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  Butler, Smedley Darlington
NameSmedley Darlington Butler
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania , United States
Born July 30, 1881
DiedJune 21, 1940 (58 years)
ContributorThomas Walker
Last ModifedChronicler
Jul 30, 2020 07:10am
Tags Marine Corps -
InfoSmedley Darlington Butler was born at West Chester, PA on July 30, 1881. Over his parents objections, at the age of 16 he left home and enlisted as a Marine. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1898, just 38 days short of his 17th birthday. He was promoted to Brevet Captain for his heroic action during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900. Thus began a career that lasted 33 years and saw him become one of only two Marines ever to hold double awards of the Navy issue Medal of Honor.

Bearing a tattoo of the Marine Corps emblem which covered his entire chest, April of 1898 saw Butler, a newly promoted First Lieutenant, in the Philippines exchanging "Professional military courtesies" with the insurgent Moros during the Philippine Insurrection.

Less than a year later, serving under Major L.W.T. Waller, Butler was combating the Chinese I Ho Ch'uan, (Virtuous, Harmonious Fists) commonly known as the "Boxers." This group, attacking Chinese Christians and slaughtering missionaries, was embarked upon a pillaging and rioting spree with the plan of ousting Westerners from the Western enclaves. With the tacit approval of the Chinese Imperial Government during the month of June, approximately 140,000 violent Boxers seized the capital city of Peking and laid siege to the foreign Legations.

As part of the multinational relief force sent to break the siege, Butler and his Marines attacked the blocking city of Tientsen. Fighting his way over the wall Butler opened the gates allowing the entrance of the rest of the attacking forces. During this battle the Marine Officer was wounded twice, yet continued to fight and evacuated other wounded Marines while subjected to vicious enemy fire.

It was during this action that Butler was awarded one of the rarest of American decorations for valor, the Marine Corps Brevet Medal. Awarded to Marine Officers who displayed bravery under fire, (At this time officers were not authorized the Medal of Honor.) only twenty two of these medals were ever issued.

A stalwart leader, while commanding a small detachment of Marines aboard the USS Panther in 1903, the now Captain Butler rescued the U.S. Consular agent from rebels in Honduras. Not even malaria could keep this Marine down. Between 1909 and 1912 he was in Nicaragua enforcing American policy. With a fever of 104 degrees he once led his battalion to the relief of a rebel besieged Nicaraguan city of Grenada.

1914, As a result of an international incident involving a party of Americans ashore from the USS Dolphin in the Mexican city of Tampico, President Wilson and the U.S. Congress retaliated by authorizing the use of military force against Mexico, "...to maintain the dignity and authority of the United States,..." And so began the battle of Vera Cruz. On April 21 Admiral F.E. Fletcher sailed into the harbor of Vera Cruz with a squadron of warships and a regiment of U.S. Marines.

Again, Butler was in the thick of it. The Admiral dispatched Butler on a secret reconnaissance of Mexico City, in the event that a rescue mission for American citizens became necessary. Butler, using several disguises, made it in and out with the information which Fletcher required. He also made it back in time to command his Marine battalion in two days of house to house fighting.

It was here that Butler won his first Medal of Honor. Awarded on Dec. 1915, the citation reads, "For distinguished conduct in command of his battalion. He exhibited courage and skill in leading his men through the action of the 22nd and in the final occupation of the city."

Haiti in 1915 was again in a dangerous state of political upheaval, and at 5:50 pm on July 28, two companies of Marines and three sailors landed in Haiti. Thus what would become a long involvement between Haiti and the U.S. Marines began. An involvement which, off and on has continued to the present day. As the occupation of this small Caribbean country began, so too did the events which would bring Butler his second Medal of Honor.

The Marines and sailors under Admiral Caperton rapidly reestablished order and an interim government. Police, customs, schools and hospitals were all placed under the purview of the Marines and Naval personnel assigned to the occupation. Roads were built or improved, cities and towns were were refurbished.

The Marines established a law enforcing constabulary, officered by Marine NCO's who were granted Haitian commissions as officers and leaders of native troops. This group, called the Gendarmerie d'Haiti, was tasked with enforcing all laws of the country and provided a quasi military force. They were backed by the Krag-Jorgensen rifles of the 1st Marine Brigade with 88 Officers and 1941 men garrisoning ten towns.

But even all the improvements in the standard of living in this corrupt country did not settle a group of rebels called the Cacos. On the northern end of the country, skirmishing continued in the villages and jungled mountains. (It was during this same period that Gunnery Sergeant Daniel J. Daly, the other Marine to hold two Navy issue Medals of Honor, won his second award of this highest American decoration.)

In the dark of the night on Nov. 17 1915, Butler, leading a strong force of Marines and sailors surrounded the last stronghold of the Cacos. Fort Riviere, on a mountain to the south of Grand Riviere du Nord. At 07:30 am, Butler gave a signal on a whistle and all the Marines attacked. The surprise was total and the Cacos were taken in confusion. Crawling through a tunnel. Butler and his men were involved in bloody hand to hand fighting. In 15 minutes, more than 50 Cacos were killed.

The citation for Butler's second Medal of Honor reads, "As Commanding Officer of detachments from the Fifth, Thirteenth, Twenty-third Companies and Marine and Sailor detachment from USS Connecticut, Major Butler led an attack on Fort Riviere, Haiti 17 November 1915. Following a concentrated drive, several different detachments of Marines gradually closed in on the old French bastion fort in a effort to cut off all avenues of retreat for the Cacos bandits. Reaching the fort on the southern side where there was a small opening in the wall, Major Butler gave the signal to attack and Marines from the Fifteenth Company poured through the breach, engaged the Cacos in hand-to-hand combat, took the bastion and crushed Caco resistance. Throughout this perilous action, Major Butler was conspicuous for his bravery and forceful leadership."

By 1927 Butler was again in China and upon his completion of his tour there he returned to the States in 1929 as a Major General. He was the youngest Marine ever to have been so promoted. However, as a result of a remark made by him which was not flattering about the Italian dictator Mussolini and political maneuvering by civilians unused to Butler's direct method of action, he failed to be selected for the position of Commandant Marine Corps. By October 1931 Butler had retired form the Corps. He died in Philadelphia in 1940.



Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 - June 21, 1940) was at the time of his death the most decorated U.S. Marine in history. He was twice the recipient of the Medal of Honor, one of only nineteen to be so honored.

Military Career
1898 - Commissioned a Second Lieutenant
April 1898 - Philippine-American War
1900 - Promoted to Brevet Captain for his action during the Boxer Rebellion
1903 - Saves U.S. Consular agent in Honduras from rebels
1909-1912 - Nicaragua
April 1914 - Vera Cruz, Mexico, earns first Medal of Honor
November 17, 1915 - Action in Haiti, earns second Medal of Honor
1927 - Tour in China
1929 - Returns to the United States as a Major General
October 1931 - Retires from the USMC

Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service. (1933)

War is a racket. (1935)

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National city Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. (1940)


Title Purchase Contributor
War Is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America's Most Decorated General, Two Other Anti-Interventionist Tracts, and Photographs from the Horror of It  Purchase Thomas Walker 
Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History  Purchase Thomas Walker 
General Smedley Darlington Butler: The Letters of a Leatherneck, 1898-1931  Purchase Thomas Walker 

Start Date End Date Type Title Contributor

Date Category Headline Article Contributor
Feb 27, 2005 09:00pm Commentary The Real Plot to Overthrow FDR's America  Article Servo 

Importance? 0.00000 Average

Father Thomas S. Butler 1855-1928
Mother Maud Darlington Butler 0000-
Grandfather Smedley Darlington 1827-1899

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