The Most Epic Things the United States Marine Corps Has Ever Done

Ships hold the seas and armies hold the land, but someone has to take land and sea alike before they can be held. The Marines are the tip of America's military spear. They're the first feet on the beach, the first to kick down the door. Called stormtroopers and Devil Dogs by adversaries, the Marines's almost cult-like devotion to aggressive action and gaining ground has earned the Corps a level of universal respect granted to few military forces in the world. 

While at one time Marines were a simple expeditionary force carried around by Naval ships, these days the Corps maintains its own transportation and methods of launching mechanized warfare. Whether fighting on land, in the sea, or in the sky, every member of the Corps is one thing above all else: a Marine. All else, even death, is secondary. 

Read on if you've ever wondered "what is the Marine Corps like?" or are simply interested in stories about the Marine Corps. This list compiles some of the most important Marine Corps missions.

Photo: skeeze / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

  • The Battle of New Orleans

    The Battle of New Orleans
    Photo: Edward Percy Moran / Public Domain

    The penultimate battle of the War of 1812 was fought between the Americans and British in New Orleans, a massive engagement that saw American forces outnumbered almost three-to-one by the 11,000-man-strong British force. Only a small portion of the American forces (1,000 Army regulars and 58 Marines) were even professional soldiers. The rest were militiamen, farmers, Choctaw natives, and freed slaves. And the Army was only marginally trained; it was those 58 Marines who were tasked with holding the center of the defensive line. 

    Those 58 Marines posted up right where they knew Britain's hammer would fall the hardest. The attack began on New Years' Day 1815, as British forces pounded the front lines with artillery. But the Marines held behind earthwork barriers, slowly and coldly returning British artillery with sniper fire. The battle lasted 25 minutes. In that time, American forces killed 2,600 British soldiers, taking only 700 losses of their own.

    Much of this was attributed to the Marines, who fought off attacks from all sides while holding the crucial center. Dispirited and realizing they couldn't break that line, the British withdrew.

  • The Battle of Tripoli

    The Battle of Tripoli
    Photo: Dennis Malone Carter / Public Domain

    Immortalized in the first line of the Marine Corps' anthem, the First Barbary War (specifically, the Second Battle of Tripoli) was a defining moment for Marines. For years, the pirates of the Barbary Coast (now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya) made a healthy living capturing and ransoming sailors back to their countries, or selling them as slaves. For a while, America tolerated them. But in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson decided enough was enough. Instead of sending tribute to the pirates, he sent a fleet of gunships, along with eight Marines (and various other military personnel).

    During the ensuing battle, which lasted several months, pirates captured the USS Philadelphia and used it to protect Tripoli Harbor. Thereafter, a group of Marines snuck onboard a pirate ships, killed everyone, and 
    floated the ship up to the Philadelphia. The pirates lowered their boarding ramps, only to be surprised by Marines storming up the deck. The Marines re-captured the Philadelphia, burned it to prevent pirates recapturing it, and kept the pirate ship, which was re-dubbed the Intrepid. 

    Leading 500 mercenaries, the Marines eventually went on to sack Derna, and planted history's first American flag on foreign soil.

  • The Battle of Belleau Wood

    The Battle of Belleau Wood
    Photo: Georges Scott / Public Domain

    "Retreat? Hell, we just got here!" These words were uttered just outside of a copse of dark trees near a tiny hamlet in northern France called Belleau. Marine Captain Lloyd W. Williams spoke them in response to a French officer, who suggested his 3,000-man brigade of Marines turn around and flee from approximately 20,000 German troops advancing through said copse of wood.

    That may have been the prudent course of action for anyone else, but not this group of Marines. Rather than flee from the Germans, the Marines attacked, in what was the first major American engagement of the World War I. They advanced into the vastly larger force. With machine guns, snipers, hand-to-hand bayonet work, and sheer, psychotic determination, the brigade of Marines led 10,000 Army regulars into the fray. The German Army dubbed the Marines "höllenhunde," or hellhounds. By another translation, Devil Dogs. 

    The German advance was turned back, and France was spared an inevitable defeat. The French now call Belleau Bois de la Brigade de Marine, or "Wood of the Marine Brigade."

  • Medic Saves Fellow Marine, While Getting Shot Himself

    Medic Saves Fellow Marine, While Getting Shot Himself
    Photo: United States Navy / Public Domain

    "Pharmacist's Mate, Second Class" isn't the type of rank you'd expect to see associated with a Medal of Honor winner. But William "Doc" Halyburton was no average man.

    A Navy corpsman serving with a Marine Rifle Company in the 2nd Battalion on Okinawa in 1945, Halyburton administered aid to his battalion as it pushed through a hail of Japanese gunfire. The Japanese defenders of Okinawa laid down so much concentrated mortar, machine-gun, and sniper fire on Doc's position, it was as though they were trying to kill every blade of grass on the island. 

    Halyburton ran across the battlefield from fallen Marine to fallen Marine, pulling them out of fire as quickly as possible, administering aid. While having a wound in his femoral artery sealed, one of Halyburton's patients was (non-fatally) hit by sniper fire. Halyburton quickly positioned himself between his patient and the sniper, who proceeded to hammer the medic with round after round, all while mortar fell all around, slashing his face and body with shrapnel.

    While repeatedly shot in the back, Halyburton continued to work. After administering the final bit of gauze, Halyburton collapsed, using his own dying body to shield the Marine from mortar rounds. That Marine survived, and made it home to tell the tale.   

  • Marine Single-Handedly Takes Down Fortress
    Photo: United States Marine Corps / Public Domain

    The phrase "One-Man Army" is over-used, but if anyone deserves the moniker, it's Platoon Sergeant Joseph Randolph Julian.

    During the siege of the Iwo Jima, Julian's platoon inadvertently stumbled onto one of the many hidden mini-fortifications on the island. Determined to break through the defended Japanese trenches, which were buttressed by a number of pillboxes and cave positions, Julian left his gun, grabbed demolition charges and phosphorus grenades, and rushed a pillbox throwing explosives. Two pillbox occupants were killed, and the remaining five tried to flee into the adjacent trench.

    Julian picked up a dead Japanese soldier's discarded rifle, jumped into the trench, and killed the fleeing Japanese. Still, he wasn't done. He grabbed more explosives and charged two cave positions, hurling grenades and killing all present. He found a Japanese bazooka and box of rounds. Unassisted, he proceeded to fire three bazooka rounds into the pillbox.

    The rocket fire alerted enemy soldiers to his position. They opened fire on Julian as he fired his final round. It hit the pillbox's ammo magazine, and the last bastion of Japanese resistance went up in a terrific explosion as Julian fell, dead, to the ground. 

  • The Battle of Iwo Jima

    The Battle of Iwo Jima
    Photo: United States Marine Corps / Public Domain

    Iwo Jima was not an island. Iwo Jima was a fortress in the South Pacific. The fact that Iwo Jima seemed fairly barren from the surface was  a ruse by Japanese military planners. They had long ago commissioned the construction of approximately 11 miles of underground tunnels, on an island only eight square miles in area. Not only was Iwo Jima bristling with pill boxes, gun emplacements, and minefields, it was home to an entire tank regiment, as well as a naval guard force and a contingent of kamikaze pilots. 

    In a rare instance of Marines having a numerical advantage, more than 110,000 Devil Dogs waded ashore in February 1945. While they faced "only" 20,000 Japanese, Iwo Jima's defensive network made it near impregnable, especially given the fact that the Japanese vowed to fight to the last man to keep it. And that they almost did.

    After three weeks of some of the bloodiest, most intense fighting in history, the Devil Dogs triumphed. Almost 19,000 of Japan's last 20,000 professional soldiers were dead and an American flag was planted atop Mount Suribachi.