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Who is the Marine Corps' Historical Company?
And what do they do, anyway?

The following article was originally prepared by the staffs of Leatherneck Magazine and the USMCHC Public affairs Office, and edited by Mr. Larry Bopp, Military Historian, writer, and Senior Editor for the USMCHC.

At first glance, the United States Marine Corps Historical Company (USMCHC) may look unique compared to today's Corps, but its members would have blended in easily with the leathernecks of World War Two, Korea, or even the Civil War.

But that's the point.

Their mission is the presentation and preservation of Marine Corps history. Borrowing an educational technique first developed by the National Park Service called "living history" as one of their many educational tools, the USMCHC endeavors to take history from behind glass and put a human face on it. Their attitude is history presented "by people, to people, about people". The USMCHC goes to great lengths to maintain the high standards first set by the Marines of past eras. This pride in their work stems from a desire to honor fellow Marines of the past, and accurately pass that heritage on to Americans of today.

When Gy.Sgt. Thomas Williams, and Sgt. Timothy Kueberth first founded the USMCHC, it started out as a small two person part-time operation, offering presentations at Marine Corps Reserve units, recruiting stations, MC associations, and at National and State parks in the Mid-Atlantic area. Since then the Historical Company has grown into a major nonprofit historical educational corporation. Working in direct support of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and the US Marine Corps History and Museums Division as a "traveling" educational organization. Through lectures, interactive exhibits, demonstrations, ceremonies, and living history interpretive techniques the USMCHC serves a wide diversity of both civilian and military audiences. The Company currently has over 100 active members in platoons on both the East and West Coast, most of whom are former or active-duty Marines, although prior military service is not required in order to join.

Williams, who now functions as the Company's full-time director, said that gaining membership, especially as a "living history" interpreter, is not easy. Following the philosophy that "If you want to do justice to the Marines you are emulating, then in some small part, you must become them." Each member that puts on a historical uniform, must not only become proficient in the military skills of the Marine they are representing, they must become a capable educator and historical "interpreter" as well. "If you are going to adequately represent the Marine Corps, you must first learn that the uniform doesn't make the Marine [interpreter], the person does. History was not made by the artifacts that we use; it was made by the most valuable commodity of the Corps, its people!"

Although many of the Historical Company's "living history" interpretive members may eventually purchase their own uniforms and equipment, simply "footing the bill" doesn't guarantee membership. "Each member must earn the privilege to wear the uniform, the same as any Marine, then or now. Members must gain a working knowledge of the Corps history, traditions, and culture, as well as maintaining proficiency in military skills, and educational techniques. All this is necessary to properly paint a clear picture of the day-to-day life in the Corps during various periods in history".

Although volunteers, all members are annually tested in the skills of the period(s) they represent or interpret. Testing includes: Marine Corps history, both general, and of the period(s) being represented; purpose and mastery of close order drill; packing and usage of equipment; customs of the service; and familiarity with the weapons and tactics used. In addition, every member, regardless if they are to function in modern clothing or in period uniform, are also extensively trained, and annually evaluated, on their educational and interpretive skills. The ability to effectively relate historical information and concepts to the public is just as important as mastering the historical skills . Each "living history" qualified member is also required to take a physical fitness test each year. This test, based on the Marine Corps' old Physical Readiness Test (PRT), is necessary from both a safety and historical standpoint. Members are often involved in training demonstrations such as amphibious landings, negotiation of obstacle courses, or even climbing the rigging of a frigate which are as physically demanding now as they were then. Testing upper body strength, abdominal strength, balance, and endurance, the USMCHC's PRT follows closely the combat conditioning given WW2 Marines, and in many ways is as rigorous as today's Marine Corps PT test.

The purpose of all of this is to prepare the Company's historical interpreters to present the most realistic image of Marines of the past to the public. "To do any less would be a disservice to those veterans, and to the Marine Corps", stated Lt.Col. J. Colin Smith, a current active duty Marine, and a senior interpreter with the Company.

The USMCHC is called upon to present a wide variety of programs, ranging from traveling museum exhibits, ceremonies and color guards, to historical demonstrations. Williams stated that "living history is the most effective educational tool that we have at our disposal. It allows the public to go beyond seeing artifacts behind glass, and associate them with the people who made the history. It also lets them use all of their senses as they interact with the interpreters. From the smell of military canvas, to hearing commands on the drill field, to seeing a platoon of Marines in training. All this allows the public to understand that those Marines of the past were real people."

In support of the new National Marine Corps Museum being built at Quantico, VA. The USMCHC is developing a series of outreach "partnerships" with various historical sites where the Marine Corps was in some way involved. The objective will be to tell the Corps' story at these sites through living history programs, development of related permanent exhibits, and printed brochures based on the concept title History Through The Eyes Of A Marine. Currently, some these partnerships include Harpers Ferry National Historical Park where the story of the Marines that took John Brown in 1859 is presented; Ft. McHenry National Historical Site, focusing on the Marines during the War of 1812; and the Battleship North Carolina Memorial where the history of "seagoing" Marines during WW2 is told. Future partnerships will include various historic sites throughout the country where the Marine Corps' presents throughout our Nation's history had an impact.

Parallel to their other programming the Historical Company has developed and implemented a comprehensive "Living History in the Classrooms" program. Again, based on the Title History through the Eyes of a Marine, this program takes Marine Corps history into the schools through a variety of programs, and offers historically based "leadership camps" that allow high school students to experience a little of what the veterans went through to become Marines. The focus of the program is to stimulate the students to gain a better understanding of the relevance of history, and how it has effected their lives today. Emphasis is placed on what the veterans experienced and how their accomplishments have influenced society today. The Camps teach and reinforce the values of teamwork, confidence, integrity, and commitment.

The one thing that you will not see when you visit a USMCHC program is a battle "re-enactment". "Many of our members have had real world combat experience. We have consultants and contemporary interpreters on board who are veterans of WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and even the current war in Iraq, and the one thing that we are sure of is that you can not accurately or realistically recreate combat for a live audience. On the other hand we can present training demonstrations that are every bit as real as when they were originally conducted, and hold the excitement factor for the public, while giving them an accurate picture of Marine Corps life," quoted C WO3 (Ret) William Hutchison, the Company's Deputy Director and Marine veteran of Viet Nam.

The USMCHC has a wide array of company maintained historical weapons, uniforms, and equipment to help present programs covering Marine Corps history from the Continental Marines to Operation Iraqi Freedom. With a large stock of reproduction WW2 era uniforms and equipment the HC is able to provide basic issues to new members, equip additional Marines for special large scale programs, and even handle up to 100 students at a time for their living classrooms leadership camps.

The Company also keeps on hand an inventory of original artifacts of various periods for their traveling and permanent exhibits. Although they readily accept donations from veterans or their families for exhibits, they prefer to use museum quality reproductions for their active living history programs. "We hate using original equipment in the field. The original items are artifacts and need to be preserved for future generations. Besides, when the veterans were using them they were not antiques, they were new, so our equipment needs to appear relatively new," Williams said.

In addition to the USMCHC's "Line Marines", the Company has a growing contingent of Women Marines, and a cadre of WW2, Korean War, and Vietnam Marine veterans and historians who function in modern clothes as consultants, tour guides and narrators, often telling their own stories. YN3 Mary P. Kueberth, USNR, portrays a member of the Marine Corps Women Reserves of WW II at living history programs, and as a contemporary interpretive specialist. As one of a growing number of women within the USMCHC, she is honored to be able to represent the women who paved the way for females in the military today. She further adds, "The most enjoyment comes from speaking to the veterans, and learning from them so we can pass that knowledge on to future generations."

"Watching the veterans' eyes light up, especially fellow Marines, as they reminisce, knowing they are being remembered, and seeing the younger generation develop an understanding and bond with these veterans - there's a lot of gratification in that - and that's what it's all about," Williams stated. "Making sure that the Marine Corps, it's importance and contributions, and the people who made the Corps what it is today, are never forgotten."

Editor's note: The USMCHC is a winner of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation's COL. JOHN H MAGRUDER AWARD for excellence in the presentation of Marine Corps History. At present, the Company is directly involved with the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation developing various outreach public educational projects. They are also directly contributing to the development of major military "living" museums on both the East and West coast including the new National Marine Corps Museum, as well as continuing to present an ever growing number of traveling historical/educational programs. Ironically, many of the USMCHC's active duty interpretive members are currently in, or recently returned from the Persian Gulf, making Marine Corps history of their own.

If you are interested in becoming a supporter or active member of the USMCHC or would like more information about the organization and its programs, call (301) 662-3141, or e-mail

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