"From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.
Our flag's unfurled to every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in every clime and place
Where we could take a gun;
In the snow of far-off Northern lands
And in sunny tropic scenes;
You will find us always on the job
The United States Marines.
Here's health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we've fought for life
And never lost our nerve;
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines."
Various people over the years wrote unofficial or semi-unofficial extra verses to commemorate later battles and actions, for example, this verse commemorating the occuption of Iceland during World War II:
Again in 1941, we sailed a north'ard course
and found beneath the midnight sun, the Viking and the Norse.
The Iceland girls were slim and fair, and fair the Iceland scenes,
and the Army found in landing there, the United States Marines.
Some of the lyrics were popular phrases before the song was written. The line "To the shores of Tripoli" refer to the First Barbary War, and specifically the Battle of Derne in 1805. After Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon and his Marines hoisted the American flag over the Old World for the first time, the phrase was added to the battle colors of the Corps. "The Halls of Montezuma" refers to the Battle of Chapultepec, during the Mexican-American War, where a force of Marines stormed Chapultepec Castle.
While the words date from the 19th century, the author of the song itself is unknown. Anecdotal evidence supposes it was penned by a Marine on duty in Mexico. The unknown author transposed the phrases in the motto on the Colors so that the first two lines of the Hymn would read: "From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli," favoring euphony over chronology.
The music is from the Gendarmes' Duet from the opera Geneviève de Brabant by Jacques Offenbach, which debuted in Paris in 1859. Correspondence between Colonel Albert S. McLemore and Walter F. Smith (the second leader of the Marine Band) traces the tune:
“ Major Richard Wallach, USMC, says that in 1878, when he was in Paris, France, the aria to which the Marines' Hymn is now sung was a very popular one. ”
The name of the opera and a part of the chorus was secured from Major Wallach and forwarded to Mr. Smith, who replied:
“ Major Wallach is to be congratulated upon a wonderfully accurate musical memory, for the aria of the Marine Hymn is certainly to be found in the opera, 'Genevieve de Brabant'... The melody is not in the exact form of the Marine Hymn, but is undoubtedly the aria from which it was taken. I am informed, however, by one of the members of the band, who has a Spanish wife, that the aria was one familiar to her childhood and it may, therefore, be a Spanish folk song. ”
John Philip Sousa once wrote:
“ The melody of the 'Halls of Montezuma' is taken from Offenbach's comic opera, 'Genevieve de Brabant' and is sung by two gendarmes. ”
The Marine Corps secured a copyright on the song on 19 August 1891, but has since expired and is now in the public domain. In 1929, the Commandant of the Marine Corps authorized the three verses of the Marines' Hymn as the official version, but changed the third and fourth lines: