These Marine Corp ‘Facts’ Are Actually Myths But They Make For Great Stories

Members of the U.S. Marine Corp honor guard salute during the singing of the National Anthem during the unveiling ceremony for the new "Distinguished Marines" commemorative stamps on November 10, 2005. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The United States Marine Corps is 223 years old. And the legendary leathernecks have a long and distinguished tradition. But any group that is as old as the Marine Corps is bound to have some fabricated history. Below are the four biggest Marine Corps myths.

The Marine’s Devil Dogs Nickname was given to them by German soldiers

A Marine Recruiting poster with the term Teufel Hunden, or Devil Dog
Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The name Devil Dogs encapsulates much of what the Marine Corps is about. The title alludes to both ferocity and toughness. According to Marine Corps legend, German soldiers gave the moniker to them during World War I. The legend goes that the German troops were so impressed by the Corps’ intensity during the Battle of Belleau Wood that they dubbed them “teufelhunden,” which translates to Devil Dogs. It is undoubtedly impressive to receive this sort of nickname from an enemy combatant. But upon further investigation, the rumor doesn’t seem to be true.

According to Patrick Mooney, a representative from the National Museum of the Marine Corps, “We have no proof that it came from German troops though tradition says it came from German troops referring to Marines. There is no written document in German that says that the Marines are Devil Dogs or any correct spelling or language component of ‘Devil Dog’ in German.” It also appears that the nickname for the Corps had appeared in print before the Battle of Belleau Wood.

The Marine Corps has never surrendered in battle

A promotional poster for the film, Wake Island, which was released in 1942
Photo by LMPC via Getty Images

There is non-stop competition between all United States branches of the military. And the Marines are often thought of as the fiercest group. To promote this idea, recruits and trainees are often told that the Marines have never surrendered on the battlefield. This claim, however, is untrue.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, a small number of Marine were under siege from the Japanese on Wake Island, a tiny atoll in the Pacific. For 15 days, the group fought tenaciously and heroically. They were able to sink enemy ships and destroy more than 70 aircraft. In the end, however, they didn’t have the numbers to compete with the Japanese. The group’s commander, Maj. James Devereux surrendered to the enemy on December 23rd, 1941. A movie about the heroism of the Marines of Wake Island was released the following year.

A group of 40 Marines known as Task Force Drysdale surrendered to the Chinese during the Korean War at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Marine Maj. John McLaughlin told his opponents, “We are surrendering to get our wounded cared for. If we can’t get our wounded evacuated, we will fight on.”

The blood-red stripe on their dress blue pants commemorates the Battle of Chapultepec

1847's Battle of Chapultepec
Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images

1847’s Battle of Chapultepec is one of the most famous in Marine Corps history. In the battle, which occurred during the Mexican-American War, U.S. troops attempted to enter Mexico City. The skirmish is essential to both Mexican and United States history. In Mexico, the Los Niños Héroes are revered. These are the 6 Mexican fighters who refused to surrender and fought until death. The battle was also legendary for the United States. Despite being outnumbered, American forces were able to win the day. The battle is memorialized in the opening lines of the Marine’s hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma.”

And according to Marine legend, the blood-red stripe on their dress blues is in honor of the battle. That story, however, is untrue. It turns out that the Marines were sporting the scarlet stripe years before the fight ever happened. The Marine History Division’s Beth L. Crumley told We Are The Mighty in an email response, “While a wonderful story, and one that is taught to incoming recruits, it is only a story.”

The Birthday of the Corps is November 10th, 1775

Marine Corp Training
Marine Corp Training (Photo by: Photo by Sgt. Jesus Sepulveda Torre / U.S. Marine Corp)

The date of the birth of the Corps is highly disputed. The Marines were officially formed for the first time in 1775 when the Continental Congress created two battalions to serve in the Revolutionary War. Once the war was over, however, those battalions were completely disbanded. Between the years 1783 and 1798, there was no Corps.

On July 11th, 1798, the Marines were officially formed through an act of Congress. And for the next century, this date was recognized as the birthday of the branch. In November of 1921, however, Gen. John A. Lejeune issued an order making November 10th, 1775 the official date of the creation of the Corps. While the order was technically correct, there are 15 years there where the Marines did not exist.