Retreat? Hell!  We Just Got Here!

[June 4, 2021]  During World War I, 103 years ago, a U.S. Marine said one of the most audacious things ever.  Retreat?  Hell!  We just got here!

Leading up to June 6, this is the kind of subject matter on which I like to write.  I’m convinced that all of us can learn lessons from combat, regardless whether we were actually there or not.  It requires a bit of thought and trying to put our minds into those who were present during some major event.

The phrase ‘Retreat Hell’ is the motto of the 2nd Battalion, 5th U.S. Marines – the most decorated Infantry unit in the Marine Corps.  Other military formations have taken this motivational quote to inspire those who would find themselves on the battlefield.  It works!

On June 2, 1918, a captain named Lloyd Williams thought to say these iconic words in the heat of battle and in doing so cemented himself in Marine lore.1,2

Background: In late May 1918, there was a massive German offensive that caused tremendous destruction and confusion in the Entente (or Allied) lines.  Commanders expected a major thrust through the 5th Marines area of operations.  But, shortly after arriving in the area, Captain Williams received word from a French commander that all American and French forces were to pull back into a better protective position.

Williams reportedly said, ‘Retreat? Hell!  We just got here.”

As the Marine Corps historical bulletin Fortitude put it, “German forces began their advance towards American positions at dawn on 2 June, and quickly received a lesson in rifle marksmanship from the entrenched Marines.”  Machine guns and infantry fire pounded the German advance.  Eventually the Germans could not break the Marine line.

By June 6, Marines were attacking another objective.  At first the directly assaulted German positions but were met by a barrage of fire that drove them off.  Hill 142 was eventually taken but at a high cost – two companies had been decimated and only two officers remained.

Moving again toward woods occupied by over a thousand Germans, the battle was a “bare-knuckle brawl” but battle-tested Marine NCOs keep their troops moving forward.  Sergeant Dan Daly was known to have said, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”  And yet, another iconic Marine Corps quote to emerge from that battle.

By the end of the day, German defenders were overrun and their positions taken.  This battle was to be the bloodiest day in Marine Corps history up to that point.  More Marines had fallen on June 6, 1918, than in the entire 143-year history of the Marine Corps.

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  1. https://taskandpurpose.com/news/marine-corps-retreat-hell-wwi/
  2. There is some dispute that Captain Williams actually said those words. Some attribute the quote to Colonel W3endell Neville, commander of the 5th  Regardless, the underlying message was passed to other Marine units – stand your ground.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

12 thoughts on “Retreat? Hell!  We Just Got Here!

  1. old warrior

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for kicking a few butts today with this article. Too many “snowflakes” would be triggered by it because – heaven forbid – there is viooolllennce involved. Go figure.

    Reply
    1. corralesdon

      Another ‘kick butt’ comment from old warrior and one of my favorite commentors here on Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. Having this blog is a godsend to me and my friends. When we get out in our community, we know more about leadership than the local “leaders” do.

      Reply
  2. Ronny Fisher

    If you want to learn more about this US Marine Corps unit, go to the internet and search. A great deal of info can be found there. You will find its history fascinating and worth your time and effort. Go on,,,,, go there and read. Learn something new today.

    Reply
  3. British Citizen

    Excellent article, Gen. Satterfield and thank you for what you have done to help keep so many nations free. I know you only have done a small part, as have many. But we do appreciate it. Like the US Marines you write about today, the world appreciates them. Cheers!

    Reply
    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Well said, BC. Thanks for being here and giving us another perspective.

      Reply
  4. Don Snow

    As a US Marine Corps vet, I’m proud of my service and what we did to help keep much of the world free from tyrants. In the past few years, we see a rise in tyrants – oft supported by many in the USA, Why? I don’t know but by supporting tyrants, the world is a much more dangerous place.

    Reply
    1. Guns are Us

      Thank you and “Army Vet” for your service and continuing help with your comments that put things within perspective for us all.

      Reply
      1. Tom Bushmaster

        Hi GUns R Us and Don, the most important way to stay free is to be strong – stronger than anyone else on the block. That way no one messes with us. Or our allies.

        Reply
      2. Pink Cloud

        Yep, and China is the world’s biggest threat and politicians can’t even see it. Are they willfully blind or just stupid?

        Reply
        1. Mr. T.J. Asper

          Both. But I think the are so caught up in their “progressive” ideology (read that as Marxism, pure and simple), that they are unable to see the guerilla in the room.

          Reply
    2. Bryan Z. Lee

      As others have said, and you have heard, but bears repeating, thanks for your service. But also thanks to all who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. As …. screw the libbies who are wannabe neo-marxist tyrants.

      Reply
  5. Randy Goodman

    If we understand history – the whys and hows – we can be better leaders.

    Reply

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