TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif.
(11/21/2011) - Every branch of military service has a
rich history, steeped in as much hard fact as fiction and lore.
Trying to separate reality from myth is hard for your average
Marine. While all the other services can trace their songs' lineage,
the history of the “Marines Hymn” still holds mysteries for the
experts. The Hymn is also commonly acknowledged to be the oldest
anthem of all the U.S. services.
The Army's song, “The Army
Goes Rolling Along,” was first composed in 1908 by Army 1st Lt.
Edmund L. Gruber, an artillery officer. The song was originally
called “Caisson Song.” It stayed as an artillery march until it was
dubbed the official song of the Army and paired with new lyrics in
“The U.S. Air Force” was originally composed in 1938 by
Robert Crawford as part of a contest for the then-Army Air Division.
Lyrics were changed in 1947 for the newly-formed U.S. Air Force.
“Anchors Aweigh” was written in 1906 by Charles A. Zimmerman,
for a class in the Naval Academy. Over the years, it was adopted as
the Navy's official song.
The “Marines Hymn,” on the other
hand, dates back to the mid-1800s. Most of the information on the
composer and writer is lost in the sands of time.
to lore, the songwriter was a Marine on duty in Mexico shortly after
the Mexican–American War. Legend has it that he took the first
verse, “From the Halls of Montezuma, To the Shores of Tripoli.” from
the Marine Corps flag, which displayed those very words at that
The tune associated with the hymn also raises many
questions because the composer isn't known and the inspiration is
Throughout history, composers will hear a
tune they like and tweak to suit their purposes. To confirm this is
where the Corps' hymn came from, historians delved into
correspondence between military officials of the time to try to
confirm the origin of the famous tune.
In 1919, Warrant
Officer John Philip Sousa wrote “The melody of the ‘Halls of
Montezuma' is taken from Offenbach's comic opera, ‘Fenevieve de
Brabant' and is sung by two gendarmes,” according to information
available on the Marine Corps Logistics Command website, http://www.logcom.usmc.mil.
“Maj. Richard Wallach, said that in 1878, when he was in
Paris, France, the aria to which the Marines Hymn is now sung was a
very popular one.”
believed the hymn's “aria” was from the opera “Genevieve de
But even with this correspondence, neither origin
can be confirmed on this basis alone.
Although the Marines
Hymn made an appearance around the 1800s, it didn't have an official
version until 1929, when then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Maj.
Gen. John A. Lejeune authorized the hymn as we know it, except the
first verse. The original fourth line read “On the land as on the
sea.” That line wasn't changed to “In the air, on land, and sea,”
During the 100 years the hymn has existed, many
interesting stories around it have surfaced. Some fact, some
fiction, and others still up for debate.
One such story
claims that Sir Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during
WWII, and an admirer of the Marine Corps, was said to have showed
his respect for U.S. Marines by reciting our hymn.
story, confirmed by the Library of Congress, states that on Aug. 16,
1918, an issue of the Stars and Stripes mentions a French officer
mistaking Marines for a group of native Montezuma soldiers because
of that first verse.
“A wounded officer from among the
gallant French lancers had just been carried into a Yankee field
hospital to have his dressing changed. He was full of compliments
and curiosity about the dashing contingent that fought at his
regiment's left,” as written in the article.
“A lot of them
are mounted troops by this time, he explained, for when our men
would be shot from their horses, these youngsters would give one
running jump and gallop ahead as cavalry. I believe they are
soldiers from Montezuma. At least, when they advanced this morning,
they were all singing ‘From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of
No matter where it came from, or why, or who wrote
it, or who first hummed the first notes, the hymn is as recognizable
and ingrained in the spirit of the Corps as are the dress blues, or
Eagle, Globe and Anchor, or brotherhood itself.
By USMC Cpl. Andrew Thorburn
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms
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