A cold dash of reality on April 1st (Marine Corps post)

My friend Manny sent me a photo, and it sent me on a search that eventually led me to this. It amazes me, and I wanted to share it with my friends within the US Marines. Especially on this day. With so much BS floating around, it’s time for a healthy dose of the real world.

In this modern age of spoofs and practical jokes brought about by digital image trickery and manipulation, it’s hard to believe that something like this could be real, I’ll grant you that.

It wasn’t all that long ago that a commercial aired during a Super Bowl halftime show that gave us a very convincing view of cowboys herding thousands of cats across the open plains and rolling hills. Everyone marveled at the wittiness of the idea, but nobody remarked as to how they must have had some mighty skilled cat wranglers onhand to get all those cats to do that. We all know, something that looks too good to be true, IS. We just assume it’s all faked up.

Well, what I have to show you is quite true. It is real. And it is delightful. 🙂

It seems that, way back during World War I, a skilled photographer named Arthur S. Mole, and his partner, a Mr John D. Thomas, traveled across the country and took very carefully planned photographs.

What these two did was plan out very carefully a layout whereby vast numbers of people could stand on an arrangement of tape guides on the ground, and, when photographed from a great height at the top of an 80 foot tower, the proportions of the scene as viewed from that height would make a very clear, very easily identified symbol.

The proportions are nearly perfect to my eyes, and looking at the photo, you would swear that it was a digital fake. But it’s not.

They traveled across the country, as I said, and spent several weeks at each location, planning and arranging what came to be called “Living Emblems”.

This photograph, called the “Living Emblem of the United States Marine Corps”, was taken in 1918, and the emblem is formed of the Marines of Parris Island, South Carolina, where the picture was taken.

No fakery. No tricks. An honest to God image of the Marines at Parris Island in 1918.

I would like to take the time, at this point, to remind my fellow Marines that June of 1918 is when the Battle of Belleau Wood took place.

Marines know how important to our lore that battle was, but for the rest of you, let me just say that you may not have heard the quote “Retreat hell, we just got here”, which originated there, but you damn well heard the quote “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

It is the Battle of Belleau Wood where the US Marines earned the nickname “Teufel Hunden”, or Devil Dog, supposedly what the German troops called the Marines who fought there, and Marines take pride in being Devil Dogs to this day.

That is the same time period as this photograph. That is the history the US Marines were forging at the very moment when this photograph was being taken.

I don’t know about anyone else, but damn if that doesn’t send chills down my spine to think of when I look at it.

Here we are, 91 years later, and the afternoon they spent out in the sun is still alive to be remembered.

A powerful image. The Marines of the United States Marine Corps of 1918, standing united together and acting as one.

A lasting reminder of the tradition that each and every Marine living today keeps on carrying on.

A reminder as well, that while the rest of the world forgets faster than a mayfly’s lifespan, what a Marine does now is part of a tradition that will be remembered by other Marines for as long as there remains a Corps.

On a day when the world is fascinated with the false and the fake… my reminder of something that is hard as hell to hold, but all too real.

Mole and Thomas Marine Corps Emblem

If you enjoy this image and would like to know more about the work of Mole and Thomas and their Living Emblems, I encourage you to visit the website of the Hammer Gallery in Chicago, where these images have been preserved, and where prints can be obtained.


15 thoughts on “A cold dash of reality on April 1st (Marine Corps post)

  1. Maybe I am being a bit paranoid and I acknowledge my ignorance of the meaning of this symbol.
    I don’t like it because it reminds me of the Monroe Doctrine (and yes I’m latinamerican)


  2. I need to find some army stories now, because Marine stories are always so awesome. I did try to get Damm to join the Marines so he would match my tattoo but he was pretty set on the Army 🙂


  3. I’m looking at the pic you’ve got above and the others on the site at the link. The time involved in getting just one photo has got to be jaw-dropping. Figuring the scale, laying out the design according to how many people you’ve got, dressing, coordinating…amazing. Really cool stuff. Thanks!


  4. We did something like this when I was a senior in High School. I graduated in the spring of 2002, and can you remember what happened in the fall of 2001?


    I can promise you that my class had the highest percentage of people sign up for the armed forces in one way or another than had been seen in a very long time. Small town midwest, we have a lot to prove.

    Anyway, we were separated into first period classes and all told to wear either red, white, or blue T-shirts on one day, then we were ushered into the gymnasium and arranged properly. There were only 150 of us (I came from a small town) but we were all proud to kneel together and form the image of our national flag. There’s a picture of it in the yearbook. I can find and send you a copy if you’d like to see it 🙂


  5. I meant to add more to my first comment… 🙂

    The Statue of Liberty picture from this series was making the email rounds around a month ago. And to be honest, I STILL find it hard to believe that this is true. I KNOW it is, because there are reliable sources who say so. But my mind just can’t quite change “the idea” into “the truth”.


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