15. Blood

Blood

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

‭‭2 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:15‬

Despite many assumptions, boot camp wasn’t only blood, sweat and tears. They worked our brains nearly as much as our bodies. A substantial portion was spent inculcating us with the esprit de Corps. First and foremost, the Marine Corps birthday and birthplace was drilled into our brains: November 10th, 1775 at a small bar in Philadelphia. 

That day in Tun Tavern a band of drunken ne’er-do-wells previously working as mercenaries to keep Navy shipmen in line, formed the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. Men who were aimless and nameless, once given a title and a purpose, rose to their calling with pride and dignity. Thus, the Marine Corps was born. Despite being established as a bona fide military organization, they never forgot their roots, striking the perfect balance between brutishness and professionalism. I’m not a historian, but it’s no coincidence that by July 4th, 1776, less than eight months after the formation of this grizzly gang, our independence was won.

They taught us the significant features of our uniform. The thick, elevated wrapping crowning the dress blues jacket harkens back to the leather collar first issued to Marines in 1798. The layered, three-inch “stock,” as they called it, ensured an attentive, erect posture at all times. This showy intention likely outweighed its limited protective capacity as leather can prevent dainty cuts but is unable to deflect slashes from scimitar swinging swashbucklers. The Navy belittled them by dubbing these high-collared hooligans “Leathernecks.” Just as the early followers of Christ absorbed the derogation, “Christian,” meaning “little Christs,” after naysayers snidely dubbed them, the Marines confounded their competitors by proudly owning this insult. 

Leatherneck wasn’t the only nickname given to Marines. In WWI, during the 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood, German forces overran the French. A reserve Army regiment and two Marine battalions were sent to reinforce the fractured ally. During the first skirmish, Marines held the line in a shallow trench, fixing bayonets as they waited in a field before firing within one hundred yards upon the German forces closing in. Three days later, Marines suffered many casualties as the Germans vengefully cut them down due to a faulty reconnaissance mission that missed an enemy machine gun nest. After many bloody battles and casualties, Marines secured Belleau Wood. According to legend, the Germans were so hounded by Marines during the nearly month-long battle, that they referred to these ravenous beasts as “Teuffel Hunden,” or Devil Dogs.

We learned of the bold red stripe tattooed on each side of the dress blue pant legs. According to Marine Corps teachings, this previously white strip became scarlet to honor the fallen in the 1847 battle of Chapultepec. The castle of Chapultepec, not far from Mexico city, was besieged by the Army and Marines during the Mexican-American war. Conquering this strategically advantageous position cost the lives of 7,200 Army soldiers. Marines lost 400 of their own, many of whom were men of rank. Commissioned and noncommissioned officers vowed never to forget their sacrifice by dipping this strip in blood-red dye. Not long after altering this feature of the uniform did it become known as the “blood stripe.”

Our soon to be most prized possession, the Eagle Globe and Anchor, still yet to be earned, was tantalizingly dangled before our eyes as its history was taught. Originating in 1776 as a rope-tangled anchor, a perched eagle was later added on the limb of the anchor beneath thirteen six-point stars. This premature logo is memorialized on the buttons of dress Alphas1 and Blues uniforms. The commandant of the Marine Corps, Brigadier General Jacob Zeilin, initiated a council in 1868 to cement the malleable logo into the concrete symbol we know today. The Eagle Globe and Anchor is the beacon that will forever proclaim no theater of war is beyond the purview of those who earn this insignia. Marines will always take the fight to the enemy “in the air, on land and sea.”2

History lessons educated us on the mameluke sword. This ornate blade is awarded to commissioned and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) for ceremonial use. Those holding a commission rate swords flashing more distinguished features. The Mameluke sword found its way into Marine Corps history when First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon received it from Prince Hamet in 1805 for his gallantry in leading the victory in Tripoli. The sword was inscribed with the name of the victorious episode called the Battle of Tripoli Harbor. It has since been passed down from generation to generation and is the only sword still in use in the modern American military.

Tales of former heroes also filled our ears. Legends such as Sergeant Major Dan Daly and Major General Smedly Butler were highlighted, two of the seven Marines to receive two Medals of Honor. Sergeant Major Daly led one of the first charges against Belleau Wood shouting a most famous quote among Marines, “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?!” General Butler served thirty-four years across many theaters, beginning in the Spanish American war and ending in WWI. He authored a book entitled War is a Racket,3 a work that outlines his criticisms of war, the military industrial complex, politicians and the ecosystem that enables businesses to profit from the deaths of others.

The demigod Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, recipient of five Navy Crosses,4 was also frequently referenced. General Puller, elevated to the highest station in Marine Corps lore, will forever receive alms dedicated to him. An extra pullup, another drink, an additional mile on a run or ruck and any number varying tributes will continually be offered to him as Marines shout, “For Chesty!”

Contemporary heroes were also honored. The story of Jason Dunham was the first impromptu sermon our platoon received from drill instructor Sergeant Colston. While intercepting vehicles attempting to escape after ambushing his battalion commander’s convoy, he approached one of them and was attacked by an insurgent. Dunham closed in on the man, taking him to the ground. In the midst of the scuffle, the enemy fighter armed a grenade. Without hesitation, Dunham removed his Kevlar helmet and leapt onto the explosive, covering it with its shell and his torso. The blast critically injured his brain and body, saving the lives of the two closest Marines. After remaining in a coma for eight days and the likelihood of recovery slim, his family mournfully decided to remove his life support. President George W. Bush Jr. posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to his family on his behalf.

We were introduced to historic conflicts and Marine units. They covered the Island Hopping Campaign emphasizing the keystone battle of Iwo Jima which produced the iconic image of Marines mounting the American flag. Cursory lessons taught us of The Marine raiders of World War II, the 1st Marine division in the Cho Sin reservoir of Korea, and the battle of Fallujah, the echoes of which could still be heard from the Marines who fought there barely three years prior. 

When we weren’t indoctrinated in the classroom we would often park in front of the many chest-high billboards scattered throughout the base that placarded Medal of Honor, Navy Cross and Silver Star citations from all branches of service. All of this knowledge culminated in a mandatory test at the end of our hellish summer camp and never stopped as the Marine culture continued to steep in us as it was frequently referenced in training, the Marine Corps Birthday and other ceremonies. 

Who they were is who we would become. Through ritualistic transfusions of tradition, we became brothers, heirs of an immoral legacy that far outstripped our shallow notions. This is why we will always be Marines, why the Marine Corps will never die. Once infused, the heritage, pride and ethos of the Marine Corps never leaves our blood.

  1.  Dress Alphas are the olive green uniforms accompanied by either a canoe-shaped soft garrison cover (nicknamed piss cover) or the more prominent peaked and circular barracks cover with black shoes
  2. Marine Corps Hymn, stanza 1 line 4
  3.  In episode 300 of Jocko Podcast, Jocko Willink reads sections and extracts principles from General Butler’s book
  4. Most are familiar with the Medal of Honor, the highest military award, but do not know of the less distinguished ones. The Navy Cross is the second highest commendation awarded in the Navy and Marine Corps, followed by the Silver Star and Bronze Star, each of which must be earned by tremendous valor on the battlefield. Only about six thousand Navy Crosses have been issued in all military history. Owning more than one almost impossible, except for Chesty freakin’ Puller

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