On November 10, 1775, at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, the United States Marine Corp was born by an act of Congress. Two battalions of Continental Marines under Captain Samuel Nicholas took the first of many steps since for the Corp that has served in every major and most minor conflicts of the United States.
The USMC has roughly 200,000 active men and women with another 40,000 reservists. The second smallest of the US military branches (the USCG is much smaller), the Corp is still larger than the standing armies of such countries as Britain or Israel. Almost 300 Medals of Honor have been awarded to Marines, a large number of them posthumously. Approximately 235,000 (and counting) Marines have been killed or wounded while serving their country.
But the Marine Corp story, the esprit de corp of the Marines, can never be illustrated with cold numbers any more than a Monet with a single white crayola. There have been many storied, feared, celebrated and romanticized military organizations throughout history, from the Sparta “300” to Mongol horsemen, from the Praetorian Guard to the Green Berets and Navy Seals. But no one has come close to the honor and respect afforded the Marines. The Marine Corp Hymn, in use since the late 1860s, is the most recognized military branch song in the country, perhaps the world. It elicits an immediate emotional response from a crowd in the first 3 notes.
I knew a Marine, a friend, who epitomized for me what it means to be a Marine. Sgt. Don Hill served before and during WWII. He was aboard the USS Nashville, in a gun turret when the ammunition exploded. Don was seriously injured in both legs and 19 young Marines died that day in a horrific scene hard to imagine. Later, Don would storm the beach at Iwo Jima and engage in hand to hand combat. He did it again at Okinawa where he lost his best friend.
Don went on to live a very productive life after the war, successful as a businessman, husband and father. I spent many hours over the years talking to Don and he always showed his Marine pride in the Corp, his fellow Marines and Nashville crew mates. But he would never really tell his story from the war, to me or anyone else. Only bits and pieces came out from our frequent conversations, conversations with others and as his wife Goldie told me, if he talked in his sleep. He was a loyal, brave, humble hero. He never faltered, never lost his pride in his fellow Marines, the Corp or his country. Don Hill was a Marine. Semper Fidelis Don.
If you know one, see one, say happy birthday to a Marine today. And thank them.