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The Paramarines (also known as Marine paratroopers) was a short-lived specialized unit of the United States Marine Corps, trained to be dropped by parachute. The first Paramarines were trained in October 1940, but the unit was disbanded in 1944. They received a significantly increased salary after completing training, so there was no shortage of volunteers, although all were required to be unmarried. Standards of fitness were high, and 40% failed the course.
The first cohort of Marines paratroopers trained at NAS Lakehurst in New Jersey in October 1940, eventually becoming the 1st Marine Parachute Battalion. They were followed by a second group in December 1940, forming the 2nd Marine Parachute Battalion. A third class trained at Camp Kearny in San Diego in early 1941, eventually forming the 3rd Marine Parachute Battalion. After the US joined World War II, the training program was stepped up, and a special training camp was opened temporarily at Camp Elliott in May 1942, next to Camp Kearny, moving to purpose-built accommodation nearby at Camp Gillespie in September 1942. A second training camp opened at Hadnot Point on the New River in North Carolina in June 1942, but closed in July 1943.
The 1st Parachute Battalion was attached to the 1st Marine Division for the invasion of Guadalcanal. On 7 August 1942 the unit conducted an amphibious assault on the small island of Gavutu and later seized the neighbouring island of Tanambogo with other Marine units. The battalion later moved to Guadalcanal fighting alongside the 1st Marine Raiders in the Tasimboko raid and the Battle of Edson's Ridge. The high casualties suffered by the unit led it to be moved to Camp Kiser in Tontouta, New Caledonia in September. The 2nd Parachute Battalion performed a diversionary raid on Choiseul Island in October 1943 and later joined the 1st and 3rd Parachute Battalion on Bougainville.
The unit ended up as a regiment-sized unit, the 1st Marine Parachute Regiment, with around 3,000 men in three battalions, in I Marine Amphibious Corps. However, the need for and cost of a parachute corps in the Marines was questioned, as were other specialized elite units, such as the Marine Raiders. The Marine Corps also lacked the transport aircraft required for a massed parachute drop. On 30 December 1943, Marine Commandant Thomas Holcomb ordered 1st Marine Parachute Regiment to be disbanded, and along with the Raiders it officially ceased to exist on 29 February 1944.
Apart from a small group including Peter Julien Ortiz who were parachuted into France as part of an Office of Strategic Services team to support the French Resistance, the Paramarines were never dropped by parachute into combat, but were utilized during beach raids in the Pacific campaign, including at Guadalcanal. The men at San Diego were transferred to the 5th Marine Division, and landed at Iwo Jima. Two Corporals, Harlon H. Block and Ira H. Hayes, famously assisted in the raising of the US flag on Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945, depicted in Joe Rosenthal's iconic photograph, and a third, Sergeant Henry O. "Hank" Hansen, was involved in the first flag-raising earlier that day. Five of the 81 Marines to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II were Paramarines; all were honored for their actions on Iwo Jima.
The Marine Corps still trains parachutist Marines. Once a Marine has completed United States Army Airborne School, they are authorized to wear the coveted "Jump Wings" on their camouflage utilities while in garrison. Marines who earn Jump Wings often do so as part of their MOS/billet training, such as MARSOC, Force Reconnaissance, Radio Reconnaissance Platoon, EOD, 3rd and 4th ANGLICO, JTAC, Parachute rigger, or as part of a reenlistment incentive.
Though never actually used as such in reality, the Paramarines were mentioned in both the 1944 RKO film Marine Raiders and the 1965 John Wayne movie In Harm's Way. In both movies, a Paramarine airborne assault on a fictional Pacific island sets up the climactic battle at the end.
The Paramarines also feature in W.E.B. Griffin's book series, The Corps with two supporting characters, Steve Koffler and Lieutenant Macklin passing through the Marine Parachute School at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey.
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