10 Facts About Marine Corps History and Traditions

By USO Staff

Almost everyone is familiar with the U.S. Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis, or “Always Faithful.” Some may even know the three core values of the Marine Corps: honor, courage and commitment. But do you know why Marines are nicknamed “Devil Dogs” or why “Oorah!” is their battle cry?

Here are 10 little-known facts about Marine Corps’ history and traditions:

1. The Marine Corps was founded even before America won her independence. In 1775, the Second Continental Congress created two battalions of Continental Marines to serve on land and at sea.

Their first amphibious raid took place less than a year later in the Bahamas.

2. Marine Navajo Code Talkers helped secure victory over Japan during World War II by creating an unbreakable code based on the complex Navajo language.

Photo credit U.S. Marine Corps

Corp. Henry Bake, Jr. and Pvt. 1st Class George H. Kirk, Navajo Code Talkers, operate a portable radio set in a clearing they’ve just hacked in the dense jungle close behind the front lines.

They were involved in every major Marine operation in the Pacific theater and allowed military tactics to pass between U.S. leaders uninterrupted.

3. German soldiers nicknamed Marines “Teufel Hunden,” or “Devil Dogs,” after their heroic fighting on the battlefields of France in 1918.

According to military lore, Marines were ordered to fight their way up a hill during the Battle of Belleau Wood of World War I while wearing gas masks, which made them sweat and turned their eyes bloodshot red. The Germans saw these figures clambering upward on four legs and thought they looked like the fierce mountain dogs from Bavarian folk stories.

4. The “President’s Own” Marine Band is the oldest, continuously active professional music group in America.

Photo credit U.S. Army/U.S. Army/Joseph B. Lawson

“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in October 2021.

It was founded in 1798 to perform for the president of the United States and the commandant of the Marine Corps.

5. “Oorah!” is a phrase used by the Marines to motivate one another during training.

It is an adaptation of “Aarugha,” which was the sound Marines stationed in Korea heard when klaxon alarms announced their submarine’s descent into the water.

6. The Marine Corps’ birthday cake-cutting ceremony is performed in honor of the branch’s birthday on November 10.

A cake-cutting ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina on Nov. 5, 2021. | Photo credit U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Julia Cochrane

A Mameluke sword is used to cut the cake, and the first few pieces are distributed in a very specific order. The first piece of cake is given to the Guest of Honor; the second piece goes to the oldest Marine present; and the third slice is handed to the youngest Marine present.

7. The Marines’ Hymn is the oldest official song in the United States military.

While the lyrics were written by an American, the music is from a 19th century French opera. The hymn was officially copyrighted in 1919. It is traditionally the last song played during official ceremonies and gatherings.

8. Each element of the Marine Corps emblem has a unique meaning.

The eagle is a symbol of the United States and is often associated with freedom. The globe represents the Marine Corps’ commitment to serving anywhere in the world. The anchor symbolizes the Corps’ amphibious duties and close ties to the Navy.

Photo credit U.S. Marine Corps/Chief Warrant Officer Pete Thibo

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jade Nichols discusses reasons for joining the Marine Corps on April 20, 2018.

9. The Marine Corps’ official flag, or “Battle Color,” is decorated with 55 colored streamers representing each of the branch’s unit awards and periods of service since the American Revolution.

It is carried by a senior sergeant who is selected from the Fleet Marine Force.

10. Chesty the Bulldog, the Marine Corps’ mascot, is named after Marine Lt. Gen. Louis B. “Chesty” Puller.

Lt. Gen. Puller was the only Marine to earn five Navy Crosses for heroism. Fifteen English bulldogs have assumed the role of Chesty since he became an official mascot in 1957. Each one has participated in parades and precision drills for adoring fans.

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