Across the Nation and around the world, wherever two Marines (or a Marine and a Corpsman) are together, the words “Happy Birthday” will be exchanged and old friends and strange places will be recalled. (Spouses and co-workers will look puzzled and may say, “Today’s not your birthday,” but it is!) It happened to me yesterday when a clerk at Target saw my Fifth Marines ball cap and said, “Happy Birthday.”
Her co-worker asked “How do you know it’s his birthday?” We just laughed.
I have spent Birthdays in Virginia, Vietnam, Okinawa, the Philippines, Spain, Wisconsin (including the 200th), Illinois and North Carolina. On the 200th, I made sure that I got a copy of the Milwaukee Sentinel, having just reported as Inspector-Instructor, Company F, 24th Marines. The expected headline -- HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARINES! –was missing. Instead, the banner read EDMUND FITZGERALD FOUNDERS WITH ALL HANDS.
In 1971, we were ashore in Barcelona, Spain after spending six weeks steaming in slow circles in the eastern Med, waiting to go into Jordan to rescue a bunch of medical missionaries sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee—a group that usually has nothing good to say about Marines until their sorry asses are on the line. The pageant went as usual, although the embassy staffer I was hosting nearly collapsed when he realized the M-60 machine guns carried by the two lance corporals in the honor guard were real. (“You brought real weapons ashore in Franco’s Spain?” A couple of good stiff scotches settled him down.)
My most memorable Birthday was in Vietnam. I had spent all night making sure that each of our companies operating in the Arizona got a hot meal (steak, mashed potatoes, vegetables and, of course, a Birthday cake). I then headed to Hill 65 to spend the day with Dick Rollins. After our Birthday dinner, we scrounged a couple of bottles of wine and sat on top of a bunker enjoying the night. In a paddy below the hill, an ARVN unit had a merry little firefight that lasted for about an hour.
I was monitoring the battalion net. Delta Company, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Jim Webb, was the palace guard for the battalion command group. At about 2100, Webb called the Battalion Commander, LtCol Joe Griffis on the radio. “Hey, Sir,” Webb said. “Look up.”
At that moment, his 60mm mortar section put a ring of 12 flares around their position. “Happy Birthday, Sir. We just lit the candles on the cake.”
Today, the colors will be blessed in Camp Lejeune and a pageant, complete with period uniforms and horse Marines will once again grace Butler Stadium at Quantico.
In 1982, I was on the Base staff for the pageant at Quantico. We were the first on the field and the last off. It was cold, with the wind blowing right off the Potomac into the low end of the football field. We were in Dress Blues and, as is normal, we had wet our right gloves to ensure that we kept our grips on our swords. About two-thirds of the way through the ceremony, the Chief of Staff, who was in command of our staff, whispered to me over his shoulder.
“Mac, I can’t feel my hand. Am I still holding my sword?”
“Well, pass the word to the staff. If I drop mine, you all drop yours, and we’ll come back and get the bastards later!”
We reminded him of that every chance we got.
Some time today, every Marine, whether he is in Afghanistan or Akron, will see a Birthday ceremony. An honor guard made up of two Marines of each rank in the unit will form an aisle, facing inboard. The Commanding Officer will escort the honored guest and the oldest and youngest Marines present to the head of the room. The cake will then be paraded.
The Adjutant will then command “Attention to Orders,” and will read the following:
On November 1st, 1921, John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published by every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the birthday of the Corps. Since that day, Marines have continued to distinguish themselves on many battlefields and foreign shores, in war and peace. On this 234th birthday of the Corps, therefore, in compliance with the will of the 13th Commandant, Article 38, United State Marine Corps Manual, Edition of 1921, is republished as follows:"(1) On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.
"(2) The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world's history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation's foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long era of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.
"(3) In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term "Marine" has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.
"(4) This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as 'Soldiers of the Sea' since the founding of the Corps."
Since that time, Marines have continued to serve, adding new battle honors from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, from Inchon to the Chosin Reservoir, from Beirut to Santo Domingo, from Khe Sanh to Hue City, in Beirut, Grenada, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commandant and our many friends have joined us in our celebration of thei, the 234th Birthday of our beloved Corps.
A Birthday Message from the Commandant
United States Marines represent the best young men and women our Nation has to offer. To be a Marine is to be a member of America's warrior class - to be one of the few who steps forward with the courage and conviction to face whatever dangers await. Our Nation expects her Marines to be ready when the Nation calls; to leave family and the comforts of home behind; to march into battle and thrive under austerity; and to come home under a victory pennant.
From Al Anbar in the west of Iraq, to Helmand Province in the south of Afghanistan, our Corps of Marines can always expect to be found where the fight is toughest. Such is our history. Today, as we write the final chapter on our victory in Iraq, we will increasingly take the fight to the enemy in Afghanistan and add new pages to our legacy in places called Delaram, Now Zad, and Garmsir. One day, we will return to our naval heritage and patrol the high seas with our Navy brothers. Such is our future.
As we celebrate our Corps' 234th Birthday, we first pause to reflect and pay tribute to those Marines who have given the last full measure in defense of freedom. We extend our deepest gratitude to our Marine Corps families - the unsung heroes who endure hardship and sacrifice so that we are able to go forward and accomplish any mission. We extend our appreciation to our countrymen who have answered our every need. And we celebrate the magnificent men and women who willingly and selflessly continue to go into harm's way to protect this great Nation.
To all who have gone before, to those who wear the uniform today, and to the families that give us the strength to forge ahead - I wish you all a heartfelt Happy 234th Birthday!
James T. Conway
General, U.S. Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps
[Ordinarily, the President also sends a message, but I have been unable to find one for this year. If I do, I will revise this to include it.]
The Commanding Officer will then cut the cake with his sword, or a bayonet if in the field, presenting the first piece of cake to the Honored Guest. The next piece goes to the oldest Marine present, and the final piece to the youngest Marine. I have been at ceremonies where the service of the oldest and youngest Marines spanned over 60 years and several wars. When they shake hands, the electricity in the room is palpable!
I'll share calls and birthday wishes with shipmates throughout the day.
So, to all Marines, and the Corpsmen, surgeons, and chaplains who have served with us, Semper Fi and Happy Birthday.
© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.