As in any military organization, the official and unofficial traditions of the Marine Corps serve to reinforce camaraderie and set the service apart from others. The Corps' embrace of its rich culture and history is cited as a reason for its high esprit de corps.
Official traditions and customs
The Marines' Hymn dates back to the 19th century and is the oldest official song in the U.S. Armed Forces. The Marine motto Semper Fidelis means always faithful in Latin, often appearing as Semper Fi; also the name of the official march of the Corps, composed by John Phillip Sousa. The mottos "Fortitudine" (With Fortitude); By Sea and by Land, a translation of the Royal Marines' Per Mare, Per Terram; and To the Shores of Tripoli were used until 1868. The Marine Corps emblem is the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, sometimes abbreviated "EGA", adopted in 1868. The Marine Corps seal includes the emblem, also is found on the flag of the United States Marine Corps, and establishes scarlet and gold as the official colors.
Two styles of swords are worn by Marines: the officers' Mameluke Sword, similar to the Persian shamshir presented to Lt. Presley O'Bannon after the Battle of Derna, and the Marine NCO sword, the only sword authorized to be carried by any enlisted service members in the U.S. The Marine Corps Birthday is celebrated every year on the 10th of November in a cake-cutting ceremony where the first slice of cake is given to the oldest Marine present, who in turn hands it off to the youngest Marine present. The celebration also includes a reading of Marine Corps Order 47, Commandant Lejeune's Birthday Message. Close Order Drill is heavily emphasized early on in a Marine's initial training, incorporated into most formal events, and is used to teach discipline by instilling habits of precision and automatic response to orders, increase the confidence of junior officers and noncommissioned officers through the exercise of command and give Marines an opportunity to handle individual weapons.
An important part of the Marine Corps culture is the traditional seafaring naval terminology derived from its history with the Navy.
Unofficial traditions and customs
Marines have several generic nicknames:
- Devil Dog is oft-disputed as well, but the tradition has expanded to include the bulldog's association with the Corps, especially as a mascot.
- gyrene has dropped out of popular use.
- jarhead has several oft-disputed explanations.
- leatherneck refers to a leather collar formerly part of the Marine uniform during the Revolutionary War period.
Some other unofficial traditions include mottos and exclamations:
- Oorah is common among Marines, being similar in function and purpose to the Army's hooah and the Navy's hooyah cries. Many possible etymologies have been offered for the term.
- Semper Fi, Mac was a common and preferred form of greeting in times past.
- Improvise, Adapt and Overcome has become an adopted mantra in many units.
The ethos that "Once a Marine, Always a Marine" has led to the objection to the use of the term "ex-Marine", leading to myriad forms of address for those no longer on active duty:
- "Veteran Marine" or "Prior-service Marine" can refer to anyone who has been discharged from the Corps.
- "Retired Marine" refers to those who have completed 20 or more years of service and formally retired.
- "Former Marine" is considered acceptable among those who are honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps.
- "Sir" or "Ma'am" is appropriate out of respect.
- According to one of the "Commandant's White letters" from Commandant Alfred M. Gray, Jr., referring to a Marine by their last earned rank is appropriate.
- Marines that have left service with a less than full honorable discharge might still be considered Marines (depending on the view of the individual), however that title is also in keeping with a stigma, and many will avoid the issue altogether by addressing the individual by name with no other title.
Martial arts program
In 2001, the Marine Corps initiated an internally-designed martial arts program, called Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). Due to an expectation that urban and police-type peacekeeping missions would become more common in the 21st century, placing Marines in even closer contact with unarmed civilians, MCMAP was implemented to provide Marines with a larger and more versatile set of less-than-lethal options for controlling hostile, but unarmed individuals. It is also a stated aim of the program to instill and maintain the "Warrior Ethos" within Marines. The Marine Corps Martial Arts program is an eclectic mix of different styles of martial arts melded together. MCMAP consists of boxing movements, joint locking techniques, opponent weight transfer (Jujitsu), ground grappling (mostly wrestling), bayonet, knife and baton fighting, non-compliance joint manipulations, and airway and blood restriction chokes. Marines begin MCMAP training in boot camp, where they will earn the first of five available belts.
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- "USMC Customs and Traditions". History Division, U.S. Marine Corps. Archived from the original on 4 March 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
- "U.S. Marine Corps Emblem". U.S. Marine Corps.
- "Marine Corps Emblem and Seal". Customs and Traditions. Reference Branch, History Division, United States Marine Corps. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
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- "Marine Corps Birthday Celebration". USMC History Division. Archived from the original on 6 August 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
- "Drill a Platoon Sized Unit". Student Handout. Marine Corps University. Archived from the original on 10 July 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
- Flippo, Hyde Flippo. "German Myth 13: Teufelshunde - Devil Dogs: Did German soldiers give the U.S. Marines the nickname "Teufelshunde"?". German Language. about.com.
- Hiresman III, LCpl. Paul W. "The meaning of 'Oorah' traced back to its roots". Marine Corps News. United States Marine Corps. Archived from the original on 24 December 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
- "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome". Answers.com. Retrieved 3 February 2009.
- Freedman, David H. (2000). Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines. New York: Collins.
- Yi, Capt. Jamison, USMC. "MCMAP and the Warrior Ethos", Military Review, November-December 2004.