[Moved up top in the spirit of interservice cooperation. Happy Birthday, ya damn Jarheads. New posts start below. - F-man]
Today is the 230th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. It got its start in 1775 at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia as the Continental Marines. I have no doubt that the 'signing bonus', aka 'bait', was free beer.
It is a day when Marines who have the opportunity will gather together at military bases, embassies, VFW and American Legion halls, Elks lodges, rented banquet rooms, back rooms of diners and bars, garages and living rooms, or wherever they can, wherever in the world they are, for the grand tradition of the "Birthday Ball".
Whatever the degree of pomp and circumstance available, the Birthday Ball is a tradition of ritual and remembrance. There will be food and drink. General LeJeune's 1921 Birthday Message may be read aloud, as may the 2005 Message from the present Commandant, General Hagee. At some point, there will be silence, a Chaplain may invoke The Marines Prayer, and heads will be bowed in remembrance of the thousands of Marines who have given their all for their country and their fellow Marines. I guarantee that tears will be shed.
The Crown Jewel of the Birthday Ball is the Cake-Cutting Ceremony. This is a ceremony which ritually bonds Marines of all generations, from the fighting tops of Old Ironsides to the front line in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Master of Ceremonies cuts the cake, and the first piece goes to the oldest Marine present. The second piece goes to the youngest. Thus is tribal continuity ensured, symbolically handed off from the older generation of Marines to the younger.
This ceremony can vary wildly from place to place.
At the Headquarters Officers' Ball in the International Ballroom of the Washington Hilton Towers Hotel in D.C., where the Evening Dress "B" makes the Dress Blues "A" look like so much burlap, the Commandant, accompanied by The President's Own Marine Band, resplendent in their red and gold uniforms, may cut the cake with a thousand-dollar Mameluke ceremonial sword, hand the first piece to an 85 year old retired General who fought in three wars, and the second to a 22 year old boot 2d Looie right out of Basic School.
In the VFW Halls and other places, the Marines' Hymn might come from a cassette in a boom box, but the Emcee will cut the cake, perhaps with a chrome bayonet. He may give the first piece to a 99 year old veteran of protecting the US Mail from train robbers, and the second piece to a 17 year old Private fresh out of boot camp whose 40 year old dad may have been the youngest last year.
Under a bridge somewhere, two homeless Jarheads with PTSD might split a short dog of muscatel and a Snickers bar. The first bite will go to the Vietnam vet, the second to the Gulf War man.
The last piece of Marine Corps Birthday Cake I had was at a ceremony in Arizona honoring a WWII Navajo Code Talker. I felt honored to have been there.
Most of the Cake-Cutting Ceremonies will fall somewhere in between my scenarios, of course, but here's the one I want you to think about:
On this night, somewhere in Western Iraq near the Syrian border, in a fighting hole with a tarp pulled over them so the light from the match used as a birthday candle won't show, two Marines, tired, dirty, smelly, maybe scared, cut a piece of MRE pound cake with a K-Bar fighting knife. The first piece goes to a 21 year old Corporal, the second to an 18 year old PFC. Even out on the sharp end, Marines will do this small thing in honor of those who have gone before, and each other.
This old Marine's thoughts are of those young Marines, stuck in the middle of nowhere on a mission they won't know much about until the books are written years from now. They probably don't give much of a shit about whether it's right or wrong. They go where they're told and do what they've been trained to do. They do their duty as they see it to do. They're Marines.