Equal Billing for Marines?

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Write
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The United States Marine Corps is a legendary fighting force, known for its esprit de corps, its battle toughness and the motto semper fidelis (always faithful).

Touted in recruiting ads as "the few, the proud," the Marines have been celebrated in film by such actors as John Wayne ("Sands of Iwo Jima") and Clint Eastwood ("Heartbreak Ridge"). A new National Museum of the Marine Corps is scheduled to open in November in Quantico.

And yet to some, the Marines still haven't received the respect they deserve. Specifically, although the Marine Corps has been a separate service since the National Security Act of 1947, it does not get equal billing with the Navy, Air Force and Army, each of which has a department within the Pentagon named after it.

This month, a few Marine Corps veterans and advocates began an online petition effort to persuade Congress to rename the Department of the Navy. Since the Corps functions within the department but has its own military command structure (the commandant of the Corps is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), its bureaucratic home would become the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.

"I understand what the Marines have done for the citizens of the United States of America and believe that, after 200 years, it is time they are given full recognition," reads the online petition, supported by 28,500 people and counting. (It can be found at http://www.dnmc.us .)

"It is not a point of conflict between the Navy and the Marine Corps. It's just one of seeking recognition for the Marine Corps," said retired Marine Brig. Gen. Terry L. Paul, a spokesman for the campaign. "It goes down to those intangible desires -- pride of one's service and the desire to have official recognition of that service."

The origins of Marines date to Nov. 10, 1775, when the Continental Congress called for the creation of two battalions to serve as landing forces with the fleet during the Revolutionary War. It was not until July 11, 1798, however, that Congress passed an act to officially establish the Marine Corps. The force of 881 men was to board enemy ships and lead amphibious landings, man some guns aboard naval vessels and serve in coastal installations and forts, author J. Robert Moskin wrote in "The U.S. Marine Corps Story." On June 30, 1834, Congress passed another act making the Marines "clearly responsible to the Navy," Moskin wrote, a move that clarified the Corps' relationship with its parent agency.

The effort to change the Navy department's name to reflect the Corps' modern-day independent status is more than an Internet campaign.

More than a year ago, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) introduced a bill in the House that would change the name and designate the department's leader the "secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps." He has introduced similar bills twice before. Jones, whose district includes Camp Lejeune, picked up 120 co-sponsors and managed to get language to make the change into the fiscal 2006 Defense Authorization bill the House passed last year.

"It is time that the Marine Corps be treated equally and fairly," Jones said on the House floor in March 2005.

The Senate does not share the congressman's passion on the issue. It rejected the name change last year. But then-Navy Secretary Gordon R. England decided to alter his official stationery so that it displayed the seals of both the Marine Corps and the Navy.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a written statement that the name change idea would receive "fair consideration" if it comes up again this year.

"But there would need to be a compelling reason for Congress to upend 208 years of Marine Corps and Navy tradition in the naming of the department that has served both services so well," said Warner, 79, a former Navy secretary and veteran of both the Navy and the Marine Corps.

Jones, 63, who served four years in the North Carolina National Guard during the Vietnam War, has not given up the fight. Through a spokeswoman, Jones said he is aware of the Internet campaign and welcomes the support. He will try again to have the provision included in the defense authorization bill.

"The time to redesignate the Department of the Navy as the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps has certainly come," he said in a written statement. "The Marine Corps is the fourth branch of our nation's armed services, not just a subordinate arm under the Navy."

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