November 10, 2005, 8:51 pm
It might have been different if Thomas Jefferson hadn’t been president, if America had been rich enough to pay the ransom that many European nations did or if a small band of ruffians hadn’t been gathered up at a Philadelphia saloon in 1775. But he was, we weren’t and — for something we should celebrate today — they had. So in 1805, instead of choosing to pay tribute to jihadis who were hijacking ships and holding crews and cargo for ransom, William Eaton took a force to Libya to carry out the president’s simple order: chastise the Tripolitan pirates. Eaton’s force, which included only eight of these guys, led by a fiddle-playing Virginian of Irish descent named Presley Neville O’Bannon, marched across 500 miles of desert and — though they didn’t manage regime change – carried out their orders on the shores of Tripoli.
The World War I Germans — having fought a stalemated war for years against the French and British — were so surprised by their ferocity, skill and courage that they named them, teufel hunden: “devil dogs”, a name they are proud to claim to this day. In the battle for Iwo Jima in February 1945, it was said of them that uncommon valor was a common virtue. And, in 1985, Ronald Reagan said it best: “many people go through their whole lives wondering if they’ve made a difference. Marines don’t have that problem.”
Call them leathernecks, call them devil dogs, call them pretty near anything, but America always calls them whenever there’s trouble, and they’re always faithful to their duty, their honor, and their country. From the halls of Montezuma to the streets of Fallujah, uncommon valor is still a common virtue. Happy Birthday, Marines!