by James Rada, Jr.
1922 – The marines Conquer Thurmont
The U.S. Marines fought valiantly in World War I in places like 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.
Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune understood that his Marine Corps needed to fight for survival in the political arena just as hard as they fought on the battlefield. After WWI, as the politicians began speaking about disbanding the Marines, Lejeune devised a campaign to raise public awareness about the Marine Corps.
One of the ways he did this was that instead of going to obscure places to conduct war games and train, he went to iconic places and put the Marines out in front of the public. 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 with a re-enactment of the Battle of the Wilderness.
Early in the morning of Monday, June 19, 1922, more than 5,000 Marines at the Marine Camp Quantico—more than a quarter of the Corps—marched onto waiting barges supplied by the U.S. Navy. At 4:00 a.m., four Navy tug boats towed eight large barges up the Potomac River toward Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, tanks and artillery pieces towed by trucks rolled out along the Richmond Road, headed for the same destination. Unlike a typical invasion, the Marines gave consideration to any possible damage they might cause to the roads. They removed the steel cleats and spikes from the tractor and tank treads. Only the smooth steel under-surface of the belts would be in contact with the road.
The march involved the entire Fifth and Sixth Regiments, a squadron of the First Marine Air Wing and elements of the Tenth Marine Artillery. The (Baltimore) Sun noted that these Marines were ready for anything and had pretty much cleaned out Quantico of anything that could be moved. “The 5,000 men are carrying the equipment of a complete division of nearly 20,000. In the machine-gun outfits especially the personnel is skeletonized, while the material is complete. Companies of 88 men are carrying ammunition, range finders and other technical gear for companies of about 140,” the newspaper reported.
The Marines spent their first night at East Potomac Park, south of the Washington Monument. Once they had fully set up camp, they marched past the White House and were reviewed by President Warren G. Harding and other dignitaries.
“Observers declared that this is the first time that troops have passed in review through the White House grounds since the Civil War,” the Marine Corps Gazette reported.
It took half an hour for the Marines to pass, as the 134-piece combined Marine bands played music.
On June 20, the Marines marched to Bethesda. The following day, they marched to Gaithersburg, where they spent two nights. On June 23, they marched to Ridgeville. Then the next day, it was Frederick.
From Frederick, the Marines marched 18 miles to Thurmont. It was the longest hike of the entire march. Besides being the longest hike of the week, June 25 occurred on the hottest day of the march. The heat rippled above the macadam road, reflecting, and seemingly baking, the Marines.
A near accident at the camp in Thurmont was an omen for the problems the Marines would soon face. Lt. Goodyear Kirkman flew up to the Thurmont campsite early in the morning in one of the Marine airplanes. He experienced a hard landing on the field and sustained a broken tail skid and air-line to the plane, ruining the carburetor. He needed to return to Frederick, but he had no means of getting there if he didn’t fly. He quickly came up with a daring idea.
“He took off from Thurmont, controlling his ship with one hand and pumping air with the other, using hand apparatus in place of the broken mechanism. He had to keep pumping furiously all the way. But he made Frederick, landed safely and collapsed from exhaustion,” The Sun reported.
The Marines sang when they left Frederick to say goodbye to the city, and they were singing as they entered Thurmont and the last mile of the hike around 1:45 p.m. It announced their arrival into the town, which was obvious since there were nearly five times as many Marines as there were town residents.
“Everyone from the small boy to the aged veteran was up and out to await and see the soldiers. Sunday School and church attendance suffered severely, and no doubt the few who did attend wished they were out on the street. Many persons remained in town preferring to miss their dinners rather than miss seeing this great military outfit arrive. Every porch along the State Road was crowded with people watching the passing trucks,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.
The Marines had arrived.
Marines arriving at Camp Haines in Thurmont, June 25, 1922.
Marine Troop movement through town.