March 2015

The Green Marines

Volume 99, Issue 3

LtCol Adam C. Tharp, USMC(Ret)

CWO4 Jeff Rhea, USMCR(Ret)

I have written in a previous editorial that one of my drill instructors had strongly averred that there was only one color in the Marine Corps and that was Marine Green. Often, we have heard the Corps referred to as the Green Machine or Mother Green. I fully subscribe to my old DI’s philosophy, but as we celebrate the diversity of our Corps, I sometimes feel that one ethnic group in particular has made tremendous contributions to our Corps and Country, but yet has been given short shrift: the Irish-American.

Normally, I am not a fan of hyphenated definitions of American, but since it is March and the under-celebrated Irish-American history month. I thought I might provide some historical perspectives on the Corps and the Irish who flocked to the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in great numbers.

Our hymn has the line “…to the shores of Tripoli,” and that line in the Hymn is a direct result of the actions of Lt Presley O’Bannon in the First Barbary War against the Barbary Pirates and O’Bannon’s long march and successful attack on Derna. Today, every Marine officer wears a Mameluke sword in commemoration of his courage, initiative, and leadership.

The virtues that O’Bannon exemplified were exhibited earlier, in the Revolutionary War, by Lt Edward Stack, a native of County Kerry, Ireland. Serving on the Bonhomme Richard under John Paul Jones, Stack’s skillful and courageous use of Marines to clear the decks of HMS Serapis handed the day to the Americans. Jones credited Stack with providing the margin of victory.

Although courage on the battlefield is not the lone purview of Irish-American Marines, they have exhibited it out of proportion to their numbers. As of 2009, there have been 257 Irish born Servicemen who have been awarded the Medal of Honor. That is by far the most of any foreign-born group of recipients. Of the 3,464 medals awarded, 2,018 have been awarded to Irish-Americans. That is more than twice as many as any other group.

Of the three Marines who have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice, two were of Irish descent: SgtMaj Dan Daly and Cpl Joseph Kelly. During the Civil War, two Marines—Sgt Michael Hudson and Sgt James Martin II—were awarded the Medal of Honor for courage under fire during the battle of Mobile Bay on August 5,1864. One served on the USS Brooklyn and the other on the USS Richmond. In the Vietnam War, the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor was Cpl Robert O’Malley from Queens, New York. His childhood friend and schoolmate, LCpl Thomas Noonan, was also awarded the Medal of Honor.

Our Corps has been led by only one native-born Irishman: Anthony Gayle. As Commandant, he was subsequently court martialed. Without going into all the sordid details, there are those of us who believe he was set up by Archibald Henderson and the Know Nothing Party.

Subsequent to Gayle, sons of Erin have done a remarkable job at the helm of the Corps. Gen P.X. Kelley and Gen James Conway come to mind. There is no doubt that the current CMC, Gen Joseph Dunford, Jr., will excel.

So I hope you will indulge me as I take pride in the Irish-Americans who have served our Corps and Country, and celebrate the diversity that we say makes our Corps stronger. There are a lot of stereotypes that are hurled against the Irish, but one thing is true: We love a good fight, especially while fighting under the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.


Tom Bartlett's article "A Toast to the Green" published in the March 1978 edition of Leatherneck Magazine.

Colonel Keenan was born in New York City. He graduated from Manhattan College with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in November 1972 after completion of the Officer Candidate Course.