The Marine sergeant major behind the 'oorah' battle cry
By Gidget Fuentes
1948 John R. Massaro Camp Pendleton California
The oldest living Ssergeant Mmajor of the Marine Corps is a living legend of sorts.
Retired Sgt. Maj. John R. Massaro retired in 1979, born during in the Depression era left his hometown of Cleveland during the 1940s to enlist in the Marines. His starting a career would that span ned tretched three decades, taking took him to combat zones in Korea and Vietnam, and finally into the role of the Marine Corps' culminated as the top enlisted leader Marine before his retirement in 1979.
That's a highly -abbreviated biography of the eighth 8th Ssergeant Mmajor of the Marine Corps would get the attention of any Marine. But official service anecdotes credit him with popularizing bringing "oorah" in the to Marine lexicon — and that alone something that has cemented him into leatherneck lore.
While there are several theories about the origins of the saying, some Marine Corps historical references suggest that Massaro carried over into his drill field tours the popular phrase into his drill field tours after it was used during his days with 1st Marine Division Reconnaissance Company in the mid-1950s. Massaro, then a company gunnery sergeant, and the men who boarded the submarine USS Perch for recon and raid training in the decade after World War II got in the habit of saying "oorah" while imitating the sub's klaxon horn that sounds off as "arrugah."
"It became some kind of greeting, when you saw one of your shipmates or one of your Marines, instead of saying, 'How are you?'" Massaro said, who was then with whose was company gunny with 1st Marine Division Recon Company and 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, which became 1st Force Recon in 1957. "It kind of got passed around. It was used as a chant, when people were running."
Other references cite his follow-on tour at San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot – his second of three tours there – with using the phrase with recruits.
"Oorah" has become a battle cry for the generations since, a phrase symbolic of the Marine Corps as much as "leatherneck" and "devil dogs." Some historic references cite Massaro's tour at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego as the place "oorah" really caught hold when he began using the phrase with new recruits.
Massaro, for one, is baffled why he's credited with the word. "I don't take credit for it," he said, chuckling. "It was a phrase or a term originally coming from boarding a ship."
The roots of "oorah" stretch beyond reconnaissance. It , and was likely It was really, probably coined by the infantry several years earlier. Massaro, speaking by phone from Utah, said he and other riflemen with Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, first went aboard the Perch in 1949 for troop transport training, "so it really wasn't something that was original to recon."
Massaro was just a teenager when World War II ended and, like many of his generation, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. After training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, S.C., he rode a train to Camp Pendleton, California, where he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. His saw combat in Korea and Vietnam in an infantry career that included three tours on the drill field, and assignments with reconnaissance and aviation units before being named SMMCthe eighth sergeant major of the Marine Corps.
"I was blessed," he said. "I try to sit back and look. The hand of Providence guided me where I went."
Retired Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps John Massaro, shown here with wife, spent more than three decades in the Marine Corps.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of John R. Massaro
Like many Marines, This year, Massaro spent the week of the is spending the Marine Corps' birthday week as many Marines do: Rreminiscing and reconnecting with friends and battle buddies. There's no fancy ball to attend this year, but he'll field calls from close friends and ring others up, wishing them, "Happy Birthday, Marine."
For all the Marine Corps' birthdays Massaro celebrated throughout his career, though, one stands apart.
On Nov. 10, 1952, he and his Marines stood watch at near Observation Post 2 overlooking the border between North and South Korea, Panmunjom, where official peace talks were taking place. The cooks somehow whipped up a hot meal and a cake, he said.
"Every Marine had a piece of cake that day for the Marine Corps birthday, and you were looking right down on Panmunjom," he said.