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Marine Corps Lore                                             1           6

                                   Number 22

                              MARINE CORPS LORE

                        HISTORICAL BRANCH, G-3 DIVISION
                        HEADQUARTERS, U. S. MARINE CORPS
                               WASHINGTON, D. C.

                                Reprinted 1963

                            DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY
                             WASHINGTON 25. D. C.

                       REVIEWED AND APPROVED 3 Nov 1961


                                H. W. BUSE, JR.
                     Brigadier General, U. S. Marine Corps
                          Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3

                               MARINE CORPS LORE

                        Part I.  CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS

     Marine customs are simply desirable courses of action sanctioned by 
tradition and usage.  In the Marine Corps, practically every custom has grown 
out of the manner in which Marines of the past conducted themselves.  Many 
Marine customs have been incorporated into regulations in order to standardize 
conduct throughout the Corps, but some of them cannot be found in written 
directives.  Knowing and observing these customs, both written and unwritten, 
is important to each Marine because it keeps him mindful of the heritage and 
traditions of his Corps, and of his duty to uphold them.  In addition, it 
makes him feel that he is a part of the team and helps to create the strong 
bond of loyalty between him and all other Marines that has become a 
distinguishing mark of the Corps.

                             Marine Corps Birthday

     One of the most famous Marine customs is the observance of the Marine 
Corps Birthday.  Since 1921 the birthday of the Marine Corps has been 
officially celebrated each year on 10 November, since it was on this date in 
1775 that Continental Congress resolved, "That two Battalions of Marines be 
raised...." Over the years the Marine Corps Birthday has been celebrated in a 
wide variety of ways, depending on the location and circumstances of the 
Marine units.  The celebration involves the 


reading of an excerpt from the Marine Corps Manual and a birthday message from 
the Commandant; the cutting of a birthday cake by the commanding officer; and 
the presentation of the first and second pieces of cake to the oldest and 
youngest Marines present.  Recently, the ceremony for the observance of the 
Marine Corps Birthday by large posts and stations has been incorporated into 
written directives.

                                Nautical Terms

     Many of the Marine Corps customs are derived from the many years of 
service afloat.  Even ashore Marines customarily use nautical terms.  Floors 
are "decks," walls are "bulkheads," ceilings, "overheads," corridors, 
"passageways." The order "Gangway!" is used to clear the way for an officer 
ashore, just as it is afloat.  Among other terms in common usage are: 
"two-block" - to tighten or center (as a necktie); "square-away" - to 
correctly arrange articles or to take in hand and direct an individual;" 
"head" - a bathroom; "scuttle-but" - a drinking fountain, also an unconfirmed 

     In the Marine Corps, the nautical expression "Aye, Aye, Sir" is used when 
acknowledging a verbal order.  "Yes, Sir" and "No, Sir" are used in answer to 
direct questions.  "Aye, Aye, Sir" is not used in answer to questions as this 
expression is reserved solely for acknowledgement of orders.


                              Reporting Your Post

     A custom which affects the guard is the manner in which a sentry reports 
his post to the officer of the day, or to the officers and noncommissioned 
officers of the guard.  The customary procedure is for the sentry to salute or 
come to present arms and say, "Sir, Private ______________ reports Post Number 
____ all secure.  Post and orders remain the same. Nothing unusual to report." 
This custom has almost universal use throughout the Marine Corps.  It is a 
convenient, useful form, and thus it has been preserved by custom, and passed 
on by word of mouth.


     Some of the most important customs of all are those of military courtesy.  
In the Marine Corps, courtesy is an expression of respect for the authority 
possessed by an individual, as well as a demonstration of respect for the 
Corps as a whole.  Through the use of the various forms of military courtesy a 
Marine says, in effect, "As brothers in arms and fellow Marines, I consider 
you worthy of my respect." When used in this manner, military courtesy assumes 
one of its most important roles; it is an expression of the respect a Marine 
has for other Marines and for himself.  Of all the forms of military courtesy, 
the various salutes are probably the most important.  They are certainly the 
most obvious and frequently used.  Saluting is the traditional form of 


between men of the profession of arms and it is an honored tradition of 
military organization throughout the world.

     Certain features of saluting in the Marine Corps carry Marine Corps 
custom specifically.  For example: Marine Corps usage has it that a greeting 
be exchanged when saluting a person.  When saluting an officer, the Marine 
might say, "Good Morning, Sir," or "Good Evening, Sir," as appropriate.  The 
officer in returning the salute would say, "Good Morning, Sergeant (Private, 
Corporal, Lieutenant, as appropriate.)"

     Marines in civilian clothes and wearing a hat conform to the rules for 
saluting in uniform for exchange of personal courtesies.  When a Marine 
recognizes another Marine, they normally exchange greetings whether or not 
either or both are in civilian clothes (this custom is not observed by Women 
Marines).  If one or both of these Marines were an officer, the hand salute 
accompanied by the verbal greeting is proper. During the playing of the 
National Anthem, at morning and evening colors, and at funerals, if in 
civilian dress, Marines uncover and hold the hat over the left breast at such 
times as those in uniform salute.


     There are many other customs which have significance in the life of a 
Marine.  A few of the notable ones are listed here.


     Boarding a small boat or entering a car.  When boarding a small boat or 
entering a car, Juniors enter first and take up the seats or the space 
beginning forward, leaving the most desirable seat for the senior.  Seniors 
enter last and leave first.

     Marines' Hymn.  Whenever the Marines' Hymn is played or sung, all Marines 
rise to their feet and remain standing during the rendition of the music.

     Serenading the Commandant.  Commencing with the last New Year's Day of 
the Civil War, on the morning of 1 January of each year the Marine Band 
serenades the Commandant of the Marine Corps at his quarters and received hot 
buttered rum and breakfast in return.

     Wetting Down Parties.  Whenever an officer is promoted, he customarily 
holds a "wetting-down party."  At this time the new commission is said to be 
"wet down."  When several officers are promoted at the same time, they 
frequently have a single wetting-down party.

     Wishes of Commanding Officer.  When the commanding officer of a Marines 
says, "I wish" or "I desire," these expressions have the force of a direct 
order and should be acted upon as if he had given a direct order.

                          "Looking Out for Your Men"

     One feature which has made the Marine Corps such a respected organization 
is the custom of Marine leaders looking


out for their men.  A Marine leader makes sure his men are comfortably 
clothed, housed, and justly treated.  For example, in the field a Marine 
officer takes position in the mess line after all the enlisted men in order to 
insure all men get their food.  A Marine leader never leaves a wounded or dead 
Marine on the battlefield to fall into the hands of the enemy.

                                Being a Marine

     But the most outstanding custom in the Marine Corps is simply "being a 
Marine" and all that it implies.  Call it morale, call it esprit de corps, 
call it what you will--it is that pride which sets a United States Marine 
apart from the men of other armed services.  It is not taught in manuals, yet 
it is the most impressive lesson a recruit learns in boot camp.  It is not 
tangible, yet it has won fights against material odds.  Perhaps it has best 
been defined by Senator Paul H. Douglas:

     "Those of us who have had the priviledge of serving in the Marine Corps 
value our experience as among the most precious of our lives.  The fellowship 
of shared hardships and dangers in a worthy cause creates a close bond of 
comradeship.  It is the basic reason for the cohesiveness of Marines and for 
the pride we have in our corps and our loyalty to each other."*


     A Marine is proud of his Corps and believes it to be second to none.  He 
is loyal to his comrades and to the Marine Corps, adhering always to the motto 
Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful).

*     Senator Paul H. Douglas in his introduction to "The United States 
Marines: A Pictorial History".


                        Part II.  MARINE CORPS LEGENDS

     A legend may be defined as a shining truth that cannot always pass the 
test of strict factual accuracy.  The legend is poetry; the fact is prose, and 
very dull prose it sometimes is.

     Here are presented some legends that have been often told. Many of these 
do not meet even the minimum standards of fact; some have been definitely 
disproved.  Yet the factual background, either true or false, does not detract 
from the story. These legends may be classed in Marine terminology as "sea 
stories" and they are presented as such.

             Origin of the Nickname "Leathernecks" for the Marines

     It is questionable whether the origin of the term "Leatherneck" can be 
accepted as a legitimate member of the family of legends.  More like a 
tradition, it is.  For there can be no doubt of the origin, considering that 
U. S. Marines of three generations wore leather collars.  It is as obvious as 
the nickname "Red" for a recruit with carrot-colored hair and freckles.

     Now accepted by Webster as a synonym for Marine, the term "Leatherneck" 
was derived from a leather stock once worn around the neck by both American 
and British Marines--and soldiers also.  Beginning in 1798, "one stock of 
black leather and clasp" was issued to each U. S. Marine annually.

     This stiff leather collar, fastened by two buckles at the back, measured 
nearly three and a half inches high, and


was practical only for full-dress wear.  It could hardly be worn in battle as 
it prevented the neck movement necessary for sighting along a barrel.  It 
supposedly improved military bearing, by forcing the chin high, although 
General George F. Elliott, recalling its use after the Civil War, said it made 
the wearers appear "like geese looking for rain."

     The stock was dropped as an article of Marine uniform in 1872, after 
surviving through the uniform changes of 1833, 1839, and 1859.  But by then it 
was a part of American vocabulary, a word preserved, like so many words, 
beyond its original meaning.

                      "Retreat, Hell." We just got here."

     Fighting spirit and determination against heavy odds is a sound tradition 
in the Marine Corps and nowhere is there a more graphic illustration than an 
incident which occurred in World War I.  Legendary or true, it personifies the 
aggressive attitude of Marines.

     The occasion was the third great German breakthrough of 1918, when the 
4th Marine Brigade and its parent 2d Infantry Division were thrown in to help 
stem the tide in the Belleau wood sector.  The 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, had 
just arrived at its position when an automobile skidded to a stop and a French 
officer dashed out and approached the commanding officer.  He explained that a 
general retreat was in progress and that orders were for the Marines to 
withdraw.  The Marine officer exclaimed in amazement, "Retreat Hell!  We just 
got here.


     And the Marines proceeded to prove their point.  The battalion deployed 
and took up firing positions.  As the Germans approached, they came under 
rifle fire which was accurate at ranges beyond their comprehension.  Not in 
vain had the Marine Corps long stressed in its training the sound principles 
of marksmanship.  The deadly fire took the heart out of the German troops and 
the attack was stopped.

                             "Send us more Japs."

     Many, many more instances of the fighting spirit of Marines could be 
cited but one story in particular attracts the attention.  When the Japanese 
initiated the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, they did not neglect 
the tiny island of Wake which served as an outpost for Hawaii.  Their plans 
had been for a speedy seizure of this objective; however, the Marine garrison 
thwarted their initial attempts. Late in December, the enemy returned with an 
even more powerful armada.  Attack after attack was mounted against the heroic 
defenders.  All Marine planes were shot down, casualties mounted, the 
situation was becoming desperate.  However, communications were still 
maintained with Pearl Harbor.  A relief expedition was mounted but the 
remnants of the Navy were so pitifully weak that the mission was cancelled at 
the last minute.  Finally, Pearl Harbor queried Wake "Is there anything that 
we can provide?"  In one of the last messages from the doomed island came back 
"Send us more Japs!"


          "Come on, you s__ o_ b_____s, do you want to live forever?"

     Marine Corps legend has it that this saying originated during World War I 
in France.  During the violent fighting in Belleau Wood, Sergeant Dan Daly's 
platoon, part of the 6th Marines, was pinned down by intense enemy fire.  The 
gallant Daly, already possessor of two Congressional Medals of Honor (one for 
heroism during the China Relief Expedition in 1900 and the other received 
during the Haitian Campaign of 1915), raged up and down the line trying to get 
his troops moving. Finally, the story goes, he yelled "Come on, you s__ o_ 
b_____s, do you want to live forever?," as he leaped out of the trench, and 
led his men in the attack.

                       "Why Marines were called "Devil Dogs"

     In the Belleau Wood fighting in 1918, the Germans received a thorough 
indoctrination in the fighting ability of Marines which they could have used 
to forewarn their axis partner, Japan, in 1941.  Fighting through supposedly 
impenetrable woods and capturing supposedly untakeable terrain, the men of the 
4th Marine Brigade struck terror in the hearts of the Germans.  The persistent 
attacks delivered with unbelievable courage soon had the Germans referring to 
Marines as the "Teufelhunden" meaning "fierce fighting dogs of legendary 
origin" or as popularly translated "Devil Dogs."


            Why didn't the British burn the Commandant's Quarters? 

     Marine Barracks, Washington (commonly known to Marines as "8th and Eye") 
is located in Southeast Washington on a quadrangle of land situated between 
8th and 9th Streets and "G" and "I" Streets.  Within the confines of Marine 
Barracks stands the Commandant's House, the official residence of all but the 
first two Commandants who have headed the Marine Corps during its long 

     The Commandant's House is supposed to be the oldest public building in 
continuous use in the Nation's Capital.  It owes its claim as the oldest 
building to the fact that the British failed to destroy it during their raid 
on Washington in August 1814. They burned the Capitol, the White House, and 
most of the other public buildings in retaliation for a similar American raid 
on Toronto the previous summer.  This rather conspicuous omission gave rise to 
speculation which later attained the status of legend.

     The favorite theory for this fact is that the magnificent stand of the 
Marines during the fighting at Bladensburg so impressed General Ross that he 
ordered the House and Barracks left untouched as a gesture of soldierly 

                       Buried Treasure at Eighth and Eye

     In August 1814, as the British Army approached Washington, two sergeants 
of the detachment at Marine Headquarters (then located at the Marine Barracks) 
were, so the story goes, charged


with the safety of a chest containing a considerable amount of Marine Corps 
funds.  The Marines were supposed to have buried the chest on the grounds of 
the barracks or to have hidden it within the walls of the Commandant's House.  
They then rejoined their comrades on the battlefield of Bladensburg where they 
were killed in the fighting, taking the secret of the money's location with 
them to the grave.

     In another version of this story, the two NCO's were killed in a rugged 
floor-to-floor defense of the Commandant's House when the British invaders 
reached Washington.  Treasure seekers still eye the walled barracks and hoary 
house with longing, for the money has never been found and may still be, as 
legend has it, waiting for the persistent hunter.

      Archibald Henderson Willed the Commandant's Quarters to His Heirs.

     When Archibald Henderson, the Fifth Commandant and the Third Commandant 
to live in the House, died in 1859 at the age of 75, the Commandant's House 
had been his home for 38 years.  According to the legend he lived there so 
long that he forgot it was government quarters and attempted to will it to his 

     The imperious old man was perfectly capable of doing such a thing.  He 
was the public servant of a Republic, but he spoke with the tongue of an 
emperor.  During his 38 years as Commandant, he outlasted nine presidents, 
several of whom were known to quail before his flashing eye.  Even Andrew


Jackson, when he tried to abolish the Marine Corps, came off second-best in a 
legislative duel with Henderson.  Old Hickory limped away, dripping sawdust 
from every wound, while the Congress doubled the Marine strength and 

              Archibald Henderson takes the Marine Corps to War

     During Archibald Henderson's long tenure as Commandant, the Marine Corps 
activities covered the globe.  Many legends have originated about the colorful 
Henderson's activities in that era.  One of these dealt with his expedition 
against the Indians.

     In 1836, the Creek and Seminole Indian tribes in Georgia and Florida were 
waging war against the United States.  The U. S. Army had its hands full.  The 
Fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps offered the services of a regiment of 
Marines for duty with the Army.  Henderson placed himself in command and, 
taking virtually the entire available strength of the Corps, left for the 
extended campaign after tacking a terse message on his office door which read:

     "Have gone to Florida to fight Indians. 

     Will be back when war is over,

        A. Henderson
        Col. Commandant"


                Why Marines wear Red Stripes on their Trousers

     Many legends persist as to the uniform of the Marine Corps and the origin 
of certain traditional aspects.  One frequent question raised is "Why do 
Marine officers and NCOs have red stripes on the blue uniform trousers?" 
According to legend this commemorates the courage and tenacious fighting of 
the men who battled before Chapultapec in the Mexican War and whose exploits 
added the phrase "From the Halls of Montezuma..." to the Marine Hymn.  The red 
stripe on the trousers of all Marine officers and NCOs is said to symbolize 
the blood shed by these Marines of another century.  

                                  Lucy Brewer

     No compilation of legends would be complete without mention of Lucy 
Brewer.  A farm girl from Massachusetts, Lucy Brewer was the legendary first 
woman Marine.  The War of 1812 was raging when Lucy arrived at Boston.  
Friendless in the strange city, she met a woman who seemed eager to take a 
stranger into her home.  Lucy was surprised that one woman could have so many 
daughters, but she soon discovered that home was just a house.

     Unsuited to a life of sin, Lucy fled her benefactress, donned men's 
clothing, and found refuge in the Marine Corps. No one discovered she was a 
woman, and as a member of the "Constitution's" Marine guard, she saw action in 
some of the bloodiest sea fights of the war.


     Her exploits came to light when she published an autobiographical account 
of her experiences.  She described her heroism in the major battles of the 
"Constitution" with such details as manning the fighting tops as a marksman, 
taking toll of the British with musket fire.  True or not, the story of Lucy 
Brewer makes a wonderful addition to the colorful legends about the Marine 

                            Origin of Marine Corps

     According to legend, the first verse of the Marine Corps Hymn was written 
by a Marine veteran of the Mexican War and sung to a folk tune heard in 
Mexico.  The words "From the Shores of Tripoli to the Halls of the Montezumas" 
appeared on Marine Corps standards shortly after the war, but the author 
reversed them with poetic license.  The Civil War then gave new popularity to 
the Hymn.

     In 1878 a member of the Marine Band reported that his wife remembered the 
melody as a folk song heard during her childhood in Spain.  John Philip Sousa, 
long a leader of the Marine Band, identified the tune as a song in Jacques 
Offenbach's comic opera, "Genevieve de Brabant", first performed in Paris in 
1859.  It is known, however, that Offenbach liked to use Spanish folk music as 
a basis for his melodies.

     A variety of verses were added to the first one through the years--each 
Marine campaign inspiring new ones.  But by 1890 the first verse, at least, 
had become standard.  The words 


remained settled until 1919 when the Commandant approved a revision of the 
last four lines, which were previously as follows:

     Admiration of the Nation 
        We're the finest ever seen,
     And we glory in the title of 
        United States Marine.

     In 1942, by way of tribute to Marine aviation the line "On the land as on 
the sea" was changed to "In the air, on land, and sea."

                           "Tell It to the Marines"

     This legend goes back to the London of 1664, when Charles II was King of 
England.  A ship's master, returned from a long cruise, told him a sea story 
he couldn't believe. 

     "Fish that fly like birds?" the Merry Monarch exclaimed. "I have my 

     "Nay, sire, it is true," said Sir William Killigren, colonel of the new 
British Marine regiment raised that year. "I have myself seen flying fish many 
a time in southern waters. I vouch for the truth of this strange tale, your 

     The King thought it over.  At last he turned to Samuel Pepys, the 
Secretary of the Admiralty.

     "Mr. Pepys," he said, "no class of our subjects hath such knowledge of 
odd things on land and sea as our Marines. Hereafter, when we hear a yarn that 
lacketh likelihood, we will tell it to the Marines.  If they believe it, then 
we shall know it is true."



     The preface to Part II stated that legends provide the poetry which adds 
so much to the lore of the Corps.  You are not asked to believe the legends 
that you have read; but if you don't, try "telling it to the Marines."


These items and much more can be found at The Marine Corps Research Center (MCRC)

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