If there’s one thing that we all love, it’s a badass one-liner from the lips of some tough-as-nails gunnery sergeant in some Sam Peckinpah war movie.
The problem with most badass one-liners, of course, is that they sound as if some Hollywood screenwriter dreamt them up, and so none of them could possibly be real. Except, of course, when they are.
That’s right – sometimes genuine soldiers utter genuinely badass statements in the midst of actual battles. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s one for the history books.
This is particularly true of the US Marine Corps, who are noted for their tenacity and pithiness in the face of impending death.
We’ll therefore be focusing on the wartime utterances of these ultimate badasses in this article and delve into some of the most unforgettable Marine sayings that are quite simply unforgettable!
“Retreat? Hell, We Just Got Here!”
This pithy, matter-of-fact statement was uttered by Marine Captain Lloyd W. Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines.
The statement, which came at the start of the protracted and bloody Battle of Belleau Wood toward the end of WWI, came to typify the stoicism and doggedness of the US Marine Corps and cemented their status as one of the most legendary fighting forces in the world.
The Marines distinguished themselves during the battle by advancing in the face of overwhelming odds and punishing fire from entrenched German machine-gun nests.
Though almost 2000 Marines lay dead by the end of the battle, they had forced the Germans out and taken the wood.
“To our Marines fell the most difficult and dangerous portion of the defense by reason of our proximity to the great city wall and the main city gate. . .The Marines acquitted themselves nobly.”
This quote, while not uttered by a Marine, came about as a rather understated comment by Edwin M. Conger, US Minister, who was describing the martial prowess of the US Marines in defense of British, American, and Russian legations in Peking in 1900.
The legations, which had come under attack by anti-foreigner Boxer forces, were defended only by a small detachment of US, British and Russian forces. The allied forces numbered around 400, approximately 50 of which were US Marines.
The combined marine forces not only successfully held off the Boxers, but they even managed to push them back and secure a large portion of the wall surrounding the allegations.
55 men (including the US Marines) stormed the wall, which was manned by some 200 Chinese soldiers. Outnumbered 4-1, the Allied forces prevailed nonetheless, inflicting around 50 losses on the Chinese and forcing them out.
The US Marines were later commended for their bravery, as they were instrumental in protecting the civilians inside the legations.
“Come On, You Sons Of Bitches! Do You Wanna Live Forever?”
The second iconic quote originating in the Battle of Belleau Wood, this utterance has become so famous that it has transcended its roots and appeared in popular media – it was the catchphrase of not one but two squad commanders in the famous 1997 military sci-fi movie Starship Troopers.
The original line was uttered as the US Marines prepared to push forward into Belleau Wood, establishing a foothold from which to stage further offensives against the dug-in German forces occupying the once-peaceful hunting preserve.
It’s often attributed to First Sergeant Dan Daly, twice recipient of the Medal of Honor, as he exhorted his men to advance in the face of punishing German salvoes.
“[Women Marines] don’t have a nickname, and they don’t need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere, at a Marine Post. They inherit the traditions of the Marines. They are Marines.”
Armed forces have been, for many countries, historically no place for women. This is true, too, of the US Army, but not of the US Marines – this 1943 quote, attributed to Lt. Gen. Thomas Holcomb, showcases the egalitarian nature of the US Marines and the fact that Marines are Marines first and men and women second.
The motto of the US Marine Corps predates the Corps itself, as you might have guessed from the fact that it’s Latin (a language that predates the existence of the US itself by a hefty degree).
The phrase is actually an abbreviation of “semper fidelis”, which is Latin for “always faithful”.
It epitomizes the US Marines’ sense of loyalty and duty and is a hard-won slogan that the Marines consistently earn again and again through sweat and blood.
“Semper fi” was actually the US Marines’ fourth motto. Before that, they had “Fortitudine” (“with courage”) prior to 1812, “Per Mare, Per Terram” (“by sea, by land”), and, until 1843, “To The Shores Of Tripoli”.
“Goddamn it, you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!”
Another quote that echoes the spirit of the Belleau Wood Marines in WWI, this immortal line was uttered at Guadalcanal in 1943.
The man to whom the quote is attributed, Captain Henry “Jim” Pierson Crowe, was a decorated US Marine who saw combat throughout the entirety of WWII.
For his bravery during the battle, he received both a Silver and Bronze Star Medal; these joined the other decorations pinned to his chest, which totaled seven by the end of his long and storied career.
“Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating; we’re just advancing in a different direction.”
This quote, which spoke to the tactical acumen of Marine commanders, was purportedly uttered by Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith in December 1950, during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea.
Smith had been ordered to advance with all haste to the Yalu River that bordered China and Korea. Smith, hesitant to take orders from a man he knew to be incompetent, advanced as ordered but was deliberately slow, establishing supply lines and keeping his men together.
The decision, while insubordinate, was to prove to be life-saving – when attacked by Chinese-backed Korean forces at the Reservoir, he was able to break out of the ambush and avert disaster.
These Marine Sayings are the Epitome of the Unit’s Tenacity, Ingenuity, and Loyalty.
The bravery and sacrifices of the US Marine Corps are well documented, and the above quotes go some way toward demonstrating just how brave the US Marines have historically been and the many sacrifices that they have had to make.
From the men of Belleau Wood to those at Guadalcanal and Chosin Reservoir, these Marine sayings have demonstrated time and time again the unit’s tenacity, ingenuity, and – above all – their loyalty.
Semper Fi, indeed!