A Marine shops at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, Commissary back n 2007. Nov. 10 is the 244th anniversary of the establishment of the United States Marine Corps by the Continental Congress in 1775 to create a seafaring infantry for the Navy during times of battle at sea and ashore. (DeCA photo: Tracey Guyette)
A Marine shops at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, Commissary back n 2007. Nov. 10 is the 244th anniversary of the establishment of the United States Marine Corps by the Continental Congress in 1775 to create a seafaring infantry for the Navy during times of battle at sea and ashore. (DeCA photo: Tracey Guyette)

Commissaries honor Marine’s 244 years of service

by Tamara Eastman
Defense Commissary Agency

FORT LEE, Va. – Nov. 10 is the 244th anniversary of the establishment of the United States Marine Corps by the Continental Congress in 1775 to create a seafaring infantry for the Navy during times of battle at sea and ashore.

“The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) salutes the Marine Corps community on this occasion, acknowledging a legacy of valor, sacrifice and distinguished service that dates back to the American Revolution,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Tomeka N. O’Neal, senior enlisted advisor to the DeCA director. “On this, their 244th birthday, we say ‘Semper Fi!’ to our Marine patrons and are proud to deliver the commissary benefit they’ve earned.”

From the early days of the Corps, the Marines faced a challenging task of feeding its force.

During the American Revolution, service men aboard warships were issued rations that lacked taste and nutritional value. The weekly ration aboard ships included 3 pounds of salted pork, beef or fish; a sack of dried peas; a sack of flour; a pound of coffee and ship’s biscuits along with a wad of chewing tobacco.

The ship’s biscuits, also known as hardtack, were made from flour and water and baked into a hardened square, sometimes so hard that both sailors and Marines had to dunk them in their coffee to soften them before eating in order to prevent knocking out a few teeth. The biscuits didn’t offer much in the way of nutrition, but the joke of the day was that the maggots and weevils that infested them in the barrels provided a bit more protein.

Procuring fresh fruits and vegetables was very difficult for a crew at sea, and if they did manage to buy some while in port, keeping them fresh on long voyages was another dilemma. Bumboat operators would row out to ships coming into the harbor to sell the crew fresh vegetables, fruit, whiskey and rum, tobacco, coffee, tea and other goods.

However, many bumboat operators charged outrageously high prices for their goods. The reason was simply – the law of supply and demand. They knew the sailors and Marines onboard were anxious to get ahold of some fresh foods and other goods and, therefore, they would pay the high prices.

By the time the Great White Fleet returned from its historic voyage in 1909, the Navy Department started to realize that bumboat operators were not meeting the needs of the ships and their crew. Congress subsequently established the ships’ stores aboard each ship. The U.S. Ships Stores Ashore were the first official Navy stores before the service had its own brick and mortar commissaries.

The Marine Corps established its own commissary sales stores in 1910 in facilities that resembled warehouses. Customers approached the counter and gave a list of grocery items to the clerk and he filled them from goods stored on shelves behind him and rang up the purchases for the customers. By the 1920s self-service stores started to gain popularity and were the norm by World War II. After the war there were just under two dozen U. S. Marine Corp commissaries in existence.

In 1949, with the adoption of the Armed Services Commissary Regulation, military commissaries began to resemble civilian grocery stores with professional, permanent store staffs. Beginning in the early 1950s, the USMC Installations and Logistics department, Facilities and Services Division, and later the Services Branch’s Commissary Stores Section, supervised the Marine Corps stores.

In 1991 all of the armed services commissaries were consolidated under the Defense Commissary Agency.

“Today, DeCA provides the commissary benefit for Marines and other service members, saving individual authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually when compared with civilian supermarkets,” O’Neal said.

Members of the Marine Corps community, along with their peers in the other armed services, may shop at any of DeCA’s nearly 240 commissaries at U.S. military installations around the world. Today, there are 16 DeCA stores at Marine Corps bases, including three in Okinawa and one in mainland Japan.

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