Written by an Army Ranger. Please forgive the term 'haji'. When they’re shooting at you, you don’t tend to get hung up on political correctness.
For those who don’t know, Marines have long celebrated our founding on November 10th 1775 at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia where a committee of the Continental Congress met to draft a resolution calling for two battalions of Marines able to fight for independence at sea and shore. Furthermore, Samuel Nicholas was appointed the first Commandant and Robert Mullan (owner of Tun Tavern) was commissioned as a Captain and the first recruiter – that’s right the guy selling the beer also sold potential recruits on the benefits of the Corps!
Throughout the years since our founding, Marines have celebrated the birthday of the Corps. In 1925 the first formal Birthday Ball was held in Philadelphia and many of the traditions now celebrated were instituted. However, given the nature of our jobs it not uncommon for Marines to celebrate down range and in harms way without the pageantry and gentile company that garrison life affords.
One such birthday celebration occurred on November 10th 2004, the Second Battle of Fallujah known as Operation Phantom Fury had started just three days prior as Marines stepped across the line of departure into a heavily defended urban hell that was Fallujah. As Marines engaged in some of the most ferocious close quarters combat in the history of the Corps, a surreal but very poignant moment played out. This same moment has repeated on countless battlefields throughout the years in places such as Tripoli, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir, Khe San, Mogadishu, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
In the midst of the din of battle as AK-47’s & RPG’s impacted all around a pinned down platoon of Marine grunts, a battle weary Sgt turned to his platoon and said with a wry grin: “Hey devil dogs, it’s November 10th, Happy Birthday”! The Marines responded with a short sharp vigorous Marine Corps growl “ooh rah” and returned to the task at hand– killing hajis!
A few hours passed and a lull in the fighting prompted a young private to ask: “Hey Sgt, where’s my birthday cake?” The resourceful Marine NCO rummaged through his kit and MRE where he found a packet of pound cake, peanut butter spread, and an unfiltered Marlboro. The Sgt used these ingredients to create a field expedient Marine Corps birthday cake complete with a candle (the Marlboro) that would have made Chesty Puller proud.
Next the Sgt called his platoon to gather around the cake where he stated: “We may be far from home, fighting for our lives in this godforsaken city with drug crazed hajis all around us shouting “Allahu Akhbar”. We may be low on ammunition, food, and water. We have neither slept nor bathed in a week. But do not despair Marines, for we have our history and each other. The hippies sitting back at home may question our sanity for pausing in the middle of a battle to celebrate our Corps’ birthday – forgive them their ignorance, for they do not know that our history, traditions and symbols are what gird us for battle and give us the strength to fight harder and longer than our enemy ever will.”
The Sgt. cut two pieces of cake and gave them to the oldest and youngest Marines in the group, then as he passed the rest of pound cake amongst his Marines he said “I don’t know what the Commandant’s Birthday Message was, but I do know that our celebration of the Corps birthday on this day is what being a Marine is all about – Semper Fi Marines!”
No matter where you are today, whether it is in the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton (gotta be an officer’s ball) or in an LP/OP in some remote mountain pass in the Hindu Kush, take a moment to reflect on the history of our Corps and the brothers and sisters you call Marine, for these are truly the things worth celebrating.