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April 06, 2007

Another Hot Air Post

...about the 'backlash' among Americans in uniform regarding their released British counterparts brought to mind an old axiom we had hammered into us at Parris Island. It might help explain the way we would expect to act given the same situation, with no superior orders to the contrary (i.e.; the American Ambassador in Tehran telling the embassy guards to stand down).

Background for the boot camp propaganda goes...

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, on 14 October 1926, the brutal robbery and killing of a U. S. Mail truck driver forced President Calvin Coolidge to turn to the Marine Corps for assistance in the civil community. By Presidential Order, 2,500 Marines proceeded on duty to guard the mail. The Commandant, anticipating the Presidential Order, on 18 October had directed the Commanding General, Headquarters, Department of the Pacific, located in San Francisco, ..."You will organize a force from the 4th Regiment, to be known as the Western Mail Guards, under the command of Brigadier-General Smedley D. Butler"...Brigadier-General Smedley D. Butler, known as "Ol' Gimlet Eye" to fellow Marines, brought a long record of combat leadership and two Congressional Medals of Honor to the Mail Guards. Veteran of both World War I and the guerilla wars of Central America, Butler's easy-going manner hid his cold, methodical approach to the task given to the Marines. As the primary source of personnel for the Western Mail Guard, the 4th Marines initially would be spread throughout eleven states(7). Part of a twelfth state, Texas would be added on 22 October 1926. General Butler's fully armed Marines soon became sobering influences throughout Post Offices, mail trains, and mail trucks in those areas. While Marines carried out their mail guard assignment, only one attempted robbery was recorded. That particular robbery involved an unguarded mail train carrying no mail at the time.

It was repeated often but what stuck in our shell shocked boot camp brains ~ as it was meant to ~ was the guidance given to those Marines guarding the mail, coincidentally part of the deterrent for those robbing the mail. I haven't found the attribution online (Mike?), but Kcruella and I sure remember the quote, having twisted it to our own purposes for these past 27 years. Goes like this:
"If the mail is missing, the Marine on that post had better be dead."

To my jaundiced eye, your average sailor (SeaBees, SEALS, etc. obviously not 'average', so don't even start) is basically a mail bag ~ they're not trained to defend themselves. If they were, there'd be no point in having Marines onboard to begin with. Those Royal Marines, with no orders we know of to the contrary, had an obligation to protect those sailors and, yeah...sometimes you might get hurt.

Posted by tree hugging sister at April 6, 2007 08:53 PM


Hmm. It took me a while but I finally found a mention of the mail guards in Colonel Millett's over-rated "Semper Fidelis, The History of the United States Marine Corps." It consisted of a brief half sentence saying the Marines weren't able to land more than 1500 in exercises developing amphibious warfare doctrine in 1926 because of mail guard duties. That's it. I never thought much of that book.

Sgt Grit website says the mails were guarded in 1920-22 and again in 26 under Butler.

Okay, I surfed around and learned some disturbing things being claimed about Butler. I never heard much good about him, but it appears after he enslaved all the Marines in Quantico to build his stadium so he could have a football team, and he was passed over for commandant, he got out of the Marines very bitter and bad mouthed them everywhere.

But I can't find a quote by him along those lines.

I don't recall this quote being taught to me at OCS, although I did know about the mail guards and a very stirring letter from the postmaster general about it, maybe he's the one that said it. Or maybe it is one of those apocryphal stories.

Posted by: Mike Rentner at April 6, 2007 10:19 PM

I don't believe it was his, but damned if I can remember whose it was. All the WM's knew the story and the line in series before and after ours, so it's telling was pretty standard fare. Maybe Kcruella's memory is more complete than mine.

As for Butler, I've never heard the football stadium thing. But years and years ago ~ long before Parris Island was a twinkle in my eye ~ there was a wonderful article in American History Illustrated about Butler's anti-war efforts. It really was shocking news to our Marine Corps saturated family (clear back to Grampa in the Banana Wars and then Haiti). And I've noticed the rest of the Butler story is never addressed, so news of his post-Corps activities always come as a shock. They always leave the answer to "how does a two-time MOH winner NOT become Commandant...?" hanging.

Posted by: tree hugging sister at April 6, 2007 10:38 PM

He didn't become commandant because he was an idiot. Just like Wesley Fox didn't become a general. A medal of honor gets you to colonel and no farther if you don't have the brains. I liked Fox, I was his adjutant, but he was not at all smart (possibly senile if you ask me), and I'm very glad he never got a star.

Smedley was koo koo krazy about football. Despite the CMC telling him to lay off, he created his own football team and they played against college teams. He thought Quantico should become a Marine Corps University (hence the current name) to be equal to West Point and Annapolis. What they needed to get to that point was a real stadium for football. That seemed to be his understanding of what a university is for.

Anyway, congress and the Marine Corps refused to pay for an absurd stadium for the USMC in Quantico. So, since he was the base commanding general, he simply ordered his privates to break out their entrenching tools and told them to start digging. (okay, the e-tool bit is also apocryphal, see http://www.quantico.usmc.mil/Sentry/StoryView.aspx?SID=775 for a more accurate version spun by the USMC).

It's pretty old and mostly dilapidated now, but they still use it for large gatherings.

Because he insisted on building a stadium against all orders and common sense, and I'm sure for other reasons, he was passed over for CMC. Like I said, I knew he was bitter about it, but I didn't know he had become anti-government and anti-war.

Posted by: Mike Rentner at April 6, 2007 11:17 PM