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Paying tribute to the history of the U.S. Marine Corps

Nov. 09, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

I guess many of you out there have never heard of Tun Tavern. That's not surprising really, as it was an inn in Philadelphia and it burned down in the year 1781. The place where it once stood is now under Interstate 95, but despite that, its memory is toasted every year on Nov. 10. Who does the toasting? None other than the U.S. Marine Corps.

So, you are probably wondering why the Marines toast the memory of a tavern. The answer is that it was here, in 1775, that the first recruits signed on for what was then the Continental Marines. On Nov. 10, 1775, the Naval Committee of the fledgling American government was directed by the Continental Congress to raise two marine battalions to be paid for at the Continental expense, but the corps probably owes its inception to an action by the British more than a hundred years before.

By the middle of the 17th century, the constantly squabbling nations of Europe were vying with each other for sea power; control of the oceans meant control of the newly discovered lands. Owning these brought wealth and that was worth fighting for.

For a time,soldiers were put on ships to act as sharpshooters and to provide men to form or repel boarding parties. Soldiers were not always available, however, so France and the Netherlands decided to train sailors for shipborne combat, but, in1664, England ordered the formation of a special regiment with the fancy title of the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot, also known as the Lord High Admiral's Regiment. It was formed solely to serve on ships. This regiment was the forerunner of today's British Royal Marines.

By the time the Revolutionary War started England had some four and a half thousand marines serving on the ships in her fleet and also, on occasion, being detached to form battalions of infantry serving ashore. Naturally, following their British heritage, when it was decided that the rebellious colonies needed a navy, Congress also authorized the formation of a corps of marines based on the British pattern.

The new corps soon saw action. Early in March of 1776, the Marines made their first amphibious landing on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas. Their task was to capture Fort Montagu and its store of gunpowder, but the defenders retreated to nearby Fort Nassau, which the marines took next day, capturing 46 cannon and thousands of round shot for General Washington's army.

Since then, of course, the Marines have been in every conflict the United States has fought. They became the U.S. Marine Corps in 1797 and were immediately in action against the French and Spanish in the Caribbean.

Soon after they made a landing in North Africa in an attempt to capture Tripoli, an action immortalized in the Marine Corps Hymn and also in the swords marine officers wear, which are replicas of one awarded by Prince Hamet Karamanli, who was impressed by bravery and discipline of the corps.

In the war of 1812 the marines did sterling work in the great frigate battles as well as providing essential infantry support at the battles of Bladensburg and New Orleans while in the Mexican War of 1845 they added glory to their reputation and another line to their hymn when they stormed Chapultepec Palace (the halls of Montezuma), above Mexico City.

Marines served on both sides in the Civil War and again made amphibious landings in the Spanish American War at the end of the 19th century, but it was at the battle of Belleau Wood in World War I that they began their world-wide reputation as a great fighting force.

The second World War enhanced and cemented that reputation with the Marine Corps bearing the brunt of the fighting in the Pacific theatre and taking part in numerous landings and every significant battle.

Since then, of course, they have been present in actions in every corner of the world, far too many actions for me to discuss in this short piece.

Some of the things I mention in this column, such as the murder of British policewomen and the arrest of people like Abu Hamza, are not pleasant, whilst others are interesting and enjoyable.

Occasionally I find a subject that I feel is an honor for me to write about. This brief history of the U.S. Marine Corps falls into the latter category. All over the world, man and women, proud to call themselves U.S. Marines, daily risk their lives to preserve our liberty. There are just two words that seem suitable to say thank you for a sacrifice like that on this, the anniversary of the founding of their corps. Those words, of course, are Semper Fi!

Derek Coleman is a part-time writer who is a native of England and who now lives in Hurricane, W.Va. He can be reached at tallderek@hotmail.com.