8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Marines

Why do Marines wear blue dress uniforms? How did Tripoli get into the Marine’s Hymn? And who chose the spot for the D.C. barracks? We answer these questions on their 220th anniversary.

Iwo Jima memorial statue depiciting marines raising the U.S. flag
The US Marine Memorial in Arlington, VA. (Shutterstock)

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!


The phrase “The United States Marine Corps” immediately conjures a number of images and ideas. Toughness. Honor. Tradition. And while that reputation can be traced back to 1775, the “Act for establishing and organizing a Marine Corps” was signed by President John Adams on this date, July 11, in 1798. On its 220th anniversary, we look some of the longstanding traditions that make the Marines the Marines. Some are reflected in the modern culture of this military branch, while others are just downright peculiar.

1. The Marines Have Two Birthdays

The modern Marine Corps descended from the Continental Marines assembled under the Continental Marine Act of 1775, which was initiated by the 2nd Continental Congress on November 10th of that year. Though the Continental Marines were disbanded at the end of the Revolution, the United States Marine Corps still commemorates November 10th as their official creation.

The Marines were “reborn” in 1798. The creation of the United States Navy and Marine Corps grew out of clashes with the French navy during the French Revolutionary Wars. An act of Congress formed the Navy in 1794, with Marines recruited to serve on newly created ships by 1797. Adams signed the “Act for establishing and organizing a Marine Corps,” authorizing a battalion of 500 privates along with a major and other officers. Revolutionary War veteran William Ward Burrows was made an initial major. Marines would serve in the Quasi-War, that undeclared war between the new French Republic and young United States that occurred between 1798 and 1800.

Marines on the beach in Nassau
New Providence Raid, March 1776. Oil painting on canvas by V. Zveg, 1973. The painting depicts the arrival of the Continental Marines prior to the Battle of Nassau in the Bahamas. (Wikimedia Commons)

2. Why the Marines are “Marines”

The term Marine came from the type of infantry that supports naval operations. The Marines of the American Revolution typically mounted amphibious assaults, landing from tall ships to conduct raids in locations like British ports in the Bahamas. During the Barbary Wars against piracy that ran from 1800 to 1815, Marines frequently fought in ship-to-ship battles, boarding vessels to capture them.

Marine Color Gaurd march with the U.S. and Marines flags.
The Official Color Guard of the Marine Corps at Marine Week Detroit, 2017. The Guard wears the familiar dress blues. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Bray via Marines.mil)

3. Thomas Jefferson Chose the D.C. Barracks Site

In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson and Burrows, now Lieutenant Colonel Commandant of the Marine Corps, chose the site of the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. A National Historic Landmark, it is still in use today as the official residence of the Commandant, the home of the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, and the main ceremonial location for the Corps.

4. The Dress Blues Were Overstock

Sometimes a uniform is carefully designed and thought out over time. And sometimes, you take what you can get. The familiar ceremonial “dress blues” of the Corps adopted their look from an overstock of blue jackets with red trim that Burrows received upon his original appointment to major.

A mameluke sword and its scabbard on table cloth.
A USMC Mameluke sword. (Wikimedia Commons)

5. The First Marine Sword Was a Gift

While battling Barbary pirates in Africa, First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, eight other Marines, and over 300 mercenaries of Arab and European origin mounted an assault on Tripoli in an attempt to liberate the captured crew of the U.S.S. Philadelphia. Though they did not take the city, deposed Prince Hamet Karamanli allegedly presented a Mameluke sword to O’Bannon after the Battle of Derna. The sword story sparked the tradition of Marine officers wearing swords in dress blues.

6. Why Tripoli Is in the Marine Hymn

The other lasting legacy of the action was the inclusion of the lyrics “to the shores of Tripoli” in the Marines’ Hymn by Thomas Holcomb in 1942. The Hymn is the oldest of any of the songs that represent the U.S. Armed Forces. The original music was written in 1867 by Jacques Offenbach, but it wasn’t adopted as the official music of the Corps until 1929.

U.S. Marine Corps Flag in flight.
The United States Marine Corps Flag. (Shutterstock)

7. There Are a Lot of Active Marines

Today, the USMC boasts 186,000 active Marines with around 38,500 reserves. Roughly 7.6% of today’s Marines are women. Of the more than 22 million veterans living in the United States as of 2014, less than 1% were Marines.

8. They Perform MANY Jobs

Over 336 MOS (military operational specialist) codes, or job types, are presently available in the Marines; paths include everything from infantry to avionics to 60 different categories of linguistics. Even as new avenues for duty continue to expand, it’s safe to say that, even after more than 200 years, the Marines continue to pursue high standards in their service to the country.

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now


  1. From January 3 1979 until 1 August 1985, I served with the Finest Fighting Force the World has EVER KNOWN !!! To the MARINES Who went Before Me and the MARINES who Followed, Semper Fidelis!!!

  2. The Coming Home Original Painting by Philip Corley (Artist) was Donated to National Museum of Marine Corp in Quantico,Virginia April 2016 as a gift from the Artist for his Tribute to the Troops and the United States Marine Corps
    it is a Superb image which depicts a Marine Corp Color Guard in a returning parade in New York City ,A Beautiful patriotic image it is worth a Viewing
    God Speed

  3. The Marine Corps is the Finest Fighting Force In The World ,I am
    Proud to be a United States Marine a Leatherneck and part of an Incredible Loyal Brotherhood of Warriors ,Semper Fi to all Marines Past ,Present and Future

    My Father painted the Original Coming Home painting which he Donated to the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Triangle ,Quantico , Virginia April 2016 it is on Second Floor Outside WW(1) Museum it was also featured on Front page of Leatherneck December 2014 issue (Magazine of the Marines)

  4. Las pulgas 11th marines..sometimes I miss that place..Casey springs..mount. mother fu#$%^^ker..good ole camp pendleton..and camp Schwab okinawa..ahhh the good old days

  5. Comradery in the Marines is outstanding, ” no man left behind”. When I tired out on an op, and wanted to just stop and rest, my sqaud of gunners encouraged me to muster the will to continue on. Thanks Brothers in arms. Semper Fi. Hotel 2/5 1st MARDIV RVN 1968 HUE TO AN HOA

  6. Comradery in the Marines is outstanding, ” no man left behind”. When I tired out on an op, and wanted to just stop and rest, my sqaud of gunners encouraged me to muster the will to continue on. Thanks Brothers in arms. Semper Fi.

  7. ’64 to ’68…over 2 of those years were with Embassy Duty…Kabul, NewDelhi & Saigon. Wouldn’t trade my service for anything. Would go back to those days in a heartbeat.
    Semper Fi brothers & Sisters

  8. I’ve been a Marine since 1966, served in Nam as a Combat Engr. 1371 7th Engr. Bn. 1st Mar. Div. Hill 37 . we have been having reunions every year since 1999.

  9. The Few, The Proud, The Marines….Semper Fi! Do or die! 3/3 Killer Kilo 68/69

  10. I’m 69 years old. I’ve been a United States Marine since I was 17 years old. From Parris Island as an 0311 to Hue City
    with Charlie 1/5 to the Badlands of the Arizona Territory. I will be a United States Marine till the day I Die.

  11. I was a United States Marine for 25 years. For 17 years I was in the Infantry and served in combat during Vietnam with Golf Company, 2ndBn 9th Marines from 1966 to 1967. I was a Rifle Platoon Sergeant. The Corps is the best and most effective military unit to go to war with. I dedicated my life to the Corps and the men who payed the ultimate price for their service. God Bless the Corps and it’s motto Semper Fidelis.

  12. As a WWII, and Korea veteran (7th Infantry Div.) we sang the little ditty “I’d rather be a bean than a fancy pants Marine. I have a nephew whose was with the 1st Marines in Nam nd I tease him with that ditty. But I give credit where credit is di and it usually


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *