Marines Serve in Every Clime and Place

Violence and robbery brought a new and entirely different role for the Marines as the year 1926 progressed.  In Elizabeth, New Jersey, on 14 October 1926, the brutal robbery and killing of a U.S. Mail truck driver forced President Calvin Coolidge to turn to the Marine Corps for assistance in the civilian community. By Presidential Order, 2,500 Marines proceeded on duty to form the Western Mail Guards. The Commandant, anticipating the Presidential Order, on 18 October had directed the Commanding General, Headquarters, Department of the Pacific, located in San Francisco to:

“[O]rganize a force from the 4th Regiment, to be known as the Western Mail Guards, under the command of Brigadier-General Smedley D. Butler.”

Mail Guards in Action

Brigadier-General Smedley D. Butler, known as "Ol' Gimlet Eye" to fellow Marines, brought a long record of combat leadership and two Congressional Medals of Honor to the Western Mail Guards. A veteran of both World War I and the Guerilla Wars of Central America, Butler's easy-going manner hid his cold, methodical approach to the task given to the Marines. As the primary source of personnel for the Western Mail Guard, the 4th Marines initially would be spread throughout eleven states. Part of a twelfth state, Texas would be added later. General Butler's fully armed Marines soon became sobering influences throughout Post Offices, mail trains, and mail trucks in those areas. While Marines carried out their mail guard assignment, only one attempted robbery was recorded. That particular robbery involved an unguarded mail train carrying no mail at the time. Meanwhile, in San Diego, the base stood relatively empty with a reduced level of caretaker personnel awaiting the return of the 4th Regiment.

When normal operations returned to the U.S. Mail system as a result of the Marine guards, the need for continued assignment of such forces became less and less justified and by February 1927 the Western Mail Guards had been disbanded.

That same year, American interests and lives in China and Nicaragua had once again been endangered by internal unrest and civil war. The Marines received the call to conduct expeditionary protective operations in these two countries to protect Americans and their property. The east coast based 2nd Brigade sailed for Nicaragua while the 4th Marines reinforced, becoming the 3rd Brigade under Brigadier-General Butler in San Diego, prepared for China service and yet another proud chapter in Marine Corps history.

New York Times Article 12 November 1921

201 More Marines Guard Mail Today

Force Now on Duty to Be Augmented by Detachment from Quantico, Quartered in Post Office

Sack of Newspaper Mail Found on Street – Probably Dropped From Wagon

The sixty four marines under Captain Norman C. Bates, who reported yesterday to Postmaster Edward M. Morgan for guard duty on mail truck and at post offices and railroad terminals proved to be sufficient for the decreased amount of valuable mails transported through the streets owing to it being Armistice Day.  Word was received by Postmaster Morgan at the General Post Office, Eight Avenue and Thirty-second Street, that the additional 201 Marines who are to make up the full complement assigned as mail guards for this territory, would arrive from Quantico, N.C. early this morning.  

The marines will be joined here by Second Lieutenant Ralph C. Battin, from the Naval Station at Newport, R.I., and two other lieutenants from distant marine units.  The marines who guarded mails yesterday were drawn from the unit at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and those of them who were not on duty were quartered last night on the mezzanine floor of the General Post Office building. 

Postmaster Morgan, Captain Bates and Post Office Inspectors Collis and Schwab and Superintendent Kieley of the Grand Central Terminal Post Office had a conference on plans for stationing the full contingent of marines this morning.  Mr. Morgan announced later that the armed guards were assigned in the morning to accompany carriers distributing registered mails in the city, relieving the marines of this work.

Shortly after noon, Lieutenant Colver of the Mercer Street Station report that Hal Stern of 18 Avenue A had turned over to him a sack of mail which he said he had found on the pavement at Lafayette and Houston Street and bore a tag showing that it had been consigned to Indianapolis, Ind. On a train which left the Grand Central Terminal at 3:45 o’clock in the morning.  The sack was filled with copies of the Italian newspaper Progresso.  Post officials said they believed the sack fell from a wagon.


Compiled by Kevin R. Sadaj