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The Marine Corps Celebrates Its 230th Birthday

Nancy Steinbach and Katharine Gypson


HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English. I'm Doug Johnson.

On our special Veterans Day show: We hear some American military music …

Answer a question about the expression “G.I.”

And report about one branch of the United States military force.

Marine Corps Birthday

Today is Veterans Day in the United States. It is the day to honor those who have served their country in the military forces. The smallest part of the United States military celebrates its birthday the day before Veterans Day. Bob Doughty has more.

BOB DOUGHTY: United States Marines gathered on Thursday to celebrate the Marine Corps’ two hundred thirtieth birthday. The Continental Congress created the Marine Corps on November tenth, seventeen seventy-five as a small military force to serve on ships.

The Marines were to provide security for the ship and to shoot at the enemy in time of battle. Marines also attacked enemy land bases from these ships. They did this for the first time against the British in the Bahamas during the American Revolution in seventeen seventy-six.

The Marines fought the Barbary pirates in Tripoli in eighteen-oh-five. They occupied Mexico City during the Mexican War in eighteen forty-seven. They fought one of their greatest battles at Belleau Wood in France during World War One.

Marines were among the first Americans to take part in that war against Germany and its allies. German troops did not like fighting the Marines. They began calling them “Devil Dogs.” The name was meant as an insult. However, the Marines liked the name. They still use it.

During World War Two, Marines landed on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean. It was the first American offensive of the war. Marines also served in the wars in Korea and Vietnam and are serving in Iraq.

Today, Marines serve as troops on the ground. Others work in tanks or with artillery. Some Marines fly airplanes or helicopters. Still others perform the traditional duty of providing security on ships. All these groups make up a combat team that is linked. Marines like to say they serve on land, on the sea and in the air.

Marines also provide security for American Embassies around the world. Marines are carefully selected for this duty and must attend a special school. They consider this work important because they know that the first American seen at an American Embassy is a United States Marine.

Question About 'G.I.'


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Vietnam. Ngoc Lien Nguyen asks about words used to describe Americans, especially the letters G.I.

Calling an American a “G.I.” means that the person is serving or has served in the military. Stories say that soldiers themselves began using the term during World War Two. They say the term may have begun in a cartoon by Corporal Dave Breger called “G.I. Joe.”

These stories do not agree about what the letters represent. They were a short way to say either General Issue or Government Issue. Both terms mean equipment that the government provided for soldiers.

One story says the words General Issue meant a list that told commanders what equipment and how many soldiers each military group should have. If a group did not have the required number of troops, the commander asked for more Government Issue. So the use of G.I. began as a joke to mean that the government was producing soldiers from a factory.

Soon these soldiers began calling themselves G.I.s. Later, others did too. Even government legislation used the term. The G.I. bill of rights was approved in nineteen forty-two. It provided free educations and other aid to those who had served in the military forces.

Some experts on military words have another explanation. They say G.I. came from the words “galvanized iron.” The American soldier was said to be like galvanized iron, a material produced for its special strength. The Dictionary of Soldier Talk says G.I. was used for the words galvanized iron in a publication about the vehicles of the early twentieth century.

Before World War Two, civilians described soldiers as “doughboys”. A writer had used that word to describe Civil War soldiers. A doughboy was a sweet food served to Navy men on ships. It was also a name for large buttons on soldiers’ clothes. Some experts say the buttons were called doughboys because they looked like the food.

Over time, the name came to mean the soldiers themselves. Today, Americans think of doughboys as the soldiers who fought for the Allies in World War One.

Other names have been used to refer to military fighting men over the years. These include “leatherneck” and “grunt”. But those stories will have to wait for another day.

Military Anthems


HOST: That was the Marines’ Hymn, the official song of the United States Marine Corps. Pat Bodnar tells us about other songs of the American military.

PAT BODNAR: Each part, or branch, of the American military has its own song. These songs are played at official events. The Marines’ Hymn is the oldest of the official songs of the American military. A Marine wrote the words were written during the war against Mexico in the eighteen forties. The tune comes from an opera by French composer Jacques Offenbach.

The official song of the United States Navy is called “Anchors Aweigh.” It was written in nineteen-oh-six.The word “aweigh” is an old way of saying “pulled from the bottom,” like an anchor of a ship raised from the bottom of the ocean. Here is “Anchors Aweigh.”


An officer serving in the Philippines wrote the official song of the United States Army in nineteen-oh-eight. In nineteen seventeen, the famous band leader John Phillip Sousa added music and the song became very popular. In nineteen fifty-two, it was named “The Army Goes Rolling Along” and became the official song of the Army.


The official song of the United States Coast Guard was written by Captain Francis Saltus Van Boskerck in nineteen twenty-seven. Later, some of the words were changed. Here is “Semper Paratus” which means Always Ready.


In nineteen thirty-eight, the United States Air Force had a contest to see who could write the best official Air Force song. More than seven hundred songs were written for the contest. A group of wives of Air Force officers chose the winner. We leave you now with “The Air Force Song.”


HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program.

Our show was written by Nancy Steinbach and Katharine Gypson. Caty Weaver was our producer.

Send your questions about American life to Please include your full name and mailing address. Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., 20237, U.S.A.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.