Brief Histories
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History Division
Quantico, Virginia

Brief History of the Corps


On November 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia passed a resolution stating that "two Battalions of Marines be raised" for service as landing forces with the fleet. This resolution established the Continental Marines and marked the birth date of the United States Marine Corps. Serving on land and at sea, these first Marines distinguished themselves in a number of important operations, including their first amphibious raid into the Bahamas in March 1776, under the command of Captain (later Major) Samuel Nicholas. The first commissioned officer in the Continental Marines, Nicholas remained the senior Marine officer throughout the American Revolution and is considered to be the first Marine Commandant. The Treaty of Paris in April 1783 brought an end to the Revolutionary War and as the last of the Navy's ships were sold, the Continental Navy and Marines went out of existence.

Following the Revolutionary War and the formal re-establishment of the Marine Corps on 11 July 1798, Marines saw action in the quasi-war with France, landed in Santo Domingo, and took part in many operations against the Barbary pirates along the "Shores of Tripoli".

Marines took part in numerous naval operations during the War of 1812, as well as participating in the defense of Washington at Bladensburg, Maryland, and fought alongside Andrew Jackson in the defeat of the British at New Orleans.

The decades following the War of 1812 saw the Marines protecting American interests around the world, in the Caribbean, at the Falkland Islands, Sumatra and off the coast of West Africa, and also close to home in operations against the Seminole Indians in Florida.

During the Mexican War (1846-1848), Marines seized enemy seaports on both the Gulf and Pacific coasts. A battalion of Marines joined General Winfield Scott's army at Pueblo and fought all the way to the "Halls of Montezuma," Mexico City. Marines also served ashore and afloat in the Civil War (1861-1865). Although most service was with the Navy, a battalion fought at Bull Run and other units saw action with the blockading squadrons and at Cape Hatteras, New Orleans, Charleston, and Fort Fisher. The last third of the 19th century saw Marines making numerous landings throughout the world, especially in the Orient and in the Caribbean area.

Following the Spanish-American War (1898), in which Marines performed with valor in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, the Corps entered an era of expansion and professional development.

It saw active service in the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902), the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900). and in numerous other nations, including Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Mexico, and Haiti.





In World War I the Marine Corps distinguished itself on the battlefields of France as the 4th Marine Brigade earned the title of "Devil Dogs" for heroic action during 1918 at Belleau Wood, Soissons, St. Michiel, Blanc Mont, and in the final Meuse-Argonne offensive.


Marine aviation, which dates from 1912, also played a part in the war effort, as Marine pilots flew day bomber missions over France and Belgium. More than 30,000 Marines served in France and more than a third were killed or wounded in six months of intense fighting.

During the two decades before World War II, the Marine Corps began to develop in earnest the doctrine, equipment, and organization needed for amphibious warfare. The success of this effort was proven first on Guadalcanal, then on Bougainville, Tarawa, New Britain, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. By the end of the war in 1945, the Marine Corps had grown to include six divisions, five air wings, and supporting troops. Its strength in World War II peaked at 485,113. The war cost the Marines nearly 87,000 dead and wounded, and 82 Marines had earned the Medal of Honor.

While Marine units took part in the post-war occupation of Japan and North China, studies were undertaken at Quantico, Virginia, which concentrated on attaining a "vertical envelopment" capability for the Corps through the use of helicopters.


Landing at Inchon, Korea in September 1950, Marines proved that the doctrine of amphibious assault was still viable and necessary. After the recapture of Seoul, the Marines advanced to the Chosin Reservoir only to see the Chinese Communists enter the war. After years of offensives, counter-offensives, seemingly endless trench warfare, and occupation duty, the last Marine ground troops were withdrawn in March 1955. More than 25,000 Marines were killed or wounded during the Korean War.

In July 1958, a brigade-size force landed in Lebanon to restore order. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, a large amphibious force was marshaled but not landed. In April 1965, a brigade of Marines landed in the Dominican Republic to protect Americans and evacuate those who wished to leave.

The landing of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Da Nang in 1965 marked the beginning of large-scale Marine involvement in Vietnam. By summer 1968, after the enemy's Tet Offensive, Marine Corps strength in Vietnam rose to a peak of approximately 85,000. The Marine withdrawal began in 1969 as the South Vietnamese began to assume a larger role in the fighting; the last Marine ground forces were out of Vietnam by June 1971.

The Vietnam War, longest in the history of the Marine Corps, exacted a high cost as well with over 13,000 Marines killed and more than 88,000 wounded. In the spring of 1975, Marines evacuated embassy staffs, American citizens, and refugees in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Saigon, Republic of Vietnam. In May, Marines played an integral role in the rescue of the crew of the SS Mayaguezcaptured off the coast of Cambodia.

The mid-1970s saw the Marine Corps assume an increasingly significant role in defending NATO's northern flank as amphibious units of the 2d Marine Division participated in exercises throughout northern Europe. The Marine Corps also played a key role in the development of the Rapid Deployment Force, a multi-service organization created to insure a flexible, timely military response around the world when needed. The Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS) concept was developed to enhance this capability by prestaging equipment needed for combat in the vicinity of the designated area of operations, and reduce response time as Marines travel by air to link up with MPS assets.

The 1980s brought an increasing number of terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies around the world. Marine Security Guards, under the direction of the State Department, continued to serve with distinction in the face of this challenge. In August 1982, Marine units landed at Beirut, Lebanon, as part of the multi-national peace-keeping force. For the next 19 months these units faced the hazards of their mission with courage and professionalism. In October 1983, Marines took part in the highly successful, short-notice intervention in Grenada. As the decade of the 1980s came to a close, Marines were summoned to respond to instability in Central America. Operation Just Cause was launched in Panama in December 1989 to protect American lives and restore the democratic process in that nation.

Less than a year later, in August 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait set in motion events that would lead to the largest movement of Marine Corps forces since World War II. Between August 1990 and January 1991, some 24 infantry battalions, 40 squadrons, and more than 92,000 Marines deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield. Operation Desert Storm was launched 16 January 1991, the day the air campaign began.

The main attack came overland beginning 24 February when the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions breached the Iraqi defense lines and stormed into occupied Kuwait. By the morning of February 28, 100 hours after the ground war began, almost the entire Iraqi Army in the Kuwaiti theater of operations had been encircled, with 4,000 tanks destroyed and 42 divisions destroyed or rendered ineffective.

Overshadowed by the events in the Persian Gulf during 1990-91, were a number of other significant Marine deployments demonstrating the Corps' flexible and rapid response. Included among these were non-combatant evacuation operations in Liberia and Somalia and humanitarian lifesaving operations in Bangladesh, the Philippines, and northern Iraq.

In December 1992, Marines landed in Somalia marking the beginning of a two-year humanitarian relief operation in that famine-stricken and strife-torn nation. In another part of the world, Marine Corps aircraft supported Operation Deny Flight in the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. During April 1994, Marines once again demonstrated their ability to protect American citizens in remote parts of the world when a Marine task force evacuated U.S. citizens from Rwanda in response to civil unrest in that country.

Closer to home, Marines went ashore in September 1994 in Haiti as part of the U.S. force participating in the restoration of democracy in that country. During this same period Marines were actively engaged in providing assistance to the Nation's counter-drug effort, assisting in battling wild fires in the western United States, and aiding in flood and hurricane relief operations.

The Marine Corps continued its tradition of innovation to meet the challenges of a new century. The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory was created in 1995 to evaluate change, assess the impact of new technologies on warfighting, and expedite the introduction of new capabilities into the operating forces of the Marine Corps. Exercises such as “Hunter Warrior,” and “Urban Warrior” were designed to explore future tactical concepts, and to examine facets of military operations in urban environments.

During the late 1990's, Marine Corps units deployed to several African nations, including Liberia, the Central African Republic, Zaire, and Eritrea, in order to provide security and assist in the evacuation of American citizens during periods of political and civil instability in those nations.

Humanitarian and disaster relief operations were also conducted by Marines during 1998 in Kenya, and in the Central American nations of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In 1999, Marine units deployed to Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force. Soon after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Marine units deployed to the Arabian Sea and in November set up a forward operating base in southern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In 2002, the Marine Corps continued to play a key role in the Global War on Terrorism. Marines operated in diverse locations, from Afghanistan, to the Arabian Gulf, to the Horn of Africa and the Philippines. Early 2003 saw the largest deployment of Marine forces since the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 when 76,000 Marines deployed to the Central Command area for combat operations against Iraq.



The I Marine Expeditionary Force, including Task Force Tarawa and the United Kingdom’s 1st Armored Division, were the first conventional ground units to enter Iraq in late March as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft from the 3d Marine Air Wing provided continuous close air and assault support to Marine and coalition units as they drove deeper into Iraq. On the ground, Marines from I MEF moved nearly 400 miles from the Kuwait border to Baghdad and Tikrit, Iraq, and eliminated the last organized resistance by Iraqi military forces. Although I MEF would transition to stabilization and security operations and then redeploy to the U.S. by late September, I MEF began preparing for a return to Iraq in early 2004.

The adaptability and reliability of Marine forces continued to be highlighted around the world from the Horn of Africa to Haiti and to the Philippines.



Across the U.S., Marine units from both coasts fought and contained wildfires, and also supported hurricane relief efforts in various parts of the country. In December, 2004, a tsunami struck numerous nations in the Indian Ocean region killing more than 150,000 and causing enormous devastation. Marine units from III MEF were immediately deployed to Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka to assist in disaster relief operations.

In early 2005, the II Marine Expeditionary Force replaced I MEF in Iraq as the primary focus began to shift to partnership operations with the Iraqi Security Forces. Marine units continued to provide air and ground support to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Closer to home, the flexibility and responsiveness of the Navy/Marine team was exhibited during September and October when nearly 3000 Marines and sailors conducted search and rescue, humanitarian relief, and disaster recovery operations in Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Today's Marine Corps stands ready to continue in the proud tradition of those who so valiantly fought and died at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sanh. Combining a long and proud heritage of faithful service to the nation, with the resolve to face tomorrow's challenges will continue to keep the Marine Corps the "best of the best."

Reference Branch
USMC History Division
July 2006

History of Recruit Training

For most of the Marine Corps’ history, there was no highly structured program of instruction for Marine recruits, such as we know today. Only in the last 90 years have there been centralized recruit depots with the mission of transforming civilians into basically trained Marines prepared to perform on the battlefield.

Early Marine recruit training was conducted at various posts and stations by noncommissioned officers who trained recruits in the “principles of military movements” and the use of the rifle. Commandant Franklin Wharton, who led the Corps from 1804 until his death in 1818, was the first to recognize the need for organized training and created a school for Marine recruits at the Marine Barracks in Washington where young men learned the basics of discipline, drill, the manual of arms and marksmanship.

The sea-going nature of the Marine Corps, however, coupled with the recurring shortages of money and men, kept the Marine Corps system for training recruits quite primitive throughout the 19th century. In 1911, however, Major General William P. Biddle, 11th Commandant of the Marine Corps, instituted some sweeping changes that would have profound and long-lasting effects on the training of Marines.

On assuming command of the Corps, Biddle made two months of recruit training mandatory and set up four recruit training depots – at Philadelphia, Norfolk (later at Port Royal, South Carolina), Puget Sound, Washington, and Mare Island, California. Mare Island became the sole west coast depot during the following year, and east coast recruit training was shifted to Parris Island, South Carolina, in 1915. The training program Biddle outlined included drill, physical exercise, personal combat, and intensive marksmanship qualification with the recently-adopted M1903 Springfield rifle.

General Biddle’s innovation met its first real test during World War I when the Corps expanded from about 15,000 to nearly 70,000 Marines in less than 18 months. During that period, the recruit training load expanded from 835 to a peak of 13,286. Living conditions at both depots were Spartan and the training was intense. Upon completion of recruit training, Marines received additional pre-embarkation training at Quantico, Virginia, and still more training after arriving in France.

During the summer of 1923, the west coast recruit depot was moved from Mare Island to San Diego, California. Training programs at the two recruit depots included three weeks of basic indoctrination, an equal period of time on the rifle range, and the final two weeks was occupied in bayonet drill, guard duty, drill and ceremonies.

During September 1939, shortly after the German invasion of Poland, expansion of the Corps from 18,000 to 25,000 Marines was authorized. The recruit syllabus was halved to four weeks to meet this goal, but the result was a decline in training standards and rifle qualification rates plummeting to new lows. From this experience came the realization that seven to eight weeks is the minimum amount of time required for adequate recruit training. The World War II recruit training formula did not vary greatly from World War I except in the overwhelming number of Marines to be trained --- nearly half a million men over a four year period. It was during the war, though, that a third recruit training facility was established at Montford Point, North Carolina, to train some 20,000 black Marines. Recruit training was fully integrated and Montford Point put to other use in 1949.

The outbreak of war in Korea saw recruit training spring into high gear once again as fresh replacements, only weeks beyond recruit training, performed creditable combat service at the demanding battles of Inchon, Seoul, and the Chosin Reservoir. After the war, the recruit syllabus returned to 10 weeks from the war-shortened 8-week schedule.

The period of active American involvement in Vietnam, from 1965 through 1970, saw recruit training reduced to nine weeks. Graduates moved directly from their depots to either Camp Lejeune or Camp Pendleton for additional infantry training, much as their World War II counterparts had done.

The past forty years have witnessed the continuing close scrutiny of the Marine Corps recruit training program. Concerted efforts have been made to eliminate the excesses that had crept into the system over the years while at the same time retaining those elements of the recruit training experience that have produced a highly trained and motivated fighting force. Officer supervision and special training units, along with other innovations for enhancing the effectiveness of recruiting training, were implemented during these decades. The goal, as articulated by Commandant of the Marine Corps General Randolph McCall Pate in 1956, has been “to preserve, protect, and improve the actual system of recruit training which has served us so well.”

Reference Branch
Marine Corps History Division
December 2001

Port Royal / Parris Island

2 November 1861-The first Marines in the area of Parris Island sailed into Port Royal Harbor, South Carolina, as members of detachments aboard various ships with the Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Commanding officer Captain Samuel F. Du Pont, USN seized the area and it was used as an important base for the Union Navy throughout the Civil War

7 August 1882-An act of Congress authorized the establishment and construction of a coaling dock and naval storehouse at Port Royal Harbor. A select group of naval officers chose Parris Island as the site.

26 June 1891- To help protect the interests of the Government during construction, a Marine guard consisting of one sergeant, two corporals, and ten privates were assigned to Port Royal, thus establishing the first Marine post on the island. Proper housing for the guard was slow in coming, with the Marines moving into barracks nearly two years after the post was created.

1 May 1895- First Lieutenant Clarence L.A. Ingate, USMC was the first officer assigned to command the Marine detachment at Port Royal. On 15 September 1896, with the succession of command to 1stLt Henry C. Haines, USMC, the detachment became Marine Barracks, U.S. Naval Station, Port Royal, South Carolina.

1 January 1909- The designation Marine Barracks became Marine Officers’ School, U.S. Naval Station, Port Royal, South Carolina, with the purpose of indoctrinating newly commissioned officers.

1 June 1911- A recruit depot began operation at Port Royal on a three-company basis as a secondary function of the Marine Officers’ School, after it had been postponed from its’ original start up date of November 1910.

30 August 1911- October 1915- The Marine Officers’ School and two recruit companies transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, after the Department of the Navy decided to use Port Royal for a disciplinary installation.

25 October 1915- The recruit depot separated from the Officers’ School and returned to Port Royal. It was established as Marine Barracks, Port Royal, South Carolina, with the principle mission of training Marine recruits. Three days later, the Navy transferred the land and buildings to the Marine Corps.

6 April 1917- 11 November 1918 (World War I)- The recruit depot underwent a massive expansion of installations, number of Marines trained, and the type of instruction recruits received in order to meet the demands of the ongoing war. It was also during this time that Marine Barracks, Port Royal, South Carolina, was redesignated as Marine Barracks, Paris Island, South Carolina, and the government took possession of the remaining private land on Parris Island. Marine Corps Order No. 32 officially changed the name “Paris” to “Parris” on 3 May 1919.

November 1918- December 1941 (Between the Wars)- Parris Island continued to thrive as a recruit depot in the early years between the World Wars, as well as having an advanced training seagoing depot, field music school, and aviation elements. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the number of recruits trained drastically fell and other operations on the island also plummeted. Increasing global hostilities in 1939 brought a revival to the recruit depot and in the two years prior to the United States’ entrance into World War II, Parris Island underwent a massive construction phase that resulted in new barracks and training facilities.

7 December 1941- 14 August 1945 (World War II)- In the first months of World War II, Parris Island staggered under the massive number of incoming recruits until shortened training periods were the only answer. Later, as the influx of recruits slowed slightly and deficiencies in the shortened program were noticeable, training was once again increased to help prepare Marines for combat. Approximately 200,000 recruits were trained at Parris Island during the war, including Women Marine Reservists.

28 February 1949- Female recruits began arriving at Parris Island to form the first platoon of Women Marine regulars after the Marine Corps began accepting women into the service following the passage of Public Law 625 (The Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948). Parris Island remains the only recruit depot to train female Marines even today. Segregated African-American recruits who had previously trained at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, also began training at Parris Island in 1949.

25 June 1950- 27 July 1953 (Korean War)- Parris Island once again witnessed an increase in the number of recruits to meet the demand for combat troops in Korea. The number of recruits overwhelmed the number of available experienced drill instructors (DIs), leading to the re-establishment of the Drill Instructors’ School during this time. Approximately, 138,000 Marines graduated from Parris Island during the war.

8 April 1956- Tragedy struck the recruit depot when six recruits drowned during a late night march after a junior DI led the men into one of the tidal streams (Ribbon Creek) on Parris Island. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Randolph McC. Pate, ordered better supervision of the DIs and training in general to assure that there would never be a repeat of the Ribbon Creek incident.

1962-1973 (Vietnam War)- Over 200,000 recruits trained at Parris Island during the Vietnam War, the longest war fought by the United States to date. Training was cut from 12 to 10 weeks to accommodate the number of recruits, instead of adding new platoons.

1 April 1976- Parris Island Recruit Depot was redesignated as Marine Corps Recruit Depot/Eastern Recruiting Region, Parris Island, South Carolina.

19 April 1984-The causeway that links Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot to the Beaufort community was dedicated in memory of General Edwin A. Pollock, USMC (Deceased).

9 September 1994- The 4th Recruit Training Battalion Reading Room at Parris Island was dedicated in honor of Cpl Germaine C. Laville, USMCWR (Dec), one of only three WWII Women Marines killed while in performance of their duties. Cpl Laville died in a fire 3 June 1944 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

16 December 2002- The MCRD Parris Island Headquarters was dedicated in honor of General Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Ret). Gen Barrow, 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps, served as Commanding General, MCRD Parris Island from 1972-1975, and was the driving force behind reforms to ensure effective but wholesome recruit training. The event was all the more unique for the fact that the commemorative naming, an honor usually reserved for deceased Marines, occurred during Gen Barrow’s lifetime.

Present- Parris Island graduates approximately 20,000 recruits a year and is one of the most famous military training facilities in the United States.

Reference Branch
USMC History Division

Reserve History - 1916-2006


29 August 1916 – President Woodrow Wilson signed an Act authorizing a Marine Corps Reserve. Prior to this date, Marine reservists had participated in the naval militias of numerous states that border large bodies of water.

1917-1918 – The Marine Corps Reserve increased from 35 to 6,440 on active duty as a result of World War I.

12 August 1918 – The Secretary of the Navy authorized enrollment of Women in the Marine Corps Reserve.

28 February 1925 – Congress passed an act that superseded the Act of 1916 for the creation, organization, administration, and maintenance of the Marine Corps Reserves. It also provided for the establishment of Aviation units within the Reserves.

25 June 1938 – The Naval Reserve Act of 1938 abolished the act of 1925 and provided that the reserve would consist of the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve, an organized Marine Corps Reserve, and a Volunteer Marine Corps reserve.

1941-1945 – Of the 589,852 Marines to serve during World War II, approximately 70% were Reserves. These numbers include women serving within the Women’s Reserve whose component was added to the Marine Corps 13 February 1943. Forty–four of the 82 Marine Medal of Honor recipients were reservists.

1948 – The first official “Toys for Tots” campaign, initiated by reservist Major William Hendricks, began. It was firmly established as a nationwide Marine Corps Reserve public affairs project by 1953.

August 1950 - July 1953 – During the Korean War more than 130,000 reservists served on active duty. There were 13 Medal of Honor recipients among the Marine Corps Reserves and every third aviation combat mission was flown by either a Navy or Marine reservist.

1952 – Congress passed the Armed Forces Reserve Act of 1952. This act provided for a Ready Reserve, a Standby Reserve, and a Retired Reserve.

1955 – The Armed Forces Reserve Act of 1955 was passed. The act established a six-month training program and made schooling available in 200 key occupational fields.

July 1962 – The Organized Marine Corps Reserve was reorganized to provide a distinct unit mobilization structure embodied in the 4th Marine Division, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing team, and Force Troops units.

1965 - 1973 – The Marine Corps Reserve was not mobilized for active duty during the Vietnam War but individual reservists could and did volunteer for duty with active units.

1977 – The headquarters of the 4th Marine Division was relocated to New Orleans, Louisiana. The move allowed the headquarters to be more centrally located and helped to solidify the partnership between the Division and the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing which was already located there.

1990 - 1991 – The Persian Gulf War saw the largest mobilization of the Marine Corps Reserve since the Korean War. Reservists served in all elements of the I Marine Expeditionary Force and comprised 15% of all Marines in theater. Many reserve units distinguished themselves in combat while other reserve units competently replaced deployed active units at home.

6 June 1992 – Marine Reserve Force (MarResFor) was activated and was the largest command in the Marine Corps. Two years later, on 10 November, MarResFor was re-designated as Marine Corps Forces Reserve (MarForRes) in a move meant to keep the Reserve force’s visibility in line with its Fleet Marine Force Command counterparts.

4 June - 13 August 1994 – Marine Reserve Force conducted Exercise Pinnacle Advance, the largest peacetime training exercise in the Marine Corps Reserve's history. The exercise involved 16,000 Marines and took place at sites in Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona. It included humanitarian assistance, peace keeping, combat, and amphibious operations.

11 September 2001 - 2006– Numerous Reserve units were called to active duty due to the world situation. Some reserve units assumed rotations in the Unit Deployment Program to places such as Okinawa to allow for the expanded need for troops in Southwest Asia and Afghanistan, while others joined the Marine Corps active component in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, or took over for deployed units here in the United States.

Reference Branch
USMC History Division

World war i

The achievements of the 4th Brigade on the battlefields of Europe, as one of the two infantry brigades of the Second Division, US Army, comprised the major effort of the Marine Corps in Europe during World War I. The 5th Regiment had landed in France with the first expedition of American troops in June 1917, and by February 1918, with the arrival of the 6th Regiment and 6th Machine Gun Battalion, the 4th Brigade was brought up to full strength.

On 14 March 1918, the 4th Brigade commenced movement into subsectors of the Verdun front, the first units entering the front line during the night of 16-17 March. The Marines remained on this relatively quiet front until 14 May, when the 4th Brigade relocated to the vicinity of Chaumont en Vixen, where intensive training was undertaken in anticipation of being assigned to an active front. It was here that the Marines received sudden orders to move to the Chateau-Thierry sector.

In late May 1918, the Germans launched their third offensive, crossed the Chemin-des-Dames, captured Soissons, and on the last day of May, were advancing down the Marne Valley in the direction of Paris. The startling success of this German attack caused the Allies to throw the Second Division, including the 4th Brigade, into the front lines, blocking the German advance in the Chateau-Thierry sector.

The fighting in this sector was divided into two parts, one a stubborn defensive action lasting a week, and the other a vicious offensive. The end of the Aisne defensive operation (31 May – 5 June) found the front line well established at that point of the Marne salient nearest to Paris. On 6 June the Allies took the initiative away from the Germans and started an offensive that did not end until 1 July.

On the first day of the attack, the 4th Brigade captured Hill 142 and Bouresches in bitter fighting. By 26 June, the Marines had finished clearing the Germans out of Bois de Belleau (Belleau Wood). During these 31 days of constant fighting, the Marines suffered 9,063 casualties, 1,062 battle deaths and 7,253 wounded. The French Army in appreciation of the valor of the 4th Brigade, officially renamed Belleau Wood as the “Bois de la Brigade de Marine.”  After being relieved during the night of 5-6 July, the Marine Brigade moved to an area in the rear of the front lines and occupied the Line of Defense, or Army Line, with headquarters at Nanteuil-sur-Marne. It remained until 16 July.

On 17 July 1918, the Marines along with other Allied units, were hurriedly and secretly led on forced night marches over jammed roads, through rain and mud, to a point near Soissons. Early on the morning of 18 July, the 5th Marine Regiment, in coordination with other Allied units, began a major offensive. Sweeping the Germans through the woods before them, the Marines soon captured Translon and Verte Feuille Farms, halting their onward rush only after the enemy managed to reinforce their defense line running south through Vierzy.

The attack had succeeded so well that another advance was ordered the same afternoon. When the advancing Marines finally stopped for the night, the front lines had pushed to nearly a mile east of Vierzy. By this time, the 5th Regiment was so completely exhausted that it could make no further effort.  The 6th Regiment, from its initial position in reserve, had moved to the front. When a continuation of the attack was made on 19 July, the 6th Regiment moved out in attack on a front of about 2,500 yards, with the first battalion leading on the right, the second on the left, and the third in support. The objective was still the same, the Soissons-Chateau-Thierry road, and the Germans were making every effort to strengthen the line to stop the Allies’ advance before it reached this strategic position.

The Marines, with insufficient artillery support, advanced across the level ground without any concealment and in perfect view of the enemy. The German artillery, with ample air observation, promptly put down a destructive fire upon the advancing Marines, which, together with machine gun fire, virtually slaughtered the ranks of the leading battalions. The enemy’s strongly organized position in Tigny soon stopped the advance of the first battalion. The second battalion managed to reach the shelter of the woods about five hundred yards west of Villemontoire.

The losses to the original front line battalions averaged more than 50 percent. Since it was hopeless for the decimated regiment to attempt further advance without reinforcements, the Marines were ordered to dig in during the early afternoon. That night, the entire 4th Marine Brigade was relieved from their positions on the front lines.

Remaining in a reserve position until 22 July, the 4th Brigade, after final relief from this active sector, billeted in an area around Nateuil-le-Haudouin. It remained there until 31 July.

On 5 August, the Marine Brigade began movement for the occupation of the Marbache subsector, near Pont-a-Mousson, on the Moselle River. The movement was completed on 8 August. The sector was quiet and the Marines’ stay on the front line was uneventful except for an enemy raid which was successfully repulsed.  The relief of the Marines from the Marbache sector was completed on 18 August, and the brigade moved to an area about 20 kilometers southeast of Toul, where intensive training for the impending St. Mihiel offensive took place. Starting the night of 2 September, the brigade relocated itself outside of Manonville in a series of night marches.

During the period 12-16 September, the Marines were engaged in the St. Mihiel offensive in the vicinity of Remenauville, Thiaucourt, Zammes, and Jaulny. On the evening of the 13th, the Marine Brigade took over the entire front line of the advance. During the rest of the operation, the task of the Marines was to drive back the German outposts in front of the St. Mihiel position. Marine losses in this offensive totaled 132 killed and 574 wounded.

In September, the brigade moved to an area south of Toul, with headquarters at Chaudenay. It remained in this area until 25 September, when it moved by rail to an area south of Chalons-sur-Marne, with headquarters at Barry.

At the urgent request of Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Second Division, including the 4th Brigade, was now temporarily placed at the disposal of the Fourth French Army to assist in breaking through the powerful German defenses. On 28 September, the 4th Brigade moved by bus and foot to the Souain-Suippes area. The general plan provided for an attack by the whole French Army between the Argonne and the Suippes River. On 1 October, the Marines, along with the rest of the Second Division, marched to the front line near Somme-Py and relieved elements of a French Division.

The Second Division had been given a front of more than three miles on which to attack early on the morning of 3 October. It put both of its infantry brigades on the line, with the 4th Brigade on the left, with sectors covering Blanc Mont Ridge. The 6th Regiment led the advance for the brigade in a column of battalions on a front of approximately one mile. The 2d Battalion led the assault with the 1st and 3d Battalions following. During the attack, the 1st Battalion had to assault a strongly organized German machine gun nest, called the “Essen Hook,” in the French sector, which the Marines captured and turned over to the French.

On 4 October the 5th Regiment passed through the 6th Regiment to continue the attack. The advancing Marines were subjected to extremely severe casualties as a result of flanking machine gun and harassing artillery fire; over 1,100 Marines were casualties that day. Early the next morning, the 6th Regiment passed through the lines held by the 5th Regiment and continued the attack. Finally, on the morning of the 6th, the 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment captured the ridge.

By this time, the Second Division had again expended its utmost effort and was overdue for relief, but the 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment was now assigned the task of capturing St. Etienne. On 8 October, its 76th Company succeeded in taking the town, and despite reduced numbers, managed to hold this advanced position during a German counterattack that night. The relief of Marine units on the Champagne sector was finally completed on 10 October. During the week of almost continuous combat in this sector, the Marine Brigade suffered 494 killed and 1,864 wounded.

After a brief period of rest, the 4th Brigade, again as part of the Second Division, moved into the front lines just south of Landres-et-St. George on the night of 30-31 October, to participate in the immense Meuse-Argonne offensive, which had started on 26 September. Early on the morning of 1 November, the Brigade, following a terrific artillery barrage, began an assault for its final operation of the war. At the conclusion of hostilities at 1100 hours on the morning on 11 November 1918, Marines were firmly established on the heights of the far bank of the Meuse River, after an advance of 30 kilometers.

After the formal signing of the Armistice, the Marines participated in the march to the Rhine, where they became part of the Army of German Occupation. Their stay on the Rhine was uneventful, except for an incident in June 1919. At this time, serious friction in the Peace Conference resulted in the Marines, along with other units of the Second Division, advancing two days march to the east. They were soon withdrawn, however, to their former positions along the Rhine after final agreement with the German delegates was made. The Marines began their return to the States in the middle of June 1919, arriving home in August.

The 5th Marine Brigade, organized at Quantico in September of 1918 and consisting of the 11th and 13th Regiments and the 5th Machine Gun Battalion, also served in France, but did not engage in combat. The 13th Regiment arrived at Brest, France, on 25 September 1918; all units of the 11th Regiment were in France by 25 October, and the 5th Machine Gun Battalion arrived at Brest on 9 November.

Upon arrival in France, the 5th Marine Brigade was assigned to the Service of Supply, which was in need of dependable troops for guard duty. The 13th Regiment soon found itself scattered, and doing guard duty along with the western coast of France, while the 11th Regiment was stationed in the general area of Tours. There it performed similar duties, such as guarding the aviation training center at Issouden, and furnishing some companies for military police duty. The brigade machine gun battalion was stationed at Camp Pontanezan, Brest. The units of the 5th Marine Brigade continued to perform these general duties until July 1919, when they assembled at Brest and returned to the United States early in August.

Although the battle record of the 4th Brigade, as part of the Second Division, overshadowed all other activities of Marine Corps personnel in Europe during World War I, officers and men of the Marine Corps participated in the conflict in other ways. Marine detachments served on all battleships and cruisers operating in the European theater. In addition, from early August 1918 to the date of demobilization, the Commanding General of the Second Division and several officers on his staff were Marines. At various times, Marine officers were attached to the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth, Twenty-Sixth, Thirty-second, Thirty-fifth, Ninetieth, and Ninety-second Divisions, and in some cases engaged in operations with them.

Marine aviation personnel also served in France as the Day Wing of the Northern Bombing Group of the Navy. The Day Wing carried out 14 independent raids far behind the enemy lines, and brought back valuable information. A few Marine officers and enlisted men engaged in Army aviation operations, and about 20 Marine officers were sent to France as observers, and participated in operations with American, French, and British forces. While in Europe, the Marine fliers served with Squadrons 217 and 218 (bombing squadrons), Royal Air Force of England..

On “land, air, and sea,” the American people could be justifiably proud of the performance of their Marine Corps in World War I.


History Division Publications

"With 'Spartan Courage and Marine Grit': 4th Brigade Occupation of the German Rhineland, 1918-19" by CWO Alexander F. Barnes, USMC (Ret).

Three-part article on the Marine Corps Reserve by Col Walter G. Ford, USMC (Ret)

Reference Branch
Marine Corps History Division

The Korean War

Shortly before dawn on 25 June 1950, seven infantry divisions and one armored division of the North Korean People's Army crossed the 38th Parallel into South Korea, quickly brushing aside resistance, the North Korean juggernaut captured the South Korean capital city of Seoul within three days.

The Security Council of the United Nations quickly declared the North Korean attack a breach of world peace, and requested member nations to aid the Republic of Korea in driving back the hostile force. On 29 June, President Harry S. Truman authorized the sending of U.S. forces to the area.

A request for the immediate employment of Marines came on 2 July from General Douglas MacArthur, USA, the Commander-in-Chief, Far East. Within five days of General MacArthur's request, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, with its major elements built around the 5th Marines and Marine Aircraft Group 33, had been formed at Camp Pendleton, California. On 12 July, the 6,534-man brigade sailed from San Diego, California to answer their nation's call for help. As they had been for 175-years, the Marines were ready.

For the next three years, the performance of the 1st Marine Division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in helping to stem the tide of Communist aggression in Korea was nothing less than outstanding. In addition to their specialty of amphibious operations, Marines were called upon to fight alongside the Army in land campaigns. Such unfamiliar names as Inchon, Seoul, and the Chosin Reservoir soon joined Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima in the pantheon of Marine Corps history. The American people had great reason to be proud of their Marine Corps.

During the Korean War, the ground operations of the Marine Corps can be divided into six distinct periods. They are:

August-September 1950-Defense of the Pusan Perimeter
September-October 1950 Assault on Inchon-Seoul 
November-December 1950-Chosin Reservoir Campaign 
January 1951-March 1952-The East-Central Front 
March 1952-July 1953-The Western Front 
July 1953-February 1955-Post-Armistice period

Fast Facts on the Korean War 1950-1953


The Marine Corps emerged from the Korean War with the highest sustained peacetime strength in its history. The suddenness of the war, and General MacArthur's immediate request for Marines, had emphasized the importance of maintaining the Corps as a ready striking force. The fiscal year end strengths of the Marine Corps during the Korean War and immediate post-Armistice period were as follows: 


























Marine aviation activities in Korea were first in support of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in the Pusan Perimeter, and next with the Inchon landing by the 1st Marine Division. In both instances, squadrons of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing gave effective close air-support from carriers, and later from Kimpo Airfield. Following the collapse of North Korean resistance in early October 1950, Marines moved to the seaport town of Wonsan. During the latter part of November and early December 1950, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps aircraft supplied the division during its breakout from the Chosin Reservoir. During these operations, repeated airdrops were made and more than 5,000 casualties were evacuated. In addition, Marine and Navy aircraft provided outstanding close air support, which was vital for the withdrawal out of the reservoir. Between August 1950 and 27 July 1953, units of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing flew more than 118,000 sorties, of which more than 39,500 were close air support missions. During the same period, Marine helicopter squadrons evacuated almost 10,000 personnel.


In 1950 the Korean War saw the Marine Corps expand from 75,000 regulars to a force, by the end of the conflict in 1953, of 261,000 Marines, most of whom were Reserves. Complete mobilization of the organized ground reserve had been accomplished in just 53 days, from 20 July to 11 September 1950. Of the Marines participating in the Inchon invasion, 17 percent were reservists. By June 1951 the proportion of reservists in Marine Corps units in Korea had increased to nearly 50 percent, and during the war, 48 percent of all 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Combat sorties were flown by Marine reservists. Between July 1950 and June 1953, approximately 122,000 reservists, both recruits and veterans, saw active duty in Korea.


At the conclusion of the Korean War in July 1953, a total of 42 Marines had been awarded the Nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor; 26 of these awards were posthumous. In addition, 221 Navy Crosses, and more than 1,500 Silver Stars were awarded to Marines. Of the awards cited above, Marine reservists received 13 Medals of Honor, 50 Navy Crosses, and over 400 Silver Stars.


The war in Korea had been a costly one. Total U.S. casualties during the war numbered approximately 136,000 killed, missing in action, and wounded. Marine Corps casualties from August 1950 July 1953 were as follows: (NOTE: The total under "DIED" includes killed-in-action, died of wounds, captured and died, and missing in action, presumed dead). 








Significant Quotations during the Korean War

"Request immediate assignment Marine Regimental Combat Team and supporting Air Group for duty this command. . ."

On July 2, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur requested Marines to augment U.S. forces in Korea.

 ". . . these Marines have the swagger, confidence, and hardness that must have been in Stonewall Jackson's Army of the Shenandoah. They remind me of the Cold streams at Dunkerque."

A British military officer, visiting U.S. Marines in Korea included the above statement in his daily report to the British command in Tokyo, August 16, 1950.

"The amphibious landing is the most powerful tool we have."

General Douglas MacArthur, USA, Planning Conference for the Battle of Inchon, 1950.

"I can almost hear the ticking of the second hand of destiny. We must act now or we will die. . . . We shall land at Inchon, and I shall crush them."

General Douglas MacArthur, USA, at a meeting with his commanders, Tokyo, August 23, 1950.

"I know that this operation will be sort of helter-skelter. But the 1st Marine Division is going to win the war by landing at Inchon."

General Douglas MacArthur, USA, in conversation with Major General 0. P. Smith, USMC, August 1950.

"The amphibious landing of U.S. Marines on September 1950 at Inchon, on the west coast of Korea, was one of the most audacious and spectacularly successful amphibious landings in all naval history."

Bernard Brodie, A Guide to Naval Strategy, p. 238,

"Our tactical air arm should spend a few months with the Marines. I don't know what causes the difference, but it is there. The Marine pilots give us the impression that they are breaking their hearts to help us out."

By an Army captain in Korea: Quoted from Combat Forces Journal; Geer, The New Breed; Heinl, Soldiers of the Sea, p. 570,

"Retreat Hell! We're just attacking in another direction."

Attributed to Major General Oliver P. Smith, CG of the 1st Marine Division in Korea (1950), regarding his order for Marines to move southeast to the Hamhung area from the Hagaru perimeter.

"We've been looking for the enemy for several days now, we've finally found them. We're surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them."

Attributed to Colonel Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller during the Chosin Reservoir campaign in Korea, November 1950. Quoted in Marine! The Life of LtGen Lewis B. (Chesty) Puller, USMC (Ret.)

"The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of Marines. Lord, how they could fight. The Reds told us they were afraid to tangle with the Marines and avoided them when they could be located."

Major General Frank E. Lowe, USA, Presidential observer on Korean War, in the Washington Daily News 26 Jan 1952.

Medal of Honor Recipients

View List

Ground Units

1st Provisional Marine Brigade (7 July - 13 September 1950)

  • Headquarters and Service Battalion

  • 5th Marines

    • 1st Battalion, 5th Marines

    • 2d Battalion, 5th Marines

    • 3d Battalion, 5th Marines

  • 1st Battalion, 11th Marines

  • Detachment, 1st Signal Battalion

  • Company A, 1st Motor Transport Battalion

  • Company C, 1st Medical Battalion

  • Company A, 1st Shore Party Battalion

  • Company A, 1st Engineer Battalion

  • Detachment, 1st Ordnance Battalion

  • Company A, 1st Tank Battalion

  • Detachment, 1st Service Battalion

  • Detachment, 1st Combat Service Group

  • Detachment, Reconnaissance Company

  • Detachment, Military Police Company

  • 1st Amphibian Tractor Company

  • 1st Amphibian Truck Platoon

  • Marine Observation Squadron 6

1st Marine Division (September 1950 - July 1953)

  • Headquarters Battalion

    • Headquarters Company

    • Military Police Company

    • Reconnaissance Company

  • 1st Marines

    • 1st Battalion, 1st Marines

    • 2d Battalion, 1st Marines

    • 3d Battalion, 1st Marines

  • 5th Marines

    • 1st Battalion, 5th Marines

    • 2d Battalion, 5th Marines

    • 3d Battalion, 5th Marines

  • 7th Marines

    • 1st Battalion, 7th Marines

    • 2d Battalion, 7th Marines

    • 3d Battalion, 7th Marines

  • 11th Marines

    • 1st Battalion, 11th Marines

    • 2d Battalion, 11th Marines

    • 3d Battalion, 11th Marines

    • 4th Battalion, 11th Marines 

    • Battery C, 1st 4.5-inch Rocket Battalion

  • 7th Motor Transport Battalion

  • 1st Ordnance Battalion

  • 1st Service Battalion

  • 1st Tank Battalion

  • 1st Armored Amphibian Battalion

  • 1st Motor Transport Battalion

  • 1st Combat Service Group

    • 1st Fumigation and Bath Company

    • 1st Air Delivery Platoon

  • 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion

  • 1st Shore Party Battalion

  • 1st Engineer Battalion

  • 1st Medical Battalion

  • 1st Signal Battalion

    • 1st Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company

Air Units

Forward Echelon, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (July - September 1950)

  • Marine Aircraft Group 33

    • Headquarters Squadron

    • Service Squadron

    • Marine Fighter Squadron 214

    • Marine Fighter Squadron 323

    • Marine Night Fighter Squadron 513

    • Marine Tactical Air Control Squadron 2

1st Marine Aircraft Wing (September 1950 - July 1953)

  • Headquarters Squadron 1

  • Marine Wing Service Squadron 1

  • Marine Wing Service Group 17

    • Headquarters Squadron 17

    • Marine Air Base Squadron 17

    • Marine Aircraft Repair Squadron 17

  • Marine Aircraft Group 12

    • Headquarters Squadron 12

    • Service Squadron 12

    • Marine Air Base Squadron 12

    • Marine Aircraft Maintenance Squadron 12

  • Marine Aircraft Group 33

    • Headquarters Squadron 33

    • Service Squadron 33

    • Marine Air Base Squadron 33

    • Marine Aircraft Maintenance Squadron 33

  • Marine Fighter Squadron 115

  • Marine Attack Squadron 121

  • Marine Fighter Squadron 212 (Redesignated Marine Attack Squadron 212 on 10 June 1952)

  • Marine Fighter Squadron 214

  • Marine Fighter Squadron 311

  • Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (Redesignated Marine Attack Squadron 312 on 1 March 1952)

  • Marine Fighter Squadron 323 (Redesignated Marine Attack Squadron 323 on 30 June 1952)

  • Marine Attack Squadron 332

  • Marine Attack Squadron 251

  • Marine Night-Fighter Squadron 513

  • Marine Night-Fighter Squadron 542

  • Marine Transport Squadron 152

  • Marine Ground Control Squadron 1

  • Marine Air Control Group 2

  • Marine Tactical Air Control Squadron 2

  • Marine Ground Control Intercept Squadron 1

  • Marine Ground Control Intercept Squadron 3

  • Marine Photographic Squadron 1

  • Marine Composite Squadron 1

  • 1st 90mm Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion

  • Marine Observation Squadron 6

  • Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161


 25 June 1950-NKPA Order of Battle

 7-13 August 1950-Southwestern Front (Brigade Action)

 10 August 1950-Sachon Offensive

 11 August 1950-Sachon Offensive

 12-13 August 1950(night)- Enemy Counterattack (Hill 202)

 12-14 August 1950-Sachon Offensive

 12 August 1950-Sachon Offensive (Changchon Ambush)

 1st Naktong Counteroffensive

 17 August-1st Naktong Counteroffensive (Obj. 1)

 18 August-1st Naktong Counterattack (Obj. 1)

 18 August-1st Naktong Counterattack (Obj. 2)

 3-4 September-2d Naktong Counteroffensive

 3-5 September-2d Naktong Counteroffensive

 15 September-Seizure of Red Beach

 15 September 1950-Seizure of Wolmi-Do

 17 September-Advance by 1st Marines

 17 September-Drive to Kimpo

 18 September-Capture of Sosa

 18 September-General Situation


Historical Branch, G-3
Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps
Washington, D.C., 1955



For the United States Marine Corps, involvement in the nation’s longest war began on 2 August 1954 with the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Croizat as a liaison officer with the newly established United States Military Assistance and Advisory Group to the Republic of Vietnam. For the next eight years, Marine activities in Vietnam consisted mainly of advisory and staff responsibilities. This began to change in mid-April 1962 when Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 362 (HMM-362), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Archie Clapp, deployed to South Vietnam to provide combat service support for the fledgling South Vietnamese army. In the spring of 1964, Marine Detachment, Advisory Team One, commanded by Major Alfred M. Gray Jr., arrived to collect signals intelligence, thereby becoming the first Marine ground unit to arrive in the country.

Following the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, the Marine Corps commitment to Southeast Asia expanded further. The end of 1964 brought an end to the advisory and assistance phase of the Vietnam War. A crucial turning point had been reached and 1965 brought about a major escalation in Marine combat activities in Vietnam.


On 22 February 1965, General William C. Westmoreland, USA, Commander, US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, requested two Marine battalions to protect the key airbase at Da Nang from increasing threat by the Viet Cong to U.S. installations. In response, on 8 March 1965, the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) landed at Da Nang. By the end of March, nearly 5,000 Marines were at Da Nang, including two infantry battalions, two helicopter squadrons and supply and logistics units. In April the U.S. Government agreed to deploy still more Marines to Vietnam and to permit those at Da Nang to engage in counterinsurgency operations. In June, Major General Lewis W. Walt arrived to take command of the newly formed III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF), comprising both the 3d Marine Division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW). By mid-summer, the Marines had moved outside their cantonment at Da Nang and expanded their Area of Responsibility (AOR) to include the Viet Cong infested villages to the south. Marines landed at Chu Lai, allowing the 1st Wing to expand to new facilities there and at Marble Mountain, home of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 36, while MAG-16 remained at the airbase at Da Nang.

In August, Marines engaged in their first major offensives against the Viet Cong, Operation Starlite, which included the 7th Marines, the vanguard of the 1st Marine Division. The action destroyed one Viet Cong battalion and badly mauled a second. By the end of the year, Gen Walt commanded 42,000 Marines. Despite operational successes, pacification in the densely populated areas in the Marine’s AOR remained a difficult process. With no end to the war in sight, the prediction of a Vietnamese soothsayer would come true: 1966 would be a year of a “lot of fighting and killing.”


In 1966, the size of U.S. Marine forces in the Republic of Vietnam continued to increase as the remaining units of the 1st Marine Division, commanded by Major General Lewis J. “Jeff” Fields, arrived from Okinawa to assist in pacifying the southern areas of I Corps. Even with its influx of Marines, a manpower shortage plagued III MAF, compounding an already difficult mission. Senior Marine commanders expressed strong disagreement with the conduct of the war by the leadership of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. The Marines pushed for a small-scale unit pacification program along the populated coastal areas, while the Army leadership in Saigon advocated large unit search and destroy operations against North Vietnamese units. These disagreements further hindered the ability of III MAF to conduct effective combat operations.

Despite these problems, the Marines continued to carry the fight to the enemy with several operations, most notably Operations Utah and Texas in southern I Corps and Operation Prairie in the north of I Corps. The Marines continued to refine a novel organizational concept, Combined Action Platoons, which merged a local Vietnamese militia platoon with a Marine infantry squad. The month of March saw the first arrival of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters as a replacement for the aging Sikorsky UH-34, when HMM-46 landed at Marble Mountain, deploying from the USS Valley Forge. Meanwhile, Marine fixed-wing aircraft continued to strike targets as far north as Hanoi and Haiphong.

The year had brought a major buildup of U.S. Marine forces in Vietnam. Nearly 70,000 Marines were now in country; almost double the number from the pervious year. The hopes of the Marine commanders that increased troop strength would defeat the enemy proved unrealistic. The coming year would find the two divisions of III MAF fighting increasingly different wars. The 3d Marine Division was fighting a more conventional campaign against the North Vietnamese Army near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the north of I Corps while the 1st Marine Division engaged in more counter-guerrilla operations in Southern I Corps.


While Marines continued conducting pacification and counter-guerrilla operations, most of the heavy fighting in 1967 raged in the north of I Corps along the DMZ. The 3d Marine Division engaged in heavy conventional fighting around the former Special Forces camp at Khe Sanh in the northwestern I Corps, to “Leatherneck Square” in the eastern DMZ. Simultaneously, Marines began construction of the “McNamara Line,” a series of strong points, sensors and obstacles designed to deter and detect Communist incursions across the DMZ. Never completed, the McNamara Line drained III MAF of scarce men and materiel. To counter it, the North Vietnamese conducted numerous attacks to destroy it in its infancy, all supported by heavy artillery fire. This resulted in several major engagements during the second half of 1967, most notably at Con Thien. All the while Marine air played a pivotal role in providing fire support, CH-46 and UH-34 helicopters remained the workhorses for logistics support, augmented that year by the first squadron of CH-53 Sea Stallions.

By year’s end, III MAF had blunted the North Vietnamese push across the DMZ. In all, U.S. Marines conducted 11 major operations of battalion size or larger and more than 356,000 smaller unit patrols and killed nearly 18,000 enemy. But the cost had been high, with 3,000 Marines killed including the 3d Marine Division commander, Major General Bruno A. Hochmuth. Despite augmentation by the Army’s Americal Division, III MAF remained stretched in both men and material. But the Marines believed they had made significant strides toward pacification during 1967. However, as 1968 approached, there were ominous indications of an even larger enemy invasion.


The year 1968 proved to be the decisive year for the Marines in Vietnam. Instead of the traditional cease-fire for the Tet Lunar New Year, the Communists launched a massive offensive against 105 cites and towns throughout South Vietnam. In the north, enemy forces attacked all the major population centers, including Da Nang and the old Imperial city of Hue. U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese forces repulsed all the attacks except at Hue. It would take 26 days of dogged house-to-house fighting to expel the North Vietnamese regulars from the city, as Marines, more accustomed to fighting in the steamy jungle, learned the difficult and bloody lessons of urban warfare.

While Tet raged, another drama was being played out at Khe Sanh. For 77 days the 26th Marines, commanded by Colonel David E. Lownds, held the embattled base against intense pressure by the North Vietnamese, who hurled as many as 1,000 shells a day into the Marine position. President Lyndon B. Johnson became so concerned over the siege that he had an exact model of the Khe Sanh base built to monitor the situation on the ground. But Marine tenacity and American air power inflicted grievous losses upon the enemy. On 6 April, the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division broke the siege.

1968 marked a turning point for the war in Vietnam. While the enemy had been defeated on the battlefield, American public opinion turned against the war. Television images of the fighting in Hue and Khe Sanh, and even at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, eroded public support for the war. After three years of fighting, the enemy still appeared far from beaten. For many Americans, thoughts turned from escalation to winding down war in Vietnam.


From the outset, the new President, Richard M. Nixon, committed his administration to reducing the level of U.S. forces in Vietnam. For the Marine Corps this meant a gradual reduction of forces in Vietnam. Incrementally, the Marine Corps began redeploying units, and by the end of the year, the entire 3d Marine Division had returned to Okinawa.

As planning to reduce force level in Vietnam continued, Marines continued to engage the enemy throughout I Corps. Colonel Robert H. Barrow’s 9th Marines began Operation Dewey Canyon, perhaps the most successful high-mobility regimental-sized action of the war. Over a two-month period, the Marines operated in the A Shau/Da Krong valleys. By 18 March, the enemy base area had been cleared out, killing more than 1,600 enemy. The Marine air-ground team proved its worth in greatly reducing enemy 122 mm rocket fire into Da Nang. Marine infantry, transported by helicopters, cleared out enemy positions in the rugged “Happy Valley” and “Charlie Ridges” areas, all supported by effective Marine fixed-wing aircraft.


Throughout 1970, U.S. Marine forces continued to withdraw from Vietnam. The new policy emanating from Washington was “Vietnamization.” With U.S. airpower and advisors, the ground war was increasingly turned over to the South Vietnamese. While the invasion of Cambodia was the major military undertaking of 1970, only a limited number of Marine aviation assets were involved. Marines still conducted aggressive campaigns against the enemy, most notably Colonel Edmund G. Derning’s 7th Marines participation in Operation Pickens Forest and Colonel Paul X. Kelley’s 1st Marines actions near Da Nang. But by the end of 1970, more Marines were leaving than arriving as replacements. On 14 April 1971, III MAF redeployed to Okinawa, and two months later the last ground troops, the 13,000 men of the 3d MAB, flew out from Da Nang.

Although Marine combat units were no longer in Vietnam, Marine advisors remained to assist the South Vietnamese. During the North Vietnamese 1972 Easter Offensive, Marine advisors played a pivotal role in repelling the Communist attacks. Captain John W. Ripley, Captain Ray L. Smith and Captain Lawrence H. Livingston each won the Navy Cross for their heroic contributions in stopping the enemy advances.

THE BITTER END 1973-1975

Following the failure of the Communists’ Easter Offensive and an intensive bombing campaign of North Vietnam, a peace treaty was finally signed in Paris on 27 January 1973. The U.S. agreed to withdraw all its forces from South Vietnam. The North, in turn, returned all the U.S. Prisoners of War, including 26 Marines. Unfortunately, peace was short lived in Vietnam, and in 1974 fighting resumed in both Cambodia and South Vietnam. By the spring of 1975, the situation became desperate for the U.S. backed governments in both Phnom Penh and Saigon. On 12 April, the 31st MAU, commanded by Colonel John F. Roche, executed a non-combatant evacuation, Operation Eagle Pull, the abandonment of the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh prior to the city’s capitulation to Communist Khmer Rouge forces. Three weeks later, Marines were called upon to evacuate another embassy, this time in Saigon. Marines of the 9th MAB successfully executed Operation Frequent Wind, which safely removed hundreds of Americans and Vietnamese civilians prior to the fall of South Vietnam.

No sooner had the Marines evacuated the embassies than they were ordered by President Gerald R. Ford to rescue the crew of the USS Mayaguez, which had been taken by the Khmer Rouge. On 15 May, a Marine Task Force under the command of Colonel John M. Johnson recovered the Mayaguez and her crew, but not without high losses.

America’s longest war was costly to the U.S. Marine Corps. From 1965 to 1975, nearly 500,000 Marines served in Southeast Asia. Of these, nearly 13,000 were killed and 52,000 wounded; nearly a third of all American causalities sustained during the war.

Reference Branch
Marine Corps History Division

The Beirut Bombing - Thirty Years Later

Prepared by Historical Reference Branch Graduate Student Intern from University of West Florida Public History Program, Summer 2013 

A little more than thirty years ago, in 1982, the Marines began a peacekeeping mission as part of a multinational force (MNF) in war torn Lebanon.  The Marines were to maintain a visible “presence” in the capital of Beirut, in the hopes that it would deter further bloodshed among the various warring factions and militias fighting for control of the country. The United States government intended to provide a neutral, stabilizing force in Lebanon, but this proved increasingly difficult as the mission progressed. As the MNF gradually compromised their neutrality, the Marines became targets of militias and responded with deadly force as a means of self-preservation. Unfortunately, the Marines were fighting an enemy using terrorist tactics and 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers, lost their lives in a suicide truck bombing on 23 October 1983. The bombing was the deadliest single day for the Marine Corps since D-Day at Iwo Jima in 1945, and came to symbolize the Marine mission in Lebanon.  

The conflicts in Lebanon that preceded Marine involvement in 1982 were complex, the causes multifaceted, and the roots of the violence traced back centuries. The immediate cause of the fighting in the 1980s that precipitated Marine involvement directly stemmed from the Arab-Israeli conflicts of 1948 and 1967.  Palestinian refugees fleeing the conflicts and members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) exiled from Jordan in 1970-71 sought safe haven in Lebanon. The presence of these immigrants exacerbated festering, age-old ethnic and religious differences. The increasing friction between the factions ignited a civil war in 1975 between PLO, Christian, and Muslim forces. While these were the major combatants, three major religious groups and 47 different sects and political factions all vied for power during this time.

At the request of the Lebanese Government, Syrian troops restored order to the region and remained in country under an Arab League mandate. However, PLO forces remained and used Lebanon as a base of operations for harassing attacks into Israel. The United States and international community unsuccessfully sought a resolution to the fighting, and Israel invaded southern Lebanon in June 1982 in order to defeat the PLO. The superior Israeli forces quickly reached the outskirts of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

The U.S. spearheaded the resolution to the conflict by proposing the evacuation of PLO fighters from Beirut. Beginning on 25 August, a MNF comprised of U.S. Marines, French, and Italian forces, evacuated more than 6,000 PLO members over the course of 17 days. Though the evacuation briefly ended the fighting, the assassination of the newly elected Lebanese president, followed by the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut camps shattered any hopes of a lasting peace. With Lebanon descending back into instability and chaos, President Ronald Reagan again ordered the 32d Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) to Beirut as part of the MNF. On 29 September, the 32d MAU landed on the coast of Lebanon and occupied positions around Beirut International Airport (BIA).

The Marines mission revolved around the concept of providing “presence.” American political leaders thought that the presence of armed Marines would deter the warring factions from fighting and provide time for the Lebanese government to regain control of the situation. This mission would remain in place for the Marines throughout the entirety of their deployment. In an interview on 26 May 1983, Major Jack L. Farmer described the mission as “80 percent political, 20 percent military.”

The 32d MAU’s time in Beirut was relatively peaceful, with the exception of a Marine killed during mine sweeping operations and the occasional stray round of small arms fire from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The Marines spent the majority of their time constructing defenses and building bonds with the local population and other MNF troops. Throughout their deployment the 32d MAU did not engage in any combat. On 30 October 1982, the 24th MAU relieved the 32d MAU.

The 24th MAU expanded the mission of presence during their deployment to Beirut. To increase visibility, the Marines conducted motorized and foot patrols throughout parts of the city. During this period, the 24th MAU also began specialized training for members of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Surprisingly, the biggest threat to the Marines during this deployment actually came from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Israeli troops were occasionally ambushed by PLO forces, which the Israelis suspected of hiding within in the Marine area of operations (AO). In response, the Israelis probed Marine positions and often fired into the Marine AO when engaging PLO fighters.  Confrontation between the Marines and IDF became increasingly common during this deployment and nearly resulted in the exchange of fire. To avoid further misunderstandings, diplomatic negotiations between the Israelis and Americans resulted in better communication and the hard definition of respective military lines. These incidents with the Israelis generated the most excitement during the 24th MAU’s deployment.

On 15 February 1983, the 22d MAU, a redesignation of the 32d MAU, relieved the 24th MAU. The Marines of the 22d MAU were already familiar with the mission and were moved into their old positions. Major Farmer recalled that the only major differences during the second deployment were increased patrols and expanded training of the LAF. However, this deployment also included a decreasing popularity of the Marines and MNF among local militias. On 17 April, an unknown enemy shot at and nearly wounded a Marine sentry, who then returned fire with results unknown.  This marked the first time that Marines returned fire in Beirut. This event was overshadowed the next day, 18 April, when a terrorist detonated a truck bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, 17 of whom were Americans. The embassy bombing effectively changed the mission and rules of engagement (ROE) for the Marines; the Marines could now return fire if they “perceived” a threat. In an incident shortly after the bombing, when the Marines used rifle fire to force an approaching vehicle off the road, “the word went out that we do shoot back and that we hit what we shoot.” Despite the increasing violence, a relative calm had descended upon the capital when the 22d MAU rotated out of Beirut at the end of May. Major Farmer astutely recognized that the peace was contingent upon a “very fragile, very volatile political situation.”

On 29 May, the 24th MAU landed in Beirut to relieve the 22d MAU. The first weeks of the 24th MAU’s deployment were relatively quiet. The Marines continued to patrol and train LAF troops, the latter creating animosity from various anti-LAF factions and militias. Any doubt that the Marines were a target of these militias ended on 22 July when the Marine positions at the airport received small arm, rocket, and mortar fire. Major George Converse perceived a burst of machine gun fire into Marine positions on 5 August “as a warning because it appeared that we were getting closer and closer aligned with the LAF Army.”

The situation in Beirut further deteriorated in August as the IDF prepared to leave their positions around the capital as part of a May agreement signed by Israel and Lebanon. The presence of well-equipped Israeli forces had deterred much of the violence in Beirut, but as they began to withdrawal, the fighting between various factions flared up. Previously, when militias had engaged in fighting, the Israelis would “run out a tank and shoot at both sides until they’d quit.” The withdrawal of the IDF created a power vacuum in Beirut between the militias, leaving the MNF stuck in the middle. The LAF attempted to fill the role of the IDF but was less well trained and equipped. As the fighting escalated, Marines found themselves on the receiving end of both stray and targeted rounds.

On 28 August, the fighting around the airport reached a crescendo as the LAF engaged militia groups in nearby neighborhoods.  Major Converse recalled that for four straight days “the whole city just erupted one massive protective fire.” During this time, more than 100 rounds of mortar and rocket rounds landed within the Marine positions at the airport. The fighting continued to increase throughout September following the complete withdrawal of the IDF on 4 September. During this time, retired Colonel Peter Ferraro, then a first lieutenant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, and his men were involved in extensive firefights that typically lasted all night long. The Marines also adhered to a concept of “proportionality,” meaning that the Marines could only return fire with force equal to what they were receiving.  For example, artillery and naval gunfire could not be used to respond to small arms and mortar fire. Though restrained by these ROE, the Marines employed illumination, rifle, and machine gun fire to repel attacks. Confirming enemy casualties was impossible but Colonel Ferraro recalled seeing ambulances and vehicles arriving at enemy positions during the day and evacuating dead and wounded. From the end of August until mid-October, mortar, machine gun, and sniper fire killed six Marines and left many more wounded.

In addition to the intense combat engagements during this period, other developments signaled a shift in American policy towards the Lebanon crisis. Though the MNF was supposed to be a neutral peacekeeping force, its actions signaled otherwise. Lebanese militias clearly resented the Marines efforts to train LAF forces and prompted them to attack Marine positions. Any claims for American neutrality was further negated when U.S. Navy ships fired their guns in support of LAF units that reported being in danger of being overrun by militia groups on 19 September. The 24th MAU Commander, Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, gave the order for the ships to fire. Colonel Geraghty felt he made the best decision based on the information available to him at the time, but recognized that it was a turning point in the American mission.

Despite a ceasefire at the end of September, sporadic heavy fighting continued in October and the Marines continued to take casualties. Then, on the morning of 23 October, disaster struck for the 24th MAU. At 0622, a Mercedes Benz stake-bed truck laden with 2,000 pounds of explosives sped past a Marine post, through a fence, and crashed into the lobby of the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/8 Headquarters Building and detonated. The BLT building, housing more than 300 men, completely collapsed into a pile of rubble almost instantaneously. A 2003 U.S. court case revealed documents indicating that Islamic terrorists from the precursor to the extremist group, Hezbollah, carried out the attack under orders from Iran.

The compressed-gas-enhanced bomb detonated by the suicide truck bomber was the largest nonnuclear explosion ever recorded. Lieutenant Ferraro had just returned to his sleeping quarters at the Lebanese University after a long night on the line when the explosion shook the building like an earthquake. Though the BLT was a mile from his position, the blast was so strong that Lieutenant Ferraro’s first thought was that an enemy artillery round had made a direct hit on his position. Lieutenant Stephen Mikolaski, quartered at the MAU headquarters building near the BLT believed that the explosion was a satchel charge exploding in the command post. The force of the explosion blew out windows, unhinged doors, and knocked Marines to the ground at the MAU headquarters.

Upon reaching topside at the Lebanese University, Lieutenant Ferraro and his men saw a mushroom like cloud rising above the BLT building. It was not until the smoke cleared that the destruction was apparent. The four-story BLT building, a distinctive structure from his location, ceased to exist. After receiving reports of an explosion at the French Paratrooper Headquarters, Lieutenant Mikolaski assumed that the MNF were under attack by missiles and that the MAU headquarters would be hit next. Colonel Geraghty, at the MAU headquarters, also thought artillery or missiles caused the explosion as he ran outside amongst raining debris. Shortly thereafter, reports came in to Colonel Geraghty that a truck bomb was responsible for the destruction of the building.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing the Marines scrambled to ascertain the situation and take preventative measures against further attacks. For a short amount of time, communication with the line companies was lost. Lieutenant Mikolaski spent much of the day sending out status reports to higher echelons and keeping contact with the line companies through MAU channels. Soon after the bombing, militias opened fire on Lieutenant Ferraro’s men beginning a “hellacious firefight that lasted almost all day and into the night.”

Meanwhile, recovery operations at the BLT began almost immediately. Unfortunately, the site was one of utter devastation. Lieutenant Mikolaski made it to the site shortly after the explosion: “The whole BLT looked like it was crushed, and there were people all over, moving through the wreckage trying to help the wounded.” Working parties and medical teams dispatched from naval ships offshore accelerated the rescue operation and saved countless Marines. Members of the Italian MNF, Lebanese civilians, and Red Cross workers, as well as French and British soldiers also provided assistance during the operation. When the rubble proved too large and heavy for Marine equipment, General Ibrahim Tannous commander of the LAF, secured the heavy equipment of Lebanon’s largest construction firm, Oger Liban.

Unfortunately, the devastating attack left many more dead than wounded. The blast had killed 3 soldiers, 18 sailors and 220 Marines. The Marines had to handle not only recovering the survivors, but also identifying the dead. The complete destruction of the BLT and the fact that many of the Marines were sleeping in PT gear and without dog tags made the task difficult. Further compounding the problem, the BLT kept its medical records in the basement of the building and they could not be recovered until a few days after the attack. Anyone who could positively identify the men in the BLT on the morning of 23 October was either dead or wounded. Instead, identifying the dead required making rosters of the living and tracking down the wounded. The process was slow and painful for families back in the U.S. but it was necessary to ensure that information was accurate.

Despite the heroic efforts of all the rescue workers, no survivors were located after 23 October. The searchers still worked tirelessly and by 30 October, all Marine remains were located and transferred to planes for the final flight home to the U.S. Despite the chaos in the aftermath of the bombing, the Marine mission of presence still remained. The bombing shook Lieutenant Ferraro’s men, but they responded by refortifying their position and building obstacles to prevent a similar attack. Until their scheduled relief by the 22d MAU on 19 November, the 24th MAU continued to occupy their positions and engage in firefights with militias.

Even with the arrival of the 22d MAU in November, the BLT bombing on 23 October marked the beginning of the end for the Marine and MNF in Lebanon. The mission of “presence” remained intact, but after the BLT bombing, the mission became contingent on defensive operations as opposed to patrolling and being visible to the locals. “Seabees” from the Navy’s Construction Battalion were employed by the 22d MAU to properly construct defensive fortifications and bunkers. The end of November and December were marked by uneven periods of intense fighting. As the deployment continued into 1984, the 22d MAU continued to reinforce their positions and build better fortifications. Despite the added fortifications, small numbers of Marine casualties were caused by mortar and small arms fire. During these engagements, the concept of proportionality was lessened as the Marines “pretty much had free reign to whatever was necessary to protect American lives.” The change in mission is evident in an engagement on 6 February, when the Marines called in naval gunfire and airstrikes to destroy targets.

In the end, the Marine and MNF presence was contingent on the success of the Lebanese government and LAF. The fighting between the LAF and militias, particularly the Amal, intensified rapidly in early February. During this time Muslim troops of the LAF began deserting, damaging the LAF’s fighting capability. As the situation became critical, Marines began evacuating American civilians from Beirut on 7 February. On 18 February, the 22d MAU received order for redeployment from Beirut by the end of February. The 22d MAU completed a rapid evacuation operation and on 26 February, the 22d MAU handed over control of the airport to the LAF and ended major Marine operations in Beirut. During the 18 month long operation in Beirut, the Marines suffered 238 killed and 151 wounded.

The Marines in Beirut upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps during their tough and often frustrating peacekeeping mission. The Marines “had done their job…with pride and dignity and their actions were always very correct, very disciplined.” Thirty years after the bombing and now retired, Colonel Peter Ferraro summarized his feelings about the mission:

We felt good about it. We were proud of our accomplishments. On the way home, we were all very, very proud of what we did. We knew we did the job we were told do and we all held our head high. Certainly, the bombing hurt us all, but at the same time, for the most part, we did a good job over there.

*In 1986, a memorial to the Beirut Marines was constructed outside the entrance to Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, formerly the Montford Point Camp, in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Two broken granite walls, representative of the crumbled BLT building, compose the memorial. The first is inscribed with the names of all American servicemen killed during operations in Beirut, while the second carries the simple inscription “They Came in Peace.”

Additional Information

HD Publication: U.S. Marines in Lebanon: 1982-1984 Photos​

Lebanon Order of Battle

16 August 1982-9 April 1984​

Selected Bibliography​
  Maps (PDF)​


Key Battle Briefs

The History Division is proud to present the first installments in the "Keystone Battle Brief" series.  The division is creating the Keystone Battle Brief series to make the information readily available to units for professional military education purposes, for use by academics and for those interested in the broad overview of key battles in Marine Corps history.  These briefs are based on sources from the History Division and are intended to provide the layman an easy to present briefing on the most noted battles in the Marine Corps' history.  Included are lecture notes and PowerPoint slides.  Please check back for feature additions


  • Battle of Belleau Wood
  • Boxer Rebellion
  • Battle of Iwo Jima
  • Inchon Landing
  • Hue City
  • Battle of Al-Khafji



*If you do not have Microsoft PowerPoint or cannot open the PowerPoint file, a PDF copy is also provided. 


The U.S. Marine Corps presence in the Mediterranean dates back to the earliest days of the Corps. The raising of the American flag over the walled city of Derna, Tripoli in April 1805 by Lieutenant Presley N. O'Bannon signaled to the world that the young republic was not reticent about defending or pursuing its national interests beyond the borders of North America. Although American interest in the area throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was often sporadic, post-World War II foreign policy considerations have made Mediterranean waters a fact of life for the Marine Corps since the 1940s.

During the late 1940s, developing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union produced a state of "Cold War" between the two superpowers. In March 1947, President Harry S. Truman declared a U.S. foreign policy of supporting "free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."

In the Mediterranean, the President's actions were directed principally at Soviet attempts to pressure the democratic governments of Greece and Turkey into adopting pro-Soviet policies. It became increasingly clear that American naval sea and air power must be projected into the Mediterranean if the spread of Soviet influence was to be halted.

The resulting U.S. policy of containment, which was formally manifested in the Truman Doctrine in 1947, began to take shape with the build-up of naval forces in the Mediterranean. From that date to the present, there have been U.S. Naval Forces in the Mediterranean, known first as Naval Forces, Mediterranean, then as the Sixth Task Fleet, and since 1950 as Sixth Fleet.

To assist the democratic governments of Greece and Turkey in the Mediterranean region, the U.S. Navy requested in late 1947 that a battalion-size Marine Corps unit be deployed with the Sixth Fleet to bolster its striking power. The request was approved and a CNO dispatch of 20 December 1947 authorized the assignment of a reinforced Marine battalion to augment Marine detachments from Sixth Fleet warships and provide a ready landing force.

The first unit assigned to reinforce the Sixth Fleet was the battalion-strength 2d Marines, which departed Morehead City, North Carolina, aboard the USS Bexaron 5 January 1948. The 2d Marines arrived at the island of Malta on 18 January, where its units were transferred to ships of the Sixth Fleet. The Marines participated in maneuvers of the fleet until relieved in March by the 8th Marines. Except for two periods since the initial deployment, Marine infantry battalions from the 2d Marine Division have been assigned continuously to the Sixth Fleet on a rotational basis.

Over the past four decades, the responsibilities of a Marine Battalion Landing Team (BLT) in the Mediterranean have included assisting in the evacuation of Americans from a crisis area, serving as a landing force for special operations, and when necessary, the seizure of strategic areas. In numerous instances, the Marine battalion responded quickly and decisively in support of U.S. foreign policy interests.

During the Korean War, the 3d Battalion, 6th Marines (Rein) staged to Korea from the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, leaving the Sixth Fleet, temporarily, without a battalion-sized landing force from late 1950 into early 1951. The 2d Battalion, 6th Marines resumed the assignment when it deployed to the Mediterranean during March 1951 when U.S. interests dictated a show of support for Yugoslavia. Also embarked in one of the Sixth Fleet carriers was Marine Fighter Squadron 122, which conducted a Mediterranean deployment as well.

The reduction of amphibious shipping in the post-Korean War period, however, resulted in the temporary termination of the "rotating assignment of a reinforced infantry battalion" to the Sixth Fleet during 1955. At this point, a detachment of the 2d ANGLICO and a carrier-based Marine fighter squadron comprised the FMF elements stationed in the Mediterranean area. The Navy's Fiscal Year 1956 objectives, however, re-emphasized the need to maintain a "ready force with a high retaliatory capacity and great defensive strength" in the Mediterranean. This objective led to an immediate resumption (1956) of the practice of maintaining a Marine reinforced battalion in the Mediterranean.

The readiness and versatility of the Marine air-ground team in Mediterranean waters have been demonstrated on a number of occasions since the Korean War. On 22 August 1956, BLT 3/2 embarked for duty with the Sixth Fleet, and soon put its previous years' intensive training to good use. Barely two months later, in late October 1956, Israel, France, and Great Britain attacked Egypt after the latter's nationalization of the Suez Canal. During the period 31 October through 3 November, BLT 3/2 landed at Alexandria, Egypt, and assisted in the evacuation of 1,500 civilians from thirty-three different countries. Marines also evacuated some United Nations truce team observers as war threatened between Israel and Egypt.

The ability of the deployed Marine battalion in the Mediterranean-to respond quickly to a potentially dangerous situation was put to the test in the summer of 1958. On 14 July, a coup d'etat toppled a pro-Western government in Iraq and threatened the political stability in the Middle East. Fearing a threat from neighboring countries and the disintegration of his own nation which had been in turmoil for several months, President Camille Chamoun of Lebanon requested the landing of U.S. troops to preserve the peace. At the time of the Lebanese crisis, three Marine landing teams (BLTs 2/2, 3/6, and 1/8) were present in the eastern Mediterranean. Marine units in Lebanon were organized into the 2d Provisional Marine Force under Brigadier General (later Major General) Sidney S. Wade, Commanding General of Force Troops, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, who was designated on 15 July as Commander, American Land Forces, Lebanon. Air-transported elements of the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines began arriving 18 July at the Beirut International Airport from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

On 26 July, Major General Paul Adams, USA, relieved Brigadier General Wade as CG, American Land Forces, Lebanon. Lebanese national elections were held on 31 July, and by mid-August Marine units had begun to re-embark on board amphibious shipping. The last Marine units departed Lebanon in October, having assisted in maintaining order and assuring the preservation of peace. The Marines did not have to resort to combat, yet their presence, along with U.S. Army forces, had helped to preserve the integrity of Lebanon.

The 1960s witnessed the continued deployment of BLTs to the Mediterranean, although the designation was changed in 1960 from NELM Battalion (Naval Forces, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean) to LanForMed (Landing Force Mediterranean). Training exercises kept the LanForMed BLTs in a continued high state of readiness, and the Marines demonstrated their ability to respond quickly to crisis situations.

In August 1965, a period of growing tension on Cyprus that centered on proposed changes to the Cypriatic electoral system brought a Marine Amphibious Ready Group, including BLT 2/2, which operated off the island until tensions subsided.

On 21 April 1967, a military coup overthrew the elected government of Greece. Navy units were immediately alerted and directed to the Ionian Sea. Two Battalion Landing Teams (BLT 3/8, and BLT 1/6) were in the Mediterranean at the time, because of a turn-over; both were active in the operation, which involved a show of force and a contingency (stand-by) evacuation response.

The Six-Day Arab-Israeli War of June 1967 caused the Marine Amphibious Ready Group (BLT 1/6) to be put on alert for possible operations. On 6 June, two carrier task forces moved closer to the fighting, while four days later, President Johnson ordered a high-speed carrier movement toward Syria to facilitate a cease-fire agreement.

On 1 September 1969, a coup overthrew the Libyan monarchy. At the same time, conditions were very unsettled in Lebanon, leading to the 22 October resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister. Contingency forces in the period 26-30 October included two carrier task forces and the Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group (MARG) with BLT 1/6 embarked.

Political tensions in Jordan during this period also called for utilization of a Marine presence in the Mediterranean. On 9 June 1970, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) seized 32 hostages in a hotel in Amman; 14 Americans were among those held. In addition, on the same day, there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt against King Hussein. CVA Forrestal moved to the Eastern Mediterranean to provide air cover for potential evacuation operations by the Marine Amphibious Ready Group with BLT 1/8 embarked. The situation had calmed by 15 June, and U.S. forces returned to normal operations on 17 June.

The 1970s also witnessed Marine Corps activity in the Mediterranean. On 6 October 1973, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel. U.S. Navy forces quickly sortied in response to the war, with two Carrier Battle Groups (CVBGs), the Independence and Roosevelt, and an amphibious force, RLT 34 with BLTs 2/6 and 3/6, embarked in the Mediterranean, and a CVBG, the Kennedy, in the eastern Atlantic, On 25 October, U.S. forces went on Defense Condition (DEFCON) III alert status, as possible intervention by the Soviet Union was feared. A cease-fire gradually eased tensions in the area, but the Sixth Fleet did not resume its normal DEFCON status until 17 November.

On 15 July 1974, Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus was overthrown by Greek Cypriot factions seeking "enosis," or union, with Greece. On 20 July, in a countermove, Turkish forces landed on the north coast of Cyprus. The following day, the 34th MAU (consisting of HMM-162 and BLT 1/8) in its amphibious shipping took station off the south coast of Cyprus in readiness to evacuate U.S. and third country nationals. The 34th MAU was alerted 20 July to standby for evacuation operations. Two days later (22 July), HMM-162 began helicopter evacuation of civilian personnel from Dhekelia, Greece. A total of 466 civilian personnel including 384 Americans were transported from Dhekelia to the USS Coronado. The evacuees were debarked safely 23 July at Beirut, Lebanon. The USS Inchon, with HMM-162 and elements of BLT 1/8 was alerted for special contingency operations, which did not materialize.

The 1980s saw the continued significance of deploying Marine Corps forces in the Mediterranean. As the ground combat element of the 32d MAU, BLT 2/8 assisted in the evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon in June 1982. The MAU then landed in August at Beirut to oversee the evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Ultimately, all three battalions of the 8th Marines and one battalion of the 6th Marines were rotated through Beirut as the ground components of the 24th and 22d MAUs, serving as part of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force.

In the Caribbean, BLT 2/8 and HMM-261, as part of the 22d MAU enroute to Lebanon, answered the President's call to action in Grenada. Operation Urgent Fury began on 20 October 1983, and by 2 November, American and Caribbean forces had secured Grenada and the neighboring island of Carriacou. Their part of the mission successfully completed, BLT 2/8 once again set sail for the Mediterranean.

On 23 October 1983, a suicide truck bomber struck the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241. On the same day, another suicide car bomb killed 58 French paratroopers. Various Sixth Fleet units were ordered to Beirut, both to reassert the U.S. presence and to assist in rescue operations. Following the attack, the CVBG Ranger was diverted from port calls in Australia to the North Arabian Sea, where it operated for 122 days. On 26 February 1984, the withdrawal of the USMC contingent of the international peacekeeping force was completed.

On 14 June 1985, TWA Flight 847 was hijacked to Beirut by Shiite terrorists. The Nimitz CVBG was ordered from Italy to the Eastern Mediterranean, along with a Marine Amphibious Ready Group of 1,800 Marines. The Nimitz was on station in the Eastern Mediterranean until 24 July, following the release of the passengers and aircraft. Barely three months later, on 7 October, following the Palestinian terrorist hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, Sixth Fleet ships (including CV-60 Saratoga) moved to the eastern Mediterranean. On 10 October, F-14s from Saratoga forced an Egyptian airliner with the hijackers aboard to Italy, where the hijackers were taken into custody.

During February 1989, fighting in Beirut intensified. In mid-February, following the outbreak of fighting near the U.S. Embassy, the Marine Amphibious Ready Group was ordered to move to the Eastern Mediterranean for potential evacuation operations.

The versatility and capabilities inherent in naval expeditionary forces continued to be in high demand during the 1990s. The Marine Corps was continually in the Mediterranean with a number of ongoing peace-keeping operations in Bosinia, a noncombatant evacuation operation in Albania, and peace enforcement operations in Kosovo.

The U.S. Marine presence in the Mediterranean has clearly demonstrated the ability and resolve to support U.S. foreign policy interests in one of the most volatile regions of the world. In their current cycle of six-month deployments, the Mediterranean Marines, as in the days of Presley N. O'Bannon, stand ready to meet the challenges of the new century.

Reference Branch
Marine Corps History Division

Humanitarian Operations

June 1970, Peru:

32d Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) (Company A, Battalion Landing Team 1/2 and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365) provided assistance to the victims of an earthquake in Peru by transporting medical teams to remote areas, transporting victims to medical facilities and delivering more than 55 tons of relief supplies.

September 1970, California:

Marine Corps personnel provided assistance to local firefighters amidst a series of brush fires in San Diego County.

September 1970, Philippines:

3d Marine Division (3d MarDiv) Marines set up water purification units to aid victims of Typhoon Georgia in Quezon City.

October 1970, Philippines:

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 164 and a detachment from Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/9 conducted relief operations and delivered over 65 tons of supplies in response to Typhoon Joan.

October 1970, South Vietnam:

1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) helicopters performed rescue and relief operations for over 9,000 South Vietnamese in response to a typhoon.

February 1971, California:

3d MAW Marines assisted earthquake victims by providing and delivering food and supplies.

July 1972, Philippines:

HMM-165 evacuated 2,000 Filipinos and flew in 350 tons of relief supplies in response to a typhoon.

March 1973, Tunisia:

Marine helicopters from USS Forrestal rescued or relocated 729 persons and moved 27 tons of cargo in response to flooding.

December 1973, Tunisia:

Marine helicopters from USS Iwo Jima conducted refugee rescue, equipment deliveries, and other flood-associated missions.

August 1974, Philippines:

31st MAU provided assistance in response to flooding.

September 1979, Caribbean and Florida:

Aircraft from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina, and 4th Force Service Support Group (FSSG) Marines provided reconnaissance and logistical support, assistance in support of the disaster control center and evacuated at least 60 civilians after Hurricane David.

October 1980, Algeria:

Marine helicopters provided assistance to victims of an earthquake in Al Asnam, Algeria.

February 1983, Lebanon:

Marines in Lebanon performed snow removal, distributed food and heating fuel, gave medical assistance and rescued four men suffering from frostbite and exposure after a severe snow storm.

September – October 1988, Wyoming:

Marine Air-Ground Task Force-5 (MAGTF) (2 battalions of 5th Marines) provided aid to firefighters during Joint Task Force (JTF) Yellowstone.

September – October 1989, South Carolina:

8th Engineer Support Battalion (ESB) and a detachment from an Marine Heavy Helicopter (HMH) squadron provided medical assistance, road clearing, power supply, transmission line hook-up and water purification to victims of Hurricane Hugo.

October 1989, California:

A 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) detachment and a Marine Aircraft Group 42 (MAG-42) detachment provided disaster relief ranging from crowd control in the port area, rescue efforts at the collapsed overpass, flying damage inspection tours and general clean up to victims of the San Francisco earthquake.

July 1990, Philippines:

MAGTF-4-90 and 13th MEU assisted in search and rescue missions and emergency relief operations to victims of an earthquake. Marines conducted 313 sorties, lifted 627,000 pounds of cargo and flew more than 1,800 persons in Baguio City, Cabanatuan.

September 1990, Philippines:

MAGTF-4-90 responded to victims of torrential downpours and mudslides, which blocked roads causing Marines to lift 98,600 pounds of food and clothing, evacuate 447 villagers and conduct 6 medevac extractions from 24 isolated villages and Baguio City.

April – July 1991, Turkey and Iraq:

24th MEU, Contingency MAGTF-1-91 and elements of II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and III MEF coordinated multinational relief efforts to establish refugee camps, and provide food and security to thousands of Kurds during Operation Provide Comfort.

May – June 1991, Bangladesh:

III MEF staff, 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and CMAGTF-2-91 provided tons of relief supplies using helicopters, C-130s and landing craft following Cyclone Marian during Operation Sea Angel.

June 1991, Philippines:

MAGTF-4-90, 15th MEU and 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, provided security augmentation, heavy equipment support, clean-up, medical and generator support as well as food and water and evacuated over 21,000 US troops (and dependents) after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo during Operation Fiery Vigil.

November 1991 – June 1993, Haiti and Cuba:

Joint Task Force (JTF) Guantanamo provided humanitarian aid, aided the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in screening migrants and constructed a tent city during Operation Safe Harbor.

April 1992, Italy:

HMM-266 carried over 200,000 pounds of concrete slabs to alter the course of lava after Mount Etna erupted.

May – June 1992, Chuuk Island, Micronesia:

Supplied water to drought stricken island of Chuuk during Operation Water Pitcher.

August – October 1992, Florida:

Elements of II MEF and 4th MarDiv provided two tent cities, field kitchen facilities, water purification units and storage tanks after Hurricane Andrew.

August – September 1992, Guam:

Elements of 1st MEB provided potable water, restored power, reestablished communications, transportation and general clean-up after Typhoon Omar.

August 1992 – February 1993, Somalia:

I MEF detachment provided food and other relief supplies to the famine and drought stricken areas of Somalia during JTF Provide Relief.

September – October 1992, Hawaii:

Elements of 1st MEB assisted in massive clean-up and reconstruction efforts conducted by JTF Garden Isle after Hurricane Iniki.

August – October 1994, Rwanda and Uganda:

15th MEU Marines provided heavy lift support for the Rwandan relief effort in Operation Support Hope.

September 1996, Guam:

Marine Corps Forces Pacific (MarForPac) Marines provided shelter, care, security and other humanitarian assistance to Kurdish refugees. 

January 1997, California:

Company B, 4th Landing Support Battalion Marines aided the American Red Cross and residents after the San Joachine River flooded.

September – October 1998, Puerto Rico:

2d FSSG, Company L, 3d Battalion, 6 Marines, HMM-461 and Combat Service Support Detachment 61 (CSSD) provided disaster relief in support of FEMA after Hurricane Georges in vicinity of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads.

November 1998, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala:

Elements of 2d FSSG and 8th ESB provided relief assistance after Hurricane Mitch.

August – September 1999, Turkey:

26th MEU, consisting of BLT 3/8, HMM-365 and MEU Service Support Group 26 (MSSG-26), provided relief and medical assistance after a massive earthquake struck Turkey. 

January – March 2000, Venezuela:

Elements of II MEF provided emergency assistance and search and rescue capabilities after intense rains and subsequent flooding occurred in the district of Caracas and eight northern states in Operation Fundamental Response.

March 2000, Mozambique:

Elements of Marine Corps Forces Europe provided humanitarian assistance to relieve suffering due to higher than average seasonal rainfall, exacerbated by Cyclones Connie and Eline during Operation Atlas Response.

January-February 2005, Indonesia:

15th MEU (MSSG-15, BLT 1/1 and HMM-165) provided humanitarian assistance in response to a massive tsunami in Operation Unified Assistance.

September 2005, Gulf Coast USA:

Marines from multiple locations provide humanitarian assistance after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

November – December 2007, Bangladesh:

22d MEU, 3d MEB and 11th MEU brought air, sea and medical capabilities to Bangladesh in response to Cyclone Sidr in Operation Sea Angel II.         


Reference Branch
USMC History Division 

Non-combatant Evacuations

June-July 1976, Lebanon:  32d Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) evacuated 160 American citizens and 148 other foreign nationals.

24-25 June 1982, Lebanon: 32d MAU evacuated nearly 600 American citizens and designated foreign nationals.

August 1982, Lebanon: 32d MAU aided in the evacuation of 12,000 PLO fighters and supporters.

October-December 1983, Grenada: 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) (in conjunction with other U.S. and Caribbean forces) intervened to protect and evacuate American citizens and foreign nationals, neutralize Granadan and Cuban forces, maintain order and assist in restoring democratic government.

25 May–9 January 1991, Liberia: 22d MEU protected US Embassy and evacuated over 2,400 civilians.

2-11 January 1991, Somalia: 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) evacuated 260 U.S. and foreign citizens from the American Embassy in Mogadishu.

April 1994, Rwanda: 11th MEU provided force to perform NEO; 241 citizens evacuated.

April-August 1996, Liberia: 22d MEU evacuated U.S. citizens and foreign nationals from Monrovia, Liberia.

March 1997, Tirana, Albania: 26th MEU evacuated 877 American citizens.

April 1997, Kinshasa, Zaire: 26th MEU evacuated American citizens.

30 May-2 June 1997, Freetown, Sierra Leone: 22d MEU evacuated 451 American citizens and 2,058 foreign nationals.

6 June 1998, Asmara, Eritrea: 11th MEU evacuated 105 American citizens and numerous foreign nationals.

June 2003, Liberia: 2d MEB aboard USS Kearsarge evacuated American citizens from Embassy.

February 2004, Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Fifty Marines from a special detachment of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) landed in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to secure the U.S. Embassy and help evacuate American citizens.

July-August 2006, Lebanon: Marine Security Force Company, Bahrain and 24th MEU participated in evacuations of American citizens in response to the increased hostilities between the Hezbollah militants and Israeli Army.

Reference Branch
Marine Corps History Division


Marine Corps basing and deployment patterns began to evolve in the years after the conclusion of World War II. As the Marine Corps attempted to modify the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) for operations in the nuclear age, the Corps began a decade long struggle to save the FMF and, in affect, its own existence.

 The Marine Corps had peaked in strength in 1945 at nearly half a million men in six divisions and five aircraft wings. The postwar Corps shrank to fit federal budgets rather than adjust realistically to fit the contingency needs of the Cold War era. Available manpower fell to 83,000 men in 1948 and dropped to just over 74,000 by the spring of 1950. About 50,000 men were assigned to the operating forces, but the FMF had only about 30,000 men in the two skeletal divisions and aircraft wings. Fewer than 12,000 Marines comprised FMFPac which included the 1st Division at Camp Pendleton and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) at El Toro, California. On the East Coast, the 2d Division at Camp Lejeune and the 2d MAW at Cherry Point, making up FMFLant, numbered just under 16,000 Marines. At the outbreak of the Korean War, no Marine unit of any size was based or deployed in the Far East.

The Corps’ supporting establishment was so small and its tasks for maintaining Marine Corps bases so extensive that many FMF troops spent more time housekeeping than training. The Marine Corps share of the federal budget was simply not enough to buy adequate manpower, training, or new equipment. The main threat to the nation was seen in inflation and unbalanced budgets rather than in the Soviet armed forces. On the eve of the Korean War, the FMF seemed doomed to fall to six battalion landing teams and twelve squadrons in 1950.

The realities of the Korean War brought major changes in the basing and deployment of Marine Corps forces. The Corps strength ballooned to 192,000 men in June 1951, to 232,000 a year later and nearly 250,000 by June 1953. More than half the troops actually served in the operating forces, and the 1st Marine Division and 1st MAW, operationally employed in Korea, were kept up to strength. In the meantime, the 2d Marine Division and 2d MAW reached full strength for their European contingencies. In June 1951 Headquarters activated the 3d Marine Brigade, built around the 3d Marines at Camp Pendleton. In 1952 the brigade expanded to become the 3d Marine Division, and the same year the 3d MAW formed and occupied a new base in Miami. In another important reorganization, Headquarters in 1951 formed an organization known as Force Troops in order to provide the heavy artillery and other combat support and combat service support units necessary to sustain a Marine division in a land war.

 The three-division/three-wing force structure decreed by the June 1952 passage of the Douglas-Mansfield Act, gave legislative support to the stated roles and missions of the Corps. The defense assumptions and programs of the Eisenhower Administration, however, left the Marine Corps role, and the corresponding basing and deployment strategy, less clearly defined. The emphasis on strategic forces over conventional forces, coupled with domestic economic implications of high defense costs and unbalanced federal budgets, challenged Marine Corps leaders of this period.

During the years 1953 to 1955, significant changes in the basing and deployment of Marine forces were realized. The 3d Marine Division deployed from Camp Pendleton to the Far East in the summer of 1953. Based in Japan, the Division followed regimental landings in Japan and Okinawa with a full-dress division landing exercise on Iwo Jima in March 1954. Significantly, the division began redeploying from Japan to Okinawa in 1955 and by February 1956 the Headquarters of the 3d Marine Division was moved to Okinawa where its remains today. Teamed with the 3d Division, the bulk of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, in Japan with headquarters at Atsugi, provided the air portion of a ready U.S. expeditionary force in the Far East.

The 1st Marine Division, meanwhile, which had been in Korea since the summer of 1950, was returned to Camp Pendleton in 1955. The 3d MAW during the same period moved from the East to the West Coast to support Pacific deployments.

In 1954, the 1st Provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force, built around a reinforced infantry regiment and a reinforced air group, was established at Hawaii in response to strategic requirements in the Pacific Theater. One reinforced regiment of the 3d Marine Division, together with elements of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing were shifted from the Far East to Oahu to build the task force, later called the 1st Marine Brigade, to desired strength.

On the other side of the world, the commitment of a Marine battalion landing team to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, which began in 1948, continued except for brief periods in 1950-51 and 1955. During the Korean War, this practice was briefly interrupted due to wartime needs and during 1955 a reduction in amphibious shipping forced the termination of the rotating assignment for nearly a year. The deployment to the Sixth Fleet was designed to give the fleet commander a ready landing force in an area left unstable in the aftermath of World War II.

Events in the Far East from 1955 on likewise pointed out the need for a ready battalion of Marines afloat with the fleet, and from 1960 on, the 3d Marine Division maintained such a floating battalion under Commander Seventh Fleet.

The period from 1956-1960 witnessed the Corps’ continuing development of a permanent base structure to support its force in readiness mission as well as the procurement of supplies and equipment for a wide range of contingencies. Bases were developed stateside for cold-weather training at Pickel Meadows, and for desert warfare and supporting arms training at Twentynine Palms, both in California. Budget cuts and resulting reduced end strengths, however, became formidable obstacles to meeting desired manning levels for FMF units. The reductions resulted in all three divisions being placed on reduced manning levels in 1957 and total Marine Corps strength fell below 200,000. Commandant of the Marine Corps Annual Reports for the years 1957 through 1960 reflect the reduced manning levels throughout the FMF, stating of the Divisions and Wings, “their capability for sustained combat has been seriously diminished.” Reserve training also suffered during this period due to lack of funding.

By 1960, Marine Corps strength had fallen to 170,000 – down 30,000 in just three years. Over the same period the Marine Corps “green dollar” budget dropped from an already austere $942 million in FY1958 to $902 million in FY1961. Certain elements of the FMF had to be placed in cadre status. Perhaps just as damaging to the Corps’ readiness posture was the low priority given in the “blue dollar” budget to the construction of amphibious shipping and particularly helicopter-carrying ships, which threatened the development of the vertical assault mission.

To improve readiness in the Pacific, a system was implemented to rotate infantry battalions between the 3d and 1st Divisions. Beginning in 1959, the “transplacement” program had battalions forming and training in the 1st Division, then deploying to Okinawa for fifteen months’ service as a cohesive unit. The 2d Division began a similar program in 1960 which aided personnel stability and continuity, but as in the Pacific, it meant that several battalions could not be easily deployed in a crisis.

Nevertheless, in 1960 the Marine Corps began a five-year surge in its readiness that brought it to its highest level of peacetime effectiveness by the eve of the Vietnam War. The results of the Presidential election of 1960, coupled with internal redirection in the Corps, combined to form the highly favorable conditions for the Marine Corps to consolidate its amphibious force in readiness mission. The “Flexible Response” strategy of the new administration was ideally suited to the Marine Corps -- stressing conventional force improvements in manpower, equipment modernization, and strategic mobility. Marine Corps budgets grew, as did the strength ceilings, and just as significantly, improvements were realized in obtaining amphibious shipping. During this period, as well, Headquarters enhanced the readiness of the Reserve with the formation of the 4th Marine Division and 4th Marine Aircraft Wing in the Marine Corps Organized Reserve.

The combination of increased amphibious exercises and contingency deployments kept the tactical units of the FMF busy during the early 1960s. The size of the possible Marine role in Europe grew as Headquarters aimed at a larger role in NATO. In 1964 II MEF conducted Operation Steel Pike I, an amphibious exercise in Spanish waters that exceeded all earlier exercises in both the size of the Marine force deployed and the distance covered. An amphibious force of 60 ships carried 22,000 Marines and over 5,000 vehicles to the amphibious objective area.

While FMF Atlantic forces were being exercized in Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa, FMF Pacific units trained throughout the Far East, Hawaii, and California. In 1964 there were 45 landing exercises worldwide, and by the beginning of the major U.S. involvement in Vietnam, in 1965, the FMF, both regular and Reserve, was as effective a force as the Corps had ever fielded in peacetime.

The Vietnam War proved to be the ultimate test of the Corps’ basing and deployment decisions of the 1950s and early 1960s. From the March 1965 landing of Marine ground troops as Da Nang until the departure of the last large Marine units in June 1971, the war impacted drastically on all Marine forces within and outside the III Marine Amphibious Force. Peak Marine strength in Vietnam was reached in 1968 when more than 85,000 Marines were in Vietnam out of a Marine Corps numbering just over 300,000.

By 1972 the Marine Corps was once again down to 200,000 men and post-Vietnam redeployments had returned the Corps to the same basing and deployment patterns that had been in effect from 1960 to 1965. The 3d Marine Division was back on Okinawa and the 1st Marine Brigade had been reconstituted in Hawaii. The 1st Marine Division was back in Camp Pendleton and the 3d MAW remained at El Toro. On the East Coast, the 2d Marine Division and 2d MAW remained in North Carolina.

As it moved into the 1970s, the Marine Corps once again faced close scrutiny of its missions, force structure, and personnel policies. The Marine Corps continued to emphasize global strategic flexibility and reemphasized the Corps’ amphibious mission, developing the concept of “sea-basing,” which aimed at greatly increasing sea-borne logistic support. At the same time, FMF Atlantic launched its first time NATO exercise outside the Mediterranean when a Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) conducted maneuvers in Norway and northern Germany in 1975. These exercises, which became annual and expanded to brigade size, and their underlying mission of preparing to assist in the defense of NATO’s Northern flank, represented the Marine Corps single most significant change in deployment patterns until the end of the decade.

The revolution in Iran, the seizure of the U.S. Embassy and hostages there, and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 gave impetus to a Department of Defense plan to improve U.S. non-NATO military capability. The Rapid Deployment Force was created in response to the realization of the range of contingencies short of general war that faced the United States. In particular, the CONUS-based joint task force, with designated forces from all four services, was created with responsibility for operational planning, training, and exercises for designated rapid deployment forces worldwide with the initial focus on Southwest Asia and the Indian Ocean. The new force widened the FMF’s force in readiness role without compromising its amphibious mission.

The Maritime Pre-Positioning Ships (MPS) Program was instituted in late 1979 with the goal of providing three Marine amphibious brigades ready for airlift to potential crisis areas where they would unite previously positioned ships carrying their equipment and supplies. The MPS concept gave the Marine Corps and the U.S. a significant new dimension in mobility, sustainability, and the global response.

Marine Corps basing and deployment patterns throughout the post-World War II period, reflected the Corps’ commitment to developing the Fleet Marine Force as the nation’s amphibious force-in-readiness. The roots of the Marine Corps’ basing and deployment strategy lay in the years during and immediately after the Korean War when Marine amphibious forces established and then refined the deployment strategies that would be the cornerstone of the FMF for the next three decades. Although challenged by differing perceptions of the roles and missions of the Marine Corps in the nuclear age, and by periodic reductions in strength and funding levels, the Corps’ commitment to readiness remained steadfast. After World War II, and again in the aftermath of the Korean War and the Vietnam War, domestic economic concerns over high defense costs and unbalanced budgets threatened the ability of the Marine Corps to deploy combat-ready forces to those regions of the world where U.S. forces were needed. Nonetheless, prevailing strategic and operational commitments along with the Corps’ resolve to carry out its mandated mission resulted in the basing and deployment patterns that served the Marine Corps and the Nation so well throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Reference Branch
USMC History Division

Mess Nights

Get a printable version by clicking here. (PDF)

By Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett, USMC (Ret.)
November 1996

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood
with me shall be my brother.

Henry V, IV, iii


This study of a popular and time-honored military and naval social custom is long overdue. Much has changed since mess night devotees such as General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr.; Brigadier General Robert H. Williams; Colonel Angus M. “Tiny” Fraser; and Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., formalized and institutionalized the custom of formal dinners. With widely different social perspectives, and the changes that accompanying them, Marine Corps mess nights have become increasingly dissimilar. Almost two decades ago, the author of this study challenged a new generation of Marines to codify this enjoyable and important tradition. While his earlier treatment appeared in the pages of the Marine Corps Gazette, no one appeared willing to undertake such a project.

Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett, the author of this monograph, earned his undergraduate degree at Washington State University and was commissioned via the Platoon Leaders Class program in 1963. He has a master of arts degree from San Diego State University, and has completed his studies for a doctorate in history at the University of Maryland, College Park. He taught history at the Naval Academy from 1977 to 1982, and retired from active service as a Marine Corps officer. While serving in Annapolis, he won the prestigious William D. Clements Award as the outstanding military educator at the Naval Academy for 1980. He is the editor of Assault from the Sea: Essays on the History of Amphibious Warfare (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983; reprint ed., 1985 ed., 1985), author of Lejeune: A Marine’s Life, 1867-1942 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992; reprint ed., Naval Institute Press, 1996); 
co-author (with Colonel Joseph H. Alexander) of Sea Soldiers in the Cold War: Amphibious Warfare in the Age of the Superpowers, 1945-1991(Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1994); and co-author (with Dirk Anthony Ballendorf) of Pete Ellis: An Amphibious Warfare Prophet, 1880-1923(Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996).

His essays and book reviews have appeared in a variety of professional and scholarly journals. Two of his essays, both from the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, won the 1981 and 1987 Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr. awards: “Ouster of a Commandant” in November 1980, and “Old Gimlet Eye” in November 1986. The award is presented by the Marine Corps Historical Foundation for what that body adjudges to be the previous year’s best published article pertinent to Marine Corps history. Lieutenant Colonel Bartlett lives, researches and writes on Vashon Island, Washington.


Except for the annual celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday, no social function associated with the smaller of America’s naval services is more enjoyed, admired and imitated than the mess night. Early in 1977, the headquarters of the III Marine Amphibious Force on Okinawa organized a mess night to honor its popular commanding general, Major General Joseph Koler, Jr., on the occasion of his detachment. Planners eschewed any notions of turning the evening’s merriment into one of Bacchanalian revelry, and instead pursued a program to highlight our rich martial traditions. Appropriate reference was made during the evening to the history of the other armed services, and thus the assembled Marines paid deference to the senior officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force in attendance. Used to such affairs, most of the Leathernecks who participated remained nonplussed if not bemused by the lack of post-dinner high jinks and the heavy weight of so many senior officers. But one participant, the commanding general of Kadena Air Force Base, departed the evening visibly moved by what he had witnessed. The following day, General Koler’s aide-de-camp received a telephone call from his counterpart at Kadena: “Driving home from your mess night last night, the general remarked ‘that was the best affair I’ve ever attended; you call the Marines and find out how it’s done—and we’re going to have one just like it.’”

Most Marines likely shared the Air Force general’s sentiments following their first mess night; I know I did. By the time I entered The Basic School (TBS) in 1963, a mess night for each class had become an institution. We even had a class on the subject, and I recall our company executive officer’s wry admonishments concerning such taboos as loosening one’s tight collar or imbibing to the point of passing out at the dinner table. He devoted several minutes to explain the requirement for bladder control and the planning that accompanied it. We learned that the bugle call “last call for the head” just prior to marching into dinner was perhaps the most important musical accompaniment. Whatever else we might have learned from the company executive officer’s class on mess nights, the requirement to remain at the table once dinner had begun appeared absolute.

The post band played and we marched into dinner adhering rigidly to custom and tradition. Our presence seemed to indicate formal initiation into the ranks of such icons as John Quick, Dan Dailey, Smedley Butler, John Lejeune and Chesty Puller. Just as the company executive officer explained, we ate and drank our way through a multi-course dinner conforming strictly to custom and tradition. Stewards filled our wine glasses when appropriate, and the serving and removal of courses evolved with the panache of a sunset parade at “Eighth and Eye.” When we uttered that last toast, “to the Corps,” all the aches and pains of the endless days and nights in the field, the bruises and sore muscles from the obstacle course and the drudgery of classroom lectures melted away. No veteran of Belleau Wood, Saipan, or Frozen Chosin could have been more proud to be a Marine. The evening reached its climax for many of us as we joined our seniors at the bar, snifters of brandy in hand. Some of our instructors had served in both World War II and the Korean War. Like a mess night should be, it was an evening to remember.

In the years following my own Marine Corps career, the institution of the mess night (or a Dining In or similar affair at which spouses attend) waxed and waned. Perhaps the exigencies of the Vietnam War precluded serious attention to formalized eating and drinking. I recall a rather formal dinner at An Hoa in late 1968, held to honor the departure of the regimental commander. But except for a token glass of fizzy wine and a slight improvement over the rations usually offered each evening, nothing appeared to suggest a mess night. Between Vietnam tours, I served with the Marine detachment in a heavy cruiser. While the Navy conducts mealtimes in the wardroom with far more rigidity and ceremony than the other services, nothing I witnessed during that tour even remotely resembled a mess night or a formal dinner.

By the 1970s, the institution of the mess night began to creep back into our professional and social lexicon. Marines, it appeared, wanted to dress up and “eat and drink by the numbers,” all the while reminding themselves of the hallowed traditions, customs and rich history of their Corps. Sometimes, the conduct of such affairs became excessively spirituous or bordered on the insubordinate. A friend reported the officers of one battalion in our regiment conducted a “mess night in the field” during maneuvers. Like those of us with the 5th Marines at An Hoa a decade before, these officers had their token cup of sparkling wine and a plate of whatever the battalion field mess was serving for supper. As the chilly desert wind blew sand across the improvised table, the officers of this unit conducted the affair with considerable sang-froid without the regimental commander ever knowing of it! A contemporary reported that, following a mess night held on Okinawa in the immediate post-Vietnam era, an outraged battalion commander held a mess night every night for a week following the unprofessional and ungentlemanly conduct of his officers at the original gathering; apparently by evening number seven, they “got it right.”

Almost two decades after my first mess night, I attended my last. Ironically, it was held at TBS, but much, if not everything, had changed. The young lieutenants appeared to have been primed, not with instruction on the rich tradition they were about to witness, but with admonitions concerning the potential lethality (figuratively and professionally) of alcohol abuse. The base band of my days as a young officer had disappeared; only a bugler and a drummer appeared. The latter summoned us to dinner with a short selection; perhaps it was “officers’ call,” “adjutant’s call,” or some such. The young officers appeared not nearly as excited as my class, long since retired, and seemed to view the affair as simply another evolution in their passage through TBS. One young officer informed me that his platoon, through the gentle beguilement of the platoon commander, had vowed to rise at 4:00 A.M. the following morning for an “extra” running of the Physical Fitness Test (PFT). Arugha!

The menu reflected a parsimonious adherence to custom and tradition, and a rigid adequacy of food and drink. The soup course had disappeared over the years, while the fish course remained only as a small seafood cocktail drowning in catsup. A traditional prime rib came as overcooked roast beef, and the lone drummer made his only appearance of the evening to escort the token meat course to the president of the mess for approval. Stewards served a salad next, groaning under a heavy layer of bleu dressing, followed by coffee and dessert—a gooey slice of cheese cake smothered with syrupy, cherry sauce. Cigars appeared and the president of the mess lit the smoking lamp; however, ashtrays had not been provided. It didn’t seem to matter because most of the young officers snuffed out their cigars into the uneaten cheese cake after a few token puffs. I observed more than one lieutenant bring out his container of chewing tobacco—arugha!

A musical accompaniment to the dinner came from the TBS Chorus, the drummer and bugler of the mess intoned: “gentlemen, please join me at the bar.” It proved to be the shortest gathering recorded at any mess night. The guest of honor had not even departed when a sizeable portion of the lieutenants—presumably those earmarked to take the PFT before sunrise the following morning—disappeared. Those officers and guests remaining quaffed their brandy or diet soda and departed. Sadly, the young officers of this TBS class had not attended a mess night.

A variety of stimuli have provoked the preparation of this study, not the least of which are the disappointing mess night witnessed that evening at TBS. As the primary organizer of the mess night in Okinawa, previously mentioned, I received the advice and encouragement of any number of staff officers in our headquarters. These helpful inputs usually came accompanied with the loan of a dog-eared pamphlet, adorned with a unit’s crest, that were provided as souvenirs at earlier mess nights. As I read them over, the historian in me became increasingly challenged: the narratives appeared to have been copied from the same source. Even the errors in grammar continued faithfully from pamphlet to pamphlet! Constant reference to the origins of our tradition of the mess night to “Eighth and Eye” intrigued me. I vowed to research and write on the subject.

A subsequent tour in the Washington, D.C. area allowed me to pursue this goal. Finding little or nothing on the subject at the Marine Corps Historical Center, except for the dreary and plagiarized materials that I already read, I was advised to telephone Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr.: “He knows everything about the subject,” was the sage advice. As predicted, the eminence gris of Marine Corps history steered me in the correct direction. He advised I ignore the claims our mess night tradition originated at “Eighth and Eye.” An article in the Washington Evening Star, appearing on the occasion of the demolition of the old Center House in 1908, prompted later readers to suggest that perhaps something like mess nights occurred there. But a careful reading of the oftcited piece makes no such claim:

Tales are told of nights of revelry, when the wine flowed and souls of great men, freed from the cares of state, allowed their with and spirit to soar unhampered while gracing the officers’ mess beneath the beams of the old house. The rafters which once rang with the laughter of Presidents now lie in grim disorder…

Most important, Colonel Heinl suggested I contact General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. Following that lead about the British mess nights in China, I corresponded with Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak and read Brigadier General Robert C. Williams’ charming memoir. Finally, Colonel Heinl recalled mention of affairs vaguely similar to a mess night at the turn of this century in the personal papers of senior officers, maintained at the Marine Corps Research Center. The stimulus for such an inquiry had languished for a decade or more, clues had been provided by the Marine Corps’ most eminent historian and it appeared as if I had appeared as if I had to accept my own challenge. In response to my essay on mess nights, appearing in the Marine Corps Gazette in 1979, General Shepherd commented: “I trust your article will influence commanding officers to revive the Marine Corps mess night, so much enjoyed by their predecessors and of value in promoting comradeship among officers on a post or organization.”

Origins of the Marine Corps Mess Night

The Marine Corps officers’ introduction to anything resembling today’s mess night came through service at sea. Until 1914, wine messes were part of the wardrooms of the ships of the fleet. When that great prohibitionist moralizer, Josephus Daniels, took up the portfolio of Secretary of the Navy in 1913, he argued that officers should not be granted a privilege denied enlisted Sailors and Marines. While the rum ration (later changed to whiskey in 1806) had been a tradition of the Age of Sail, the practice ended in the American Navy in 1862. During the tenure of Secretary John D. Long (1897-1902), the Department of the Navy even prohibited the sale of alcohol to enlisted men at stations ashore. But alcohol continued to be available to officers in their wardroom messes, a privilege that affronted Daniels’ egalitarian principles. When no one took the indefatigable and determined Daniels seriously on the matter, he suggested that alcohol and drunkenness prevailed among the officers of the fleet and seriously impaired its efficiency. Daniels grew fond of relating the tale of a young officer who never drank before entering the Navy, where his messmates taught him a fondness for the loathsome habit. Predictably, the young man became a drunkard, and Daniels vowed to end what a later generation would surely call substance abuse.

Now, the specious argument of the Secretary of the Navy found acceptance and received Presidential approval. Thus, the infamous General Order No. 99 prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages aboard the ships of the U.S. Navy came into being and remains in effect to this day. Throughout the fleet in 1914, however, officers expressed outrage. In the battleship Washington, Captain Edward W. Eberle hosted a riotous dinner for his officers, each course of which came doused heavy with some form of an alcoholic beverage. Wardrooms throughout the fleet in 1914 witnessed a variety of “going dry” commemorations, liberally punctuated with witty soliloquies that demeaned the character of the pompous Secretary of the Navy. Sailors and enlisted Marines alike expressed umbrage upon learning that alcoholic beverages were no longer available to them at canteens ashore. Daniels had become increasingly convinced that most disciplinary problems in the naval services resulted from excessive consumption of alcohol.

Prior to Daniels’s meddling, formal dinners—probably resembling something like a mess night-occurred infrequently in various wardrooms. Major General George Barnett recalled such an affair while serving in the San Francisco in 1897. Barnett had just reported aboard, having caught up with the cruiser in the harbor of Smryna, and found the evening’s entertainment most enjoyable. Perhaps concluding that the new commanding officer of the ship’s Marine Detachment thought the elaborate dinner a regular occurrence, a Navy officer admonished Barnett: “We don’t do this every night, you know!” Colonel Heinl remembered something like a mess night (but without alcoholic beverages) while serving in the battleship Idaho as a midshipman in 1936; a fife and drum section marched through “officers’ country” playing “The Roast Beef of Old England” to summon the officers to dinner.

Ashore, Marine Corps officers came together in formal dinners at times. 2ndLt Earl H. “Pete” Ellis recalled a farewell dinner for a group of officers departing Cavite during his first tour in the Philippines in 1902. He estimated that more than 50 officers from both the sea services attended, captured Chinese banners taken during the Boxer Rebellion decorated the dining room and a Filipino orchestra played a mixture of Spanish love songs and American ragtime melodies. The gathering extended long into the evening as Ellis and the other officers toasted the Marine Corps, the departing officers, and the gallant dead of Samar and Tientsin. Following a similar, celebratory dinner a couple of years before in the islands, Smedley D. Butler—obviously in his cups—serenaded the nearby jungle foliage for the remainder of the night; a future CMC, Ben H. Fuller, thought the spectacle so outrageous that he recorded the incident for his personal papers, labeling it “Butler’s Bawl.”

Even after four decades, General Holland M. Smith remembered the conduct of the officers’ mess in nearby Olongapo and Colonel Lincoln Karmany’s strict compliance to the social niceties of the mess. Senior captains ruled the mess in that halcyon era of tropical campaigning and “a captain in those days was only one step removed from a king,” Smith recalled. “The only time lieutenants were allowed to open their mouths [at dinner] was to put food in.” No stranger in the quest for hedonistic pleasures—he discarded his first wife for a younger model, an act that affronted genteel naval circles of the era—it was Karmany who supposedly muttered, “There may be a few good men who don’t drink, but they’ve got to prove it!”

Formal dinners, or anything resembling today’s mess night might have disappeared altogether given the egalitarian moralizing of Secretary Daniels and the tide of temperance that followed in the 1920s. The Secretary of the Navy extended his unpopular dictum to stations ashore, even into the quarters of the officers.

Shocked and dismayed by the ukase, the socialite wife of the CMC outmaneuvered Daniels with authorization to use liquor in cooking. At the historic home of the Commandants, Mrs. George Barnett—a doyenne of Washington society, well known for her sparkling “repartees spirituelles” at the expense of pretentious politicians—served the Secretary of the Navy and the other guests a dinner they would not likely forget. Grapefruit came first, laced with at least the alcohol content of two cocktails. Soup consisted mostly of sherry, while the terrapin arrived floating in Madeira. Traditional roast beef was followed by rum sherbet, and a salad of champagne frappe. Brandied peaches ended the repast. As Mrs. Barnett recalled the evening in her memoirs, the Senator on her left declined a second helping of dessert with a grave response: “Madam, I just couldn’t eat another drop!”

Formal dinners, consisting of several courses and accompanied by a variety of alcoholic beverages, all but disappeared from Marine Corps circles in the 1920s. John A. Lejeune refused to emulate the lavish social scene of his predecessor, and formal dinners at “Eighth and Eye” became somewhat infrequent and subdued affairs. One disappointed observer, the daughter of Major General Wendell C. Neville, noted tartly that: “The Lejeunes, you know, they never entertained.” By that era, Lejeune had become a teetotaler and his good friend, Smedley D. Butler, a military prohibitionist. The latter officer once served on detached service with the City of Philadelphia as its Commissioner of Public Safety, and undertook a determined program to rid the municipality of vice and demon rum. Later, while at Quantico, Butler threatened to put the tiny municipality adjoining the base “off-limits” unless the city fathers eliminated the bootleggers selling alcohol to his troops. The combination of these temperance attitudes served to dampen any enthusiasm for formal dinners as most observers, like Mrs. Barrett a decade before, could not imagine formal dining without aperitifs and wines.

The introduction to a formal dinner, faintly resembling anything like the Marine Corps mess night, came about through association with British officers in China. While serving as the adjutant of the 4th Marines in Shanghai in 1927, Captain Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., coached the regiment’s swimming team. His counterpart in the Second Battalion Scots Guards invited young Shepherd and his commanding officer, Colonel Henry C. Davis, to a guest night hosted by the officers’ mess of this famous regiment.

General Shepherd remembered an impressive evening. The mess silver sparkled in the light of the handsome candelabra arraigned on a polished table laden with fine crystal and china. During the dinner, the battalion’s pipe major played several traditional highland ballads to the tune of his own wailing on the bagpipes, and a guardsman danced. Although the attending officers drank to the health of King George V with a glass of fine Port, the battalion commander—the President of the Mess—invited the pipe major to join him in a glass of whiskey after the performance. The final toast of the evening was to their famous regiment and its raising by King Charles II in 1662. Both Marines left visibly impressed. The following morning, Colonel Davis summoned his adjutant and instructed him to arrange a similar gathering hosted by the 4th Marines, and to invite the officers of the Scots Guards.

Exchanges such as recalled by General Shepherd continued as the 4th Marines served in China. The Marines received the musical instruments to accompany a successful mess night, a gift from the American Troop and American Company of the Shanghai Volunteer Corps. Sterling Fessenden, the chairman of the Shanghai Municipal Council, apparently orchestrated the donation in 1927, and the grateful Marines dubbed their new musical group “The Fessenden Fifes.” The bandsman of the Green Howards, another British Army regiment in Shanghai, taught the Marine musicians to play the instruments (one base drum, eight side drums, ten fifes and two piccolos). Doubtless the new martial music added an appropriate and enjoyable accompaniment to any mess night hosted by the Marines. But apparently the tradition waned for a while during the 1930s, at least as hosted by the 4th Marines.

Both Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak and Brigadier General Robert H. Williams attended guest nights in the officers’ messes of British battalions during their tours in China. General Williams retained images of memorable evenings as guests of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, but failed to mention any such gathering hosted by the 4th Marines. He recalled that while the other officers of the regiment and their guests drank a fine Port after dinner, the colonel and pipe major drank glasses of Scotch whisky—which they downed with a gulp after exchanging a personal toast to the Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders. General Krulak remembered a guest night hosted by the Royal Ulster Rifles:

It was severely formal—marching in by twos, printed menus, three wines, great formality in the areas of introduction of the meat, toasts, recognition of guests, cook, etc.; prohibition against leaving the table or smoking until after the toasts. Once they had left the table, however, the group came completely apart—rough games, furniture destruction, mayhem.

Although the exigencies of World War II set aside further participation with our British cousins, General Shepherd and other “China Marines” never forgot the comradeship and pride fostered by the institution of the mess night. While commanding the 6th Marine Division in training for the invasion of Okinawa, General Shepherd held several mess nights. Following the war, Marine Corps officers serving in the United Kingdom brought home warm memories of the institution fostered by the British officers’ mess. Then-Colonel Williams attended the Joint Services Staff College, Chesham and several subsequently as an instructor at the School of Combined Operation, Framington. He returned home an unabashed Anglophile, earning the sobriquet “British Bob” among friends and fellow officers. Colonel Robert D. Heinl, Jr., shared William’s love for fostering history and tradition in the British military style. In the fall of 1953, General Shepherd visited the 3rd Marines at their camp at Mount Fuji, Japan. Colonel Williams commanded the regiment, and he entertained the CMC with a mess night conducted in strict compliance with the British tradition. A mess night as a traditional social gathering became codified during the commandancy of General Shepherd (1952-1956).

When General Shepherd asked Colonel Heinl to write a guide for Marine Corps officers, he suggested a section be included on the tradition of the mess night. Probably the first mess night in the form we know today occurred at “Eighth and Eye” in the late summer of 1954. The commanding officer of the barracks, then-Colonel Williams, served as the president of the mess; General Shepherd was the guest of honor. The new tradition flourished and gained in popularity thereafter. In the fall of 1955, General Shepherd held a CMC’s mess night in his quarters to formally introduce General Randolph McC. Pate to the officers of the barracks. Then, just before he left office, a group of general officers honored General Shepherd at a mess night at Quantico. The Secretary of the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, and personal friends of General Shepherd attended as well. Colonel Heinl supervised the memorable event, held at Harry Lee Hall.

Brigadier General Williams’ essay, “Mess Night,” appeared in the pages of the Marine Corps Gazette. Except for minor variations, however, the format for this exceptional event remains wedded to a scenario gleaned from our British cousins. Even the popular tradition of the parading of the beef or main course for approval by the President of the Mess is found in the rich martial traditions of British military lore. The band of the Royal Berkshires always paraded the main course to the thumping of a Russian drum captured during the Crimean War. In more modern times, every young officer received instructions on how to “tell meat.” As orderly officer, suitably attired in patrol dress and wearing a sword, he inspected the cookhouse to ensure the meat served to enlisted messes was not spoiled. Thus, the tradition of the Vice President of the Mess as orderly officer, wearing his sword at dinner, emerged as a tradition in some officers’ messes in the British Army.

The British Tradition

Drawn from the aristocracy or upper middle classes, the British officer of the 19th Century would find no achievement in living in squalor while in the field. A gentleman lived as comfortably as circumstances allowed, and the most comfortable way to live in the field was to establish an officers’ mess—a view that survived well into World War II. Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery expressed disgust at the state of the headquarters mess when he assumed command of the troubled Eighth Army in North Africa in 1942. The new commanding general, normally Spartan and disinclined to partake liberally of mess life, did not advocate conspicuous luxury; instead, he merely suggested no reason to undergo unnecessary privation: “Let us all be as comfortable as possible,” he advised his staff.

An officer’s mess as a distinct part of a garrison or depot originated with the Royal Artillery at Woolwich in 1783. From that date until World War II altered the social stratification of the British officer corps, it served as the cornerstone of the military social institution. The mess functioned as the home of bachelor officers; unlike today, most junior officers remained single for obvious economic reasons. Regulations precluded payment of a marriage allowance until age thirty, and in most regiments young officers reached that age before putting up their captain’s pips. Junior officers, especially, spent most of their evenings in the mess—their home-and to dine out or “warn out” more than once a week invited a rebuke from the senior subaltern. In any event, a junior officer with little or no private means could hardly afford to spend his leisure time elsewhere. Field Marshall Montgomery, for example, began his army career earning nine pounds a month—his mess dues cost him thirteen pounds!

Dinner in a British mess was the evening meal of an English gentleman. Instead of dinner jackets, officers wore mess kit, an outfit appearing first as a uniform with the gunners in the 19th century. For a time after the Crimean War, the short jacket and tight trousers (overalls) became the liberty uniform for enlisted ranks. Four or five times a week, a battalion’s officers sat down to such formal dinners. It was, in effect, a formation, and all bachelor officers were expected to attend. Those who arrived early—and no one arrived late could have a glass of sherry or a pink gin. The signal for dinner might be chimes or simply the mess corporal announcing “gentlemen, dinner is served.” The commanding officer, or more likely the senior dining member—probably a bachelor major—entered the dining room first, followed by the other officers in strict order of seniority.

Servants served a typical English meal of several courses, and wine was not necessarily part of the dinner. As Guy Crouchback, British novelist Evelyn Waugh’s amusing character in Sword of Honor, learned rather quickly. In his first night in the mess as a second lieutenant, he made the social gaff of ordering a glass of claret; the senior subaltern rebuked him with a jocular “Hullo! Blood? Is it someone’s birthday?” Conversation during dinner dwelled on the pleasant and topical; professional topics, “shop,” and references to ladies were taboo. In some regiments, the senior subaltern or senior dining officer enforced such rules by levying small fines. At the end of the dinner, the senior dining member simply got up and left the room. The other officers followed and spent the remainder of the evening reading, playing cards or billiards, or returned to their rooms. Some officers, if they could afford it, might have a glass of Port or a snifter of brandy; most could not, however. Conscientious commanding officers scrutinized their officers’ monthly wine bills to curtail excessive drinking, and anyone imbibing to excess would find himself “seeing” 
the colonel in his office.

Life in an officers’ mess was the epitome of the world of gentlemen, and seniors expected juniors to conform. Even the Nazi threat provided no excuse. One young officer recalled a special parade for newly-joined officers soon after joining a Highland regiment in 1939. The adjutant, proud of his distinguished regiment, summoned the young officers to the mess one afternoon. He explained the colonel had been shocked to observe many of his officers displaying ignorance as to what utensils and glasses to use at dinner. Instructing his captive and bemused audience to take notes, the impeccable adjutant ate and drank his way through a token dinner.

As often as once a week, but more likely less often, each mess held a guest night. All members of the mess attended, including the battalion or regimental commander and the married officers. Guests sometimes appeared, and the mess as a whole bore the cost of a guest of honor while individual mess members paid the cost of their guests. The unit band played the regimental march and a bugler or piper sounded the mess call. Several wines appeared throughout dinner. Following dinner, Port—and sometimes snuff—went ‘round. The officers drank the loyal toast to the reigning monarch according to custom; in some regiments, royal dispensation allowed them to remain seated for the toast; in others, everyone rose and a certain number of heel taps might follow the toasts. No one was allowed to smoke until after the “loyal toast” to the reigning monarch.

Toasting or the raising of glasses in tribute to someone or an institution as a measure of respect, is a social custom more than a millennium old. The appellation “to toast” came about through the English custom of flavoring wines with spiced toast, as apparently wines transported from the continent often spoiled enroute to the British Isles. Cookbooks as early as the 15th Century referred to the habit. Early in the 18th Century, an aristocrat obviously in his cups referred to a certain lady whose very countenance supposedly enhanced his being like “spiced toast.” The social custom took hold, and diners took pains to compose the wittiest and briefest toasts. General Shepherd remembered attending a formal dinner in France in 1917, hosted by the 115th Battalion Chasseurs Alpine. At the conclusion of dinner, the battalion commander rose to propose a toast “to the best fighters, the best drinkers, and the best lovers in France—the Chasseurs Alpine.”

Unlike Americans, Britains responded to each toast by draining their glasses and sometimes throwing them over the left shoulder “so that no lesser toast might be drunk.” Toasts were always drunk with Port wine, and in “bumbers.” This unusual name for a wine glass had its origins from the continental custom of always toasting the Pope first, “au bon Pere,” which in its convoluted form became simply “bumper.” In the Book of Navy Songs (Naval Institute Press, 1955), a doggerel proclaims most proudly:

Make it a bumper, comrades,
And each one standing here
Can whisper soft above his glass
The name he holds most dear.

The choice of toasting with Port wine has its origin’s more in politics than in gastronomy. After 1703, to drink French wines donated a show of favoritism to the enemy on the continent. Wine from Portugal, usually Port, meant to embrace the beverage of an ally as a poem by Swift declares:

Be sometime to your country true
Have ever the public good in view,
Bravely despise Champagne at Court
And choose to dine at home with Port.

Perhaps the most strictly controlled of all wines, government officials mandate the location of the vines and its maturation. The grapes are shipped downriver to the seaport which gives its names to the libation, “Oporto,” where barefoot workers mash the grapes according to a 1,500- year-old custom. A vintage Port is held in wood for 22 to 30 months, then bottled. As it matures, a heavy sediment appears on the bottom of each bottle, thus the requirement to decant it prior to serving. After fermentation, inspectors release a minimum of one third of the vintage to which approximately 20 percent alcohol in the form of brandy has been added—and the vintage passes to the open market for sale. The beverage gained in popularity such that by 1762, every Royal Navy ship bound for the West Indies contained at least one “pipe” of Port or 56 dozen bottles for the enjoyment of the officers’ mess. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, it was a common custom for the aristocracy to “lay aside a mess. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it was a common custom for the aristocracy to “lay aside a pipe of port” for each male member of the progeny.

After dinner, some members of the mess night engage in games such as “cock fighting” or “Moriarity, where are you?” More likely, the officers played bridge or billiards as on any other night. The evening bears no resemblance to a drunken party, in most instances. Many junior officers spent their evening stifling yawns while hoping that the colonel would go home so they could go to bed! Those so inclined might enjoy another glass of Port or perhaps a snifter of brandy. In later years, when guest nights occurred less frequently, such evenings became increasingly boisterous and drunken.

A guest last night in a British officer’s mess—circa 1930s, is what approximates the mess night tradition adopted so faithfully by the Marine Corps--at least what Brigadier General Robert H. “British Bob” Williams prescribed for readers of the Marine Corps Gazette in June 1955, and Colonel Angus M. “Tiny” Fraser wrote for the same journal in June 1957. In the years since these and other essays have appeared in print, the tradition has suffered decline from either professional disinterest, an absence of social morays, or ignorance. Moreover, the social and gender practices of the Marine Corps have changed radically. Finally, consumption of alcohol is down considerably from the heights of bygone years. A new generation of Marines must come to grips with these and other changes, while still perpetuating one of the Corps’ most enjoyable traditions.


Scenario: a mess night arranged by Headquarters, 6th Marines and held at the Officers’ Club, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Company guidons line the wall of the dining hall, while the colors of the regiment and its three battalions are arranged behind the head table along with the flags of the United States and the United Kingdom (a Royal Marine officer, serving an exchange tour with the regiment, is present). The anteroom is decorated with enlarged photographs of the colorful history of the regiment, and with captured weaponry brought home from Operations Desert Storm.

1800: the officers of the regiment are all in the anteroom, and those desiring refreshments have them in hand.

1805: the commanding officer of the regiment arrives.

1810: the guests of the mess arrive; sponsors greet them and see to their liquid refreshments.

1815: the guest of honor arrives, to be greeted by both the President of the Mess (commanding officer) and the Vice President of the Mess (adjutant, who wears a Sam Browne belt and sword as a symbol of his office for the evening). The Vice President of the Mess sees to the liquid refreshments for both the guest of honor and the President of the Mess.

1900: a steward sounds “six bells.” Those officers and guests desiring to avail themselves of the bathroom facilities do so before the beginning of the dinner.

1910: a bugler sounds “adjutants’ call” and the band plays “Sea Soldiers.” The members of the mess and guests, less those seated at the head table, proceed into the dining room, find their seats and stand behind their chairs. The band strikes up “Stars and Stripes Forever.” and those seated at the head table proceed into the dining room and position themselves behind their assigned chair.

The Vice President of the Mess is seated at the extreme right and farthest from the head table. The remaining officers are seated according to ascending seniority toward the head table. At the head table, the President of the Mess sits in the center with the guest of honor on his or her right. The next senior officer sits to the left of the President of the Mess, and then by seniority the remaining officers alternate from the right of the guest of honor to the left of the President of the Mess. No matter his or her rank, the chaplain is always seated at the head table.

Vice President of the Mess: “Sir, all officers present.”

President of the Mess: “Seats.”

President of the Mess: “Grace.”

Chaplain: offers a brief, non-sectarian grace.

Stewards: pour the water.

Stewards: serve a small plate with a spring roll on it (cha gio). This Vietnamese hors d’oeuvre is to remind everyone that after the Marines landed in 1965, their primary mission was to root out the

Viet Cong infrastructure in the rural areas.

Stewards: remove the small plate.

Stewards: serve bowl of Hanoi beef soup (Pho Bo Ha Noi). This favorite of Vietnamese from the

north is to remind everyone that when the 3rd Marine Division redeployed from Southern I Corps to Quang Tri Province astride the Demilitarized Zone, it faced the trained regulars of the North Vietnamese Army or NVA.

Stewards: remove the soup bowl and spoon.

Stewards: serve a small plate with shrimp tempura on it and pour a chilled white wine. This course is to remind diners of the War in the Pacific.

Stewards: remove the small plate and wine glass.

President of the Mess: “Parade the main course.”

To the accompaniment of a fife and drum, a steward brings a plate with a token piece of the main course to the President of the Mess who pronounces “I proclaim this meal fit for human consumption” or “I commend this meal to the enjoyment of the mess.” The steward retreats from the dining room to an additional musical accompaniment.

Stewards: remove the main course and white wine glass.

Stewards: serve a salad of fresh fruit. This course reminds diners of Marine Corps deployments to the Caribbean between the Spanish-American War and World War Two.

Stewards: remove the salad plate.

Stewards: serve a dessert of French pastry and Camembert. Reminds diners of the Marine Corps’ service in France during World War I. Coffee is poured.

Stewards: remove the dessert plate.

Stewards: place the Port decanters on the table, and everyone charges their glass. The President of the Mess pours for the guest of honor, and then passes the decanter to the left. When it reaches the end of the head table, a steward retrieves it and places it at the extreme right of the head table where it continues to be passed to the left until everyone has a charged glass. At the other tables, decanters of Port are passed counterclockwise.

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”

Vice President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”

Officers and guests stand

Band: plays “God Save the Queen.”

Officers: “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” Everyone takes a sip of Port.

Royal Marine Officer: “Mister President, the President of the United States.”

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, the President of the United States.”

Vice President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.”

Officers and guests stand

Band: plays “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Officers: “The President of the United States.” Everyone takes a sip of Port. Officers and guests may continue to enjoy their Port, and the decanters are passed around the tables.

At this juncture, toasts must be rendered to each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, if a member of that branch is present; each toast is followed by the appropriate song of that branch.

Stewards remove the Port decanters and glasses, and replace them with decanters of Fortitudine punch and punch glasses. The procedure is the same as for the serving of the Port, described above.

Lieutenant Jones: “Sir, permission to address the mess.”

President of the Mess: “Granted.”

Lieutenant Jones: “In 1917, the 6th Marines deployed to France and became one of the four infantry regiments in the Second Division, American Expeditionary Forces. In the next year and a half, it participated in four campaigns: Chateau-Thierry, Soissons, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. Members of the regiment earned three Medals of Honor; one out of every two Marines suffered wounds.

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, the regiment.”

Vice President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the 6th Marines.”

Officers and guests stand

Band: plays six bars of “Mademoiselle from Armentieres.”

Members of the mess: “The 6th Marines” followed by a sip of punch.

Captain Smith: “Request permission to address the mess.”

President of the Mess: “Granted.”

Captain Smith: “In 1942, the 2d Division deployed from Camp Elliott to New Zealand. During the next three years, it participated in amphibious operations in the Solomons, Gilberts, Marshalls, and Okinawa.”

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, the 2d Division.”

Officers and guests stand

Vice President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2d Division.”

Band: plays six bars from “Victory at Sea.”

Members of the mess: “The 2d Division,” followed by a sip of punch. Officers and guests may finish their cup of punch, if desired.

Stewards: remove carafes and punch glasses.

Mister Vice: approaches the head table with a steward pushing a serving cart; on it is a punch bowl and sufficient glasses. He serves the guest of honor first, then the others seated at the head table, and finally the President of the Mess. The punch served this time is “1775 Rum Punch.”

Stewards: serve punch glasses and carafes of punch. Officers pass the carafes around the table counterclockwise.

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, the United States Marines.”

Vice President of the Mess: “Gentlemen, long live the United States and success to the Marines.”

Officers and guests stand

Band: plays “The Marine Corps Hymn;” at the completion of the music, officers and guests respond with “the Marines” and drink the punch all at once.

President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the mess will adjourn for ten minutes.”

Bugler: Sounds “officer’s call,” and everyone returns to the dining room.

Stewards: serve brandy and coffee.

The mess committee elected to forego the ritual cigar because the facility is a “no smoking” building, as are most government buildings.

President of the Mess: introduces the guest of honor.

Guest of Honor: remarks.

President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me at the bar.”

Dining In

Scenario: this gathering was hosted by the students of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. The Dining In Committee elected as the outset to plan an affair modeled on the British tradition of the Guest Night, and thus more like what had emerged as a Marine Corps tradition in the mid-1950s. The committee considered the number of foreign officers likely to attend as it planned the traditional toasts, the presence of spouses (of both sexes), and the increasing concern for alcohol abuse and driving while intoxicated.

Forty-five days to the Dining In, written invitations (in a pleasing style of calligraphy) were sent to: guest of honor; Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command; and Commanding General, Marine Corps University. These recipients, and their spouses, were determined to be the guests of the mess. The invitations used the phrase “the honor of your presence.”

Thirty days prior to the Dining In, similar invitations (except that “the honor of your presence” was replaced with “your presence”) were sent to the faculty and staff of the Marine Corps University, and to each member of the current class of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Each of these recipients was presumed to be a paying participant in the affair.

One member of the committee received the task to collate the responses to the invitations (R.S.V.P. or repondez s’il vous plait appears on the invitations at the lower left corner, along with a name and telephone number; at the lower right of the invitation, the uniform or civilian dress is specified—it always indicates “orders and decorations”) to provide the committee with a final list of attendees. This same committee member prepared the seating chart for display in the anteroom, and supervised the placement of the seating cards on the tables.

Another member of the committee undertook the task to provide suitable decorations for both the anteroom and dining room. To this end, she coordinated with the Marine Corps Historical Center for the loan of a wide assortment of memorabilia.

A third member of the committee arranged for the loan of flags representing each of the foreign officers expected to attend, and a copy of each nation’s anthem for the director of the post band.

Two members of the committee volunteered to consult with the manager of the officers’ club, prepare a dinner menu, and offer it to the committee for its approval. The committee asked the menu adhere rigidly to custom and tradition. A prime rib of beef was the unanimous choice for the main entrée.

A final member of the committee supervised the stocking of the anteroom bar; specifically, the committee provided the following guidelines:

--the usual alcoholic beverages should be available, including beers
and ales.

--non alcoholic wines and beers should also be available.

--soft drinks, including diet and decaffeinate brands, must be

--the post-dinner refreshments must be all non-alcoholic or containing
only small amounts of alcohol.

The committee made arrangements for fresh Dunginess crab to be flown in from Puget Sound, and a group of spouses volunteered to clean the seafood and prepare the meat for Crab Imperial.

On the morning of the dining in, the committee met at the officers’ club to review final preparations. At that time, the decoration of the anteroom and the dining room was completed. The place cards were checked against the seating diagram. Flags were placed behind the head table. The leader of the band, the drummer, and the fifer appeared for a briefing of duties, and to rehearse. A bandsman received instruction on the ringing of the ship’s bell.

The Vice President of the Mess checked the token place setting provided by the head steward. At the left of the plate (which is removed just after the serving of the first course) are the forks: seafood, salad, dinner, and dessert in that order from left to right. At the right of the plate are the dinner knife, teaspoon, and soup spoon arranged also from left to right. A butter knife appears on the right of the bread plate, which is located at the upper left of the place setting. Glassware is arraigned beginning from the top of the setting to the right in a semicircle: water glass, port goblet, claret glass, white wine goblet, and sherry glass.

1800: The members of the mess, and their spouses, arrive at the officers club.

1815: The guest of honor, and his spouse; and the guests of the mess, and their spouses arrive to be greeted by the president and vice president of the mess.

1815-1900: Members of the mess, spouses, and guests partake of refreshments and meet the guest of honor and the guests of the mess.

1900: A bandsman rings “six bells” with a ship’s bell to indicate 7:00 P.M. or 1900. This signal alerts everyone that dinner begins in 15 minutes.

1915: The band strikes up “Sea Soldiers” and everyone—less those to be seated at the head table-enters the dining room. Each diner escorts the lady seated to the right into the dining room. Then, the band plays “Stars and Stripes Forever” as a signal for those officers, guests, and ladies to be seated at the head table to enter the dining room.

President of the Mess: “Chaplain, please say ‘grace.’”

Chaplain: offers a brief, non-sectarian grace.

Men seat the lady to their immediate right.

Stewards serve a cold soup, gazpacho, with a glass of sherry.

Stewards remove the previous course and sherry glass, and serve a seafood cocktail of Dunginess Crab Imperial with a chilled glass of Schloss Johannisberger ’92.

Stewards remove the previous course and wine glass, and serve a salad of mixed greens with a low-calorie, low-fat vinaigrette dressing.

President of the Mess: “Parade the beef!”

A steward appears with a token slice of prime rib on a plate, with a knife and fork; accompanied by a drummer and fifer playing “The Roast Beef of Old England” the party marches up the center of the dining room. The steward carries the plate around the head table and serves it to the President of the Mess, who says: “I pronounce this beef fit for human consumption and commend it to the enjoyment of the mess and our guests.” The steward retrieves the plate and utensils, rejoins the fifer and drummer, and the three of them march out of the dining room to another chorus of “The Roast Beef of Old England.”

The members of the mess enjoy the main course:

-prime rib of beef, medium-rare

-roast new potatoes with margarine and fresh-cut parsley

-Yorkshire pudding

-green beans almandine

-freshly baked bread

It is served with a Cabernet Sauvignon (Shafer Hillside Select, Stags Leap District, California 1991) at room temperature (60 degrees). Stewards refill glasses as required.

Stewards remove the dinner plate, bread plate, utensils used for the main course and wine glass.

Stewards serve a small dessert, a specialty of the club, called “chocolate decadence” (a chocolate mousse). The dessert is accompanied by coffee; the place cards have been marked so those desiring caffeine-free coffee will be served accordingly.

President of the Mess: “The mess will adjourn for 15 minutes.”

Bugler: sounds “officers’ call.” Everyone returns to the dining room; when the head table is seated, the other diners take their seats.

During the brief intermission, a decanter of Port has been placed on each table. The Mess Night Committee selected Croft Porto 1991 after tasting several imported and domestic varieties. The President of the Mess pours the guest of honor on his right and passes the decanter to his left; the decanter continues to the end of the head table as each diner pours for himself. At the end of the table, a steward retrieves the decanter and places it at the opposite end of the head table. There, it continues to the right as diners pour for themselves. The President of the Mess serves himself last.

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, His Majesty Rama IX of Thailand.” For this toast, and all others, everyone stands.

Vice President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, his Majesty Rama IX of Thailand.” The band plays the anthem of Thailand, everyone says “His Majesty Rama IX of Thailand,” takes a sip of Port, and sits down.

Senior foreign officer (from Thailand): “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.”

Vice President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.” The band plays the National Anthem. Everyone says, “The President of the United States,” takes a sip of Port, and sits down.

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice” and then by turn runs through the list of heads of state for each foreign officer president, in descending order by the rank of the officer. A toast is proposed in every case, followed by the response of the Vice President of the Mess. An anthem is played in its entirety, also, for every toast.

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, the U.S. Army.”

Vice President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the U.S. Army.”

Band plays “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” Everyone says “The U.S. Army,” takes sip of Port, and sits down.

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, the U.S. Navy.”

Vice President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the U.S. Navy.”

Band plays “Anchors Aweigh.” Everyone says “The U.S. Navy,” takes a sip of Port, and sits down.

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, the U.S. Air Force.”

Vice President of the Mess: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the U.S. Air Force.”

Band plays “The Air Force Song.” Everyone says “The U.S. Air Force,” takes a sip of Port, and sits down.

Stewards remove the port glasses and decanters.

The Vice President of the Mess moves to the head table. A steward follows with a carafe of Fortitudine Punch, and the Vice President of the Mess serves everyone at the head table beginning with the guest of honor first and the President of the Mess last. Meanwhile, carafes are being passed, counterclockwise, around the other tables as everyone fills a punch glass. Those eschewing alcohol merely pass the carafe to the next person, and respond to the next toast with the water goblet.

President of the Mess: “Mister Vice, the Corps.”

Vice president of the Mess: “Long life to the United States and Success to the Marines.” The band plays the “Marine Corps Hymn” and then everyone says “The Marines” and drinks the cup of punch (all of it).

President of the Mess: “The mess will adjourn for 15 minutes.”

Bugler sounds “officer’s call,” and everyone returns to the dining room.

Stewards serve brandy and coffee.

The mess committee elected to forego the ritual cigar because the facility is a “no smoking” building, and because of the presence of the ladies.

President of the Mess: introduces the guest of honor.

Guest of Honor: delivers brief remarks.

President of the Mess: “Ladies and gentlemen, please join me at the bar.”

Members of the mess and guests adjourn to the anteroom for post-dinner refreshments. A variety of after-dinner beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, were available as well as coffee. No one should leave until the guest of honor has departed for the evening.



This traditional beverage was supposedly served to potential Marine Corps recruits at Tun Tavern, Philadelphia, during the American Revolution.

one part dark Jamaican rum
four parts lime juice
maple sugar and grenadine to taste
pour over cracked ice in a glass punch bowl


Fortitudine was the motto of the Marine Corps during the early 19th Century; it means strength, fortitude, or even guts. Early Marines received rations of rum, at sea or ashore, but often the amount doled out was diluted with water to avoid drunkenness. Marines of the era preferred instead to dilute the distilled spirit with sugar and fruit as a rum punch.

one-half gallon of dark rum
one pint of peach brandy
two twelve-ounce cans of frozen lemonade concentrate
two quart bottles of club soda
two quart bottles of ginger ale
pour over cracked ice in a glass punch bowl; garnished with
the slices of one orange, one lemon, and two limes


Mix 1 quart orange juice with ½ cup of white sugar and ½ cup of brown sugar. In a cheesecloth bag, place ½ stick of cinnamon, 6 whole cloves, and 6 whole allspices. Heat to boiling and reduce heat; allow to simmer for five minutes. Remove the spice bag and add a fifth of Port. Served hot in mugs.

Non-alcoholic beverage recipes

This nonalcoholic alternative is a suitable after-dinner libation, especially during chilly weather. In a saucepan combine:

1/3 cup margarine
½ cup honey
2 tsp. ground coriander and heat over low heat until blended thoroughly.

In a large pan heat: 48 ounces cranberry juice, 4 cups cider, 1 sliced orange, and 1 stick cinnamon; allow to simmer for about 5 minutes. Serve in 6-ounce mugs with 2 tsp. of honey butter.

Diners eschewing alcohol might prefer this libation, especially after dinner.
Mix: 2 ten-ounce cans of frozen daiquiri mix with 2 cups orange juice and 1 liter of ginger ale. 
Process: 2-sixteen ounce packages of frozen strawberries.
Pour: the mix and strawberry slush over cracked ice into a punch bowl; stir in the ginger ale.

These nonalcoholic aperitifs are pleasing alternatives for the pre-dinner cocktail hour.

Stir: 2 tbs. Raspberry or red currant syrup into 6 oz. of chilled nonalcoholic white wine.

Combine: 4 cups orange juice, juice of one lemon, 1 large banana, 6 frozen strawberries, ¼ cup of whipping cream, and 6 ice cubes.
Process in a blender and serve.

In a cheesecloth bag, place: 14 sticks cinnamon, 8 whole cloves, and 1 teaspoon whole allspice. In a saucepan, combine 3 quarts cider with ½ cup sugar; add the spice bag and simmer for ten minutes. Cut an orange into 6 slices and cut each slice in half. Place one piece of orange into a cup, fill with cider, and sprinkle with nutmeg.


Books and Essays

Andrews, R. E. “Who Messed Up Mess Nights,” Marine Corps Gazette 47 (June 1963): 50, plus commentary in the November issue, 52-53.

Baldwin, Hanson. “The End of the Wine Mess,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 84 (August 1958): 82-91.

Bartlett, Merrill L. “Reflections on a New Tradition: The Marine Corps Mess Night,” Marine Corps Gazette 63 (June 1979): 33-40.

Bassler, R. E. “Splice the Main Brace,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 63 (November 1937): 1588-92. and comment, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 64 (June 1938): 891-93

Bonner, John T. “Sober Reflections on a Mess Night,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 99 (November 1973): 51-55.

Carlson, Evans F. “The Fessenden Fifes,” Leatherneck (February 1928): pp. 11, 51.

“Daniels Explains That Wine Mess Order,” Literary Digest 55 (27 October 1917): 42+.

Dickinson, R. J. Officers’ Mess: Life and Customs in the Regiments (Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Midas, 1973).

“Dining In,” Leatherneck, January 1975, pp. 24-27.

Edwards, Thomas J. Military Customs (Aldershot: Gale and Polden, 1952).

Fraser, Angus M. “Gentlemen…Dinner is Served,” Marine Corps Gazette 41
(March 1957): 39-41.

Latrop, Constance D. “Alcohol: Its Origins and Use in the U. S. Navy,”
U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 61 (March 1935): 377.

“Seagoing Customs,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 55 (1929): 11-16.

Lovette, Leland P. Naval Customs, Traditions, & Usage, 4th ed. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1959).

“The Navy and Drinking,” Nation 98 (9 April 1914): 385-86.

“Passing of the Old Marine Barracks,” Washington Evening Star, 16 February 1908, part 4, p. 2.

Phillips, Lawrence. “Abolition of the Rum Ration,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 96 (July 1976): 86-88.

Pierce, Philip N. “With Goblet and Sword,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 63 (June 1979): 41-48.

Sheehan, J. M. “Wardroom Mess,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 62
(June 1936): 842.

“Wardroom Mess,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 63 (August 1937): 1169.

Skillman, J. H. “Eating Through the Years,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 67 (March 1941): 361.

Smith, Holland M. with Percy Finch, Coral and Brass (New York: Scribner’s 1949), p. 34.

Swartz, Oretha D. Service Etiquette (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1989).

Williams, Robert H. “Mess Night,” Marine Corps Gazette 39 (December 1955): 38-41.

The Old Corps: A Portrait of the U.S. Marine Corps Between the Wars (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1982), pp. 50, 64.

Heinl, Robert D., Jr., Washington, D.C., 28 July 1978; and Annapolis, 
24 April 1979.
Lucas, Lelia Gordon. Huntley, VA, 7 June 1979.
Roy, R. Frederick, Washington, D.C., 11 July 1979.
Dessez, Lester A., Washington, D.C., 11 July 1979.

Unpublished memoirs 
George Barnett, “Soldier and Sailor Too,” Barnett MSS, MCHC.
Lelia Montague Barnett, “Washington Dinner Disasters,” Barnett MSS, MCHC.
Ben H. Fuller, “Butler’s Brawl,” Fuller MSS, MCHC.

Correspondence with the author 
Shepherd, Lemuel D., Jr. 30 August 1978 and 19 June 1979.
Krulak, Victor H. 17 August 1978.

Military Salutes


A unique aspect of military courtesy is the salute. It is a gesture of respect and sign of comradeship among military service personnel. Accordingly, the salute is a uniform gesture; meaning that the highest man in rank returns the salute in the same form in which it is rendered to him. By saluting first, no officer implies that he is in any sense inferior to the senior whom he salutes.

The origins of saluting, like so many military customs and traditions, is shrouded in the past, but there are several possibilities concerning its beginnings. In the medieval days of chivalry, mounted knights in mail raised their visors to friends for the purpose of identification. Because of strict adherence to rank, the junior was required to make the first gesture.

Another possibility concerning the origins of saluting comes from an age when assassinations by dagger were not uncommon. It became the custom in such times for potential adversaries to approach each other with raised hand, palm to the front, showing that there was no concealed weapon.

It seems reasonable to assume, however, that the hand salute as now rendered in the military, evolved to some degree from the British navy. There is general agreement among scholars that the hand salute is actually the first part of "uncovering" in front of a senior. That practice gradually evolved over time into merely touching the cap, and became the present salute.

There are several types of military salutes - the hand salute, the rifle salute at order arms, a rifle salute at right shoulder, and still another rifle salute at present arms. "Eyes Right" is another type of military salute which is rendered by troops in rank when passing in review.

A unique type of salute is the respect that is rendered over a grave by a military honor guard. Originally, three rifle volleys were fired into the air over the grave of a fallen soldier. This custom may well have originated in a perceived need to scare away evil spirits "escaping" from the dead. As in ancient times, it was believed that the hearts of the recently deceased were ajar at such times, allowing the devil to enter! Today, the homage and respect displayed at military funerals is a visible final tribute to those individuals who have served their country.

The various forms of military hand and gun salutes are administered by an individual or group as a sign of respect. Originating in customs, traditions, and even superstitions from our distant past, the salute has evolved from ancient times to become an important part of military etiquette.

Reference Branch 
USMC History Division

Marine Corps Flag


Very little information is available regarding the flags carried by early American Marines, although indications are that the Grand Union flag was carried ashore by the battalion led by Captain Samuel Nicholas on New Providence Island, 3 March 1776. It is quite possible that the Rattlesnake flag was also carried on this expedition. 

The standard carried by the Marines during the 1830s and 1840s consisted of a white field with gold fringe, and bore an elaborate design of an anchor and eagle in the center. Prior to the Mexican War, this flag bore the legend "To the Shores of Tripoli" across the top. Shortly after the war, the legend was revised to read: "From Tripoli to the Halls of the Montezumas." 

During the Mexican and Civil Wars, Marines in the field apparently carried a flag similar to the national flag, comprised of red and white stripes and a union. The union, however, contained an eagle perched on a shield of the United States and a half-wreath beneath the shield, with 29 stars encircling the entire design. Beginning in 1876, Marines carried the national colors (the Stars and Stripes) with "U.S. Marine Corps" embroidered in yellow on the middle red stripe. 

At the time of the Vera Cruz landing in 1914, a more distinctive standard was carried by Marines. The design consisted of a blue field with a laurel wreath encircling the Marine Corps emblem in the center. A scarlet ribbon above the emblem carried the words "U.S. Marine Corps," while another scarlet ribbon below the emblem carried the motto "Semper Fidelis." 

Orders were issued on 2 April 1921 which directed all national colors be manufactured without the yellow fringe and without the words "U.S. Marine Corps" embroidered on the red stripe. This was followed by an order dated 14 March 1922, retiring from use all national colors still in use with yellow fringe or wording on the flag. Following World War I, the Army practice of attaching silver bands carrying inscriptions enumerating specific decorations and battles was adopted. This practice was discontinued on 23 January 1961. 

Marine Corps Order No. 4 of 18 April 1925 designated gold and scarlet as the official colors of the U.S. Marine Corps. These colors, however, were not reflected in the official Marine Corps standard until 18 January 1939, when a new design incorporating the new colors was approved. The design was essentially that of today's Marine Corps standard. 

For a brief time following World War I, the inscribing of battle honors directly on the colors of a unit was in practice, but realization that a multiplicity of honors and the limited space on the colors made the system impractical, and the procedure was discontinued. On 29 July 1936, a Marine Corps Board recommended that the Army system of attaching streamers to the staff of the organizational colors be adopted. Such a system was finally authorized by Marine Corps Order No. 157, dated 3 November 1939, and is currently in practice. 

The MCO P10520.3B - Marine Corps Flag Manual may be obtained online at the following: Please note that the official source for authentic and current digital publications issued by Headquarters Marine Corps staff agencies, major commands, and other DOD and Federal agencies that issue publications used by the Marine Corps is "Publications" on the Marine Corps homepage (MarineLINK) at

Reference Branch
USMC History Division

Parade Precedence


The rationale behind the present parade precedence structure appears to be based more on custom than on any documented set of criteria. The majority of texts, manuals, and guides on the subject of military and naval customs and traditions appear to cite service seniority as the determining factor in deciding the precedence of the armed forces in parades.

The Marine Officer’s Guide, section 1823, states “To avoid conflicts at parades or ceremonies, the places of honor are allocated in order of Service seniority…” Likewise, in Military Customs and Traditions, it is stated that “Precedence among military units vary much as among people - is normally determined by age.”

A joint-service color guard marches down a spectator-lined avenue during a parade honoring Desert Storm veterans.  

In theory, this criteria for establishing the parade precedence of the various armed forces would seem to be very straightforward and easily comprehendible. However, in practice this is not the case. There exists among the various branches of the services a divergence of opinion on the issue of dates which mark the beginnings of their respective branches.

Service seniority can be interpreted in a number of ways. For example, one could trace the origins of the various branches in their respective dates when the Continental Congress passed initiating resolutions. Using this criteria we could find the Army being established in June 1775, the Navy in October 1775, and the Marines on 10 November 1775.

However, seniority of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps is obscured by the divergent elements of the intentions of the Continental Congress as compared to the realization of those intentions. Although the intention of the Congress to established an Army is apparent in several resolutions of June 1775, the realization of those intentions was not effected until 1 January 1776 when General Washington states in his orderly book, “This day giving commencement to the new Army which in every point of view is entirely Continental.”

Likewise, the Navy which the Congress created by resolution in October 1775 was not to be realized until several months later. The process of procuring and outfitting ships as well as enlisting and commissioning personnel was a time-consuming one. The commander in chief of the Navy and other officers were not commissioned until 22 December 1775.

The Marine Corps, on the other hand, even though established by resolution on 10 November 1775, was actually a force in readiness before the Army or the Navy. Samuel Nicholas was commissioned a Captain of Marines on 28 November 1775, a month before the first officer of the Continental Navy was commissioned. Indeed, the Marine Corps’ claim to being the oldest integral force in being results primarily from fortunate circumstances. The Corps was much smaller and more closely knit than either of the other services, and its origin was not complicated by the existence of provincial and local forces already in the field. Thus, the Continental Marine force was all regular Marine from the beginning during the period when the Army was an amorphous mass of mixed Continentals and militia, and the Navy lacked ships. The Marine Corps appears, therefore, to be the first truly “federal” armed services branch.

The question of seniority of the armed services is further confused by the fact that nearly all of the original Colonies placed militia, ships, and troops serving as Marines in action at the opening of hostilities, before the establishment of the Continental Congress. It could be argued that these forces, having been taken under Continental pay and control, constituted the beginning of the American Army, Navy, and Marines.

Thus, it seems that no definitive case can be made for establishing the relative seniority of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. In fact, the only facts that correspond with the present parade order of Army, Marine Corps, and Navy respectively, are the dates when their first officers were commissioned, in June, November, and December of 1775. It appears that the present order of parade precedence has evolved over the years, perhaps initially based on early opinions of the actual dates of origin of the services. In any case, the present order of parade precedence has become one of our foremost military customs and as the foregoing has indicated, there appears to be little evidence to support any change in that order. The present order of parade precedence is indicated in DoD Directive 1005.8 as Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. Therefore, by analogy, the order of display of colors should be in the same order.

Reference Branch
USMC History Division

Marine Corps Birthday


Read Major General John A. Lejeune's Birthday Message


The U.S. Marine Corps begins preparations for its "birthday party" every summer. Activities become more feverish as the fall hues arrive. By early November, every Marine is either rehearsing his role in the "party" or pressing, polishing, and spit-shining in order to appear at his or her best for the Birthday Ball. This has not always been the case, however. In fact, Marines have not always celebrated their founding on November the 10th. 

Formal commemoration of the birthday of the Marine Corps began on 10 November 1921. That particular date was chosen because on that day the Second Continental Congress resolved in 1775 to raise two battalions of Continental Marines. 

Until 1921 the birthday of the Corps had been celebrated on another date. An unidentified newspaper clipping from 1918 refers to the celebration of the 120th birthday of the Marine Corps on 11 July "as usual with no fuss." It is doubtful that there was any real celebration at all. Further inspection of documents and publications prior to 1921 shows no evidence of ceremonies, pageants, or parties. The July date was commemorated between 1798 and 1921 as the birthday of the Corps. During the Revolution, Marines had fought on land and sea, but at the close of the Revolution the Marine Corps and the Navy were all but disbanded. On 11 July 1798, President John Adams approved a bill that recreated the Corps, thereby providing the rationale for this day being commemorated as the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. 

On 21 October 1921, Maj Edwin McClellan, Officer-in-Charge, Historical Section, Headquarters Marine Corps, sent a memorandum to Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune, suggesting that the original birthday on 10 November 1775 be declared a Marine Corps holiday to be celebrated throughout the Corps. Maj McClellan further suggested that a dinner be held in Washington D.C., to commemorate the event. Guests would include prominent men from the Marine Corps, Army, and Navy, and descendants of the Revolution. 

Accordingly, on 1 November 1921, MajGen Lejeune issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. The order summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps, and directed that it be read to every command on 10 November each subsequent year in honor of the birthday of the Marine Corps. This order has been duly carried out. 

Some commands expanded the celebration during the next few years. In 1923 at Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania, the celebration of the Marine Corps' 148th birthday took the form of a dance in the barracks that evening. Marines at the Navy Yard, Norfolk, Virginia, staged a sham battle on the parade ground in commemoration of the birthday. The battle lasted about twenty minutes, and was witnessed by Portsmouth and Norfolk citizens. At Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the birthday was celebrated on the 12th, since a special liberty to Santiago had been arranged on the 10th. The morning activities included field and water sports, and a shooting match. In the afternoon the Marines won a baseball game, 9-8, over a Cuban team. In the evening, members of the command put on a variety show followed by four boxing bouts. 

The first so-called "Birthday Ball," such as suggested by Maj McClellan, was probably held in 1925 in Philadelphia. No records have been located of one prior to 1925. Guests included the Secretaries of War and Navy, Major General Commandant Lejeune, famous statesmen, soldiers, and sailors. The principle event was the unveiling of a tablet on the site of Tun Tavern. The tablet was a gift from the Thomas Roberts Reath Post, American Legion, whose membership was composed exclusively of Marines. The celebration was held in conjunction with the annual convention of the Marine Corps League. A parade included Marines, Regular Army, and Navy detachments, National Guard, and other military organizations. The evening banquet was held at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel and a ball followed at the Bellevue-Stratford. 

It is not possible to determine precisely when the first cake ceremony was held, but there is evidence of a ceremony being held at Quantico, Virginia, in 1935.

Also on record was one held at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., in 1937 where Major General Commandant Thomas Holcomb presided at an open house for Marine Corps officers. Ceremonies included the cutting of a huge cake designed after the famous Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. 

From 1937, observances of the Marine Corps Birthday appeared to develop spontaneously throughout the Corps as if they had a life of their own. The celebrations were publicized through every media. Newsreels, motion pictures, and displays were prepared to summarize the history of the Corps. In 1943, standard blank Marine Corps scrap books were forwarded to all districts to be filled with 168th anniversary clippings, scripts, pictures, programs, and other memorabilia, and returned to Headquarters. Unfortunately none of these scrapbooks remain in official files. 


In 1951, a formal Birthday Ball Pageant was held at Headquarters Marine Corps. Similar to the pageant today, the script described the Marines' period uniforms and the cake ceremony. Although this is the first substantive record of a pageant, Leatherneckmagazine of 10 November 1925 pictures Marines at a pageant in Salt Lake City, Utah, which had taken place "several years ago."

On 28 October 1952, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., directed that the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday be formalized throughout the Corps, and provided an outline for the cake ceremony, as well as other formal observances. This outline was included in the Marine Corps Drill Manual, approved 26 January 1956.

Traditionally, the first piece of Birthday cake is presented to the oldest Marine present and the second piece to the youngest Marine present. When and where this tradition began remains unknown. Some records indicate this practice, and others vary it depending on the dignitaries present at the ball. First pieces of cake have been presented to newlyweds, the Secretary of the Navy, governors, and others, but generally speaking, the first pieces of cake go to the oldest and youngest Marines at the ball.

At present, celebrations of the Marine Corps Birthday on 10 November differ at posts and stations throughout the Corps. All commemorations include the reading of Marine Corps Order No. 47, and the Commandant's message to those assembled. Most commands sponsor a Birthday Ball of some sort, complete with pageant and cake ceremony as prescribed in the Marine Corps Manual.

Like the Corps itself, the Birthday Ball developed from simple origins to become the polished, professional function that all Marines commemorate on 10 November around the world.

Read Major General John A. Lejeune's Birthday Message

Click here to read additional Commandant Birthday Messages

Reference Branch
USMC History Division



Marine Corps University