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Marine Corps Legends

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Many legends persist as to the uniform of the Marine Corps and the origin of certain traditional aspects. One frequent question raised is "Why do Marine officers and NCOs have red stripes on the blue uniform trousers?" According to legend this commemorates the courage and tenacious fighting of the men who battled before Chapultapec in the Mexican War and whose exploits added the phrase "From the Halls of Montezuma..." to the Marine Hymn. The red stripe on the trousers of all Marine officers and NCOs is said to symbolize the blood shed by these Marines of another century.

Lucy Brewer

No compilation of legends would be complete without mention of Lucy Brewer. A farm girl from Massachusetts, Lucy Brewer was the legendary first woman Marine. The War of 1812 was raging when Lucy arrived at Boston. Friendless in the strange city, she met a woman who seemed eager to take a stranger into her home. Lucy was surprised that one woman could have so many daughters, but she soon discovered that home was just a house.

Unsuited to a life of sin, Lucy fled her benefactress, donned men's clothing, and found refuge in the Marine Corps. No one discovered she was a woman, and as a member of the "Constitution's" Marine guard, she saw action in some of the bloodiest sea fights of the war.

Her exploits came to light when she published an autobiographical account of her experiences. She described her heroism in the major battles of the "Constitution" with such details as manning the fighting tops as a marksman, taking toll of the British with musket fire. True or not, the story of Lucy Brewer makes a wonderful addition to the colorful legends about the Marine Corps.

Origin of Marine Corps Hymn

According to legend, the first verse of the Marine Corps Hymn was written by a Marine veteran of the Mexican War and sung to a folk tune heard in Mexico. The words "From the Shores of Tripoli to the Halls of the Montezumas" appeared on Marine Corps standards shortly after the war, but the author reversed them with poetic license. The Civil War then gave new popularity to the Hymn.

In 1878 a member of the Marine Band reported that his wife remembered the melody as a folk song heard during her childhood in Spain. John Philip Sousa, long a leader of the Marine Band, identified the tune as a song in Jacques Offenbach's comic opera, "Genevieve de Brabant", first performed in Paris in 1859. It is known, however, that Offenbach liked to use Spanish folk music as a basis for his melodies.

A variety of verses were added to the first one through the years--each Marine campaign inspiring new ones. But by 1890 the first verse, at least, had become standard. The words remained settled until 1919 when the Commandant approved a revision of the last four lines, which were previously as follows:

    Admiration of the Nation
    We're the finest ever seen,
    And we glory in the title of
    United States Marine.

In 1942, by way of tribute to Marine aviation the line "On the land as on the sea" was changed to "In the air, on land, and sea."

"Tell It to the Marines"

This legend goes back to the London of 1664, when Charles II was King of England. A ship's master, returned from a long cruise, told him a sea story he couldn't believe.

    "Fish that fly like birds?" the Merry Monarch exclaimed. "I have my doubts!"

    "Nay, sire, it is true," said Sir William Killigren, colonel of the new British Marine regiment raised that year. "I have myself seen flying fish many a time in southern waters. I vouch for the truth of this strange tale, your Majesty."

    The King thought it over. At last he turned to Samuel Pepys, the Secretary of the Admiralty.

    "Mr. Pepys," he said, "no class of our subjects hath such knowledge of odd things on land and sea as our Marines. Hereafter, when we hear a yarn that lacketh likelihood, we will tell it to the Marines. If they believe it, then we shall know it is true."

Above Information from the Marine Corps Historical Reference Series, 1963, Courtesy of the United States Marine Corps

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