Rumor Doctor blog archive

What's the real story of the "Blood Stripe"?

Marines take Corps history very seriously.

They can name battles that most civilians have probably never heard of, such as the assault on the castle Chapultepec in Mexico in 1847, which is commemorated in the opening lyrics of the Marine Corps Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma.” That battle also begat a central piece of Corps lore: the “Blood Stripe.”

Legend has it that 90 percent of NCOs and officers were killed storming the castle, so a scarlet stripe was added to the Dress Blue uniform pants for E-4 Marines and above to commemorate their sacrifice – hence the name “Blood Stripe.”

To Marines, this is Gospel, so much so that making corporal in the Marines is called “earning your Blood Stripe.” Back in the day, newly minted corporals would also get their legs pummeled when they got their stripe, but that was mostly phased out after hazing gained public notoriety.

The tale of the Blood Stripe is firmly entrenched in Corps culture, but like an ant getting vaporized by a kid with a magnifying glass, it wilts under closer scrutiny.

“While a wonderful story, and one that is taught to incoming recruits, it is only a story,” Beth L. Crumley, of the Marine History Division, said in an e-mail.

The Marines first started wearing the scarlet stripe on blue pants in 1840, borrowing the tradition from the Army. Moreover, seven Marines were killed at Chapultepec out of a force of between 400 and 450 Marines.

Marines ranging from private first class to colonel are shocked to learn the true story of the Blood Stripe when they visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., said Patrick Mooney, visitor services chief at the museum.

“They’re surprised; they’re like, ‘Heck, I was told that in boot camp, my drill instructor told me that,’ ” Mooney said.

Some are even ask, “Are you sure, are you really sure?” he said.

But the museum is committed to giving an accurate account of Corps history, he said. “We tell the truth no matter how shocking the truth can be, and this is one of those occasions.”

A spokesman for Marine Corps Training and Education Command could not say why the tale of the Blood Stripe is taught to Marines when it has been proven to be historically inaccurate.

“The Marine Corps is full of tradition and lore, and some of it … may not be 100 percent historically accurate,” said 1st Lt. Brian Villiard. “In the case of Chapultepec, the meat of what is taught to recruits is the significance of the battle and the heroic part played by the Marines. … The Blood Stripe is just a piece of lore attached to that battle.”

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: Sorry to say it, but the “Blood Stripe” story is false. The Doctor feels like he just had to tell children that there is no Santa Claus. The difference is that the Doc doesn’t have to fear an angry kid coming up to him and saying, “I got your Blood Stripe right here!”


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