lance Corporal Joe Hickey, September 23, 1983
On November 10, 1775 the Continental Congress passed this resolution authored by John Adams:
“Resolved, That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors, and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to office, or enlisted into said battalions but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve with advantage by sea when required; that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present War with Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress; that they be distinguished by names of First and Second Battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered as part of the number which the Continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.”
At the various birthday celebrations by the Marine Corps today, the song given pride of place will of course be the Marines’ Hymn. 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.)