On November 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress (see Continental Congress, Second ) passed a resolution calling for the formation of two battalions that would serve on land and sea: the Continental Navy and the Continental Marines. This date marks the birth of what would become the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC). The two battalions were disbanded after the end of the American Revolution (1775–83). However, on July 11, 1798, Congress, preparing for a naval war with France, reestablished the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The Marines also fought in wars against the Barbary pirates in the early 1800s. In 1834, Congress passed legislation making the Marine Corps a part of the Department of the Navy to serve as a partner to the U.S. Navy.
The Marines have fought in every war in American history, including the War of 1812 (1812–15), the Mexican American War (1846–48), and the American Civil War (1961–65). USMC soldiers saw action in both world wars, and it was just before World War I (1914–18) that the organization first developed an aviation branch. During this war, more than 309,000 Marines served in France.
During World War II (1939–45), Allied forces, or Allies , were bolstered by the Marine Corps, whose six divisions, five air wings, and supporting troops totaled about 485,000 Marines. In that conflict, almost 87,000 suffered wounds or died in battle; 82 of them earned the Medal of Honor.
One of the fiercest battles of the Pacific Campaign of World War II was the Battle of Iwo Jima . Allied forces had a mission to capture the airfields on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers who attempted to protect the island, more than 20,000 were killed and another 216 taken prisoner. On the fifth day of that thirty-five-day battle, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal (1911–2006) managed to snap a photo of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The photo became famous and has become a symbol of Allied victory in World War II.
More than 25,000 Marines were killed or wounded during the Korean War (1950–53), a conflict they fought mostly on the water. By that time, the Marine Corps was struggling just to stay intact. The post–World War II federal budget was inadequate for maintaining manpower, training, and equipment, and membership in the USMC fell to a low of 74,000 in the spring of 1950. As the Korean War progressed, more civilians signed up, and by June 1953 the Marine Corps had grown to include 250,000 soldiers.
The years 1956 to 1960 brought budget cuts that resulted in reduced strength and manpower in the USMC. By 1960, there were just 170,000 soldiers in the Marine Corps. John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) won the presidential election that year, and with him came an increase in budget as well as improvements in manpower and equipment. The Marines fought in the Vietnam War (1954–75) from the spring of 1965 until June 1971. In 1968, more than 85,000 soldiers were involved, which was nearly one-third of the entire manpower of the USMC.
The 1970s were relatively quiet in terms of conflict, but the 1980s saw an increase in the number of terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies around the world. Marines landed in Beirut, Lebanon, in August 1982 and remained on a peacekeeping mission there for nineteen months. In October 1983, they helped other U.S. armed forces invade the island nation of Grenada after the murder of its prime minister, who had been illegally removed from office. The invasion ended in December of that year. U.S. forces lost nineteen lives.
In August 1990, Iraq invaded the small neighboring oil-rich country of Kuwait. Between August and January 1991, more than 92,000 Marines deployed to the Persian Gulf in a campaign known as Operation Desert Shield. On February 24, 1991, the First and Second Marine Divisions entered Kuwait. Four days later, just one hundred hours after the ground war had begun, the Iraqi army was defeated.
Marines spent the rest of the decade on peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world. The September 11, 2001 , terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought about a response from President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) that the administration called the War on Terrorism. On October 7, 2001, Bush declared war on Afghanistan for three stated purposes: 1) to capture Osama bin Laden (1957–), a militant Islamist and reported founder of the terrorist organization known as al-Qaeda ; 2) to end the rule of the Taliban, which supported al-Qaeda and gave it a base of operations; and 3) to destroy al-Qaeda. Bin Laden took responsibility for the terrorist attacks on American soil that killed nearly three thousand people. As of 2008, the Afghanistan War—known as Operation Enduring Freedom—was still in progress. The Taliban regime was driven from power, but bin Laden's whereabouts were unknown.
On March 20, 2003, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and other countries officially invaded Iraq. The Iraq invasion launched a war that was still being fought in 2008. President Bush's stated reason for the invasion was that, according to intelligence reports, Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to world peace. No such weapons had been found within the first forty-five months of fighting.
Along with the other branches of the U.S. armed forces, the marines were deployed overseas to fight these wars. As of May 2008, the Department of Defense reported that 4,076 members of the armed forces had died in the Iraq War, while 492 had died in and around Afghanistan.