Study Guide

The Marines' Hymn Lyrics

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From the Halls of Montezuma

Quick Thought

These halls—which are made of stone, in case you were wondering—are more commonly referred to as Chapultepec Castle.

Deep Thought

“The Marines’ Hymn” begins by celebrating the Marines’ role in a pivotal battle fought during the Mexican-American War. The fighting, launched in 1846, was turning to America’s advantage by 1848, but the capital of Mexico City had not been defeated. Part of the city’s defenses was Chapultepec Castle, a fortress built atop a hill on this city’s western edge. 

In 1848, the castle housed a military academy, but centuries earlier the hill on which the castle was perched had held religious significance for Montezuma and his Aztec followers.

The Marines joined a force of Army infantry in assaulting the castle and scaling its walls. The U.S. forces took heavy casualties but managed to seize the castle, thus moving the war closer to its end.

To the shores of Tripoli

Quick Thought

The song is chronologically backward; Marines fought on the shores of Tripoli decades before they visited the Halls of Montezuma.

Deep Thought

This line celebrates the first major engagement fought by the United States Marine Corps on foreign soil. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson decided that America had had enough of pirates harassing its ships in the Mediterranean, so he sent a small naval fleet and several Marine units to the coast of North Africa. Some of the North African rulers, or pashas, signed deals, but the Pasha of Tripoli insisted that the American government buy protection for its vessels to the tune of $225,000 per year. 

During the resulting war, the First Barbary War, U.S. Marines fought a decisive battle in 1805 at Derna. They captured the Tripolitan city, forcing the Pasha of Tripoli to make concessions. For the first time, the newly created United States had succeeded in delivering military muscle abroad; the Marines had carried the American flag and American will to “the shores of Tripoli.”

As an aside, it is thought that the custom of U.S. Marine Corps officers wearing a curved Mameluke sword began as a result of this battle. First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon, who led the Marine contingent at Derna, was given a Mameluke by Prince Hamet, with whom the Americans had fought during the battle, as thanks for his actions.

We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea

Quick Thought

This line was changed in 1942 to acknowledge the introduction of air units to the Marine Corps.

Deep Thought

Until 1942, this line was sung, "on the land as on the sea," but Corp officials changed the words to reflect the fact that the Marine Corps had developed aviation units to support its more traditional sea and land operations. 

Currently, the Marine Corps Aviation operates both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, which are used primarily to provide transportation and support to units on the ground.

We have fought in every clime and place

Quick Thought

It’s true; the Marines have been deployed in all parts of the world.

Deep Thought

The Marine Corps has been deployed in almost every “clime and place.” 

It saw its first major action in the Mediterranean Sea between 1801 and 1805. During the first several decades of the 19th century, the Corps was also dispatched to West Africa, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and Indonesia. In 1846, Marine Corps units fought alongside the U.S. Army in Mexico.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Corps saw action in countries as far apart as China and Cuba. During World War I, the Marines were sent to France; during World War II, the Marines were deployed, primarily, in the Pacific Theater. They fought in Korea in the 1950s, in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, and in recent decades, they have served in nations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

Where we could take a gun

Quick Thought

This line does more than rhyme with sun.

Deep Thought

The songwriter was probably looking for a word that rhymed with sun, but in choosing “gun” he hinted at one of the Marine Corps’ slogans: “every Marine is a rifleman.”

The Marine Corps boasts that every member receives extensive combat training, especially in the most basic of combat tools—the rifle. While individuals might receive specialized training and even have non-combat responsibilities such as cooking, communications, or engineering, they are also prepared to step into battle and use a gun.

This emphasis on basic rifle training is reflected in the Marines’ “Rifleman’s Creed”: “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.”

If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded
By the United States Marines

Quick Thought

Marines are notorious for claiming that they are the toughest members of the United States Armed Forces.

Deep Thought

There’s more than a little inter- branch ribbing expressed in this line. Marines certainly do believe that they are in the most combat-ready and combat-tough branch of the military. 

For example, one of their mottos is “First to fight.” It's tied to the Marine Corps’ historic mission, which is to secure beaches and ports for amphibious assaults. Originally they always operated in cooperation with the Navy; they were the combat troops that enabled the other forces to make a safe landing.

Along with being the “first to fight,” Marines often argue that they are the last to leave. A favorite Corps story goes back to World War I, when a unit of Marines was sent to reinforce some French troops holding down in a position in Belleau Wood. Shortly after the Marines arrived, a French officer, believing the situation was hopeless, ordered a retreat. “Retreat!?” answered a Marine. “Hell, we just got here.” The Marines, in fact, did not retreat, and they stopped the German advance.

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