The Marine Tradition

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The Marines came out of the Second World War as a highly respected part of the American military establishment, even though war itself was changing so fast that no one had a very clear idea of what a military establishment ought to be like any more. The Marines continue to believe that whatever it may finally be, it will always involve a certain need for topnotch fighting men ready to go at the drop of a hat; they still put great store by hard discipline and ingrained toughness, and once in a while an unhappy training-camp incident will cause sensitive civilians to wince and to wonder whether any military outfit needs to be drilled quite so mercilessly. The Marines continue to carry on in their own way; and the late Colonel Thomason, who was quoted above, summed them up in an anecdote, again from Fix Bayonets!:

They tell the tale of an American lady of notable good works, much esteemed by the French, who, at the end of June, 1918, visited one of the field-hospitals behind Degoutte’s Sixth French Army. Degoutte was fighting on the face of the Marne salient, and the ad American Division, then in action around the Bois de Belleau, northwest of Château Thierry, was under his orders. It happened that occasional casualties of the Marine Brigade of the 2d American Division, wounded toward the flank where Degoutte’s own horizon-blue infantry joined on, were picked up by French stretcher-bearers and evacuated to French hospitals. And this lady, looking down a long, crowded ward, saw on a pillow a face unlike the fiercely whiskered Gallic heads there displayed in rows. She went to it.

“Oh,” she said, “Surely you are an American!”

“No ma’am,” the casualty answered, “I’m a Marine.”