SOME NOTES ON MARINE CORPS HISTORY, POLITICS, INTER-SERVICE RELATIONS, ETC.
"For your information the Marine Corps is the Navy's police force and as long as I am President that is what it will remain. They have a propaganda machine that is almost equal to Stalin's."
-President Harry S. Truman, 1950
How many times have we heard and read references and allusions made as to the insatiable desire of the Marines for publicity. Marines usually just shrug this off, deny or ignore it, or sometimes attempt to explain away this accusation. Too often we just look upon things of this nature assuming it to be just a case of professional jealousy, etc. But many of us may be unaware of certain facts relating to this particular controversy. Can this be something more than just simple inter-service rivalry? When did it begin? Under what circumstances? Is there any basis to this accusation?
The origin of this squabble dates back to the days of the World War. Fortunately, the history of the Marine Corps in WW I is well documented, and the answers to the above questions are available to us. To begin with, General Pershing, and generally the rest of the U.S. Army, did not want the Marines involved in the AEF in Europe at all. The Major General Commandant, George Barnett, however, was determined that a Marine expeditionary force would become part of the AEF.
Marines had long been the chosen instrument of the U.S. State Department for use in trouble spots around the globe, serving both Corps and country well. As a result of their performance, Marines had gained the attention, interest, and respect of the American public. The often used headline of the media, "The Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand," had long since become a familiar term and well-known to all. The Commandant, it seems, was well-connected politically, and he was able to convince those at the highest levels of government of the need for Marines in the coming war. War against Germany was declared on 6 April, 1917. On 29 May, President Wilson approved the sending of a Marine regiment equipped as infantry. Later, another Marine regiment and other units, was authorized. The Marines' slogan, "First To Fight," was to be upheld.
General Pershing, learning of this was much chagrined, "speechless" as one writer puts it. Pershing then attempted to reverse the situation but he was unsuccessful. When it was suggested that Pershing could not provide transportation to Europe for the Marines, they arranged for their own transportation; when the supply system could not provide for the replacement of Marine uniforms and equipment, the Marines agreed to wear Army uniforms. Although the Marine Corps already had regiments prior to the World War, their composition in both organization and number was different from the Army's, therefore numerous changes were quickly needed, and this accomplished. Whatever argument the Army managed to come up with, it was swiftly countered and overcome by the Marines.
The following information in "quotes" are by the authors as indicated. While not all of this information is directly related to the question at hand as to the main cause of the relations between the Army and Marines, and its far-reaching effects, however, it assists in better understanding of the general situation as it existed at that time, and it is interesting as well.
WORLD WAR ONE MARINES
"Pershing was mercilessly thinning the ranks of senior officers he considered too old or infirm for field command. Brigadier General Doyen was one of the casualties. He was invalided home and replaced by a Pershing favorite, Army Brig. Gen. James Harbord. Harbord had been Pershing's chief of staff and he had gone from major to brigadier general in a year. Col. Buck Neville, now the commander of the 5th Marines and far senior to Harbord at the war's beginning, had every reason to think that he should have been given command of the brigade. On Harbord's arrival, when Neville handed him a pair of Marine Corps emblems, it was half a greeting, half a challenge. Harbord promptly put them on his collar....On Bastille day, 14 July, Harbord, a jaunty hybrid in his poilu's helmet and Marine emblems, moved up to command of the 2d Division. Buck Neville took over the Marine brigade and would soon be promoted to brigadier general."
"...A French major, attempting to acquaint the Americans with the realities of the situation and not trusting his spoken English, scribbled out a note to Capt. Lloyd Williams, Commanding the 51st Company, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines. It read: 'Retreat, the Germans are coming.' Willaims, one of the 'old-timers,' looked at the Frenchman coldly and said, 'Retreat hell. We just got here.' A half-dozen others, Marine and Army, subsequently claimed the 'Retreat hell' quotation, but best evidence is that it was said by Captain Williams...."
"The Germans made their own sober assessment and begrudgingly allowed that the marines, with more experience, might be considered to be of storm-trooper quality. The marines earnestly told each other that the Heinies were calling them 'Teufelhunden,' or 'Devildogs,' but there is no evidence of this in German records."
"At dawn on 2 June, the German 28th Division...attacked along the axis of the road, destination Paris, and hit the Marine center. The German veterans got a lesson in rifle fire that began to kill at 800 yards. A French aviator thought he saw the American lines falling back and so reported to his Corps commander...an inquiry came down through channels....in turn asked Maj. Thomas Holcomb, commander of the 2d Battalion, 6th Marines. 'When I do my running,' said Holcomb flatly, 'It will be in the opposite dirction.'"
"...Brigadier General Lejeune had arrived in France with Barnett's offer of another Marine brigade for the American Expeditionary Forces and the personal expectation of becoming the Marine division commander. Pershing tartly reported to the secretery of War that 'While Marines are splendid troops, their use as a separate division is inadvisable.' He was, however, willing to take another Marine infantry brigade."
"Brig. Gen, Eli Cole brought over the5th Marine Brigade in September...command was passed from Cole to Smedley Butler, a brigadier general at thirty-seven, youngest in Corps history. To 'Old Gimlet Eye' Butler's intense disgust," because of Pershing's unwillingness to combine it with the 4th Brigade into a Marine division, the brigade was assigned to guard duty with the Service of Supply with headquarters at Brest."
"On 29 July, Harbord was detached...and Lejeune, in an Army concession to Marine sensibilities, moved up to command of the 2d Division..."
"The Marines got what the Army considered to be an inordinate amount of publicity for Belleau Wood. On 6 June, Floyd Gibbons had filed a story that began, 'I am up front and entering Belleau Wood with the U.S. Marines.' He was then badly wounded, including the loss of his left eye. Under the heavy-handed press censorship the names of of units and their locations were not ordinarily allowed in press dispatches. However, the censors, thinking that Gibbons was dying and had filed his last dispatch, allowed his story to go through uncensored. An American public, hungry for war news, seized upon the story that the Marines had saved Paris. This did not go down well with the Army, which chafed at the lack of mention of what the Army components of the 3d Division had done, to say nothing of the considerable contributions of the 3d Division at Chateau-Thierry. Worse, some newspapers gave the Marines credit for Chateau-Thierry itself. It was something that rankled the Army for many years to come."
In addition to the above account regarding Floyd Gibbons' dispatch and the resulting effect on the homefront public, and on the Army, there is this account from still another former Marine and author.
"Almost all of those Americans were doughboys, and they fought with the ferocity of soldiers robbed of their glory. Because of a slip in Pershing's iron censorship, the Marine brigade had been identified. It was the only unit so identified throughout the war, and as it happens when the press knows no other name, too often the glories of the doughboys were pinned on the breasts of the Marines. The Marines did not seek this distinction, although it helped to make the reputation of the Corps, but the doughboys thought that they did.Thus, the 2nd's infuriated soldiers took it out on the Germans dug in at Vaux on the right flank of Belleau Wood. They drove them out, and the first messenger of victory was a gigantic doughboy captain carried into a forward hospital with his legs in bloody splints. Sitting erect on his stretcher, groggy with ether, he cried out exhultantly: 'Oh, the goddam sonsabitches! The headline-hunting bastards! We showed the sonsabitches how to do it!'
The captain was not referring to the defeated German enemy."
And, in George B. Clark's book, "Devil Dogs-Fighting Marines of World War I,"--clearly the most detailed and factual account, of Marines In WW I to be found anywhere--the author states, in part, regarding the dispatch of 6 June, 1918, "...Gibbons, a war correspondent, ...was to have a greater impact on the Marine Corps, the AEF, and the folks at home than any other for sometime to come. He had taken the trouble to send a story to the censors in Paris, before the assault even took place, clearly intending to fill in a few colorful words after the fight was over. His being wounded the same afternoon was duly reported widely and reached the censor who had the story in Paris. Since Gibbons hadn't showed up at any aid station, the reaction was that he must have been killed. Therefore, the censor, a longtime former newsman and friend, allowed the story to go through uncut. That wouldn't have made much difference in most cases, but in this one its impact clouded relations between Marines and the U.S. Army for the next half century."
Because Gibbons had, against AEF regulations, stated the unit he was with, the U.S, Marines, "...his bloodcurdling embellishment made it seem as though the Marines were the only American troops fighting in France...when Gibbons 'information' became known in the United States, along with the news of the desperate fighting...the public easily put two and two together and got the U.S. Marines for an answer...It would be the Marines that were fighting the Germans...as far as the American newspaper-reading public was concerned, and the army howled. The use of the word Chateau-Thierry, the name of a sector as well as a town, would infuriate the 3d Infantry Division...The 3d Brigade was equally in an uproar. 'Those publicity hungry gyrenes...etc.' The Marines were entirely blameless for the blunder, but soldiers of all ranks never accepted their excuses or forgave them."
AND IN LATER YEARS...
As noted above, the injustice suffered by the Army was indeed apparently never forgotten or forgiven, as evidenced by Note #75, also in George Clark's book....
"75 In 1942, Douglas MacArthur, after he was urged to recommend units in the Phillipines for a Presidential Unit Citation, was questioned by President Roosevelt as to why he hadn't included the 4th Marines in his listing. He responded, 'The Marines received enough credit during the last war.'"
It had been President Roosevelt, years before, by the way, who as a young assistant secretary of the Navy...
"...on a tour of the Western Front, inspected the Marine Brigade on 5 August. Roosevelt had just visited Belleau Wood. On the spot he authorized the enlisted marines to wear Marine Corps emblems on the collars of their army issue uniforms (until then an officer's privilige) 'in recognition of the splendid work of the Marine Brigade.'"
MacArthur was also mentioned again....
"...the hatred of the Navy and the Marines was guaranteed when, two days before leaving for Australia," MacArthur recommended all units on Bataan and Corregidor for unit citations with the exception of Marine and Navy units...General Wainwright later corrected this deliberate slight, but he could never efface the memory of General Sutherland's pointed remark that the marines had gotten enough glory in the last war and would get no more in this one. If Christian theology states that one of the three sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance is to deprive the working man of his wages, what is to be said of robbing a soldier of his glory?"
On Saipan on 24 June, 1944, LtGen Holland M. Smith USMC (V Amphibious Corps) relieved MajGen Ralph Smith USA (27th Infantry Division) of his command.
"A furor arose, with bitter interservice recriminations, and the flames were fanned by lurid press reports. Holland Smith summarized his feelings three days after the relief. According to a unit history, THE 27TH INFANTRY DIVISION IN WORLD WAR II, he stated, "The 27th Division won't fight, and Ralph Smith will not make them fight." Army generals were furious, and in Hawaii, Lieutenant General Robert Richardson, commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific (USARPAC) convened an Army board of inquiry over the matter. The issue reached to the highest military levels in Washington."
Needless to say, the above incident did little to alleviate the already long inflamed state of relations between the Army and Marines.
AND STILL LATER...
The Marine Corps has always had its problems keeping its head above water in regard to its mission, strength, and also getting absorbed into the Army or Navy, and sometimes even the threat of going out of existence. The Navy and Marines in fact did cease to exist from 1783 until 1798. But the big threat came in the closing days of WW II, when the Marine Corps was nearly legislated out of existence.
"In the period between 1943 and 1947 the United States Marine Corps was involved in a struggle for its institutional life. For almost 150 years the question of armed forces unification was mute. As the United States emerged as a world power, increased calls for reorganization of the armed forces began to be heard...Sides began to form on the unification question even before the successful completion of the war. Each service had strong allied and distinct positions to defend. After several abortive attempts a unification bill was finally passed by the Senate in 1947. The bill did not provide statutory safeguards for Marine Corps missions. If passed by the House of Representatives the bill would spell the deathblow for the Marine Corps as a viable combat military organization. In the debate between the Army and the Navy, the Marine Corps had become an incidental pawn.
In the face of almost overwhelming obstacles, a group of some twelve Marine officers maneuvered to preserve the Marine Corps. These officers, collectively known as the Chowder Society, helped defeat the proposed legislation. Some of these officers helped draft the National Security Act of 1947, the legislation that spells out Marine Corps roles and missions even today....all Marines should be inspired by the personal courage of the men who made up the Chowder Society. Reading the accounts of these men I could see the deep animosities and petty jealousy they endured from their own brother in the Corps. Some Marine officers declined participation in the unification struggle because they felt the duty beneath them. They didn't want to get dirty or risk their careers. The sheer drive of men like Twinning and Thomas and the tenacity of men like Krulak and Hittle should inspire us all to a deeper love of our Corps. As long as one Marine breathes life in this Republic, the names of these brave men should never be forgotten.
Between 1946 and 1950 the Corps was faced with what amounted to a direct attempt to legislate it out of existence. In March, 1948 President Truman appointed his old political crony as Secretary of Defense. Truman had been an Army officer during WW I, and had no love for either the Navy or Marine Corps. Johnson effected a major budget reduction for the Corps and reduced the number of Marines to 70,000. This caused the Marine Corps to disband service troops to keep its two-division peacetime strength. Johnson then ordered the Corps to disband specific units retaining only ten under-strength battalions. He then refused to recognize the two-division structure and publicly announced further reductions for the Corps, with no unit above battalion-size.
He further publicly discussed merging the Marine Corps with the Army, a project which both interested and delighted the Army. He then forbade official observance of the November 10 Marine birthday; confiscated Gen Cates' official car; and reduced the ceremonial honors to which the CMC was entitled. Although congressional leaders forced him to retract his public statements, and restore the car, birthday and honors, Johnson would not be slowed down. He announced in June 1950 a further Marine reduction to only six battalions. On 25 June North Korea invaded South Korea, America was again at war and needed her Marines. By November Johnson was gone and the Marine Corps was expanding.
THROUGH THE YEARS...
"Beginning with the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the Marines had survived eleven serious proposals to disband the Corps or merge it with the Army.5"
"...Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who was inspecting Green Beach on Iwo Jima that morning in 1945, saw the Stars and Stripes go up atop Mount Suribachi and heard the beleaguered troops below come alive with whistles and cheers and shouts of joy. He turned to Marine General Holland M. Smith and said, 'The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years!'1"
Forrestal had been speaking of the first flag raising on Suribachi at about 1020 on the morning of 23 February 1945, not the raising of the second, or 'replacement' flag made famous by the Rosenthal photograph.
"In 1948 Secretary Forrestal--the same Forrestal who had predicted a long future for the Marines on the beachhead below Suribachi--warned the Corps not to begin thinking of itself as a second Army.14"
From the information above, it can be clearly seen that, aside from the question of the continued existence of the Corps, it was the Floyd Gibbons incident during WW I that was the basis for the now age old friction between the Army and Marines, though other subsequent happenings have continued to make matters even worse in that regard.
But the constant threat to the Marine Corps as to its existence had already been present from the start of its history. As the Corps grew and became a potential rival to the Army, so too, I think, the Army also came to think of the Corps as a threat to its own sole existence as the land army, or "standing army" of the U.S. Certainly, this was becoming clear when the Corps became of age as a full-fledged regimental and brigade-sized organization during WW I, and most cerainly, by WW II, and since.
I have heard it voiced many times, and read this too, that much of the support for retaining the Marine Corps in existence came from the fact that there were numerous influential members of congress who had served in the Corps themselves. Of course, this was likely more accurate in the years immediately following WW II, than it is now. But, could it be that the American people--now more than ever in this information age--would not stand for the absence of our Marine Corps? I would like to think so!
With all of these things in mind, I think, personally, that the ultimate decision as to retaining the Marine Corps in future years will arise from our country's need for it rather than the personal feelings, opinions, influence, and power of individuals and groups at any level, and in spite of history, politics, inter-service relations or whatever.
One more note regarding something the Marine's Marine, "Chesty" Puller once said. It happened on the occasion of Puller's testimomy at the S/Sgt McKeon Trial at Parris Island in 1956. "Puller went into the noncom's club that night with Berman, two Marine generals and other officers; the big crowd stood, shouting until he spoke: 'I've talked enough for today. This will be my last request. Do your duty and the Marine Corps will be as great as it has always been for another thousand years.' The applause was deafening."
Ref The book, Marine, by Burke Davis, 1962, Bantam
Dick Gaines, GySgt USMC (Ret.)
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Gunny G's Marines Sites & Forums
1. Devil Dogs-Fighting Marines of World War I, George B. Clark, 1999, Presidio Press
2. US Marine Corps In World War I 1917--1918, Henry/Pavlovic, 1999, Osprey
3. First To Fight, LtGen Victor H. Krulak, 1984, Simon & Schuster
4. The Wars Of America, Robert Leckie, 1968, Harper & Row
5. Iwo Jima -Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero, 1991, Marling/Wetenhall, Harvard University Press
6. The US Marine Corps Since 1945, Russell/Carroll, 1984, Osprey
7. The United States Marines A History, Edwin Howard Simmons, 1974, Naval Institute Press
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