As we Marines – active, Reserve, retired, and former – celebrate the 235th anniversary of our birth in a Philadelphia alehouse during the American Revolution (specifically Nov. 10, 1775), three things come to mind.
First: Yes, we Marines boast. We always have – things like “it’s hard to be humble when you’re the finest” – but much of this boasting stems from the pride in our organization’s amazing successes and our hard-won reputation over the past two centuries. And it also comes from the fact that – because we are the smallest, most unique kid on the block – the bigger kids have always tried to knock us down, put us in our place, dismiss us as cult-like and unnecessary, and either absorb us into their own ranks or disband us entirely.
One example of this was Army Gen. Frank Armstrong, who in the late 1940’s – even after the Corps’ stunning performance in World War II – proposed absorbing Marines into the Army, and referred to us as “a small bitched-up army talking Navy lingo.”
Decades later, in 1997, Assistant Secretary of the Army Sara Lister proclaimed before a Harvard University audience, “I think the Army is much more connected to society than the Marines are. Marines are extremists. Wherever you have extremists, you’ve got some risks of total disconnection with society. And that’s a little dangerous.”
So you see we’ve had to boast a bit, if for no other reason than to counter our detractors.
Second: I’m reminded of the words of pro-Marine outsiders (non-Marines), who heap praise on us because they are secure enough in their own skins and we are so extraordinarily good at what we do (though some might wish we weren’t so good) that it would be insincere to deny us that praise.
Third: I’m reminded of the enemies of America who praise us in the expression of their fears.
So since this week is our birthday, let me share with everyone – the sheer point of this article – some of that praise from the big kids on the block (who aren’t always thrilled that we exist), the pro-Marine outsiders, and America’s enemies.
We begin with a bit of unintentional praise.
During the 1983 invasion of Grenada, Army Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, picked up a telephone and demanded to know why “two companies of Marines [are] running all over the island and thousands of Army troops [are] doing nothing. What the hell is going on?”
We continue with a bit of matter-of-factness.
James Adams, former CEO of United Press International, describes in his 1989 book, SECRET ARMIES, "Marines with 20 percent of the [American] force ended up occupying 80 percent of the island [Grenada]"