Marines change course of war

Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The call -- ''The Marines have landed'' -- has rung out in conflicts great and obscure, and it can change a war's course. Sometimes comes an overpowering victory, sometimes a morass.

The notion of sending ''a few good men'' to fight in a sea-based landing force dates to America's earliest years. It passed its bloodiest test at Iwo Jima, but worked no better than anything else in Vietnam.


Table gives a brief history of the Marine Corps and shows the uniforms; 4c x 2 7/8 inches, 196 mm x 72 mm

Now the corps is again deployed in combat, in a country with plenty of sand but no ocean.

This week Marines swiftly formed the first U.S. ground force in Afghanistan capable of engaging masses of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, and almost immediately found something to attack -- joining Navy fighters in going after a vehicle convoy.

''God willing, the Marines have but one purpose: To outfight, overpower and destroy the opposition,'' said retired Marine Maj. Gen. Dennis Conroy.

The Pentagon has not been quite so bold or specific about the purpose of the forward operations base some 80 miles from the last Taliban stronghold, the city of Kandahar.

What's clear is that the Marines offer what they have always brought to warfare -- flexibility in an evolving conflict, the ability to hunt terrorists on the move one day, perhaps lay siege to an enemy redoubt the next.

They are also intimidating, suggested Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. war commander. ''Their very presence does, in fact, provide pressure.''

The Marines have brought a strong sense of tradition with them, keeping alive words from their storied past.

''The Marines have landed and have the situation well in hand,'' was a cry made popular in the 1800s.

''The Marines have landed, and we now own a piece of Afghanistan,'' said Brig. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the attack task force, upon their arrival.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has repeatedly said America covets no Afghan real estate, lightly took issue Tuesday with Mattis' land claim. ''He was clearly exuberant and he was unquestionably speaking figuratively,'' Rumsfeld said.

Not as specialized as the small groups of lightly equipped special operations troops already in Afghanistan, nor representing the brute force of an Army division, the corps combines elements of both.

Up to 1,100 Marines, most of them infantry, are landing with Cobra helicopter gunships, artillery and light armored vehicles such as Humvees.

They come to Afghanistan with fraternal scores to settle as well as a nation's goals to achieve.

Three of the dead New York police officers from the World Trade Center were retired Marines. A Marine was the first U.S. soldier to die in the 1993 Somalia peacekeeping mission made treacherous, it is now believed, by Osama bin Laden's terrorists.

In a day that marked the worst loss of life in the U.S. armed forces since the Vietnam War, a truck bomb ripped apart a Marine barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983, killing 241 service members. The Marines were pulled out three months later.

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Revolutionaries formed the Marine Corps in November 1775, resolving that ''two battalions of Marines be raised'' consisting of men who are ''able to serve to advantage by sea.'' The Revolutionary War claimed 49 Marine lives.

The corps was essentially dissolved after independence but was recreated in 1798. Marines stormed strongholds of the Barbary pirates -- the terrorists of their day -- who were bidding for control of Mediterranean shipping channels.

Marines participated in the 1847 occupation of Mexico City in the war with Mexico. The corps' successes there and against the pirates are celebrated in the Marines' Hymn, marking battles ''from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.''

Marines launched the first U.S. offensive of World War II with their invasion of Guadalcanal. Their famed 1945 conquest of Iwo Jima cost three Marine divisions more than 5,800 men.

During the Korean War, they contributed an amphibious landing at Inchon and a winter campaign that turned the tide.

Today, the bulk of the 172,500 Marines are ground troops, but the corps also makes up 20 percent of the military's fighter plane squadrons and 17 percent of its attack helicopter groups.

During the Revolution, a Marine captain summoned ''a few good men'' to take the Continental ship Providence to sea. That Marine slogan became passe with the rise of women in the corps.

Today the slogan is: The Few. The Proud.

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