United States. Marine Corps

Alternative names

History notes:

The U.S. Marine Corps was established on November 10, 1775.

From the description of Papers, 1933-1945. (Naval War College). WorldCat record id: 754107146

The history of the Marine Corps Navajo Code Talkers dates from 1942-1945. In 1942, a white man by the name of Phillip Johnston, who had lived on a Navajo reservation for many years of his life, conceived an idea that he thought might help the war. He believed that the Navajo language, a verbal, rarely-written language, could be used as part of a code that would enable messages to be sent freely over the radio. An experiment was done in front of top Marine officials to prove that the system would work. After the go-ahead, Navajos volunteered or were recruited, and about 320 eventually contributed as code talkers. The code involved speaking in Navajo, but using substitute words for some things, as would a regular code. It was found that the Navajo speakers could put a message into the code, send it, and translate it faster than any other code system being used at that time. As far as is known, the Japanese were never able to break the Navajo code.

From the guide to the Navajo Code Talkers oral histories, 1971, (J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)

The United States Marine Corps was created by an act of Congress approved July 11, 1798 (1 Stat. 594). According to this legislation the Corps was to be formed into as many companies or detachments as the President should direct. They were to act on board the frigates and armed vessels of the United States, to do duty in the forts and garrisons of the United States, and to perform any other required shore duty. Except for minor changes, this was the only legal authority for Marine Corps missions for the next 149 years (until 1947). No one knew whether the Marine Corps appertained more to the Navy or the Army, for this act placed the Marines under Navy regulations when afloat and under the Articles of War when ashore. Neither the Secretary of the Navy nor the Secretary of War fully controlled or administered the Corps.

On June 30, 1834, Congress passed "An Act for the better organization of the United States' 'marine corps' " (4 Stat. 712), which accepted the concept that, ashore or afloat, the Corps should be part of the Navy Department, but rejected the Navy Commissioners' attempt to merge it with the Navy proper and abolish the office of Commandant. They only exception was when Marines were detached for service with the Army by order of the President. This same act prohibited Marine officers from commanding any navy yard or vessel.

The decisions in the year 1834 did not end the controversy with regard to the status or existence of the Marine Corps. Periodically, attempts were made to abolish it, to place it under the Army, or to more thoroughly integrate it into the Navy. Disputes between the Marine Corps and Navy arose frequently as to the specific missions of the Marine Corps, and finally, in 1908, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 969 assigning specific duties to the Marine Corps, which were incorporated thereafter into Navy regulations. These were: to garrison the different navy yards and naval stations, both within and beyond the continental limits of the United States; to furnish the first line of mobile defense of naval bases and naval stations beyond the continental limits of the United States; to man such defenses and to aid in manning, if necessary, such other defenses as might be erected for the defense of naval bases and naval stations beyond the continental limits of the United States; to garrison the Isthmian Canal Zone, Panama; and to furnish such garrisons and expeditionary forces to duties beyond the seas as might be necessary in time of peace. There were two missions not provided for in Executive Order 969 but added by Navy regulations. They were: to do duty in the forts and garrisons of the United States on the seacoast, or any other duty on shore, as the President might direct; and to provide detachments for service on board armed vessels of the United States.

The battle for survival of the Marine Corps continued through World War II. The Joints Chiefs of Staff, upon which the Marine Corps was not directly represented, included two Army members, which gave the Army a voice in Marine Corps affairs and an oppurtunity to express its contention that the Marine Corps was a wasteful duplication of the Army. Furthermore, the Chief of Naval Operations, in a wartime Executive Order, was given jurisdiction over Headquarters Marine Corps as well as the bureaus and offices of the Navy Department. This resulted in interposing the Chief of Naval Operations between the Secretary of the Navy and the Marine Corps. At the time of the Navy Department reorganization bill in 1947, the Commandant did secure written assurance -"a gentlemen's agreement"-from the Secretary of the Navy that the new law was not intended to alter the Commandant's direct responsibility to the Secretary of the Navy.

In 1946 there had been attempts by the War Department and President Truman to reduce the Marine Corps to a small satellite of the Army or Navy through Senate Bill 2044, which left the job of defining missions of the armed services to the Secretary of Defense. Then Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947, which included among other things a charter for the modern Marine Corps. The act reaffirmed the Corps' status as a military service within the Department of the Navy and provided for the Fleet Marine Forces, both ground and aviation. It gave the specific mission of the Marine Corps as follows: seizing and defending advanced bases; conducting land operations incident to naval campaigns; having primary responsibility for development of amphibious warfare doctrines, tactics, techniques, and equipment employed by landing forces; and, as in previous legislation, it assigned to the Marine Corps responsibility for providing guards for naval shore stations and ships' detachments, and for performing "such other duties as the President may direct."

In spite of the clear delineation of mission in the 1947 legislation and the "gentlemen's agreement" of the Secretary of the Navy in 147, the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of Defense continued to work for the establishment of the Chief of Military Operation's military command over the Marine Corps and its Commandant. The Douglas-Mansfield Bill was passed in 1952, in opposition to the administration, as Public Law 416 (66 Stat. 282). It declared the Marine Corps, despite its close and unique partnership with the Navy, to be a distinct service, which should have not less than three combat divisions and three air wings and, in matters of direct concern to the Marine Corps, the Commandant should enjoy coequal status with the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

There are many publications available relating to the U. S. Marine Corps, but probably the most definitive history of the Corps is SOLDIERS OF THE SEA by Col. R. D. Heinl Jr., USMC (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1962). Colonel Heinl was former head of the Marine Corps Historical Branch. Also of interest are the many Marine Corps historical reference pamphlets published by the Historical Branch, G-3 Division, U. S. Marine Corps.

Closely related records in the custody of the National Archives are in Record Group 45, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library; Record Group 80, General Records of the Department of the Navy; Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel; and Record Group 125, Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Navy). Because the Marine Corps is a part of the Navy Department, any general series in these record groups will contain records relating to the Corps.

From the description of Records of the United States Marine Corps (Record Group 127). (National Archives Library). WorldCat record id: 86133920


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  • World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns
  • World War, 1939-1945--Participation, Indian
  • World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American
  • World War, 1939-1945--Photography
  • Marines
  • Politics, Government, and Law
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Code and cipher stories
  • Oral History
  • Military
  • Military uniforms
  • Material Types
  • Navajo Indians--Interviews
  • Saipan, Battle of, Northern Mariana Islands, 1944
  • Marines--Uniform
  • Iwo Jima, Battle of, Japan, 1945
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975


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  • Collectors
  • Documenting war


  • Parris Island (S.C.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • South Carolina (as recorded)
  • Japan--Okinawa Island (as recorded)