Happy Birthday, Marines!
A U.S. Marine Corps birthday celebration at St. James in November featured many special guests.
“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.” So ordered General John A. LeJeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, in November 1921, directing 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.
This year was no different as about 90 area Marines and their guests gathered at Members Club in St. James for a celebratory birthday dinner filled with meaningful and time-honored traditions to honor the birthday of their beloved U.S. Marine Corps. Support for the ceremonies was provided by active-duty Marines from Camp LeJeune, who were in turn feted by sponsors among the gathered Marines.
In case you are not aware, there are no “ex-Marines” — the saying “Once a Marine, always a Marine” is accurate and held closely to the heart of every Marine. That is why a survey of all the military service flags flying in front of local residences readily reveals that USMC flags are the most prominent. Vehicles sport USMC license plate holders and USMC decals. Marines of all ages always consider themselves to number amongst “The Few, the Proud. The Marines.”
John Lavelle was the organizer of the dinner, and all in attendance agreed that this was the best Marine Corps birthday dinner yet. The ceremonies opened with the presentation and posting of the colors (the U.S. flag and the Marine Corps flag) by members of the color guard from Camp LeJeune. The four young sergeants were resplendent in their perfectly creased dress blue uniforms with brass and shoes polished to a high sheen. They were led by adjutant Gunnery Sergeant Kyle Lloyd, Detachment 1, Transportation and Services Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 25. Also attending from that unit was the evening’s narrator, First Sergeant Robert Hahn.
Sergeant Christian Quincero, a member of the color guard, explained that he knew from the age of 8 or 9 years old that he wanted to be a Marine as he was regaled by stories of courage and fearlessness told by a Marine friend of his father. Sgt. Quincero, currently an administrative specialist, hope to be selected for duty as an embassy Marine security guard protecting the lives and property of the Department of State’s embassies abroad.
The guest of honor, Colonel Steven Sutey, the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Marines, an infantry regiment based at Camp LeJeune, spoke eloquently about the Corps and its men and women, present and past, who have protected American freedoms. “These Marines sacrifice so much,” he said, “Even giving their lives in the service of their country.”
Another time-honored tradition drawing the rapt attention of the dinner guests was the cutting of the ceremonial cake by Mr. Lavelle utilizing a saber provided for that purpose. Before that, however, GySgt. Lloyd read the text of General LeJeune’s 1921 birthday message to all Marines, as it is every year, to remind Marines of their “long and illustrious” history. The attendees then sang The Marine Corps Hymn with gusto.
The first piece of the birthday cake was served to the guest of honor, Colonel Sutey, and the second shared by the oldest Marine present, Jim Hilty, 82, and the youngest, Sergeant George King, Jr., 23. Hilty served from 1958 to 1962. Hilty credits his career in academia to the Marines. During the last portion of his service, he was assigned to Camp Pendleton (California) Marine Corps Base. His boss, Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Louis Metzger encouraged him to return to taking college classes (he had dropped out in his freshman year to join the Marines), which he immediately did. Hilty later made the base track team. He did so well that he earned a scholarship to Ohio State University after leaving active duty in 1962. By 1970 Hilty had earned BS, MS and MA degrees at Ohio State and a PhD at the University of Missouri and was an assistant professor of history at Temple University. “All because of the Marines,” Hilty explained.
The youngest Marine present, Sergeant George King, Jr., is a four- and one-half-year veteran of the Marines. Assigned to the same unit as 1stSgt. Hahn and GySgt. Lloyd, King’s father is a retired Marine staff sergeant. “I always wanted to follow in his footsteps,” he said.
Another Marine attending was Bruce Goins. This was only his second Marine Corps birthday celebration since his return from Vietnam in 1968. A corporal at the time of his discharge, Goins served in an Amphibious tractor (AmTrak) unit with no serviceable vehicles. So, he relates, “We were converted to what other Marines called ‘AmGrunts’ serving throughout the northern I Corps area up as far as the DMZ as infantry Marines.”
Asked for more details about his service, Goins said nothing and his eyes welled up. It was then that the observer noticed the lapel device that he wore. It was for the Silver Star, the United States Armed Forces’ third-highest military decoration for valor in combat. Nothing more needed to be said.
The current Commandant, General David H. Berger, said it best in his birthday message: “We who serve today represent an unbroken chain that stretches back 246 years. As we mark our anniversary, we remember those who went before us, and as we look over the horizon to ‘new service, new dedication and new achievement,’ solemnly swear to uphold their example of honor, courage and commitment. Happy 246th Birthday, Marines!”