On 10 November 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the raising of two battalions of Marines for the defense of the colonies, which were then preparing to protect their rights, as they saw them, against the aggressions of the mother country.
Marine Corps Commandant Major General John A. Lejeune, in his first Proceedings article, “The United States Marine Corps,” in October 1925, continued:
From that distant date down to the present day the United States Marines have continued to serve as an integral part of the United States Navy and in peace and war have proved their worth as the military arm of the Navy. In all of the wars in which the United States have engaged, the Marines have played their part according to their abilities and the occasions offered, and how well this part has been played is amply testified to in many of the reports of the admirals who have commanded our squadrons and fleets on the seven seas throughout the 150 years that have looked down upon the organization and growth of our nation.
One of the first Marine-authored Proceedings articles, written by Captain John T. Myers at the request of the Naval Institute, was published in 1902: “Military Operations and the Defenses of the Siege of Peking.” While several Western nations had troops on scene, Myers focused on the defense of the U.S. delegation.
There were no “military operations” that would justify the name during the siege. It was all a matter of “sitting tight” behind a barricade, constant vigilance night and day, and firing promptly at such of the Chinese as had the temerity to expose themselves. Only once in the experience of the writer did the Chinese leave the shelter of their barricades to make an attack. . . . We got ready for them and when they were some 200 yards away rose on the banquette and fired over the top of our barricade. They broke and ran back, and not until the last of them had squirmed and wiggled through the tall grass to the safety of their barricades was our fire returned. . . . The horrors of this phase of the siege are indescribable. The many dead bodies of men, horses, and dogs, outside and close to our lines, made breathing at times difficult.”
In 1912–13, future Lieutenant Colonel Edwin McClellan commanded the Marine mounted detachment in China. As the first head of the Marine Historical Section in April 1923, he published “How the Marine Band Started.”
Probably the first important appearance of the Marine Band was at the inauguration of President Thomas Jefferson, March 4, 1801. . . .
Finally, on July 25, 1861, President Lincoln approved an Act of Congress that authorized the enlisted of one principal musician and “thirty Musicians for the Band,” in addition to the Drum Major, who had been authorized since the beginning of the Corps. . . .
[R]ecognition [had] finally accorded by Congress to the Marine Band—the famous “President’s Own”—that has played for every President except George Washington.
Much of the November 1928 Proceedings included articles on the Marine Corps, its achievements, and its direction forward. In his Secretary’s Note, Navy Captain R. C. MacFall applauded the foreword to the issue by Commandant Lejeune. That the issue included an article translated from German by retired German Army Lieutenant Colonel Ernst Otto on “The Battles for the Possession of Belleau Woods, June 1918,” giving an authoritative German account. Lejeune, as a brigadier general, had cemented his fame taking command of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Division and prevailing with his Marines in the brutal fighting.
Lieutenant Colonel Otto included three paragraphs from the August 1918 report of the German commanding general of the 4th Reserve Corps, General Richard von Conta, addressing the Americans’ performance in the battle.
The 2nd American may be described as a very good division, and might even be considered as fit for use as shock troops. The numerous attacks by the two Marine regiments in Belleau Woods were executed vigorously and without regard for the consequences. Our fire did not affect their morale sufficiently to interfere appreciably with their advance; their nerves had not yet been used up. . . .
In spirit the troops are lively and full of a grim, but good-natured, confidence. Indicative is the expression of a prisoner: “We kill or get killed.”
Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, the Marine Corps continued to evolve. In a 1936 Proceedings article, Commandant Major General John H. Russell described the progression from expeditionary forces to the Fleet Marine Force under the orders of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet.
In his January 1946 follow-up article “The Birth of the FMF,” General Russell, by then retired, wrote:
With the organization of the FMF it became evident that rules and doctrines covering landing operations were essential to progress. . . . Four months of highly intensive work resulted in the production of a comprehensive and most valuable treatise . . . [titled] “Manual of Landing Operations.” This material was sent to the Office of Naval Operations and to the Fleet where some changes and additions were made and . . . the Manual was adopted by the Navy and issued to the Naval Service.
In the past few years, the FMF has grown from one division to many and in its service in the Pacific during the recent war as part of the fleet it has added many brilliant pages to the history of the Marine Corps. It was certainly anathema to the Japanese, and in this connection it is interesting to note that Navy Department G.O. 241, establishing the Fleet Marine Force, was issued on December 7, 1933.
In July 1942, Congress authorized the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. The idea was that women would free male Marines for combat by replacing them at shore stations. Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter was tapped to become its first director, and she received her commission and was sworn in on 29 January 1943. In her U.S. Naval Institute oral history, she talked about her efforts at recruiting women for the reserve:
The first thing, that they were needed, that this was no show, that this was a vast necessity. And then the theme, of course, was always, “Free a Man to Fight.”. . .
There were many places where we could do just as well in this country as the men could and, in some cases, better. This was our function.
The Women’s Reserve was a huge success. In its first eight weeks of existence, 2,495 women enlisted. Within a year, there were 800 officers and 14,000 enlisted members in the Women’s Reserve; eventually, there would be 1,000 officers and 18,000 enlisted members.
In one of the Marines Corps’ brilliant pages from World War II, a key part of the Manual of Landing Operations was not followed. “Among the lasting controversies of the Pacific war, that which surrounds the pre–D-Day bombardment of Iwo Jima will be debated as long as men remember the battle.” So the magazine introduced Marine Colonel Robert D. Heinl’s July 1963 article, “Target: Iwo.”
Admiral Turner, supported in the main by his immediate superior, Admiral Spruance, Commander Fifth Fleet, rejected the successive requests from Generals Schmidt and Holland Smith for ten days’ preliminary bombardment. . . . Finally, on 2 January 1945, General Schmidt asked that, if three days were all that could be allocated, the weight of the fire be concentrated almost wholly on the defenses of the preferred beaches so as to ensure at minimum that the landing would succeed. . . .
A culminating irony of the decision to curtail the Iwo Jima bombardment to three days remained veiled throughout most of the battle, while the Marines of the V Amphibious Corps—so grimly forecast by Holland Smith—were sustaining “casualties far beyond any heretofore suffered (25,581 in all, including 5,931 killed).”
Marine Corps Commandant General Alexander A. Vandegrift took stock of the service in his February 1948 article, “The Marine Corps in 1948.” The 1947 National Security Act created the Department of Defense, and a unification battle was on, with some arguing that naval aviation should go to the Air Force and the Marines should become part of the Army.
Vandegrift, in the thick of that battle, skirted it in his article addressing substantive steps required by the Marines for success in combat in the postwar era—to be not just prepared but ready hour by hour.
The crossroads I envisage is one which all victorious, successful, and vigorous military organizations encounter after signal victory. We have come so far by time-tried methods; will they continue to serve? Can we adjust ourselves to new tests involving new military situations with which we are no more familiar than those which confronted us at the outset of World War II? In a word, can we retain the vital flexibility of a healthy organism?
The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir was fought early in the Korean War during severe winter weather in a mountainous area. It became one of the Marine Corps most storied exploits. In an excerpt of his Naval Institute Press book, Colder than Hell, published by Proceedings in 1996, First Lieutenant Joseph R. Owen, who served in the 1st Marine Division during the battle, wrote:
These Marines had fought through frigid weeks with no shelter except the holes they scooped into the snow at night. They functioned at the primal level: they ate, slept, and fought, and they tried to get warm. The hooded green parkas that covered the lengths of their bodies were streaked with the blood of the wounded men they had carried and the stains of half-frozen food spooned from ration cans. Their faces, the only flesh exposed to the cold, were crusted with dirt that went deep into blackened pores. Lips were puffed and split. Stubbled beards held smears of food and rivulets of frozen mucus and saliva.
The Marines were back in action in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. As a captain, future Colonel John Ripley would be awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic actions in combat. In Proceedings excerpts from his 1996 Naval Institute Press book, The Bridge at Dong Ha, retired Colonel John Grider Miller wrote:
Two NVA infantry divisions spearheaded by a large tank column were closing in on the town of Dong Ha, site of a key highway bridge across the Cua Viet. Heavy artillery fire rained on the town. The invaders appeared determined to reduce Dong Ha to a graveyard. . . .
Blocking the way was the Third Battalion of South Vietnamese Marines, 700 strong, and their U.S. Marine advisor, Captain John Walter Ripley. Although the Marines—the Soi Bien—were supported by a South Vietnamese tank battalion, itself outnumbered 20-1, it soon became clear that the bridge would have to be destroyed, and Ripley would have to do it. . . .
Ripley, under enemy fire, repeatedly worked his way hand-over-hand swinging underneath the bridge, his fingers gripping the girders, carrying heavy satchel charges, TNT, detonators, and wire strapped to him and swinging and cutting into his shoulders and body.
The minute he swung his legs up the firing stopped. As he crawled back to the south bank only an occasional harassing shot spanged against the girders. . . .
Because of the way Ripley had the demolitions angled across the stringers, the trips would be getting shorter, closer to the south bank in each channel. He thought he might even gain some time, but changed his mind when he began to drag the next boxes of TNT. They seemed twice as heavy as the first. . . .
After pulling the final boxes of TNT into place and rigging the final earmuff charge in the upstream channel, he had only a short handwalk back to the south bank, pursued by relentless but ineffective fire.
But Ripley was not done. He had to go back out on the bridge one more time to set the detonators. In all, he dangled for an estimated three hours to attach 500 pounds of explosives to the bridge, which ultimately destroyed the structure.
Proceedings authors were not only capturing such incredible history, they also were looking into the future with crystal balls both clear and sometimes murky. The May 1980 Proceedings Naval Review issue included “The U.S. Marine Corps: Strategy for the Future,” by Reserve Lieutenant Colonel William M. Krulak, who wrote: “In its over two hundred years of existence the Marine Corps has never been at a more significant watershed than it is today. As with any momentous decision point, the potential outcomes vary dramatically.”
In his preface to the issue, Review Editor Frank Uhlig Jr., summarized the issues:
The shortage of money is not the only reason for letting our amphibious assault capability slide. According to Lieutenant Colonel Krulak, the “development and proliferation of precision-guided weapons as well as the overall weight of firepower in Soviet and Warsaw Pact ground forces . . . argues against a major amphibious assault in the European theater.” In a war in Europe, “major amphibious operations in the theater or on its flanks during the early phase of such a conflict would be prohibitively expensive” and “would dilute unacceptably the major naval effort in support of the central strategy.” As a consequence, Colonel Krulak observed, “today the Navy, as an institution, sees the Marine Corps and the amphibious system as little more than a drain on scarce Navy resources.”
In view of the common doubt over the amphibious assault mission and the well-publicized requirement for a rapid deployment force, Colonel Krulak proposes that the Marines “should develop the doctrine, techniques, structure, and equipment that are directed toward one goal: the ability to provide a credible, instantaneous crisis management force wherever needed throughout the world. This force would be capable of movement by and forcible entry from various means of strategic lift,” including amphibious ships. Colonel Krulak proposes that the Marine units, both ground and air, be both smaller than they are now and armed differently.
“The major NATO training exercise Teamwork 84, conducted in northern Norway during February–March of this year, was the largest amphibious exercise ever conducted above the Arctic Circle in wintertime,” Marine Colonel Joseph H. Alexander wrote in “The Role of Marines in the Defense of North Norway,” in the May 1984 Proceedings Naval Review issue,
Teamwork 84 reflected a growing NATO capability to deploy large numbers of combat troops under severe climatic conditions to reinforce a key member nation. It also illustrated some of the difficulties the alliance may expect in actually executing that reinforcement in the face of unique political restrictions, harsh geographic realities, limited strategic mobility assets, and an expanded Soviet interdiction capability.
The early road to new combat would, in fact, find the Marine Corps in a different theater of action—the Gulf War of 1990–91. Saddam Hussein overran Kuwait with Iraqi forces, and President George H. W. Bush, with allies and coalition partners, moved to evict the invaders. In May 1991, retired Marine Brigadier General Edwin Simmons wrote in “Getting the Job Done,”
The first major ground move of the land campaign began at 0400 on the morning of 24 February. . . .
By day’s end, the 1st Marine Division had taken Al Jaber airfield and the Al Burqan oilfield, claiming 21 enemy tanks destroyed and more than 4,000 prisoners. The 2d Marine Division had engaged an Iraqi armored column coming out of Kuwait City and defeated it, taking 5,000 prisoners. . . .
On G+3, 27 February, the 1st Marine Division completed the taking of Kuwait International Airport in the early morning, and prepared for the passage of its lines by Joint Forces Command East, which was to have the honor of entering Kuwait City. Out in front, a platoon from the 2d Force Reconnaissance Company reached the U.S. embassy and found it apparently untouched, with the Stars and Stripes still flying. The 2d Marine Division stayed in the vicinity of Al Jahra, forming the bottom half of the box that caught the retreating Iraqi main force, along what became known as the “Highway of Death.”
Although women first became a permanent part of the Marine Corps in 1948, full gender integration would take the service decades. In her November 1992 article, “Leading Women Marines,” Captain Caroline Simkins-Mullins wrote:
The overriding consideration when dealing with subordinates is the same for men and women. Leaders must know their Marines. Leaders must learn each Marine’s strengths and weaknesses, with as little regard to gender as possible. Although women may have special considerations that differ from their male counterparts (e.g., pregnancy and physical capability), these should not be given undue attention. A woman Marine’s health and physical limitations should be treated the same as those of a male Marine.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush underlined national resolve in an address to Congress. He then launched “the international cleanup” on 7 October with airstrikes and ground operations aimed at crushing al Qaeda and its leaders. Marine units were prominent among the troops first to arrive and enter combat in November 2001.
In his January 2002 Proceedings article “Why Are the Marines in Afghanistan?” West Point graduate Army Captain Bob Krumm commented ruefully and with praise:
Marine Corps doctrine states that the capabilities of the Marine expeditionary brigade (MEB) “will help lighten the load for the Army.” Instead, the Marine Corps’ foresight seems to have eliminated the need for the Army.
The Marines are doing what needs to be done in an ever-changing world—adapting. The Army, meanwhile, is content to build a smaller version of its former self. . . .
The Marines’ example is instructive. A MEB, much like an Army cavalry regiment, is far a more flexible force than an Army brigade. On its face, the MEB looks like an Army brigade with three infantry battalions and one armor battalion, but with important additions. The MEB is assigned fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, an artillery battalion, an engineer company, and a reconnaissance company. A MEB also has organic support assets for 30 days.
Assessing Marine rotary-wing performance was the assignment Captain Allen D. Grinalds took on in his March 2004 “Cobras Rock in Iraqi Freedom.”
Operation Iraqi Freedom saw the first use since Desert Storm of the AH-1W Super Cobra in sustained combat operations. During that time, the Marine rotary-wing attack community experienced many successes that validated its tactics, techniques, and procedures in support of ground forces during high-tempo combat operations. Operations also highlighted specific concerns relating to rotary-wing close air support, command-and-control challenges of rotary-wing aircraft in general, and the influence of prehostilities psychological operations during combat. . . .
A majority of close air support missions were conducted during daylight hours. This presented some difficult tactical choices for Cobra aircrews. Immediately, our tactical advantage of “owning the night” was negated, and close air support and armed reconnaissance exposure events (the number of times an aircraft is exposed to enemy fire in the conduct of a tactical sortie) took on new meaning. To fly above the small arms threat invited man-portable air defense engagement from the enemy. Use of terrain and low-altitude tactics to counter this threat placed aircrews squarely in the small arms threat.
Lieutenant General James N. Mattis, Commanding General, Marine Combat Development Command, and coauthor Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hoffman offered their perspective on expanding General Charles Krulak’s Three Block War concept, by adding a fourth block, in their November 2005 article, “Future Warfare: The Rise of Hybrid Wars.”
The Four Block War adds a new but very relevant dimension to situations like the counterinsurgency in Iraq. Insurgencies are wars of ideas, and our ideas need to compete with those of the enemy. Our actions in the three other blocks are important to building up our credibility and establishing relationships with the population and their leadership. Thus, there is an information operations aspect within each block. In each of the traditional three blocks our Marines are both “sensors” that collect intelligence, as well as “transmitters.” Everything they do or fail to do sends a message. They need to be trained for that, and informed by commander’s intent.
In recent years, junior Marines have taken to the pages of Proceedings to debate naval integration. In his November 2019 article, “Call in the Blue-Green Calvary,” Second Lieutenant James A. Winnefeld called for the Navy to deploy both variants of its littoral combat ships to give them calvary-like flexibility:
Both classes could work in concert to spread-load a lightweight ground, air, and logistical combat element across two cavalry-like platforms. Conceivably, the future ARG would consist of one LHD/A, one LPD, one LSD, and one of each LCS class, which would complement each other and provide mutual support. By adding two LCSs, the MEU commander could flex a scalable version of the MAGTF like never before.
In the same issue, Major Brian Kerg posed the question in his 2019 first-prize–winning essay, “What Does the Navy Need from the Marine Corps?” His answer? Align the Commandant’s Planning Guidance (CPG) and the Navy’s strategic vision.
The CPG demands transformation to provide the Navy and the nation with a force that can stay ahead of adversary capabilities. It seeks success primarily through deterrence—providing a force that will prevent conflict, rather than winning costly, unavoidable fights. . . . The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) for Plans and Strategy and other appropriate offices should rapidly develop a vision for employing the Marine Corps that harnesses the initiative and creativity of the CPG and integrates with Marine Corps planners to ensure Marine Corps force design aligns with the intent of Design 2.0.
In his November 2020 article, “Marines Will Help Fight Submarines,” then–Marine Corps Commandant General David H. Berger explained the role the Fleet Marine Force and expeditionary advanced bases will play in antisubmarine warfare (ASW):
Integrating cross-domain ASW operations into the Marine Corps’ expeditionary advanced base operations (EABO) concept could enable the joint force to sustain or widen its advantage in ASW. Conducted across the spectrum of conflict, theater-level ASW is a campaign of sustained actions over time for undersea advantage. By offering forward logistics and support, as well as sensor and strike capabilities, Marine expeditionary advanced bases (EABs) could make a significant contribution to undersea warfare campaigns, including holding Chinese and Russian submarines at risk.
“Adapt or perish now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative,” H. G. Wells wrote in The Mind at the End of its Tether. Borrowing from those words for his April 2022 Proceedings article “Stand-in Forces: Adapt or Perish,” Assistant Commandant General Eric Smith opened:
Change is hard, particularly for those as bound to tradition as are U.S. Marines. But change is inevitable in the business of war. In my 34 years of service, I have seen significant evolutions and revolutions, all accompanied by howls of “the old Corps is dead!” It is rumored that a private first class in 1776 lamented how much the Marine Corps had changed since he enlisted at Tun Tavern the year before. I say this in jest, but skepticism about change endures.
Recently, the Marine Corps published A Concept for Stand-in Forces, which lays out a new vision for the employment of Marines in support of naval campaigns and joint operations. Like all new concepts, it has caused much discussion and some amount of concern. . . .
U. S. strategy with respect to China is to use every instrument of national power across domains to achieve “integrated deterrence.” While the Marine Corps must retain its ability to strike and destroy adversaries in its assigned sector, we must also be capable of deterring the pacing threat. Our answer to these tasks is stand-in forces.
The pages of Proceedings have reported on decades of Marine Corps battles and changes, and will no doubt witness decades more as the service continues to adapt to meet today’s threats.