Monday, November 10, 2008

Leathernecks

"THEY tell the tale of an American lady of notable good works, much esteemed by the French, who, at the end of June, 1918, visited one of the field hospitals behind Degoutte’s Sixth French Army. Degoutte was fighting on the face of the Marne salient, and the 2d American Division, then in action around the Bois de Belleau, northeast of Chateau Thierry, was under his orders. It happened that occasional casualties of the Marine Brigade of the 2d American Division, wounded toward the flank where Degoutte’s own horizon-blue infantry joined on, were picked up by French stretcher-bearers and evacuated to French hospitals. And this lady, looking down a long, crowded ward, saw on a pillow a face unlike the fiercely whiskered Gallic heads there displayed in rows. She went to it.

“Oh,” she said, “surely you are an American!”

“No, ma’am,” the casualty answered. I’m a Marine.”


The men who marched up the Paris-Metz road to meet the Boche in the spring of 1918, the 5th and 6th Regiments of United States Marines, were gathered from various places. In the big war companies, 250 strong, you could find every sort of man, from every sort of calling. There were North-westerners with straw-colored hair that looked white against their tanned skins, and delicately spoken chaps with the stamp of the Eastern universities on them. There were large-boned fellows from Pacific-coast lumber camps, and tall, lean Southerners who swore amazingly in gentle drawling voices. There were husky farmers from the corn-belt, and youngsters who had sprung, as it were, to arms from the necktie counter.


And there were also a number of diverse people who ran curiously to type, with drilled shoulders and a bone-deep sunburn, and a tolerant scorn of nearly everything on earth. Their speech was flavored with navy words, and words culled from all the folk who live on the seas and the ports where our war-ships go. In easy hours their talk ran from the Tartar Wall beyond Peking to the Southern Islands down under Manila; from Portsmouth Navy Yard-New Hampshire and very cold-to obscure bush-whackings in the West Indies, where Cacao chiefs whimsically sanguinary, barefoot generals, with names like Charlemagne and Christophe, waged war according to the precepts of the French Revolution and the Cult of the Snake. They drank the eau de vie of Haute-Marne, and reminisced on sake, and vino, and Bacardi Rum-strange drinks in strange cantinas at the far ends of the earth; and they spoke fondly of Milwaukee beer.


Rifles were high and holy things to them, and they knew five-inch broadside guns. They talked patronizingly of the war, and were concerned about rations. They were the Leathernecks, the Old Timers; collected from ship’s guards and shore stations all over the earth to form the 4th Brigade of Marines, the two rifle regiments detached from the Department of the Navy by order of the President for service with the American Expeditionary Forces. They were the old breed of American regular, regarding the service as home and war as an occupation; and they transmitted their temper and character and view-point to the high-hearted volunteer mass which filled the ranks of the Marine Brigade.


There is nothing particularly glorious about sweaty fellows, laden with killing tools, going along to fight. And yet-such a column represents a great deal more than 28,000 individuals mustered into a division. All that is behind those men is in that column too: the old battles, long forgotten, that secured our nation-Brandywine and Trenton and Yorktown, San Jacinto and Chapultepec, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Antietam, El Caney; scores of skirmishes, far off, such as the Marines have nearly every year in which a man can be killed as dead as ever a chap in the Argonne; traditions of things endured and things accomplished, such as regiments hand down forever; and the faith of men and the love of women; and that abstract thing called patriotism, which I never heard combat soldiers mention-all this passes into the forward zone, to the point of contact, where war is girt with horrors.


Common men endure these horrors and overcome them, along with the insistent yearnings of the belly and the reasonable promptings of fear; and in this, I think, is glory." Captain John Thomason.


Happy Birthday, Marines.

3 comments:

nancyscalf said...

And a happy belated birthday from our Marine corps family to yours!

OOH RAH!

Nancy

Shay said...

before next year's birthday I'm gonna learn how to add music, by golly.

T-Mom said...

My dad was in the Marines in WWII. The Corps has always had a special aura for me. :)