Saturday, November 10, 2001

As he watched his army of more than 800 defenders crumble and flee before the ferocious assault, Gov. Mustapha of Tripoli probably thought to himself, “Who are these guys?” The 60 attackers, led by one Lt. Presley Neville O’Bannon, were outnumbered by more than 10-1.They didn’t seem fazed by the size of the defending force. Mustapha can be forgiven for not knowing who the attackers were in April 1805. The word was getting around by the late 1840s, when another bunch of them stormed the hills near Mexico City and entered Chapultepec Castle, the site where Emperor Montezuma had reigned long ago.

By the time of the World War I battle of Belleau Wood, the Germans recognized who they were up against, but were still surprised by the tenacity of their opponents. The Kaiser’s troops called their adversaries “teufel hunden” devil dogs a nickname they have worn with pride ever since.

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of the U.S. Marines, 226 years ago.It’s a day we should all celebrate because the Marines, like the Army, Navy and Air Force, represent much of what is good about America. Civilians, however, know little about the Marines. Many high schoolers, for instance, know nothing about the Marines other than what they see in the recruiting commercial that shows a young warrior slaying a lava monster and then magically morphing into a Marine. That’s too bad.The culture of the armed services, and the Marines subculture in particular, depends on the inner strengths most people have. The challenges every recruit faces imposed and graded by the growling drill instructor are not only meant to accustom them to rigorous discipline, but also to make them find, and use, those inner strengths. Most importantly, those challenges teach the confidence in themselves and their fellow Marines that produces the cohesiveness essential to a fighting force.

In recent years, the Marines’ culture has proven uniquely resistant to the pressures of political correctness. They have been the only service to insist upon, and maintain, separate basic training for men and women. Their stubborn stand has allowed them to stay ready, when others are not. It’s no surprise that the Marines alone among the services have had no problem in meeting their enlistment goals.

As always, Marines are still at the front of every one of America’s fights.The other day, a reporter posed a question to Adm. Stufflebeem, the Joint Chiefs’ spokesman. “Admiral,” he said, “we have just heard that a group of Marines lifted off the USS Peleilu by helicopter. Can you tell us where they’re going and what they’ll do when they get there?” The good admiral dutifully answered, “No, and no.” A tiny smirk could be seen on the admiral’s face. It was probably caused by the same confidence we share when the Marines are on the job. Happy Birthday, Devil Dogs.

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