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Retired Services and Pay (MMSR-6)

Former sergeant major of the Marine Corps has birthday celebration delivered

By Gunnery Sgt F.B. Zimmerman | | November 19, 2010

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While most Marines celebrate the birth of the Marine Corps by donning their best uniform and sharing a night of camaraderie at a ball, one Marine had the celebration delivered to his doorstep Nov. 10.

Approximately 25 Marines and their families from Headquarters Marine Corps and Marine Corps Base Quantico made the trip to retired Sgt. Maj. Henry H. Black’s home for a cake cutting ceremony. Black, the 7th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, where he lives with hiis wife Fannie. 

Included in the group were two former sergeants major of the Marine Corps, retired Sgts. Maj. Harold G. Overstreet and Gary Lee, and current SMMC Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent.  This was the second consecutive year Kent has taken Marines to Black’s house to celebrate.

“We take care of our own,” Kent said.  “We take great pride in our legacy, and ensuring the Marines who’ve gone before us have a proper celebration is the right thing to do.  Being able to share a night of camaraderie with warriors such as Sgt. Maj. Black motivates me and was an honor.”

During the visit, the Marines in attendance shared stories, including Overstreet who had one about Black.

“I doubt you remember this, but I was a gunnery sergeant in Detroit on recruiting duty,” Overstreet recalled.  “I wanted to go to [Drill Instructor] School even though I was on my second tour as a recruiter.”

At that time, Black jumped in and said, “That was hell!”

Overstreet continued telling how he called Black and told him he wanted to go to the drill field.

“You told me ‘I’m not promising you anything, but I’ll look into it,’” Overstreet said. “Two weeks later I had orders to the drill field.”

Black then shared several stories, including one where he jokingly said Marines didn’t like him too much.  He said back in his day, it was common for Marines to have several drinks with their lunch.  Gen. Louis H. Wilson, the 26th Commandant whom Black served as SMMC, ordered the practice be stopped, and he had to go to the club and tell them to stop serving Marines at lunch.

“Needless to say, I wasn’t too popular after that,” Black said.

Black also shared his experiences during the Korean War, which was highlighted in this year’s birthday video.  He recalled one time when his unit was marching and it was extremely cold.  He said next to the road laid a burning tire, which they huddled around to get warm.  That is, until they saw an unexploded grenade sitting in the middle of it.

He also told Marines about how their perimeter was overran, and when the firefight was over, 700 Chinese soldiers lay dead.  Despite that, he said fierce fighting wasn’t all they had to worry about.

“The cold was worse than the enemy,” he said.

After sharing the stories, the cake cutting ceremony began with the first piece going to Black, the oldest Marine, and Cpl. Rocio Iribelopez, Staff Judge Advocate office at HQMC, who was the youngest.

“That was the best thing I’ve done in the Marine Corps, because I got to see some of the history of the Marine Corps,” Iribelopez said.  “We should do things like this more often to help keep the Marine history alive.”

Sgt. Jessica Sarria, admin chief in the Office of Counsel for the Commandant of the Marine Corps, said she jumped at the chance to attend the cake cutting.

“Not every Marine gets the opportunity to talk to such great leaders and absorb their knowledge,” she said.  “The experience was awesome, and it was a privilege [to be around them].”

Fellow Sgt. Jessica Davila, an administrative clerk on the Joint Staff, said the night was like being in a living history class, with four sergeants major of the Marine Corps together.

“I was honored to be in the presence of Marine Corps history,” Davila said.  “It was very inspiring to see they all still have the same love and passion for the Marine Corps, even though they’ve been out for years.”

Near the end of the celebration, the Marines joined in singing the first verse of The Marines’ Hymn, which the normally soft-spoken Black belted out. But before the Marines left, Black made sure to tell them what he thinks of today’s Marines.

“What a hell of a job you all are doing … I’m so proud of all of you,” he said.  “The Corps is in good hands.  They’re all carrying on our legacy … you tell them that!”


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