USMC Birthday

The United States Marine Corps has its birthday celebration on November 10th, 2015. It is a special day for every Marine, no matter where in the world they may be stationed and whether their service is active or in the past. The pride of being a Marine becomes part of who they are. It was certainly the case for my Dad. One of his favorite sayings was “once a Marine, always a Marine.”  

The birthday celebration is steeped in tradition and history that goes back to November 10th, 1775, when the Continental Marines were established. Traditionally, the birthday is celebrated with a ball and a cake-cutting ceremony. On November 1st, 1921, General John A. Lejeune issued an order that set out a summary of the history, mission and traditions of the Marine Corps. He ordered that the summary be read each year on November 10th to honor the founding of the Corps. That tradition continues to the present day during the birthday ball celebrations.

Tradition is an important component in the Marine Corps.

  • Semper Fidelis, the motto for the Marines, is Latin for “Always Faithful.”
  • The license plate for the Commandant is “1775.”
  • Marines finish meals in record time, because in boot camp, once the drill instructor was done eating, so was everyone else.  
  • If in uniform, a Marine does not put their hands in their pockets.
  • Personal observation—there must have been lots of locker checks (my Dad checked my locker at every open house during grade school—I learned to keep it neat at least for that day).

Few people have been awarded the honorary Marine designation, an honor only bestowed by the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Honorees include Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Joe Rosenthal and Gary Sinise.

The first official Birthday Ball was likely held in 1925 in Philadelphia; there are no recorded details regarding earlier Balls.   Some of the more notable guests included the Secretary of the Navy, General Lejeune, national leaders and representatives from all other military branches.

In 1952, the birthday celebration was formalized throughout the Corps by Commandant General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., and in 1956, it was detailed in the Marine Corps Drill Manual.

The Birthday Ball is usually comprised of the formal cake-cutting ceremony, a guest speaker, the Commandant’s birthday message and a reading of General Lejeune’s message from November of 1921.

Guests wear formal attire—suits or tuxedos and ball gowns. Marines are, of course, in their dress blues. The Birthday Cake is traditionally cut with a Mameluke sword. The sword is named from its cross hilt and ivory grip design, similar to the Ottoman warrior swords used for centuries. The sword is a reminder that Marines are a band of warriors. Marines have carried this style of sword since 1805, when the governor of Tripoli gave such a sword to Lieutenant Presley O’Bannor.

The first slice of cake is presented to the guest of honor. The second slice is presented to the oldest Marine present. Traditionally, he passes it to the youngest Marine present, to symbolize the sharing of experience and knowledge. The third slice is then accepted by the oldest Marine present, signifying that young Marines are cared for first and foremost. The ceremony of the cake cutting is an annual, symbolic renewal of commitment.

Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps! Thank you for your commitment, traditions, service and protection on behalf of our great country.

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