On November 10, 1775, a man named Samuel Nicholas went to Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There he began a recruitment process to put sharpshooters on Naval vessels to protect them. He also wanted to create a landing force for some of the most intense battles in the Revolutionary War.
Those that signed became the very first United States Marines. Over the centuries, Marines gained status as their very own military branch and earned a reputation as one of the most hardened, violent, and distinguished fighting forces in military history.
From here, it would be easy to go into the long and honorable history of the Marine Corps. Instead, it’s important to focus on a more recent Marine Corps birthday, one which took place during the Battle of Fallujah. Though over time, the Marine Corps’ birthday has many times landed on battles, Fallujah is the most recent.
The Battle of Fallujah was the biggest battle of the Iraq War. It was called, “the biggest urban battle since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam.” Yet many don’t know about the battle itself, let alone a significant day in this battle. The battle marked some of the fiercest fighting the U.S. military had seen in some 30 years.
The city had been a stronghold for insurgent forces since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Different coalition forces had tried to secure the city and bring order — to no avail; coalition troops backed out of the city and it quickly grew into a bastion for all enemy fighters in the area.
Marines were sent to start taking over the city in early 2004, but many political problems arose and the advance was stopped. The Marines made quite a big push, but were quickly told to pull out. November then came, and the Marines were sent in again to liberate the city and eliminate the enemy from every inch of it.
Many Marines of 3rd battalion 1st Marines engaged in grueling house-to-house fighting. Our platoon crashed through a door of a house and engaged in one firefight after another. It seemed as if everyone was wounded from enemy small arms fire and indirect fire, like RPGs and mortars. Still, we all continued the fight, clearing houses of multiple enemy occupants. Some houses were even leveled to take out any enemy defenses and personnel who might have been hiding within. Why send in men when a single good Bangalore can do the job?
The 10th of November was three days into the second battle. By that time, the enemy inside had begun to mount a major defense — a complex, formidable one. I started the battle with an entire machine gun squad, until mortars rained down on a street where we were pulling security. Once the smoke started to clear, only two of us were what remained of a seven-man machine gun squad.
But that day felt different from any other day of the battle. That’s when many of us suddenly realized that it was the Marine Corps Birthday, “OUR” birthday. Instead of getting drunk and eating lobster and steak, we were doing the one thing every Marine trains for, thinks about, and begs to do.
We were celebrating our birthday in the heat of battle.
While Marines celebrate our birthday every year with exuberance and tradition, some of us remember Fallujah, the birthday that exemplified what it means to be a United States Marine.
This article was written by Donald Baker and originally published on WE ARE THE MIGHTY. It was originally published in August 2021.