The 239th birthday of the Marine Corps is tomorrow; 10 November. This past weekend Marines -both active and former - throughout the world were attending celebrations and galas. Young Marines in their first set of dress blues, accompanied by their equally young girlfriends perhaps wearing last year’s high-school prom dresses, proudly rubbed elbows with their captains, majors, and other senior officers under whom they serve.
But a formal occasion isn't necessary; all over the country fathers dress up to take their Marine sons out for an evening, or a son will be sure to take his old man out for a few drinks. You see, tradition isn’t built on dining and dancing, it’s built on the remembrance and recognition of those who came before.
In many cases, being a Marine is a family tradition. There are birthday balls where sons, daughters, fathers, uncles, and cousins attend en masse—a family fire-team or a 155-mm gun crew, if you like—and they’ll tell you that becoming a Marine was one way of following in Dad’s footsteps. In many cases, becoming a Marine was something they’d wanted to do since they were little boys.
It’s hard to know what came first, the mystique of being a Marine, or the history and traditions that built the mystique; regardless, these Marines grabbed the concept and never let it go. Maybe they liked the way Dad carried himself, or maybe the stories of Tarawa, Chosin, or Hue city appealed to them. But being a Marine was part of their essential nature, part of their reason for being.
Some careers come with their own lasting dignity: hard jobs like steel worker, policeman, or Marine. Jobs where by the end of the day I-beams have been produced, drug dealers arrested, or villages cleared of insurgents. Jobs where sweat, effort, and dedication are more important than where someone went to college.
It’s an unusual thing about these jobs: those who have them look at life in moral, instead of economic terms. They tend to ignore income levels, job titles, and frequent-flyer miles earned, and instead rank others in terms of who can provide for their families, or who has the courage to dash out into the street under fire to drag back a wounded buddy. You can spot them by the way they look you in the eye and the way they carry themselves.
So 10 November is their day and Marines will celebrate the birthday of their Corps. Around the globe, in various climes and places, this year, last year, and next year, the following scene will play out: Whether the celebration is big or small, there is a birthday cake. Even though in Ramadi or those little COPS along the Helmand River, it was likely an MRE brownie, it was a cake, and in the tradition of the Corps, the oldest Marine at the service will present the first piece to the youngest. This is Marine tradition, the passing of the cake symbolizing “You are one of us. You are part of an organization that is older than the United States itself. The courage of your predecessors is part of your heritage. You are one of us—now go and pass it on.”
And that’s what brings us back to the 239th birthday of the Marine Corps, where being part of something larger than themselves, where hard work, sweat, brotherhood, and tradition are part of every day, and where terms like “honor,” “courage,” and “commitment” remain the way of life for The Few, The Proud, The Marines.
Happy Birthday Marines!!