Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Nov. 10, 2020.
The U.S. Marine Corps may celebrate its birthday on Nov. 10, but its real birthday is in the middle of July.
It’s a fact that most Marines are probably unaware of but a fact nonetheless, according to the Marine Corps History Division, which records the official institutional and operational history of the service.
The Second Continental Congress passed a resolution that established two battalions of Continental Marines on Nov. 10, 1775, which the Corps now celebrates as its official birthday, with this year marking 246 years of existence.
But as the History Division notes in its Brief History of the United States Marine Corps, the Continental Marine Corps was disbanded after the Revolutionary War “for reasons of economy” in 1783 and ceased to exist for the next 15 years.
“The government auctioned off warships, and the Continental Marines ceased to exist,” military historian Chester Hearn told The Camp Pendleton Patch. “Major Samuel Nicholas, the first Marine officer, returned to his former occupation as owner of Tun Tavern in Philadelphia.”
It wasn’t until July 11, 1798, that a service known as the United States Marine Corps was established by Congress under the command of the Navy. The act passed by the 5th Congress and signed into law by President John Adams created the nearly 900-man strong Marine Corps, which consisted of one major, four captains, 28 lieutenants, nearly 100 sergeants and corporals, and more than 700 privates.
And for the next 123 years, the Marine Corps recognized its birthday as July 11. As the History Division notes, “an unidentified newspaper clipping from 1918 refers to the celebration of the 120th birthday of the Marine Corps on 11 July ‘as usual with no fuss.’”
Then, in 1921, the good idea fairy caught the attention of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. John A. Lejeune, and suggested the service celebrate its earlier birthdate despite that 15-year gap. From the History Division:
On 21 October 1921, Maj Edwin McClellan, Officer-in-Charge, Historical Section, Headquarters Marine Corps, sent a memorandum to Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune, suggesting that the original birthday on 10 November 1775 be declared a Marine Corps holiday to be celebrated throughout the Corps. Maj McClellan further suggested that a dinner be held in Washington D.C., to commemorate the event. Guests would include prominent men from the Marine Corps, Army, and Navy, and descendants of the Revolution.
Accordingly, on 1 November 1921, MajGen Lejeune issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. The order summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps, and directed that it be read to every command on 10 November each subsequent year in honor of the birthday of the Marine Corps. This order has been duly carried out.
Hey, look on the bright side: now you can get drunk and celebrate the birth of the Marine Corps twice a year. So Semper Fidelis and happy early birthday!
Related: This year’s Marine Corps birthday video is a who’s who of service heroes