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Marines Corps celebrating 228th birthday

By Bob Paslay

Running away from home with his friend, Harrison Madison tried to join the U.S. Air Force, but the recruiter was out to lunch.

They spotted a U.S. Marine Corps recruiter and signed up for the Marines instead. Two tours of duty in Vietnam and 22 years of service later, the Riverdale resident still holds to the values instilled by the Corps.

The Marine Corps will celebrate its 228th birthday with a local ceremony at the Jonesboro post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Post 6330 will hold a ceremony for all Marines, their families and friends at 5 p.m. today.

"There's something about that pride that you have," Madison said. "When we go into battle, we take that same pride."

The same habits drilled into him then are still with him, he said. The Marine's work ethic keeps the 67-year-old working out five days a week.

Madison, a retired lieutenant colonel, followed in a tradition of military service. His father fought for the Army in World War II, and his grandfather fought for the Army in World War I.

The U.S. Marine Corps begins preparations for its "birthday party" every summer. Activities become more feverish as the fall hues arrive. By early November every Marine is either rehearsing his role in the "party" or pressing, polishing, and spit-shining in order to appear at his or her best for the Birthday Ball. This has not always been the case however. In fact, Marines have not always celebrated their founding on November the 10th.

Formal commemoration of the birthday of the Marine Corps began on Nov. 10, 1921. That particular date was chosen because on Nov. 10, 1775, Congress resolved to raise two battalions of Continental Marines.

Until 1921 the birthday of the Corps had been celebrated on another date. An unidentified newspaper clipping from 1918 refers to the celebration of the 120th birthday of the Marine Corps on July 11 "as usual with no fuss."

It is doubtful that there was any real celebration at all. Further inspection of documents and publications prior to 1921 shows no evidence of ceremonies, pageants, or parties. The July date was commemorated between 1798 and 1921 as the birthday of the Corps. During the Revolution, Marines had fought on land and sea, but at the close of the Revolution the Marine Corps and the Navy were all but disbanded. On July 11, 1798, President John Adams approved a bill that recreated the Corps, thereby providing the rationale for this day being commemorated as the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.

On Oct. 21, 1921 Major Edwin McClellan, officer-in-charge, Historical Section, Headquarters Marine Corps, sent a memorandum to Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune suggesting that the original birthday on Nov. 10, 1775 be declared a Marine Corps holiday to be celebrated throughout the Corps. McClellan further suggested that a dinner be held in Washington to commemorate the event. Guests would include prominent men from the Marine Corps, the Army, and the Navy, and descendants of the Revolution.

Accordingly, on Nov. 1, 1921, Lejeune issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series, 1921. The order summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps and directed that it be read to every command on Nov. 10 each subsequent year in honor of the birthday of the Marine Corps. This order has been duly carried out.

"On Nov. 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.

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 eras of tranquillity at home generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every cornerof the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

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.

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."

Expansion of Celebration

Some commands expanded the celebration during the next few years. In 1923 at Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania, the celebration of the Marine Corps' 148th birthday took the form of a dance in the Barracks that evening. Marines at the Navy Yard, Norfolk, Virginia, staged a sham battle on the parade ground in commemoration of the birthday. The battle lasted about twenty minutes and was witnessed by Portsmouth and Norfolk citizens. At Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Birthday was celebrated on the 12th since a special liberty to Santiago had been arranged on the 10th. The morning activities included field and water sports, and a shooting match. In the afternoon the Marines won a baseball game 9-8 over a Cuban team. In the evening, members of the command put on a variety show followed by four boxing bouts. The first so called "Birthday Ball" such as suggested by McClellan was probably held in 1925 in Philadelphia. No records have been located of one prior to 1925. Guests included the Secretaries of War and Navy, Major General Commandant Lejeune, famous statesman, soldiers, and sailors. The principle event was the unveiling of a tablet on the site of Tun Tavern. The tablet was a gift from the Thomas Roberts Reath Post, American Legion, whose membership was composed exclusively of Marines. The celebration was held in conjunction with the annual convention of the Marine Corps League. A parade included Marines, Regular Army, and Navy detachments, National Guard, and other military organizations. The evening banquet was held at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel and a ball followed at the Bellevue-Stratford.

It is not possible to determine precisely when the first cake ceremony was held, but the first on record was held at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. in 1937. Major General Commandant Thomas Holcomb presided at an open house for Marine Corps officers. Ceremonies included the cutting of a huge cake designed after the famous Tun Tavern in Philadelphia.

From 1937 on, observances of the Marine Corps Birthday appeared to develop spontaneously throughout the Corps as if they had a life of their own. The celebrations were publicized through every media. Newsreels, motion pictures, and displays were prepared to summarize the history of the Corps.

In 1943, standard blank Marine Corps scrapbooks were forwarded to all districts to be filled with 168th anniversary clippings, scripts, pictures, programs, and other memorabilia and returned to Headquarters. Unfortunately none of these scrapbooks remain in official files.

In 1951, a formal Birthday Ball Pageant was held at Headquarters Marine Corps. Similar to the pageant today, the script described the Marines period uniforms and the cake ceremony. Although this is the first substantive record of a pageant, The Leatherneck of Nov. 10, 1925 pictures Marines at a pageant in Salt Lake City, Utah, which had taken place "several years ago."

On Oct. 28, 1952, Major General Commandant Lemeuel C. Shepherd, Jr. directed the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday be formalized throughout the Corps and provided an outline for the cake ceremony, as well as other formal observances. This outline was included in the Marine Corps Drill Manual approved Jan 26, 1956.

Traditionally, the first piece of Birthday cake is presented to the oldest Marine present and the second piece to the youngest Marine present. When and where this tradition began remains unknown. Some records indicate this practice, and others vary it depending on the dignitaries present at the ball. First pieces of cake have been presented to newlyweds, the Secretary of the Navy, governors, and others, but generally speaking, the first pieces of cake go to the oldest and youngest Marines at the ball.

At present, celebrations of the Marine Corps Birthday on 10 November differ at posts and stations throughout the Corps. All commemorations include the reading of Marine Corps Order 47 and the Commandant's Message to those assembled. Most commands sponsor a birthday ball of some sort, complete with pageant and cake ceremony as prescribed in the Marine Corps Manual. Like the Corps itself, the Birthday Ball developed from simple origins to become the polished, professional function that the Marines commemorate on Nov. 10th around the world.

(Material for the history of the Marine birthday was obtained from marinestoday.com).