As the U.S. Marine Corps approaches its 237th birthday Nov. 10, military officials gathered at the Pentagon today to enjoy a slice of both the service’s storied history and its ceremonial cake.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were on hand, along with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos.
An excerpt of the annual birthday message written in 1921 by Gen. John A. Lejeune, the service’s 13th commandant, reads, “Generation after generation of Marines have grown grey in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas so that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.”
Amos explained the message’s enduring relevance.
“One of the things we really never … want to atrophy is our history in the minds and hearts and souls of everybody that wears the eagle, globe and anchor,” Amos said.
In August, Amos said, he and his wife visited Guadalcanal, site of the 1942-1943 campaign that marked the first major offensive in World War II’s Pacific theater.
“That was a spiritual experience for us, and we were mindful of all those 1,300 Marines that give their lives there,” Amos said of wading into the waters there.
The general noted that 70 years earlier, on Nov. 10, the Marines engaged at Guadalcanal had been fully involved in battle since Aug. 7, and many could not pause to celebrate the Corps’ birthday.
“They were staying proactive, working to improve their defense, resetting their heavy weapons and patrolling,” Amos said.
He read the account of a young Marine from George Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, who said a noncommissioned officer at Guadalcanal did manage to read Lejeune’s birthday message to some platoons, while cooks prepared a cake from rice flour for the birthday celebration.
“As each man went through the chow line, besides a thin slice of Spam with a hard biscuit, we all received a thin portion of cake,” Amos quoted from the Marine’s account.
The 28th Marine Corps commandant, retired Gen. P.X. Kelley, described during today’s ceremony how his experiences in Vietnam and the loss of his father in World War II still inspire his frequent visits to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here. He imparted advice to spectators.
“Go at night,” he said. “That’s where you see the real hard-core people with their hand on a name or a bended knee, there for hour after hour.”
Kelley, who will celebrate his 84th birthday Nov. 11, then partook in the traditional cake-cutting ceremony by sharing a piece with the youngest Marine in attendance, Lance Cpl. Alexandria Smith, from Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Barracks Washington, who was born Nov. 12, 1993.