“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a Proverb! Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, ‘Press On!’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”
Calvin Coolidge, US President, 1923-29
During the “Roaring 1920s,” our national economy was booming, and US Troops, particularly US Marines, were being sent to Turkey, China (multiple times), Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, et al, in an effort to provide protection for Americans and American interests and to assist in putting-down local brushfires.
By design, US Marines were instantly mobile, and thus represented the standard “go-to” military option for Presidents Harding (1921-23) and Coolidge (1923-29).
(Warren Harding died, suddenly and unexpectedly, probably of cardiac arrest, at the age of 57, on 2 Aug 1923. Harding was succeeded by his vice-president, Calvin Coolidge, who served-out Harding’s term and was himself subsequently elected President in 1924)
Throughout the decade, Marine personnel and resources were understandably stretched to the limit. Most foreign postings were dangerously understrength!
Europe was in a deep economic depression during the decade of the 1920s. America successfully escaped, until “Black Tuesday,” 29 Oct 1929, when the US stock market precipitously crashed, ushering-in the “Great Depression” of the 1930s, as well as the infamous “Gangster Era!”
The Gangster Era was actually pretty well established during most of the 1920s, with armed gangsters regularly robbing banks, trains, and mail trucks. It was not uncommon for mail-truck drivers and mail-handlers to be murdered in the process.
The latter became such a formidable problem that in 1921 President Harding instructed his Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby, to consult with the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Maj General John Lejeune, to:
“Detail as guards for the United States mails a sufficient number of officers and men of the United States Marine Corps so as to protect the mail from the depredations by robbers and bandits.”
Placed in charge was two-time Medal-of-Honor-winner, Marine General Smedley D Butler (“Ol’ Gimlet Eye”), veteran of WWI and guerrilla wars of Central America. Not one to mince words, Butler brought unconfused, no-nonsense leadership to this assignment!
US Marines thus served as armed domestic mail guards for four months in 1921 and for several more months when they were recalled in 1926. After the first posting in 1921, the US Mail Service organized its own security service, but it proved not up to the task, so Marines had to be recalled five years later.
No robberies were ever attempted when US Marines were guarding the mail!
For this duty, all Marines assigned were continuously, visibly armed with pistols, shotguns, rifles, and Thompson SMGs. They rode in mail trucks and trains, often seated with the driver, sometimes in with the mail itself. Such details were always understrength, often consisting of only one Marine, by himself.
And, unlike mealy-mouthed, sissified, tenebrious ROEs of today (issued by politicians, in and out of uniform, who are far more interested in leftist political agendas and in the welfare of their precious criminals, than in the lives of their own men), standing orders got right to the point!
And, they leave scant doubt with regard to our duty and to whose side we’re on!
Denby himself told these Marine Guards:
“To the Men of the Mail Guard, you must keep your weapon(s) in-hand and, when attacked, shoot and shoot to kill. When two Marines are covered by a robber, neither must put up his hands, but both must immediately go for their guns. One may die, but the other will get the robber, and the mail will get through. When our Corps guards the mail, that mail must be delivered, or there must be a Marine dead at his post. There can be no compromise.
When necessary, in order to carry out the foregoing orders, you will make the most effective use of your weapon(s), shooting any person engaged in theft of the mail entrusted to your protection.”
It is no wonder that these Marines were so proud of their Corps, so proud to serve, and so unafraid of their charge and duty. They were sure of the righteousness of their cause and orders, and they knew and understood that those up the food-chain, right up to the President himself, would steadfastly stand behind them (unlike today)!
A short manual was written in an effort to provide additional, specific guidance to Marines assigned to these details. The “FAQ section” of the manual tells the story:
“Q: Suppose the robber is using a gun or making threats with a gun in trying to escape?
A: Shoot him
Q: Suppose the thief is apparently unarmed but running away?
A: Call ‘Halt’ twice at the top of your voice, and when he does not halt, fire one warning shot; when he still does not obey, shoot him.
Q: Is it permissible to take off my pistol while on duty; for instance, when in a mail-car riding between stations?
A: No! Never take off your pistol while on duty. Keep it loaded, locked, and cocked.
Q: Is there a general plan for meeting a robbery?
A: Yes! Start shooting and meet developments as they arise thereafter.
Q: When I hear the command ‘Hands Up,’ am I justified in obeying this order?
A: No! Fall to the ground and start shooting.
Q: Is it possible to make a successful mail robbery?
A: Only over a dead Marine.”
It is no wonder no one ever called their bluff!
That same manual, if written today, would be several reams long!
It would be chock-full of confusing, mealy-mouthed, self-contradictory legal terms, would require a team of Philadelphia lawyers to “interpret”, and all assigned to the actual details would know and understand that if they ever so much as touched their (unloaded) weapons, the manual would be scoured, front to back, to find some obscure place where it could be said that they “violated policy”
They and their “mission” would thus be a joke!
We’ve come a long way!
“Bad as political fiction can be, there is always a politician prepared to make it look ‘artistic,’ by comparison.”