The True Origin of the US Marine Corps' 'Oorah' Call

(U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Ali Azimi)

Each branch of the military has its own distinctive lingo.

Nothing says "I'm in the Air Force" more than an airman calling their supervisor by their first name. "Hooah" is the Army's answer to literally everything, while the Navy has an entirely different second language. For the Marine Corps, one of the first words new enlisted Marines learn in boot camp is "oorah."

A Marine journalist went searching for the origin of the word back in 2004. He found a lot of scuttlebutt surrounding its origin, but no clear facts -- at least, not at first. Like many aspects of Marine Corps culture, it started out with a small group of Marines and slowly spread to the entire service. It's been Marine Corps custom ever since.

"Oorah" is a relatively new addition, especially considering how old the Marine Corps and many of its traditions are. The Corps' Eagle, Globe and Anchor symbol dates back to 1868. The slogan "A Few Good Men" actually dates back to 1779 when the service's members were called the Continental Marines. However, the Continental Marines didn't go around shouting "oorah!"

No "oorah" here, but probably still a lot of YUT.

Despite what you might have heard about its origin, "oorah" has nothing to do with the U.S. Army. "Hooah" just happens to sound like "oorah." Some Marines mistakenly think it's the old Ottoman word for "kill," which is actually "Öldürmek" in Turkish. "Oorah" in fact dates back to post-Korean War Recon Marines in the Pacific.

Though the use of Marines to survey landing sites for amphibious assaults dates back much further than World War II, small raiding units were formed during the war to gather information and intelligence on target beachheads. At places like Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima, Recon Marines scouted the beaches and inland areas in preparation for major landings.

Reconnaissance battalions disappeared after World War II but were reformed in platoon size during the Korean War. In 1953, company-size recon units were reactivated in Korea. One of these, the 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance Company, traveled to its landing areas via submarine. It was aboard these submarines that "oorah" was born.

When the submarines went below the waterline, Marines would hear a voice over the intercom system shout "dive, dive," along with a unique klaxon alarm. The klaxon sound itself was a distinctive noise: "Aarugha."

Watching how submarine sailors responded to the klaxon alarm no doubt had an effect on the Recon Marines aboard the boat, because they began using the sound to motivate one another during physical training and their own exercises. Shouting "Aarugha," however, became unwieldy after a while, so the Marines simplified it into the much smoother, cooler-sounding "oorah."

In case there was any doubt about this origin story, Marine Corps journalist Lance Cpl. Paul W. Hirseman III found it in the Marine Corps Training Reference Manual on the history of Marine Recon, titled: "Aarugha."

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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