Marines' Hymn

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Marines' Hymn
Seal of the United States Marine Corps.svg

Service anthem of  United States Marine Corps
Lyrics Thomas Holcomb, 1942
Music Jacques Offenbach, 1867
Adopted 1929; 88 years ago (1929)
Music sample

The "Marines' Hymn" is the official hymn of the United States Marine Corps, introduced by the first Director of USMC Band, Francesco Maria Scala. It is the oldest official song in the United States Armed Forces.[1] The "Marines' Hymn" is typically sung at the position of attention as a gesture of respect. However, the third verse is also used as a toast during formal events, such as the birthday ball and other ceremonies. Western Illinois University uses the hymn prior to all football games. They are the only non-military academy allowed to use the hymn. The university has had permission to use the official nickname, mascot, and hymn of the Corps since 1927.


The "Marines' Hymn" performed in 1944 by the Boston Pops.
Instrumental sample of a single verse of the Marines' hymn played by the President's Own Marine Band.

Some lyrics were popular phrases before the song was written. The line "To the shores of Tripoli" refers to the First Barbary War, and specifically the Battle of Derne in 1805[citation needed]. After Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon and his Marines hoisted the American flag over the Old World for the first time, the phrase was added to the flag of the United States Marine Corps. "The Halls of Montezuma" refers to the Battle of Chapultepec on 12/13 September 1847 during the Mexican-American War, where a force of Marines stormed Chapultepec Castle.

While the lyrics are said to date from the 19th century, no pre-20th century text is known. The author of the lyrics is likewise unknown. Legend has it that a Marine on duty in Mexico penned the hymn. The unknown author transposed the phrases in the motto on the Colors so that the first two lines of the Hymn would read: "From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli", favoring euphony over chronology.

The music is from the Gendarmes' Duet (the "bold gendarmes") from the revision in 1867 of the Jacques Offenbach opera Geneviève de Brabant, which debuted in Paris in 1859. Correspondence between Colonel Albert S. McLemore and Walter F. Smith (the second leader of the United States Marine Band) traces the tune:

The name of the opera and a part of the chorus was secured from Major Wallach and forwarded to Mr. Smith, who replied:

John Philip Sousa once wrote:

The lyrics are also contained in the book Rhymes of the Rookies published in 1917. The author of these poems was W.E. Christian. The book is available online in several formats. The book consists of a series of poems regarding military life prior to World War I.

Some websites, including the official USMC website,[2] claim that the U.S. Marine Corps secured a copyright on the song either 19 August 1891 or 18 August 1919;[3] however, US Copyright Law prohibits the US Federal government, including subordinate agencies, from holding domestic copyrights,[4] and as such, the song falls into the public domain. However, several composers do hold copyrights on different arrangements of the song. These copyrights cover only the specific arrangements and not the song as a whole.[5] In 1929, the Commandant of the Marine Corps authorized the three verses of the Marines' Hymn as the official version, but changed the fifth through eighth lines:

Pre-1929 version Authorized change
Admiration of the nation,
we're the finest ever seen;
And we glory in the title
Of United States Marines.
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.

This older version can be heard in the 1950 film Halls of Montezuma. On 21 November 1942, Commandant Thomas Holcomb approved a change in the words of the first verse's fourth line from "On the land as on the sea" to "In the air, on land, and sea" to reflect the addition of aviation to the Corps' arsenal.[6]


From the Halls of Montezuma
 To the shores of Tripoli;
 We fight our country's battles
 In the air, on land, and sea;
 First to fight for right and freedom
 And to keep our honor clean;
 We are proud to claim the title
 Of United States Marine

 Our flag's unfurled to every breeze
 From dawn to setting sun;
 We have fought in every clime and place
 Where we could take a gun;
 In the snow of far-off Northern lands
 And in sunny tropic scenes,
 You will find us always on the job
 The United States Marines.

 Here's health to you and to our Corps
 Which we are proud to serve;
 In many a strife we've fought for life
 And never lost our nerve.
 If the Army and the Navy
 Ever look on Heaven's scenes,
 They will find the streets are guarded
 By United States Marines.

Extra verses

Various people over the years wrote unofficial or semi-unofficial extra verses to commemorate later battles and actions, for example, this verse commemorating the occupation of Iceland (when, in 1941, US forces took over from British ones of the previous year) during World War II:[7]

Again in 1941, we sailed a north'ard course
and found beneath the midnight sun, the Viking and the Norse.
The Iceland girls were slim and fair, and fair the Iceland scenes,
and the Army found in landing there, the United States Marines.

As the anticipated invasion of Japan neared, this portion of another verse was on a sign the Marines erected on Bougainville:

So when we reach the 'Isle of Japan'
with our caps at a jaunty tilt,
we'll enter the city of Tokyo
on the roads the Seebees built.

Written by William Perkins after Desert Storm; CommO 1st CEB(-) Task Force "Poppa Bear"

In all our years of fighting,
in some battles that were rough.
From the rigs of the Continental ships,
to the rigs in the Persian Gulf.
But we've taught the world respect for,
and exactly what it means.
The eagle, globe, and anchor of,
the United States Marine.

And an anonymous additional stanza:

Standing ready to do battle,
The United States Marines,
For the cause of right and freedom,
The United States Marines;
If the People need to call upon
The United States Marines,
They will find us always faithful,
The United States Marines.

See also


  1. ^ "The Marines' Hymn". United States Marine Corps Band. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Fuld, James J. The Book of World-Famous Music. Fifth ed. N.Y.: Dover, 2000.
  4. ^ 17 U.S.C. § 105
  5. ^ United States. Library of Congress. Copyright Office. Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series - Music. Part 5. No. 1. Sec. 1. Washington:, 1970. p. 830. Print.
  6. ^ Marine Corps Lore. Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Department of the Navy. 1963. p. 17. 
  7. ^ USMC Gals: Marines' Hymn


Further reading

  • Collins, Ace. Songs Sung, Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America's Best-Loved Patriotic Songs. HarperResource, 2003. ISBN 0060513047
  • London, Joshua E. Victory in Tripoli: How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-471-44415-4

External links

  • Marine Corps Theme performed as instrumental band march (.wav file)
  • Marine's Hymn Lyrics Information about the USMC hymn as well as other USMC history.
  • The Marine's Hymn Mystery More information about the musical authorship of the tune.
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