During the Great Depression, the postal service struggled to follow through on its promise to deliver the mail. The mail was getting stolen by gangsters.
Protecting The Mail
The Postmaster General didn't want to deal with it anymore, so he asked President Harding for help from the Marines. Over six million dollars, with inflation adjustments, had been stolen from the U.S. mail between April 1920 and April 1921. In an October 1921 robbery, .4 million in jewelry, cash, and securities was taken.
The President was happy to send in the Marines at that point. The Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby met with the Marine Corps Maj. Gen, John Lejeune to make a plan. They met to "detail as guards for the United States mails a sufficient number of officers and men of the United States Marine Corps to protect the mails from the depredations by robbers and bandits."
The Marines were given trench guns, M1911 pistols, and M1903 Springfield rifles to protect mail deliveries from place to place, especially banks and government offices. The Marines also went along with mail trucks and trains, sitting next to the driver and with the cargo. There were a little over 50 Marines involved in keeping the mail safe.
They were told by the Navy Secretary, "you must, when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand and, if attacked, shoot and shoot to kill. If two Marines are covered by a robber, neither must put up his hands, but both must immediately go for their guns. One may die, but the other will get the robber, and the mail will get through."
When our Corps goes in as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered, or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty. There can be no compromise.Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby
The Marines were to shoot anyone who tried to steal the mail or valuables transported or die trying. They were even to shoot if the would-be robber was running away, provided they tried twice to get him to stop.
Their guns were loaded, cocked, and ready to go at all times. Their mission was successful for the four months they guarded the mail deliveries. The U.S. Mail developed its security force, but the robberies began again. The Marines came back, and it stopped and never started again.