By Lizann Lightfoot
When you are married to a Marine, you also marry into the entire history and tradition of the Marine Corps. That means the names of famous Marines have been thrown into my husband’s conversations for years–as suggestions for our children’s names or examples of “the greatest badasses of all time.” My husband speaks of these famous heroes with a sense of awe and familiarity. They are legends in the USMC community.
I think he sometimes forgets that I did not go to boot camp like him. If I confuse Dan Daly with Carlos Hathcock, he looks at me like I have committed sacrilege. To set the record straight (and if you’ve found yourself feeling a little lost with your Marine spouse), here is a crash course on the most amazing Marines of all time … according to Marines themselves.
1. Dan Daly
This Marine legend was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor — twice. The first time, his unit was deployed to defend the American Embassy in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion. Private Daly was on watch when the enemy mobbed the embassy. Overnight, Daly single-handedly defended the position and killed 200 attackers. He earned his second Medal of Honor in 1914 in Haiti. When Gunnery Sgt. Daly’s platoon was ambushed by 400 Cuban rebels, Daly recovered the unit’s heavy machine gun from the bottom of a river, strapped it to his back, and led his unit to clear out the entire jungle. In World War I, Daly’s actions helped win the battle of Belleau Woods in France. His unit was outnumbered and surrounded by Germans, but he charged over the top of the defensive position asking his Marines, “Do you want to live forever?” By the next day, Belleau Woods belonged to the Marines.
This heroic officer also received the Medal of Honor twice, along with such a slew of other awards that he was the most decorated Marine in history when he died. He rose to the rank of Major General, the highest officer rank at that time. Although he fought wars in Mexico, Haiti, China, and France, he is also known for his pacifism and anti-war speeches. He wrote the book War is a Racket, which denounces the military-industrial complex.
His real name was Lewis Puller, but Marines know him as “Chesty” because of his good posture and barrel chest. Recruits at Parris Island recite each night, “Goodnight Chesty, wherever you are.” Puller spent 37 years as a Marine, enough time to rise from Private to General and become the most decorated Marine in history. Although he never received the Medal of Honor, he earned five Navy Crosses and a stack of other medals. Puller distinguished himself in World War II at Guadalcanal. When a Marine unit was cut off and surrounded, he ran to the beach, flagged down a destroyer ship, and commanded it to fire on the enemy. Later at Guadalcanal, his unit killed 1,400 Japanese attackers in one night, while sustaining only 70 casualties. During the Korean War, he was instrumental in the landing at Inchon and the Battle of Choisin Resevoir, where his unit fought through seven enemy divisions. Puller famously said, “We’re surrounded. That simplifies the problem. Now we can attack from any direction!”
The first officer in the Marine Corps, Nicholas was appointed a Captain in November 1775 and given the task of establishing this brand new branch to fight in the Revolutionary War. He immediately set up a recruiting office at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, now known as “the birthplace of the Marine Corps.” He led the first Marine landing in the Bahamas, which was a success. He ordered three companies of Marines to ferry the Continental Army across the Delaware River for George Washington’s famous Christmas Day attack in 1776. Nicholas was promoted to Major.
The “Grand Old Man” was the longest-serving Commandant of the Marine Corps. He held the position of Commandant for 38 years! His was a Marine from 1806 until his death in January 1859. His service included the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and a handful of skirmishes against Native American tribes.
Sgt. John Basilone became an American hero in Guadalcanal (under the leadership of Chesty Puller). Basilone, a machine gunner, helped hold off an attack by 3,000 Japanese at Henderson Field. When they ran low on ammo, he fought through enemy lines using his pistol until he reached the supplies. Then he fought his way back to his unit. He was the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II and survive, so he received a hero’s welcome. He toured America raising money for war bonds but soon volunteered to return to combat. Gunnery Sgt. Basilone’s next battle was Iwo Jima, where his actions helped secure the beach and airfield. Unfortunately, he was killed by a mortar during the battle.
Hathcock long held the record (since broken) of 93 confirmed kills during his career. He estimated that his actual number of kills was around 300. As a sniper in Vietnam, he often worked alone and could take days to stalk or inch towards a target. His most famous shot was straight through the scope of an enemy sniper. He also had a confirmed kill at 2,500 yards. He was never shot, but he received severe burns when rescuing fellow Marines from a flaming vehicle. He continued to teach at Scout Sniper school until multiple sclerosis forced him to retire. His biography is titled Marine Sniper.
She is the first female Marine. Johnson enlisted in August 1918 as a clerk in the Marine Reserve. Although women did not yet have the right to vote, Johnson and 304 other women enlisted in the military that day to serve in World War I. She was married and almost 40 years old when she enlisted. She worked as a clerk at Marine Corps headquarters, managing the records of other female reservists.
The 13th commandant of the Marine Corps is admired for his leadership, values, and his mission to educate and enlighten Marines. Although he was an effective commander in France during World War I, he is also known for creating the Marine Corps League and for writing the birthday message that is read each year at the USMC ball. The largest military base in North Carolina is named after Gen. Lejeune.
10. R. Lee Ermey
This modern Marine was a Staff Sergeant and real-life drill instructor in the 1960s, but he is better known for his role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the movie Full Metal Jacket.He was promoted to Gunnery Sergeant after retirement (the only Marine to receive this honor) and has now appeared in 60 films and several TV shows, including his own shows, Mail Calland Lock n’ Load with R. Lee Ermey.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.