World War II-era Marine Raiders were highly-trained amphibious forces whose famed guerilla tactics were not unlike today's MARSOC operations. Marine leaders have nixed plans to resurrect the Raiders moniker. (Marine Corps)
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Commandant Gen. Jim Amos denied a proposal from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command to resurrect the World War II "Marine Raiders" moniker.
The proposal was presented to Amos and the service's senior general officers during a late-January gathering in New Orleans, said Brig. Gen. David Berger, director of operations at Marine Corps headquarters. Amos thumbed down the plan, Berger said Feb. 18, because "your allegiance, your loyalty … is to the Marine Corps, based on the title you have on your uniform."
"He supports them," Berger said of MARSOC. "He made it clear that the tie, the connection to our past is absolutely important to him, but we're not going to name a unit by some naming convention — any unit in the Marine Corps — because we're Marines first."
The original Raiders were highly trained amphibious forces, four battalions strong that helped seize key islands during pivotal campaigns in the South Pacific.
Efforts to speak with Amos were unsuccessful. His spokesman was unfamiliar with the proposal and referred questions about it to MARSOC. Officials with MARSOC declined to comment.
Certainly, the commandant's decision will come as a great disappointment not only to those in the special operations community who pushed the idea, but also to the 1,100 or so Raiders still living. They have maintained an affiliation with MARSOC since its activation five years ago.
Renaming MARSOC would keep the Raiders' legacy alive, and help erase lingering criticism about their combat achievements and doubts about their value to the Corps, said Robert Lyn Dix, the U.S. Marine Raider Association's president.
"They were hoping to get the Marine Corps Raider name out of the doghouse," said Dix, whose dad served with 1st Raider Battalion during World War II. "It would be great if it was done — for the Marine Corps and for the Marine Raiders."
Dix recently sent a letter to Amos, asking the commandant to consider simply attaching the term "Marine Raider" to MARSOC units.
"They don't have to make a full re-designation of the unit," he said, noting similar nicknames Marines have for specialized fields like reconnaissance and scout-snipers.
Dix said he fears this will be the last time such a proposal will come along to determine "if we will ever exist in the Marine Corps books again."
Second attempt at revival
MARSOC's plan called for sweeping name changes, according to the briefing slides. While the command would've remained "MARSOC," its regiment, battalions, support group, school house and personnel all would've carried the Raider name.
The Raiders' original colors — a celebrated image featuring a stark white skull and the Southern Cross constellation of stars set against a deep blue background — would've been transferred to MARSOC also, along with the Raiders' honors and battle lineage.
MARSOC officials wanted to have a transfer ceremony a year from now, on Feb. 16, 2012.
The Raiders' storied battlefield ferocity matches perfectly with the warrior ethos and values embraced by today's Marines and the growing MARSOC force, officials pointed out in the briefing slides, which is punctuated with terms such as "teamwork," "loyalty" and "unselfishness."
A similar idea was proposed five years ago, just as MARSOC stood up. The Raider imprint already had taken root in a "proof of concept" spec-ops unit comprising roughly 100 men. Formed in 2003, they were known as Marine Corps Special Operations Command Detachment 1, or Det One, for short.
Based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Det One incorporated the Raiders' stiletto into its insignia and deployed in 2004 to Iraq along with a group of Navy SEALs. There, they were known as "Task Unit Raider."
"Ironically, the members of Det One, which were conceived as the modern descendants of the Marine Raiders of World War II, shared the same fate of those Marines: their unit was disbanded, but they seeded other units with their experience and training," Lt. Col. John Piedmont, a Marine Corps historian, wrote in an official unit history published last year.
After some contentious debate among senior officers in 2006, the Corps nixed the idea of bringing back the Raider name. MARSOC would be known as MARSOC, period. At the time, some senior officers surmised that the new generation should craft their own legacy and legends, and let the World War II veterans maintain their own.
The original Raiders
In all, 8,078 men — 7,710 Marines and 368 sailors — became Marine Raiders. The first two battalions were formed in February 1942 and deployed into the Pacific theater by spring.
Two more commando-type Raider units skilled in amphibious raids and diversionary operations were created later, forming what is credited as the Corps' first foray into specialized unconventional operations as they paved the way for U.S. military successes against a formidable adversary in the region.
The Raiders were disbanded in 1944. Their final major combat mission occurred on the South Pacific island of Bougainville. All told, they were awarded seven Medals of Honor and 136 Navy Crosses, according to the Raider Association.
"Events had conspired to sound the death knell of the Raiders," Col. Jon T. Hoffman wrote in "From Makin to Bougainville: Marine Raiders in the Pacific War," a historical pamphlet published in 1995. "The main factor was the unprecedented expansion of the Corps." At the time, the force numbered about 500,000 and struggled to fill its conventional ranks.
Moreover, Hoffman noted, "there was an institutional opposition to the existence of an elite force within the already elite Corps."