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Happy Birthday Marine Corps!

Photo above: Marines march out the birthday cake during the traditional cake cutting ceremony. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

Gen. George Crist, left, (USMC retired) shares a story with Brig. Gen. Terry Williams, commanding general at MCRD Parris Island, prior to the traditional cake cutting ceremony. Photo by Bob Sofaly.
Gen. George Crist, left, (USMC retired) shares a story with Brig. Gen. Terry Williams, commanding general at MCRD Parris Island, prior to the traditional cake cutting ceremony. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

The United States Marine Corps is the third-oldest military branch in the United States, after the Army and the Navy. The Continental Congress on Nov. 10, 1775 approved a resolution to establish two battalions of Marines able to fight at sea and on shore, as the war for independence from Britain neared.

This resolution established the Continental Marines and marked the birth date of the United States Marine Corps. Serving on land and at sea, these first Marines distinguished themselves in a number of important operations, including their first amphibious raid into the Bahamas in March 1776, under the command of Captain (later Major) Samuel Nicholas.

The first commissioned officer in the Continental Marines, Nicholas remained the senior Marine officer throughout the American Revolution and is considered to be the first Marine Commandant. The Treaty of Paris in April 1783 brought an end to the Revolutionary War and as the last of the Navy’s ships were sold, the Continental Navy and Marines went out of existence.

Brig. Gen. Terry Williams, center, commanding general of MCRD Parris Island, poses for pictures in front of a living history re-enactment of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. Photo by Bob Sofaly.
Brig. Gen. Terry Williams, center, commanding general of MCRD Parris Island, poses for pictures in front of a living history re-enactment of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

Following the Revolutionary War, increasing conflict with Revolutionary France led to the formal re-establishment of the Marine Corps on 11 July 1798. Since then, Marines have participated in all the wars of the United States, and in most cases were the first service members to fight. To date, Marines have executed more than 300 landings on foreign shores.

On October 21, 1921, Major Edwin North McClellan, in charge of the Corps fledgling historical section, sent a memorandum to Commandant John A. Lejeune, suggesting the Marines’ original birthday of November 10th be declared a Marine Corps holiday to be celebrated throughout the Corps. Lejeune so ordered in Marine Corps Order 47.

The Corps birthday celebrations were formalized and standardized by Commandant Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. in 1952, outlining the cake cutting ceremony, which would enter the Marine Drill Manual in 1956. By tradition, the first slice of cake is given to the oldest Marine present, who in turn hands it off to the youngest Marine present, symbolizing the old and experienced Marines passing their knowledge to the new generation of Marines. The celebration also includes a reading of Marine Corps Order 47, republished every year, as well as a message from the current Commandant, and often includes a banquet and dancing if possible. In many cases, the birthday celebration will also include a pageant of current and historical Marine Corps uniforms, as a reminder of the history of the Corps. Marines are reputed to celebrate the birthday, regardless of where they may be in the world, even in austere environments or combat.

Marines dressed in authentic period uniforms give a brief description of the highlights of the Marine Corps history during that era. Photo by Bob Sofaly.
Marines dressed in authentic period uniforms give a brief description of the highlights of the Marine Corps history during that era. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

Today, there are more than 200,000 active-duty and reserve Marines, organized into three divisions stationed at Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton and Okinawa, Japan. Each division has one or more expeditionary units, ready to launch major operations anywhere on short notice. Marines expeditionary units are self-sufficient, with their own tanks, artillery, and air forces. The motto of the service is Semper Fidelis, meaning “Always Faithful” in Latin.

In every war, the Marines are known to have been first to fight. There are some traits that have differentiated Marines from their counterparts in other military branches for 240 years. There are reasons behind the pride in everything they do.

Americans appreciate the Marine Corps for the longstanding traditions and professionalism which Marines have worked hard to preserve. From the second they step on the yellow footprints at boot camp, to the moment they sign their DD-214 (the final document that turns a Marine into a veteran); members of the “tip of the military spear” live and breathe mission success in everything they do. Thank you past, present, and future Marines. Beaufort is happy to help you celebrate!

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