In the heat of battle, some people freeze up, some charge forward, and some drop awesome lines like they’re trying to win a rap battle.
These quotes are from the third category.
1. “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach! The dead and those who are going to die! Now, let’s get the hell out of here!”
This was shouted by Army Col. George Taylor as he urged his men forward at Normandy on D-Day. According to survivors, Taylor yelled a few different versions of this quote during the landings at Omaha Beach and all of them had the desired effect, spurring American soldiers forward against the Nazi guns firing on the beach.
2. “All right. They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us … They can’t get away this time.”
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller gave us tons of great quotes. This particular one he spit out while Chinese forces surrounded his men at the Chosin Reservoir. The Marines were expected to fight what essentially amounted to a doomed delaying action as the Chinese wiped them out. Instead, the Marines broke out and slaughtered their way through multiple enemy divisions.
Army Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe led the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge. The Americans were outnumbered, surrounded, and running short on supplies when a German delegation requested their surrender. McAuliffe was awoken with the news and sleepily responded “Nuts!” before heading to meet his staff who had to draft the formal response to the German commander.
The staff decided that the general’s initial response was better than anything they could write. While under siege and near constant attack, the paratroopers typed the following centered on a sheet of paper:
December 22, 1944
To the German Commander,
N U T S !
The American Commander
4. “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!”
In April 1862, Vice Adm. David Farragut was leading a fleet to capture Mobil Bay, Alabama, and cut off the major port. While sailing into the city, a Union ship hit Confederate mines in the water that were then known as torpedoes. Farragut yelled his now immortal line, sailed through the mines, and was victorious.
5. “Another running gun battle today … Wahoo runnin’, destroyer gunnin'”
The USS Wahoo was an enormously successful U.S. submarine in World War II that sank five Japanese ships totaling 32,000 tons — including an entire four-ship convoy — during its third cruise. Near the end of the patrol, the Wahoo tried to sink a second convoy but was surprised by a previously unspotted Japanese destroyer outfitted for anti-submarine operations.
The Wahoo was forced to run, evading a barrage from the destroyer’s cannons and a depth charge attack. The commander signaled Pearl Harbor with the above message and escaped. The quote was slightly changed and ran as a headline in the Hawaiian Advertiser after the patrol.
6. “I may sink, but I’m damned if I’ll strike.”
Navy legend John Paul Jones helped create the sea service during the American Revolution and, in an epic battle with the HMS Serapis, gave at least a couple of epic quotes including this one when he was asked to surrender.
A more famous quote from the battle was “I have not yet begun to fight!” but the Navy isn’t sure that Jones actually said it since the words were first attributed to him 46 years after the battle.
7. “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”
During the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Navy chaplain was trying to keep the men of the USS New Orleans going. He saw a group of men tiring as they carried anti-aircraft ammunition to the guns and patted one of them on the back while speaking this phrase to motivate them. It was later incorporated into songs during the war.
8. “They’ve got us surrounded again, the poor bastards.”
While Gen. George S. Patton gets most of the headlines for liberating the 101st during the Battle of the Bulge, another tank legend was leading the charge through German lines, Col. Creighton S. Abrams, who allegedly uttered the awesome words above.
Stephen E. Ambrose’s famous book “Band of Brothers” attributes a similar quote, “They’ve got us surrounded — the poor bastards,” to an unknown Army medic. As the story goes, the medic was telling an injured corporal why none of the wounded had been evacuated.
9. “Goddamn it, you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!”
A few different books attribute this quote to Marine Capt. Henry P. Jim Crowe. Crowe commanded a regimental weapons company during the land battle on Guadalcanal. A Japanese machine gun had pinned down a Marine advance and Crowe yelled these words to the men huddling in a shell hole. As a group, they charged the guns behind Crowe and took out the enemy position.
10. “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”
Americans most often associate this line with the Battle of Bunker Hill, but there’s evidence it was said by different officers at a few points in history. At Bunker Hill in 1775, the order was given by at least one of the leaders of Patriot forces building new fortifications on Bunker and Breed’s Hills near Cambridge, Massachusetts. The intent was to preserve the limited powder and shot.
The gambit worked, allowing the Patriots to inflict major damage with their initial volleys, but it wasn’t enough for the outnumbered and outgunned Americans to hold the hills.
11. “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?”
The above line is commonly attributed to Marine Corps legend Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, though there’s some question on whether he said it and — if he did — if those were his exact words. Daly once told a Marine historian that he yelled “For Christ’s sake, men — Come on! Do you want to live forever!”
The Marine who recounts hearing “Come on, you sons of bitches! Do you want to live forever?” was in another part of the battlefield, so it’s possible that two Marines yelled similar lines in different parts of Belleau Wood or that someone misremembered a line yelled in one of World War I’s most dramatic battles.
Either way, the quote is pretty awesome.