This is a short excerpt from The Last to Fall: The 1922 Marine March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg.
The Marines had fought valiantly in World War I like in the Battle of Belleau Wood in France. After the deadly fighting there to drive the entrenched German troops from Belleau Wood, Army General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, said, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”
However, that didn’t stop Pershing and others from wanting to disband the Marine Corps after the war had been won.
“Right after World War I, when John A. Lejeune was appointed commandant of the Marine Corps, there was a push by General Pershing and President Wilson to have the Marine Corps abolished,” said Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Williams, executive director of the United States Marine Corps Historical Company.
It wasn’t the first time such an action had been considered, nor would it be the last. However, Major General Lejeune was a Marine through and through, and he wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Lejeune understood that this was a political battle that would be fought on the battlefield of public opinion. He devised a campaign to raise public awareness about the Marine Corps just as the government had rallied public opinion behind the troops during the war.
A number of things evolved from this effort. Celebrating the birthday of the Marine Corps as November 10, 1775 was part of the public relations push by the Marine Corps. Also, elements of the Marine uniform were tied to iconic battles or moments of Marine Corps history.
Gen. Lejeune also wanted to improve the skills and abilities of the Corps by applying lessons learned from WWI to introduce new tactical doctrines. He realized that he could do this and use it as a means of increasing public awareness about the Marine Corps.
“Instead of going to obscure places to conduct war games and learning lessons learned and learning how to integrate armor, artillery, and aviation into war fighting, he would do it at iconic places and put the Marines out in front of the public,” Williams said.
At the time, the national military parks, such as Gettysburg, were still under control of the U.S. War Department, which meant the Marines could use the parks as a training ground. Lejeune chose to do just that with a series of annual training exercises, which commenced in 1921.