From the battlefields to popular culture, the United States Marine Corps’s signature catchphrase “Semper Fi,” “Oorah,” or “Ooh-Rah” has definitely made its mark on the English language and perhaps, a phrase that transcends language barriers all over the world. “Semper Fi” is easy enough to understand; however, “Oorah” has quite an elusive history behind it.

Where did the signature battle cry come from, and what does it mean?

The Oorah Origins

If you ask a US Marine about where the famed Oorah came from, chances are you’ll get different answers every time. The truth is, nobody really knows where the expression came from. We can only speculate about its elusive origins.

When was it first used? Some insider knowledge had surfaced that no US Marine Veteran before the 1950s ever used the term, so this means the phrase was popularized in the 50s onwards. Before we do dig into that time frame, let’s look at the other older theories:

One theory goes as far back as the Ottoman Empire’s existence, where the term “vur ha” means to “strike.” Another theory derives the term from the Turkish phrase “Ur Ah” (“Vur Hadi!” in modern Turkish) in medieval times, which was shouted by the ancient military to instruct others to hit their enemies.

A Mongolian origin also explains the “Oorah,” which in their language is similar to “hurray” (No, this is not the same as the celebratory hurray) that means “to move attack” used by the ancient Huns. This is similar to the High German Language from the 16th-century term “hurren,” which also means “to move faster.” Yes, this is also where the English word “hurry” comes from, if you were wondering!

The 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Company Oorah!

 

Balao-class submarine USS Perch off the coast of Pearl Harbor in the 1960s (Wikimedia Commons)

Deep within the Indo-Pacific command lies the most credible source we could find. In 1953, the Reconnaissance Marines from the Amphibious Reconnaissance Company and the Underwater Demolition Teams (frogmen) were transported aboard the USS Perch, a Balao-class submarine named after the fish species of the same name. It was on transport duty during the Korean War in 1948 and placed with the US Pacific Fleet.

Of course, to move swiftly, the submarine had to drive, and whenever it did, a horn that would sound like “AHUGA” or “ARRUGAH” would be heard on board. Well, luckily enough for Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps John R. Massaro, who was serving as a Gunnery Sergeant for the Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, he would frequently hear it and took it with him even after his time with the company.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps John R. Massaro in Uniform. Photo from the Official Website of the United States Marine Corps

From then on, “AHUGA” or “ARRUGAH” slowly became “Oorah” for the men on board the Perch. When men in the company eventually left and took up other positions in the military, they took the phrase with them. However, it was Massaro who got credited with popularizing the phrase as he went on to teach at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot, where he included the marine oorah phrase with cadence calls.

However, in an interview, Massaro said that he had heard the phrase earlier when he was aboard the Perch with other battalions, companies, and marines. With that, I guess we’ll never really know where the marine catchphrase came from, but what we do know is that it’s a phrase forever ingrained in the Marine culture.

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