General Louis H. Wilson, Jr. , the 26th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and a recipient of the Medal of Honor from World War II, read this poem at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, Camp Lejeune, N.C. on 10 November, 1978:
The wonderful love of a beautiful maid,
The love of a staunch, true man,
The love of a baby, unafraid,
Have existed since time began.
But the greatest of loves,
The quintessence of loves,
Even greater than that of a mother,
Is the tender, passionate, infinite love,
Of one drunken Marine for another.
On 10 November of every year, Marines across the globe celebrate the Marine Corps birthday. This year marks the 240th anniversary of the founding of the Corps, the original location of which was Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. Marines have always taken a special pride in tracing their historical origins to a recruiting station inside a tavern. Do you suppose a Leatherneck veteran of the Revolutionary War, sitting on a barstool in Tun Tavern in 1780 and enjoying a brew, would have any idea that nine generations later Marines would be fighting a War on Terror? “Terror?” he might ask. “Is that a place or an army?”
“It’s neither,” we might answer. “It’s an, uh, well, I suppose it’s sort of a thing.”
“Then how can you fight a thing?”
Good question. But I digress. Back to the birthday celebration.
There will be birthday balls at Marine posts all around the world. Marines will arrive decked out in dress blues, the ladies in gowns. There will be speeches, and a solemn moment of remembrance for those Marines who have given the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation. That number, by the way, is 44,500 Marine battlefield deaths, with another 220,000 wounded, from the Revolution to Afghanistan. The Tun Tavern Leatherneck might wince in astonishment at such numbers.
There will be elaborate cakes, often several layers high, ceremonially sliced with a sword. The traditional passing of cake from the oldest to the youngest Marine will demonstrate the passing of the honor, experience, and heart of the Corps to the next generation of Marines to carry on.
Then there will be toasts.
The stirring Marines’ Hymn will be played, bringing everyone in the house to their feet. “From the Halls of Montezuma . . . “
And more toasts.
The Marines know how to do a lot of things. They know how to fight and win (and yes, they’ve adapted to learn how to fight a “thing”). They know how to be innovative in tactics and equipment. They know how to maintain their rich traditions. And they certainly know how to throw an annual birthday bash. Nobody does it better. And I happen to know that for a fact.
Happy 240th, Marines!
And by the way, thanks to my Tun Tavern Leatherneck for not only helping to save our country, but for helping to start a Corps of Marines.