The Illustrious History of US Marines: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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The United States Marine Corps (USMC) turned 243 years-old Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.

The Corps is a branch of the U.S. armed forces that historically has been responsible for amphibious and expeditionary operations; the Marines operate on land and sea and can be rapidly deployed to fight overseas.

Created in 1775, it wasn’t until 1834 the USMC officially become part of the U.S. Department of the Navy and has worked in concert with the Navy on warships, aircraft carriers, submarines and bases, in military actions and theaters of war across the globe since.

The USMC has a legendary and celebrated history.

‘Ooh-rah,’ for example, the most famous and most widely used military call to action, originated with the reconnaissance Marines stationed in Korea in the 1950s. The klaxon alarm that sounds before a submarine dives might be heard as ‘ah-roo-gah.’ So Marines began saying ‘ah-roo-gah’ to motivate each other. Problem was, the word was a tad too cumbersome on the tongue, and so was whittled down to ‘ooh-rah.’ True story. Supposedly.

Here’s a few interesting facts about the Marines you need to know:


1. The United States Marine Corps Was Born in a Philadelphia Bar in 1775

A tavern founded in Philadelphia in 1685 would, nearly a century later be the birthplace of the U.S. Marines as the military branch is known today.

On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress commissioned Samuel Nicholas to raise two battalions of Marines. Nicholas got straight to work. In the Tun Tavern.

Nicholas named the bar’s owner Robert Mullen Marine recruiter. It’s said that, however unintentional, the lure of cold brew brought men to the bar, but what made them sign up was the chance to be part of the new Corps.


2. Marines Famously Fought Pirates During the Barbary War of 1801-1805

A pirate ship or ‘corsair’ encounters bad weather off the Barbary Coast of North Africa, circa 1650. An engraving by A. Maisonneuve after A. Humblot. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the early 1800s, pirates from North Africa were being paid by Europe and the U.S. to leave their ships alone. But extortion breeds greed and the raiding corsairs, ruthless and with fast fleets, wanted more. Unsatisfied with tributes paid them, Barbary marauders became more aggressive and not only attacked U.S. vessels at sea, but took captives.

Pres. Thomas Jefferson was not having it and the command came to take a North African city.

It was the Marines that were pressed into service in the U.S.’ battle ever fought on foreign soil. American Marine commander William Eaton led 500 soldiers across the North African desert in Libya to seize the city of Derma. The mission was a success.

In 1805, Barbary pirates had surrendered (albeit temporarily; a second Barbary pirates war would begin 10 years later). America captives were released and attacks on U.S. ships ceased.

The USMC’s first major, and most famous, battle was won. Against pirates. Ooh-rah!


3. ‘A Few Good Men’ & ‘The Few, The Proud, The Marines’

United States Marines – Commercial :90════════════════ United States Marines ════════════════ For all the branches of the Military, everyone deserves appreciation. But this one is special. United States Marines, The Few, The Proud! Become a Marine Today! Talk to your Recruiter Links: http://www.Marines.com/home2013-10-21T03:21:18.000Z

The Marines’ moniker ‘a few good men’ originated in 1779 when Capt. William Jones of the Continental Marines had a recruiting ad in The Providence (RI) Gazette.

“The Continental ship Providence, now lying at Boston, is bound on a short cruise, immediately; a few good men are wanted to make up her complement.”

PARRIS ISLAND, SC – JUNE 21: Marine recruit Derrick Powers (L), 19, of Revere, Massachusetts gets some personal attention from his drill instructor GYSgt. Gregory Mitchell of East Point, Georgia at the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot June 21, 2004 in Parris Island, South Carolina. Marine Corps boot camp, with its combination of strict discipline and exhaustive physical training, is considered the most rigorous of the armed forces recruit training. Congress is currently considering bills that could increase the size of the Marine Corps and the Army to help meet US military demands in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Revived in 1970, the phrase was used in recruitment ads for decades. Then, the film ‘A Few Good Men,’ popularized the phrase again, though the movie was controversial in that a high-ranking Marine colonel was accused of conspiring to have a Marine murdered. A fiction, the courtroom drama from 1992, with Jack Nicholson playing the offending colonel, had him utter ‘Son, you can’t handle the truth,’ which is now a common and oft-used phrase in modern American vernacular.

A Few Good Men – You can't handle the truth!2+ Actors2013-10-25T21:56:36.000Z

Anyway, the phrase ‘a few good men’ as a recruitment tool was largely abandoned for the more inclusive welcome to the exclusive branch of the military.

“The Few, the Proud, the Marines” was created in 2007.


4. Women in the Marines Dates Back to 1918

US armed service recruiting poster (Steele Savage, artist) features four women in different uniforms (from left, Marines, WAVES, Army (WAC), and Coast Guard (SPARS) accompanied by the phrase ‘For Your Country’s Sake Today–For Your Own Sake Tomorrow,’ early to mid 1940s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1918, Opha May (née Jacob) Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps. Mainly because she was first in line on August 13 when 300 other women signed up to be USMC reservists during World War I. She was a clerk and promoted from private to sergeant.

Although women have been serving in the USMC since 1918, their duties were largely confined to roles outside of combat. But in 1967, the first female Marine, Master Sergeant Barbara Dulinsky, served in a combat war zone. What followed was a number of firsts for women in the Marines: women served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

PARRIS ISLAND, SC – JUNE 21: Female Marine Corps recruits wait for a turn to shoot on the rifle range at the United States Marine Corps recruit depot June 21, 2004 in Parris Island, South Carolina. Marine Corps boot camp, with its combination of strict discipline and exhaustive physical training, is considered the most rigorous of the armed forces recruit training. Congress is currently considering bills that could increase the size of the Marine Corps and the Army to help meet US military demands in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In 2008, Capt. Elizabeth A. Okoreeh-Baah became the first female Osprey pilot to participate in combat operations in Iraq. In 2017, a number of firsts: First Lt. Marina A. Hierl became the first woman to graduate from the USMC infantry officer course and Second Lt. Mariah Klenke became the first female officer to graduate from the Marines’ Assault Amphibian Officer course. In January of 2018, Col. Lorna Mahlock became the first African-American woman to be nominated as a USMC Brigadier general.

But as the Marine Times reported in March of 2018, “two years after the Defense Department ordered the Marine Corps to open all combat arms career fields to women, less than 100 women have successfully entered those previously male-only jobs.”

The paper reported that a “total of 92 women are operating in a multitude of combat billets across the Corps, from rifleman to armored reconnaissance to combat engineers.”

PARRIS ISLAND, SC – JUNE 23: Female Marine Corps recruit Kylieanne Fortin, 20, of Williamsport, Maryland goes through close combat training at the United States Marine Corps recruit depot June 23, 2004 in Parris Island, South Carolina. Marine Corps boot camp, with its combination of strict discipline and exhaustive physical training, is considered the most rigorous of the armed forces recruit training. Congress is currently considering bills that could increase the size of the Marine Corps and the Army to help meet US military demands in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Notable women Marines include Golden Girls and Maude actress Bea Arthur. She served more than two years during World War II beginning with what most women did, secretarial work, but soon was a truck driver. Like Johnson, Arthur was promoted from private to sergeant.


5. Marines Have Had a Lot of Nicknames Including Devil Dogs, Jarheads, & Leathernecks. Where Did They Come From?

A review of US Marines before they head for the front line during World War I, circa 1917. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The first of many nicknames for Marines was ‘leatherneck’ which was born as a description of the wide and stiff leather neck-piece that was part of the USMC uniform in the late 18th century until around 1870. Called a ‘stock,’ the hard and rough leather was designed to protect a soldier’s neck and jugular vein. It was also helpful in maintaining heads-up posture for Marines. So, leathernecks.

And in keeping with the collar, the term jarhead refers to the dress blues Marines wear that WWII sailors said made a Marine’s head appear as though jutting out atop a Mason’s jar. So jarheads.

Devil Dogs was born in the First World War and coined by stunned and defeated German soldiers as a term of respect for U.S. Marines who fought so fiercely that the Germans referred to Marines as teufel hunden legendary fierce mountain dogs. So, devil dogs.

circa 1917: A woman sitting on a US Marine Corps elephant for recruitment purposes in New York City. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Felix natalis to the semper fi! (Happy birthday to the always faithful!)