A Story Seldom Told

Using Congressional legislative action as a base, the US Marine Corps is the senior military service of the USA, a fact a Marine will be happy to rehearse for you. While tension between sailors and marines is not as pronounced on Air Stations where both services operate, as they did at NASGI, the tension between the two services was far more obvious in the fleet.

It all began when Congress on Nov. 10, 1775 passed a resolution calling for two battalions of marines as landing forces with the fleet.

This was the reason that was given for public comsumption. The other purpose,unstated,  was to 'recruit'    seamen  and make sure they stayed "recruited". 

The details go like this. Yankee men-of-war, not yet a navy and only a gleam in Congress' eye, had a hard time finding experienced seamen to man the ships to do battle with the British. Sailors--  citizens of the world that comes from travel and exposure to different  cultures-- preferred the higher pay, better food , and short-term commitment of sailing on merchant ships, rather than volunteering for some evolving vague notion of patriotism.

So a detachment of marines, all men of good size and armed with truncheons and firearms ,were stationed at major east coast ports. The detachment would wait near grog shops until seamen in port were well into their cups, strongarm the seamen , provide blows to the head when needed and get them aboard an American man-of-war. Once aboard, the marines had four   jobs: protect the officers from an angry crew, keep the swabs on the job, train the sailors in gunnery( recall the rank of Gunnery Sergeant?)   and generally prevent mutiny. This form of recruitment was borrowed from the British, who, when the fleet was short- handed, had press gangs scour the countryside and muscle the bumpkins in.

This is the origin of the tension between sailors and marines. 

WW11 pretty much ended the Corps being so heavily tied up with the Navy , that wasn't given life  by Congress until  March 27, 1794, some 19 years after the Corps and 10 years after the Army. After WW11 the Corps' unique abilities were recognized by having a place  on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I don't have any idea whether the tension between the two services still exist, but as I can attest as a sailor in the South Pacfic during WW11, the tension was noticeable. There are  hints that the tension still exists. As late as 1973, that movie,'The Last Detail' ,had   Jack Nicholson's character and his shipmate  go out of their way to pick an unprovoked fight with several gyrenes in a train station head.

How do you get rid of a bred-in-the -bones antagonism, a tradition that  is over two centuries old?  Someone compares it to what is called  Irish Alzheimer's : you've forgotten what the fight was about, but you still carry the grudge.

Bill Easter
Rio Rancho, New Mexico