MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – As hundreds of Marines and their families watched, Col. Peter Baumgarten, the commanding officer of 1st Marine Regiment, attached battle streamers to the regiment’s colors, celebrating the many honors the regiment received throughout its 100-years of service.
Baumgarten said assuming command of 1st Marine Regiment was a dream come true. He first reported to the regiment as a second lieutenant and participated in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He returned a few years later as a company commander with 1st Battalion.
“Unlike a lot of regimental commanders, I’m coming back to my roots,” said Baumgarten, a native of El Paso, Texas. “Commanders don’t always get that opportunity.”
The regiment has spanned a century and has been involved in nearly every major engagement from World War II and Vietnam to more recent operations, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The regiment’s historic lineage includes 19 Medal of Honor recipients
“We thought this was a great opportunity to look at the history of 1st Marine Regiment,” Baumgarten said. “We want to connect our present Marines with the legacy and traditions we’ve had in the regiment for those first hundred years.”
1st Marines became famous during World War II at the Battle of Guadalcanal. It was at Guadalcanal that Sgt. John Basilone became the first Medal of Honor recipient for the regiment.
During the Battle of Henderson Field, Basilone, in charge of two heavy machine gun sections, fought valiantly in a fierce attack from the Japanese. With only two men left to carry on the fight, he personally manned one of the guns, holding his line until replacements arrived. At great risk to his life, he battled through hostile lines carrying needed shells for his gunners. His heroic actions contributed to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. By the end of the campaign, the Japanese forces lost more than 25,000 troops while the Marines lost less than 2,000.
1st Marines furthered their fame during the Korean War at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir where Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller made his famous quote, “We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.”
Following the end of the war, the regiment stayed in Korea until 1955 and acted as a defensive force against possible communist attempts to rekindle the war.
“Puller remains one of the living legacies of 1st Marines,” Baumgarten said. “We have a picture of him in the command post with all his ribbons and decorations right in the forefront of the command deck to let everyone reflect on the importance he had on the regiment.”
The regiment’s legacy continued on into the Vietnam War, where they took part in numerous operations. They were the last regiment to leave Vietnam.
“I recently had a conversation with retired Gen. Paul Kelley,” Baumgarten said. “He commanded the regiment during the war. He told me he brought back the regiment's colors when they left Vietnam.”
Because of the rich history of 1st Marines, the Marines with the regiment express pride in their lineage and a willingness to live up to its decorated history.
“Marines with 1st Marines are different,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Cadwallader, the regimental ammo chief, and a native of Merrill, Wis. “We carry ourselves in a certain way because we’re 1st Marines. We have to represent ourselves as such.”
First Marines returned to Afghanistan in support of the final campaign as Task Force Belleau Wood. Just like they were in Vietnam, they will be the last regiment to leave Afghanistan.
For the Marines, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the regiment honors all who have served and given their lives to make it what it is today.
Baumgarten said, commanding the regiment has been the ultimate honor and privilege.
Each time he walks by the picture of Lt. Gen. “Chesty” Puller on his way to his office, he is reminded of the importance to carry on the legacy of 1st Marines. When the ceremony was over, he wasn’t alone. He walked off the parade deck with several former commanding officers of the regiment at his side, ready to support him as he sets the foundation for the next 100 years.