Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Marine Mail Guards

U.S.Marines are generally very well versed in the long and colorful history of our Marine Corps. We know of our roots and the events and battles through the years that have brought us to the present day. However, there are several areas of our history where we tend to be less aware of the facts involved. The use of Marines to guard the U.S. mails during the 1920s, I think, is one such area.

All Marines know that Marines were called upon during that era to act as mail guards; but few are aware of the specific facts of that involvement. Most books dealing with Marine Corps history touch only briefly upon this subject. This might lead the reader to believe that this was only a minor incident, but that is far from the truth.

The facts are that after a series of mail robberies resulting in murder, mayhem, and losses in the millions of dollars, beginning in 1921 (thru 1922), and again in 1926 (thru 1927), the Marine Corps was requested by the Post Office Department to assist in the protection of the U.S. mails, guarding mail trains and trucks, post offices, etc. Though the overall duration of the Marines' involvement spanned only a few months, thousands of Marines were detailed, and it encompassed the entire length and breadth of the United States as well.
(Detailed information regarding this is on record at the Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.).

It is my feeling that this topic of Marine Corps history is deserving of more attention. Therefore the following is presented here as information provided by the Marine Corps Historical Center.

In a memo to the officer in charge of the historical section, dated November 6, 1930, it is stated, "In 1921 the robbery of the U.S. Mails necessitated the detailing of marines to guard mail trains, post offices etc. In November 1921 a force of approximately 53 officers and 2200 enlisted men were dispatched throughout the country and performed this duty until March 1922 when they were withdrawn. Maximum strength 54 officers 2208 enlisted. (Nov 30, 1921)
The marines were again detailed to guard the mails in October 1926. The number of officers and men on mail guard duty reached its maximum of 68 officers and 2452 enlisted on December 20, 1926. Due to the demand for marines for expeditionary duty, a gradual withdrawal of marines was begun on January 10, 1927, and completed on February 19, 1927."

"Cocked And Locked!"
And, in a 'circular letter', "Subject: Miscellaneous Instructions, dated 13 December 1921, from The Major General Commandant....
1. In cases where trains carrying Marines guarding mails cross the Canadian Boundry enroute to another point in the United States, the Marines, upon crossing the boundry, shall place their arms in a registered mail-sack and turn over the sack to Canadian Post Office Officials (who accompany the train) until such time as the train re-crosses into the United States. Under no circumstances shall Marines exercise a military function in Canadian teritory.
2. Shotguns preferably will be carried with filled magazine and empty chamber, in order to avoid accidents.
3. Pistols may be carried loaded, cocked and locked. The holster should be fastened to the leg and the flap tucked or tied back, so as not to interfere with drawing. The Marine (if not carrying other arms) should carry his hand on the pistol butt.
4. Arrangements should be made for each mail-coach to carry a supply of ordinary railroad flares, which should be ignited and thrown out of the car if an attack is made on it. Also, in case of attack on a car, interior lights should be put out. On trains lighted with electricity the guard should be prepared to turn out all lights.
5. The Marines should be continually reminded that they will use their firearms to wound or kill only when necesarry to prevent robbery or theft of the mails. The use of firearms except for this purpose must be avoded.
6. Where it is decided to convene a summary court-martial and a shortage of officers exists, a request may be made on the local Recruiting Officer for one or more officers to report for this temporary duty. When they report, the Commanding Officer may order them as members of the Court-Martial. In such cases, the officer or officers requested should be junior to the officer ordering the court.
7. Cases have arisen where men have been transferred to barracks without punishment for the offense which caused their transfer. Except in cases serious enough to warrant trial by General Court-Martial, men should be tried, before transfer, by a Deck Court or Summary Court-Martial, as it will be impracticable to bring them to trial after transfer. Men committing offenses warranting a general court-martial should be held at their station until a decision in the premises has been received from Headquarters.
8. The official title of the Detachments is --U.S. Marine Corps Detached Guard Company ( Place ). For instance, "U.S. MARINE CORPS DETACHED GUARD COMPANY, WASHINGTON, D.C.". Hereafter no other title will be used.
9. Commanding Officers must take steps to provide a suitable Christmas and New Years for their commands. No doubt much can be done for their entertainment by enlisting the good offices of local welfare organizations.
10. Precious orders regarding transfer, for discharge of men from U.S. Marine Corps Detached Guard Companies to nearest Recruiting Office or Barracks, are rescinded. Hereafter Commanding Officers of U.S. Marine Corps Detached Guard Companies will discharge their men in the same manner as any other Commanding Officer.
by direction"

Another directive HQMC memo dated 22 July 1960, titled "Notes On Organization Of The Mail Guard, 1926-1927, states...
"The United States was divided into two zones, eastern and western. The dividing line ran through Williston, North Dakota, Green River, Wyoming, Denver, Colorado, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, all points named being the Western Mail Guard.

The Eastern Mail Guard came from the Expeditionary Force stationed at Quantico, reinforced by two companies from Parris Island. Brigadier General Logan Feland was designated as commanding general of the Eastern Mail Guard, with headquarters at Quantico. The Eastern Mail Guard zone was divided into three areas: Fifth Regiment area ( CP, New York), Tenth Regiment Area( CP, Chicago ), and the Southern Area ( CP, Atlanta ).... "
The following is from the "Marine Corps Historical Reference Series Number 9"

"Toward the end of 1926, the men of the 4th Regiment had an opportunity for something more exciting than garrison routine. A recrudescence of robberies of the United States mails, featured by a particularly brazen and bloody attack on a mailtruck at Elizabeth, New Jersey, on 14 October 1926, led to arequest by the Post Office Department for the services of theMarine Corps to bring the situation under control. The Marines had been called upon once before to guard the mails, when a similar situation had developed in the fall of 1921, and they had quickly put a stop to the robberies. There had been virtually no incidents after the Marines had entered the picture on that occasion, and after they had been withdrawn in the spring of 1922, the Post Office Department, having provided
itself with civilian armed guards, had been able to carry on satisfactorily for some four years.

In 1926, when the Marines were called on the second time,the country was divided into an eastern and a western mail-guard zone, with Brigadier General Logan Feland commanding in the east and Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler in the west. Most of the personnel for the eastern zone came from the east-coast expeditionary force at Quantico, Virginia. The westernmail-guard zone was manned by the west-coast expeditionary forcefrom San Diego - that is to say, by the 4th Regiment.

Although it was a change from life at the base, mail-guard duty on this occasion proved to be scarcely more exciting. No incidents occurred after the Marines began guarding trucks, railway cars, and various strategic points in the handling of the mail.<47> These quiet conditions, however, made the withdrawal of the Marines feasible sooner than would normally have been the case, when a need for their services on expeditionary duty outside the United States arose at the
beginning of the new year.

The early withdrawal was considered necessary because of conditions in Nicaragua and China, where American interests were endangered by civil strife. The east-coast expeditionary force, reinforced, was sent to Nicaragua, where, under the command of General Feland, it was designated the 2d Brigade.

Similarly, the west-coast expeditionary force (4th Regiment), reinforced by various other units, was to become the 3d Brigade in China, commanded by General Butler."