The history of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) begins with the founding of the Continental Marines on 10 November 1775 to conduct ship-to-ship fighting, provide shipboard security and discipline enforcement, as well as assist in landing forces. In February 1776, the Continental Marines embarked on their maiden expedition. The Continental Marines were disbanded at the end of the war, along with the Continental Navy. In preparation for the Quasi-War with France, Congress created the United States Navy and the Marine Corps. The Marines’ most famous action of this period occurred in the First Barbary War (1801–1805) against the Barbary pirates. In the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), the Marines made their famed assault on Chapultepec Palace, which overlooked Mexico City, their first major expeditionary venture.
The First Barbary War and the Mexican-American War are permanently enshrined in the first lines of The Marines’ Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the shores of Tripoli.” The U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force all have their own songs, but the U.S. Marines are unique in that they are the only service branch that has a Hymn. The Marines’ Hymn is one of the most readily recognized songs in the world today and is the oldest of the service songs of our country. Ironically, nobody knows who wrote it.
From The Marine Band Archives:
“The music to the hymn is believed to have originated in the comic opera Geneviéve de Brabant composed by the French composer Jacques Offenbach. Originally written as a two-act opera in 1859, Offenbach revised the work, expanding it to three acts in 1867. This revised version included the song “Couplets des Deux Hommes d’Armes” and is the musical source of The Marines’ Hymn.
The author of the words to the hymn is unknown. One tradition suggested that an unknown Marine wrote the words in 1847. This would have been 20 years before the music was written by Offenbach and is not likely. The first two lines of the first verse were taken from words inscribed on the Colors of the Corps.
After the war with the Barbary pirates in 1805 the Colors were inscribed with the words “To the Shores of Tripoli.” After Marines participated in the capture of Mexico City and the Castle of Chapultepec (also known as the Halls of Montezuma) in 1847, the words on the Colors were changed to read “From the shores of Tripoli to the Halls of Montezuma.” The unknown author of the first verse of the hymn reversed this order to read “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”
In 1929 the Commandant of the Marine Corps authorized the following verses of The Marines’ Hymn as the official version:
“From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
On the land as on the sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.
Our flag’s unfurled to every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in ev’ry clime and place
Where we could take a gun;
In the snow of far-off Northern lands
And in sunny tropic scenes;
You will find us always on the job
The United States Marines
Here’s health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve;
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.”
Nov. 21, 1942, the Commandant of the Marine Corps approved a change in the words of the fourth line of the first verse to read, “In the air, on land, and sea.”
Due to the availability of Marine forces at sea, the United States Marine Corps has served in nearly every conflict in United States history. The Corps attained prominence when its theories and practice of amphibious warfare proved prescient, and ultimately formed a cornerstone of the Pacific Theater of World War II. By the early 20th century, the Marine Corps would become one of the dominant theorists and practitioners of amphibious warfare. Its ability to rapidly respond on short notice to expeditionary crises has made and continues to make it an important tool for American foreign policy.
Nov. 10th 1954, the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, depicting the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima in 1945, was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Arlington, Virginia. During the battle for Iwo Jima, photographer Joe Rosenthal took the famous photo, Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima, of five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi.
The history of the United States Marines is a history of American Warriors. The few and the proud who serve our nation in her darkest hours according to a Warrior’s Code of Duty, Honor and Country.