The Marines As Devil Dogs, etc.

GyG: The Marines As Devil Dogs, etc.

Devil Dog‘ term taking a beating

By Andrew Tilghman
– Staff writerListen up, Devil Dogs. Oh yeah, that got your attention. Perhaps it even got your blood boiling? Or maybe you didn’t notice the big double-D.

Lately, reactions to the Corps’ longtime nickname generally depend on the age of the Marine listening.

A generational divide is opening around the term “Devil Dog,” which came into use 90 years ago on the battlefields of France. While it’s been a term of colloquial endearment for generations of leathernecks, some of the newest and youngest Marines say they’re tired of being called Devil Dogs. They even take offense at the term.

That came as a surprise to former Staff Sgt. Glenn Kirst, a 34-year-old financial advisor in Milwaukee who joined the Corps in 1991 and spent 10 years on active duty. He was out shopping with his girlfriend a few weeks ago when the pair passed a Marine in the parking lot of a Best Buy store.

Kirst grinned and nodded at the Marine, sporting a “USMC” T-shirt and close-cropped hair as he walked with a girlfriend.

“I said ‘Hey, there’s another Devil Dog,'” Kirst recalled. The Marine gave him a blank stare and the Marine’s girlfriend got angry. “She started shouting at me. ‘Before you make a comment like that, why don’t you grow some f—ing balls and serve your country.'”

“I was stunned,” Kirst said. “I called my friend, who is a Marine captain in the infantry. He told me the term ‘Devil Dog’ is not used much anymore, and is usually used in a negative manner. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“When I was in the Corps, I used the nickname Devil Dog like a badge of honor.”

Cultural shift?

Devil Dog has been a favorite Marine expression since the bloody Battle of Belleau Wood, a ferocious World War I engagement near Paris that also left the Corps with two of its most endearing quotes. “Retreat? Hell, we just got here,” exclaimed Capt. Lloyd W. Williams, as the French fell back. Similarly, then-Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly refused to let his men give up, shouting his motivating “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

As legend has it, this determination to win led one German prisoner to tell his captors the Marines reminded him of “Teufelshunde,” a German term translated as “devil dogs.”

The Corps ran with it, using the term in a popular recruiting poster that pitted a big Marine bulldog against a tiny German dachshund, the weenie dog fleeing with his tail between his legs.

The strange — and seemingly sudden — shift in the meaning of the term has many Marines confounded.

“Just try dropping the compliment ‘Devil Dog’ on anyone of any rank above [lance corporal.] You will get the stink eye of death. Just how this honorable moniker became derogatory, I have no idea,” wrote “Blogger X,” the pen name for a blog writer on the Marine Corps Reserve Web site, in February.

His post drew some speculation from other Marines.

“I think the backlash against ‘Devil Dog’ does begin with the leadership. [Noncommissioned officers] (myself included) use the following phrase, ‘HEY, DEVIL DOG!’ to initiate a ‘correction’ when we don’t know exactly who the Marine may be. Thusly, hearing the phrase Devil Dog creates a negative Pavlovian response in Marines. As they come up in the Corps, the response stays,” one Marine wrote.

“We may be proud of the name, but nowadays it does carry a connotation of condescension.”

One Marine major agreed that the new negative connotation stems from discipline. “It’s a preface to getting your ass chewed,” he said.

Sgt. Maj. John Estrada, who served as the Corps’ top enlisted Marine until his retirement last year, agreed that the term Devil Dog is “evolving.”

“I don’t think it resonates well with today’s young Marines. Some folks had issues with it,” Estrada said in a recent interview. “The young Marines did not understand the tradition and history of the term ‘Devil Dog,’ and they just reacted to it differently. The Marines you have to today, it’s just a different generation and maybe they don’t look at the term being used the same way.”

Love it or hate it

A quiet debate about the connotations of Devil Dog is underway on Wikipedia, a popular — but not always factual — online encyclopedia where anyone can log in and edit individual articles. The entry for Devil Dog has changed frequently in recent months. Earlier this year, the entry explicitly said: “To call a U.S. Marine a ‘Devil Dog’ is considered derogatory.”

“It is considered a diminutive, and is considered mildly insulting when used by a peer or slightly senior Marine. Its use is most common at the Marine Corps [School of Infantry], where it is the standard term of address for students.”

That was changed, however, by an anonymous editor a few weeks ago. On March 16, the Devil Dog article was revised to say that the term “was once” considered derogatory, but “now it is far more acceptable.”

To be sure, the term is not completely lost. The Corps still sanctions its use in many ways. There’s Camp Devil Dog at the School of Infantry-East near Camp Lejeune, N.C. Marines in California host a race dubbed the “Devil Dog Duathalon.” The Military Order of the Devil Dogs is celebrating 75 years.

Eric Reust, a former Marine who runs the Odyssey Tattoo shop in Jacksonville, N.C., said he’s still inking more than 100 Devil Dog images a year with no noticeable decline. “Marines are still comin’ in, ooh-rah, and they get the globe and anchor or a devil dog,” Reust said.

Charles Melson, the Marine Corps’ chief historian, said he was unaware of any new negative connotation to Devil Dog.

“It’s situational,” Melson said. “If the first sergeant says ‘Hey, Devil Dog,’ then it’s the same thing as saying ‘Hey, slick.’ But if it’s between Marines of equal rank, it doesn’t have the same meaning.

“To me, Devil Dog would refer to a ferocious nature, a fighter, someone who would never give up.”

Instead, the phrase is often used to replace “hey, stupid” or worse. It’s not the first time in recent years that junior service members began taking offense at a generic term typically used in disciplinary settings.

The Navy has had a similar problem with the term “shipmate.” Once a generic term for a fellow sailor, it is now perceived by many to be derogatory. That stems from some chiefs using it during corrections, “Get that rack squared away, shipmate!” or “What the hell did you just say to me, shipmate?” The junior enlisted sailors in turn use “shipmate” sarcastically with their peers.

Last year, senior Navy officials grew concerned about the evolving use of the term “shipmate” and laid plans to reclaim it for general use. In October, they announced an essay-writing contest on the topic, “What being a shipmate means to me.”

A goal for the contest is to “remove the negative stigma,” said Command Master Chief Tom Howard, Pacific Fleet’s top enlisted sailor, in a prepared statement.

Evolution, not revolution

Maybe the waning popularity of Devil Dog reflects how distant the World War I story may seem to junior Marines. Recruiters often note that today’s junior Marines are as removed from WWI as the so-called “Greatest Generation” was from the American Civil War.

“A lot of them don’t know their history,” Melson said.

Perhaps Devil Dog is, in some ways, politically incorrect. Resistance to it may stem from a “growing sensitivity about the use of pejorative terms,” said Mady Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland.

Words come and go. Estrada pointed to the phrase “gung ho,” popularized during World War II by a Marine officer who worked with the Chinese Army.

The original meaning was “to work together.” But over the years, it took on an ironic connotation, suggesting excessive enthusiasm or overzealousness. Now, it’s rarely used by Marines at all.

“Devil Dog, I think, that’s kind of fading away also.” Estrada said. “This is all part of an evolution. Look at how our leaders are today. It used to be that you’d be scared to go see your first sergeant or your sergeant major. Today, leaders are more open-minded, more approachable. The leadership had to adjust.

“In order to be effective leaders, you have to adjust to your audience, use different techniques in order to reach them and lead them properly.”

However, Estrada added, “We need to be careful and don’t get away from our history.”

History’s not always junior Marines’ top focus, and sometimes they just get tired of feeling like some boot who just arrived at the recruit depot. To those Marines, “Devil Dog” doesn’t evoke a storied battle on the Western Front so much as a stern NCO.

“Usually when it’s coming from them, it’s because you did something wrong,” said one lance corporal based at Camp Lejeune. “We prefer to be called by our ranks.”


Staff writer Trista Talton contributed to this report.

DISCUSS: Once-proud ‘Devil Dog’ moniker is taking a beating

Lance Cpl. Martin R. Harris / Marine Corps Newer Marines are down on the term “Devil Dog,” a moniker that had been a term of endearment for Marines since World War I.

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German Myth 13: Teufelshunde – Devil Dogs

Your Guide, Hyde Flippo From Hyde Flippo,
Your Guide to German Language.
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Did German soldiers give the U.S. Marines the nickname “Teufelshunde”?

Do the Marines Have It Right?

No one can question the bravery and valor of the U.S. Marines. But is the legend about their “Devil Dogs” nickname based on fact? Every Leatherneck is indocrinated with the tale of how Marines came to be called “Devil Dogs.” If you visit Marine recruiting sites on the Web you’ll find this World War I legend also used as a tool to encourage young people to join the Marine Corps today. There’s even an old recruiting poster (see photo) that was created by artist Charles B. Falls around 1918. Emblazoned with the words “Teufel Hunden, German Nickname for U.S. Marines – Devil Dog Recruiting Station,” the poster is one of the earliest known references to the legend, said to have come about as the result of fierce fighting in 1918 by the Marines in France’s Belleau Wood (Bois Belleau in French, “woods of beautful water”). But the poster commits the same error that almost all versions of the legend do: it gets the German wrong.

The first thing any good student of German should notice about the poster is that the German word for “Devil Dogs” is misspelled. In German the term would not be two words, but one. The plural of Hund is Hunde, not “Hunden.” So the poster and any Marine references to the German nickname should read Teufelshunde—one word with a connecting s. Most of the references I have found on the Web have the German incorrect in one way or another. Even the Marine Corps’ own Parris Island Museum has it wrong. Since the museum’s founding in 1975, the sign on display there has read “Teuelhunden” rather than the correct “Teufelshunde.”

Facts like these make you wonder if the story itself is true. Like many things on the Web and in history, this legend gets repeated over and over by many different people. But like many other things on the Web and in history, that doesn’t mean it’s true. One thing we can state with certainty is that very few accounts of this German “Devil Dogs” legend get the German right. Almost always the German in the legend fails to follow the rules of German (capitalized nouns, compounds written as one word), so the writers are not even bothering to check if the German is accurate. (This includes!) Sometimes the German word is written “Teufelhunden” or “Teufelhunde”—closer but still not quite right.

Pronunciation: der Teufel dare TOY-fel (devil), der Hund dare HOONT (dog),
die Teufelshunde dee TOY-fels-HOON-duh

But the Devil Dogs legend is very specific in some ways. It is related to a particular battle, a particular regiment, and a particular place.

Château-Thierry and Belleau Wood
Here is a version of the legend’s creation found at a Marine recruiting Web site: “…in World War I during the 1918 Château-Thierry campaign near the French village of Bouresches, Marines assaulted a line of German machine-gun nests on an old hunting preserve known as Belleau Wood. The fighting was terrible. Those Marines who weren’t cut down by the enemy guns captured the nests in a grisly close-quarters battle. The shocked Germans nicknamed their foes, teufelhunden [sic] (devil dogs).”

Another site mentions the regiments: “…the Fifth and Sixth Regiments of Marines earned the nickname of Teufel Hund [sic], or Devil Dog, by the Germans who respected them for their bulldog tenacity and fighting spirit…”

The site adds this: “The tradition was believed to have its roots during World War I when German soldiers referred to the Marines as “devil dogs,” comparing their fierce fighting ability to that of wild mountain dogs of Bavarian folklore.” No one questions the valor of the Marines in the First World War, but are the stories of how the legend came about based on fact?

NEXT > Is there a Bavarian “Teufelshunde” legend?


Devil Dogs – Fighting Marines of WWI Devil Dogs and Jarheads At Belleau Wood

every veteran of WWI that I came into contact with, or the many whose memoirs I’ve read, mostly non-published, all referred to their terrible nightmares, during the day and at night. Most relate them going into their advanced years (70’s and 80’s). Some received benefits from those problems, including Elton Mackin, who you might remember from his memoir “Suddenly, we didn’t want to die.”  I doubt that any of them would even dream of expecting to be issued that most noble of all medals, because of their problems, during and following the war.
George Clark
GyG: The Marines As Devil Dogs…

R. W. “Dick” Gaines
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About Gunny G

GnySgt USMC (Ret.) 1952--'72 PC: History, Poly-Tiks, Military, Stories, Controversial, Unusual, Humorous, etc.... "Simplify...y'know!"
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