Leatherneck legends; Swapping some sea stories at the birthday ball? Here are 8 of the Corps' best
Marine Corps Times
November 15, 2004 Monday
...A canal, a canoe and 2 Marines
It was a historic day.
The Panama Canal, the highway between the seas that U.S. ingenuity, industry and money carved in the first decade and a half of the 20th century, was to be dedicated. It was late 1913, with the official opening still nearly a year away, but it was a day to mark, and a number of civilian and military officials would be aboard the tug that would make the crossing.
Somehow, though, no Marines were invited for the slow but historic cruise.
That didn't sit well with the leathernecks, who had already spent lots of Marine energy and blood in Panama. Fact is, when the young Panamanian nation first declared itself independent of Colombia in 1903, it was the presence of U.S. Marines that made the break successful. And it was Marines who stayed on to defend the embryonic Canal Zone through much of its first decade while workers, engineers and machines executed their man-made miracle.
So when the 1913 dedication ceremony was held, some leathernecks, perhaps determined to add "through the Panama Canal" to the Corps' list of been-there locations such as the halls of Montezuma and the shores of Tripoli, took matters into their own hands.
According to Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, who was there, "a group of important and pompous Army officials boarded a tug to make the first trip. None of the Marines had been invited to join them. I walked down to the Canal to watch the festivities. By golly! A dugout shot around the bank. It was proudly flying a little Marine flag, and two Marines were paddling like the devil. They went through first, cheered and applauded by the crowd."
To Anne Cipriano Venzon, author of "General Smedley Darlington Butler: The Letters of a Leatherneck, 1898-1931," the story "does sound like his writing style, but ..."
Venzon said the anecdote appears in an earlier biography of Butler, "Old Gimlet Eye: The Adventures of General Smedley D. Butler," by Lowell Thomas. Venzon has never seen any other reference to the story.
So, did Marines steal a lead in "crossing" the Panama Canal?
Maybe it comes down to whether you believe Butler.
Or if you just know Marines.
5. Be careful what you wish for
The Great War was over. The 1920s came in with the roar of jazz and the raucous din of illegal saloons and speak-easies. In Philadelphia, the mayor thought he had a solution -- send in the Marines.
Or one Marine, anyway: Smedley Butler.
Philly Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick requested Marine Corps and presidential permission to bring the Corps' "Fighting Quaker" in to serve as a kind of law enforcement czar.
Butler, after all, was a Pennsylvania boy. He also had two Medals of Honor and a reputation for toughness that Philly needed in the age of Prohibition and organized crime.
However, the city came to regret making Butler its director of public safety.
According to the Committee of Seventy, a political watchdog group that has been promoting good government in Philly since 1904, Butler came into his new job in January 1924 like the gangbusters he was sent to smash.
Within days he ordered raids on more than 900 speakeasies, but also went after bootleggers, hookers, gamblers and corrupt police officers. He had roofs removed from police cars so that cops couldn't sleep during their shifts.
But Butler was an equal opportunity law enforcer. In addition to going after gangsters and the working-class joints, Butler set his sights on the city's more powerful and respectable lawbreakers, finally raiding the social elites' favorite watering holes, the Ritz-Carlton and the Union League.
A week later, Kendrick sacked Butler, who would later say "cleaning up Philadelphia was worse than any battle I was ever in."