11 Things You Might Not Know About the Marine Corps

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“The few, the proud” who serve are not only part of one of the most effective fighting forces in history, but also one of the most storied organizations in the world. Here are 11 things you might not know about the Marines.

1. THE FIRST RETIRED MARINE TO EVER RECEIVE AN HONORARY PROMOTION WAS IN A STANLEY KUBRICK MOVIE.

In Full Metal Jacket, actor Tim Colceri is famous for his helicopter scene where he says over the roar of the helicopter, "Anyone who runs is a VC. Anyone who stands still is a well-disciplined VC." He would have been even more famous in the part for which he was originally cast—as the strict and unrelenting senior drill instructor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. That role, however, went to R. Lee Ermey, who had been hired for the film as a technical advisor.

Ermey, a former Marine drill instructor and Vietnam veteran, filmed a tense 20-minute reel of himself in character dressing down and squaring away the movie’s extras, without repeating himself. When director Stanley Kubrick saw the video, he recast Ermey for the role on the spot.

The fictional Hartman became perhaps the most famous gunnery sergeant in the history of the Corps. Ermey retired as a Staff Sergeant, and in 2002, the Marine Corps granted him an honorary promotion in accordance with the rank for which he is most associated. Ermey—who passed away on April 15, 2018—is the first retiree in the history of the Marines to receive such an honor.

2. THE MARINES' HYMN REFERS TO THE BATTLE OF CHAPULTEPEC.

The Marines’ Hymn famously begins, “From the Halls of Montezuma...” This refers to the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847, in which U.S. Marines conquered Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City and subsequently occupied the city as part of the Mexican-American War. The battle is also famous (according to Marine tradition) for the establishment of the “blood stripe,” a red stripe sewn into the trousers of the uniform commemorating the Marines killed at Chapultepec.

3. "THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI" IS A REFERENCE TO THE FIRST OVERSEAS LAND BATTLE FOUGHT BY THE UNITED STATES MILITARY.

In 1801, the United States decided to do something about piracy in the Mediterranean so President Jefferson sent in the Navy. In 1805, the Marines finished the job. The Battle of Derne, on the shores of Tripoli during the First Barbary War, was the decisive action of the war, and the first overseas land battle fought by the United States military.

4. THE "LEATHERNECK" NICKNAME IS A HISTORIC ONE.


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In 1798, the Marine Corps began issuing "one stock of black leather and clasp" to Marines. The item was worn to protect their necks when fighting with swords. Today, the standing collar on the dress coat of the Marine Corps uniform is a vestige of the leatherneck tradition.

5. THE MARINES WERE HELD BACK AT NORMANDY.

The purpose of the Marine Corps is amphibious warfare, or attacking the land by storming from the sea. And yet the Marines are largely absent from the Normandy Invasion—history’s most famous amphibious assault. Why did the Army get the job?

More people. The Army had 89 divisions; the Marine Corps had 6. (As goes the saying, “The Marines win battles; the Army wins wars.”) And almost all of the Marines were in the Pacific. But there was a contingent of Marines on board the U.S.S. Texas who were held back, probably because of the ongoing rivalry between the Army and the Marines. Because the leaders of the Allied Forces were Army generals, there was no chance they’d share the spotlight on the biggest operation of the war. Even when the invasion looked grim, the Marines who watched from the U.S.S. Texas were never unleashed. As journalist W. Thomas Smith has written, the leadership didn’t want headlines the next day to read “Marines save Rangers at Normandy.”

Marines assigned to the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA and U.S. Army Special Forces, were on the ground, however, secretly working as observers of the invasion and facilitators for Army paratroopers who were jumping behind enemy lines.

6. WHEN THE FAST FOOD WARS ARE FOUGHT, A MARINE WILL COME OUT ON TOP.

In the 1993 film Demolition Man, Sandra Bullock’s character makes reference to the Fast Food Wars, of which only one restaurant survived—Taco Bell. This is probably in no small part because the founder of Taco Bell was Glen Bell, a Marine who served in the Pacific Theater in World War II.

The Fast Food Wars would have been quite savage, however. Mike Ilitch, the late founder of Little Caesars, and Tom Monoghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, are also former Marines.

7. AN AMERICAN TO ORBIT THE EARTH? YOU'RE GONNA NEED A MARINE FOR THAT.

During the Korean War, a Marine Corps fighter pilot nicknamed “Magnet Ass” shot down three MiG fighter jets. (He earned his nickname because of how often shrapnel hit his planes.) None of that was scary enough, apparently, because after he got back from the war, he became a test pilot. As part of Project Bullet, he set the transcontinental speed record, flying a Vought F8U Crusader from California to New York at 725.55 miles per hour. (The project was so named because he flew faster than a .45-caliber pistol round.) By the time the pilot—John Glenn—was recruited by NASA and became the first American to orbit the Earth, it must have seemed like a pretty boring day at the office. In 1998, we strapped him into another spacecraft and made him the oldest person to ever go into space, at age 77. It was a safe bet because clearly the man was invincible.

8. THERE ARE SOME PRETTY FAMOUS MARINES WHO AREN'T FAMOUS FOR BEING MARINES.

Before he became famous for co-hosting The Tonight Show, Ed McMahon was a Marine fighter pilot with six air medals and 85 combat missions under his belt. While Drew Carey was a reservist in the Marines and looking for a way to make a little extra money, he tried stand-up comedy—and it worked. Robert Ludlum’s time in the Marine Corps no doubt informed his novels about a super-spy named Jason Bourne. And Paulie probably could have taken Rocky in a fight; actor Burt Young is a former Marine.

9. THE CORPS WAS BORN IN A BAR.

The U.S. Marine Corps was born on November 10, 1775, the day the Second Continental Congress passed the Continental Marine Act of 1775, ordering “That two battalions of Marines be raised.” The Continental Marines disbanded in 1783 and was formally reestablished in 1798. The first Marines enlisted at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, which is considered the birthplace of the Marine Corps.

During the annual birthday celebration, Order No. 47 is read, which says, in part, “it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.” The commanding officer cuts the birthday cake, and the first piece is given to the oldest Marine present, who passes it to the youngest Marine present.

10. THE PHRASE "A FEW GOOD MEN" IS OLDER THAN THE MODERN MARINE CORPS.

On March 20, 1779, Captain William Jones of the Continental Marines placed a recruiting advertisement in the Providence Gazette: "The Continental ship Providence, now lying at Boston, is bound on a short cruise, immediately; a few good men are wanted to make up her complement." He’s been recruiting Marines ever since.

11. IF YOU'RE FIGHTING A WAR IN SPACE, YOU'RE GOING TO NEED A FEW GOOD MEN.

Marines don’t just fight on Earth. Popular culture has the Corps on planet Mars in the video game Doom; on moon LV-426 in the film Aliens (“Game over man! Game over!”); in the tabletop role playing game Warhammer 40,000 (“Give me a hundred Space Marines. Or failing that give me a thousand other troops”), and on planet Pandora in the film Avatar (“was a marine. A warrior of the Jarhead Clan”).

This post originally ran in 2012.

The Ultimate Charles Darwin Quiz

16 Things You Might Not Know About William Shakespeare

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Despite his many contributions to English literature, surprisingly little is known about William Shakespeare’s life. For the past four centuries, historians have had the difficult task of piecing together the Bard's biography with only a handful of old legal documents. Here's what we do know about the celebrated actor, poet, and playwright, who was born (and died!) on April 23.

1. Shakespeare's writing was likely influenced by his father's legal troubles.

When Shakespeare was about 5 years old, his father, John—a glovemaker—was accused of illegal money-lending and wool-dealing by Crown informers. The ordeal plunged the elder Shakespeare into legal troubles that would plague him for the next decade. "William grew to adulthood in a household where his father had fallen in social and economic rank," historian Glyn Parry told The Guardian. Parry argued that the experience likely shaped Shakespeare's attitudes toward power, class, and the monarchy—major themes in his future works.

2. Shakespeare got married because of an unexpected pregnancy.

Shakespeare was 18 when he learned that Anne Hathaway, 26, was pregnant with his first child. The couple quickly decided to marry in November 1582 and greeted daughter Susanna in May 1583. Two years later, they had twins Judith and Hamnet. Unfortunately, Shakespeare has no living direct descendants: Hamnet died at age 11, probably a victim of some disease; Judith outlived her three children; and Susanna had one daughter, Elizabeth, who was childless.

3. Nobody knows what Shakespeare did between 1585 and 1592.

After the birth of his twins, Shakespeare fell off the map for seven years. One unsubstantiated theory (and there are many) suggests that he supported his family by working as a lawyer or legal clerk. Indeed, Shakespeare's plays show an impressive grasp of legal knowledge. "No dramatist of the time … used legal phrases with Shakespeare's readiness and exactness," wrote 19th-century literary critic Richard Grant White. (High praise considering that Shakespeare once wrote, "Let's kill all the lawyers.")

4. Shakespeare was, first and foremost, an actor.

An engraving of Shakespeare by E Scriven, after Humphrey's drawing known as the 'Chandos portrait,' circa 1590.
An engraving of Shakespeare by E Scriven, after Humphrey's drawing known as the 'Chandos portrait,' circa 1590.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Shakespeare became an actor at a time when the job was considered downright unsavory. "[A]ctors were already marked as undesirables by England's vagrancy laws, which mandated that traveling troupes had to find aristocratic patronage," John Paul Rollert wrote in The Atlantic. "Rogue players ran the risk of being flogged, branded, and finally hanged." Little is known of Shakespeare's acting chops, but it's believed Shakespeare favored playing "kingly parts," including the ghost in his own Hamlet.

5. Shakespeare may have participated in organized crime.

In the 1590s, many of London's theaters operated as shady fronts for organized crime. (The Lord Mayor of London decried the theater—and specifically plans for the new Swan Theatre, where Shakespeare may have briefly worked—as a meeting spot for "thieves, horse-stealers, whoremongers, cozeners, conny-catching persons, practisers of treason, and such other like.") In 1596, Swan Theater owner Francis Langley accused William Gardiner and his stepson William Wayte of making death threats. Soon after, Wayte retaliated with the same accusations against Langley and—for some reason—William Shakespeare. This has led historian Mike Dash to suggest that Shakespeare may have been involved in some unspoken criminal activity.

6. Shakespeare was a matchmaker (and a marital peace-maker).

It may be no surprise that the author of Romeo and Juliet had a penchant for bringing lovers together: He once helped arrange the marriage of his landlord's daughter. The only reason we know this, however, is because the marriage had a rocky start. When a dispute over the dowry boiled over, Shakespeare had to go to court to act as a character witness for his landlord, whom he called a "very honest fellow." The transcript is the only record of Shakespeare speaking.

7. The first printed reference to Shakespeare as a playwright was an insult.

The first mention of William Shakespeare as a playwright appeared in 1592, when the dramatist Robert Greene (or possibly Henry Chettle) called him an "upstart Crow [who] … supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you." (In other words: A jack-of-all-trades, and a master of none.) Future reviewers would offer kinder words; in 1598, the critic Francis Meres called him "mellifluous and honey-tongued."

8. Shakespeare likely helped steal a theater, piece by piece.

In 1596, the Theatre in Shoreditch—where Shakespeare cut his teeth as an actor—went dark. The lease for the property on which it was built had expired, and Shakespeare's acting troupe, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, were forced to take their show elsewhere. Two years later, the former owners hatched a crazy plan to take their playhouse back. One winter night in 1598, a group armed themselves with swords and axes, snuck into the theater, and began dismantling the playhouse piece by piece—although it would take more than one night to demolish it. While there's no evidence that Shakespeare joined the crew, he certainly knew about the raid. Eventually, parts of the playhouse would go into the construction of a new theater just south of the River Thames. Its new name? The Globe.

9. Only one handwritten script of Shakespeare's exists.

Five examples of the autograph of English playwright William Shakespeare, circa 1610.
Five examples of the autograph of William Shakespeare, circa 1610.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Anyone interested in studying the Bard's cramped handwriting has only one reliable place to look—the original draft of the Book of Sir Thomas More, a politically-charged play that targeted, in-part, xenophobia in England. Written mainly by dramatist Anthony Munday, the play was completed with the help of four fellow playwrights. One of them, presumed to be Shakespeare, helped write a stirring monologue in which the lead character asks an anti-immigrant mob to imagine themselves as refugees.

Say now the king …
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whither would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour?

The play, by the way, would not be performed. Censors believed it could start a riot.

10. Shakespeare might have experimented with drugs.

Shakespeare might have had some, well, experience with drugs. According to analyses by South African scientists, a handful of 400-year-old clay tobacco pipes excavated from the playwright's Stratford garden contained potential evidence of cannabis (although the study authors noted that "Unequivocal evidence for Cannabis has not been obtained"). Other pipes nearby contained remnants of cocaine and hallucinogens. (There's no evidence that any of these pipes belonged to Shakespeare, but it does indicate that "narcotics were accessible" at the time, the Telegraph reports.)

11. Shakespeare may have been a tax cheat.

In the late 16th century, English residents had to pay a tax on personal wealth called a lay subsidy. In 1597, Shakespeare was supposed to pay a tax of five shillings. The following year, he was supposed to pay a larger tax of 13 shillings and 4 pence. Documents show that the Bard never paid the piper. (His reasons are a matter of speculation, but it could have been a clerical error because he'd already moved away from the parish.)

12. Shakespeare was a grain hoarder.

According to the UK Parliament, between 1604 and 1914 over 5200 enclosure bills were enacted, which restricted the use of vital, publicly-used farmland. Ensuing riots in 1607, called the Midland Revolts, coincided with a period of devastating food shortages. It appears that Shakespeare responded to the situation by hoarding grain. According to the Los Angeles Times, he "purchased and stored grain, malt and barley for resale at inflated prices to his neighbors and local tradesmen."

13. The Globe Theatre burned down during a performance of one of Shakespeare's plays.

An 1647 engraving by Hollar of Shakespeare's Globe theatre.
An 1647 engraving by Hollar of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
Rischgitz, Getty Images

On June 29, 1613, a prop cannon caused a fire at the Globe Theatre during a performance of Henry VIII. Sparks landed on the thatched roof and flames quickly spread. "It kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very ground," a witness Sir Henry Wotton claimed. According to The Telegraph, "the only reported injury was a man whose flaming breeches were eventually put out using a handy bottle of ale."

14. Shakespeare laid a curse upon his own grave.

When Shakespeare died in 1616, grave-robbing was extremely common. To ensure he'd rest through eternity peacefully, the Bard is believed to have penned this curse, which appears on his gravestone.

Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To digg the dust Encloased heare:
Bleste be [the] man [that] spares these stones,
And curst be he [that] moves my bones.

Unfortunately, somebody apparently ignored the dead man's foreboding words. In 2016, researchers scanned the grave with ground-penetrating radar and discovered that grave robbers might have stolen Shakespeare's skull.

15. Shakespeare's legacy has killed a lot of trees.

And we're not just talking about the millions of copies of books that have been printed with Shakespeare's name on them. In 1762, an anonymous magazine writer claimed that a drunken Shakespeare, after an evening out on the town, once spent the night sleeping under a crabtree in Bidford-upon-Avon. The story is probably a legend, but that never stopped souvenir-hungry Shakespeare lovers from flocking to the famed crabtree and picking it to pieces. By 1824, the tree was nothing but a stump and had to be uprooted.

16. Shakespeare's legacy lived on thanks to two fellow actors.

The cover of a 1623 collection of Shakespeare's works.
Rischgitz, Getty Images

Shortly after Shakespeare died, two of his longtime friends and colleagues—John Heminge and Henry Condell—edited Shakespeare's plays and collected them in a 1623 book titled Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. That same book, now called the First Folio, helped preserve Shakespeare's work for the coming generations and is widely considered one of the most significant books printed in English.

This story was first published in 2018.

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