Today, 10th November, is the official birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Some random bits (hopefully I’m remembering them correctly)...
When the Russians surrendered in the spring of 1918, Germany was able to turn the bulk of its army West, and launched its "Spring Offensive" against France. The Germans achieved massive breakthroughs against the British and French, particularly at the Battle of the Somme, where the Brits suffered casualties that look impossible for a country the size of the UK (e.g. 20,000 dead on the first day
of the offensive – Britain’s total pre-war population was approximately 46 million). On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, German artillery supposedly fired more than 1 million rounds at Allied positions.
Near Château-Thierry, in Picardie, France, on the banks of the Marne river, almost within sight of Paris, is Belleau Wood. This was where the Germans had deployed their famous "Paris Gun", a 200-ton, 210mm artillery piece, with a 90-foot barrel, and a crew of 80 men. It was so big it could only be deployed by a train, it’s believed to have fired the first man-made object to reach the Earth’s stratosphere, and it had an effective range of about 80 miles. From 75 miles outside Paris, the shells had to travel so far that the gunners had to factor the rotation of the Earth into their firing solution.
As Americans marched into the area at the beginning of June, retreating French soldiers urged them to turn around and go back the way they'd come. An American officer famously answered, "Retreat? Hell, we just got here!" The Marines were ordered to "hold where they stand" against the German attack, and dug in using their hands and bayonets. Hold they did, against multiple German divisions, for about 20 days, suffering their highest casualties in the history of the Corps to that point (2,000 dead and 10,000 wounded). It was at Belleau Wood that the Marines earned their nickname "Devil Dogs", a translation of “teufelhunde”, which is what the Germans started calling them during the battle. It was also at Belleau Wood that a Marine sergeant supposedly rallied his men with the famous line "C’mon, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?" Another Marine won a Medal of Honor when he single-handedly repelled an attack by twelve Germans. After the war, the French government awarded one of the Marine brigades the Croix de Guerre, and a monument was erected in the wood (probably still there today, I would imagine).
I'd heard that the red stripe on the dress pants of Marines commemorates this battle, but I've also heard that it commemorates the Battle of Chapultepec, fought during the 19th-Century Mexican-American War.
The embroidered loop on the top of the hat that Marines wear is from the age of sail. Marine sharpshooters would perch in the rigging of Navy ships during boarding actions, and the sailors below them would put a coil of rope on top of their hats so the snipers could distinguish friend from foe.
The ceremonial saber carried by Marines commemorates their participation in the First Barbary War in the early 19th century. The sword was presented by an Ottoman officer to an American Marine. The line "...to the shore of Tripoli" in the Marine Corps Hymn is a reference to one of the battles in that war.
p.s. I'm not a Marine, I'm just a nerd.