Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the Anniversary of the Founding of the United States Marine Corps


November 10, 1986


Commandant and Mrs. Kelley, ladies and gentlemen of the Marine Corps, I'm honored to join you for this traditional ceremony commemorating the founding of the Marine Corps 211 years ago. Now, if I was talking about my own birthday, I would be using a different term here and referring to this as the 172d anniversary of your 39th birthday. [Laughter] But I wish I could be with every marine today to say how grateful America is for all that the Marines have given over the years and give today in the defense of freedom.


Yes, in these 211 years, whenever America has called, the Few and the Proud have been there, in places like names with Belleau Wood and the Argonne Forest, Guadalcanal, Saipan, Okinawa, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, and Grenada. From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli the men of the United States Marine Corps have fought with a consistency of courage and skill unparalleled in the history of man. Everywhere they've landed, those of the Eagle, the Globe, and the Anchor have taken with them a spirit that all the world knows today and respects. As Ernie Pyle, the legendary World War II war correspondent wrote: ``The source of that spirit is that a Marine just plain considers himself a better soldier than anybody else.'' And he might have added the Marines have never given anyone any reason to think differently. The Marines have always hit the beaches hard. They never leave their men on the battlefield. And let me just say that's not only a Marine tradition. In Southeast Asia, we will write no final chapters, we will close no books, until we have a return of all who may be alive, a fullest accounting of all those missing in action, and repatriation of the remains of those who died serving our nation. Like the Marines, America will not leave its men on the battlefield.


So, yes, whether raising the flag over Iwo Jima or in the daily duty of guarding our Embassies around the world, the Marine Corps spirit has been an inspiration to generations of Americans. And the Marine Corps strength has been among our surest guarantees of America's security around the world. The corps today is almost 200,000 strong -- a far cry from that band that the corps' first commandant, Captain Samuel Nichols, first recruited at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia in the winter of 1775. I saw for myself what the corps has become when I visited the Parris Island graduation this past June, and the commander told me that today's young recruits are the best he's ever seen. To me, that's saying a lot, because I know a few past recruits. I could come pretty close to mustering a platoon of them just by calling a Cabinet meeting.


The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis, ``Always Faithful.'' It's a motto. It's also a tradition -- a tradition as old as our blessed Republic and as young as the newest Marine. A tradition of which all Americans are proud. And so, to all who are first to fight for right and freedom, America today says thank you, happy birthday, and God bless you. And I know there's a cake awaiting, but also, there is a general awaiting -- General Kelley.


Note: The President spoke at 1:38 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. Following his remarks, there was a cake-cutting ceremony.