Semper Fi: The U.S. Marine Corps Turns 239
Today is the 239th birthday of the United States Marine Corps:
Since the Corps’ founding in 1775 (the first enlistments are said to have occurred in Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern), the Marines have earned the moniker “the few, the proud” by establishing themselves as America’s elite fighting force. Their triumphs are legendary, spanning such crucial battles as Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Khe Sanh and, most recently, Fallujah. Perhaps the most courageous moment in a history steeped in valor occurred during the Korean War, at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Surrounded by the 150,000 soldiers comprising the Chinese 9th Army Group, the Marines found themselves outnumbered 10-1, enduring brutal temperatures that reached -50 degrees. Rather than retreat, they fought their way through the ambush, not simply surviving but wiping out or crippling seven Chinese divisions (estimated Chinese casualties number between 40,000-80,000). The heroic stories that emerged from the battle are numerous; among them, the tale of William Windrich, who was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor:
Late in the afternoon on 1 December 1950, because enemy aggressors at Yudam-ni surrounded his company, they Marines were ordered to move toward Hagaru-ri. By the time they reached Hill 1520 (Hill number shows elevation in meters), three miles southeast of Yudam-ni, it was very dark and the temperature averaged a minus 40 degrees. The companies relocated a few times, and then back to a knoll between two rugged mile-high mountains where grenades, machine guns and rifle fire bombarded them. Staff Sergeant William Windrich led a rifle squad of twelve men to meet the enemy head on, armed with a M-2 carbine. Seven of his men were wounded or killed before they reached the forward position they were to defend.
Windrich was also wounded in the head by a bursting grenade. As blood gushed down his shoulder and back he moved his remaining men into a tight fire group. Then he ran to the company command post, drafting a small group of volunteers, and led them to evacuate the dying and wounded. Assuming command of what was left of a platoon, Windrich once more took up defensive positions. Now shot in both legs, he kept fighting, always refusing medical attention. For a long time he crawled in the snow, back and forth between his men shouting words of encouragement, deploying his forces and helping to throw back the attackers.
Only after the communist had been beaten off on the morning of December 2 did Staff Sergeant Windrich collapse and die due to the bitter cold, excessive loss of blood and severe pain.
In the words of Commandant John A. Lejeune, who inaugurated the celebration of the Marine Corps birthday in 1921,
The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence, the Marine Corps has been in action against the nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.
In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.
This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.