Updated: Feb 8
This past weekend United States Marines from around the country gathered at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma, Ca., to celebrate 247 years of illustrious service and commitment to our nation, where we have answered her call to defend her and her allies in every skirmish and battle since 1775. (photo gallery at bottom of article)
It all started in November 1775, when newly commissioned Captains Samuel Nicholas and Robert Mullan organized the first Marine Corps musters at Tun Tavern, a popular watering hole in Philadelphia. The two officers lured potential Marines with mugs of beer and the promise of killing red coats and adventure on the high seas. Their first recruits comprised the five companies that served aboard Continental Navy ships. Many of whom wrapped their necks with high leather collars to defend against fatal saber cuts as they swung across to board the British vessels, to capture them and convert to continental navy warships. To this day, Marines are affectionately referred to as "Leathernecks".
So why, 247 years later do Marines across the globe come together to celebrate their birth? Well, simply put, they were ordered to. On Nov. 1, 1921, he issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921, which provided a summary of the history, mission and traditions of the Corps. The illustrious Lejeune directed that the order be read to every command each subsequent year on Nov. 10 in honor of the founding of the Marine Corps. But there is more to it than that. The Marine Corps is often described as more of a cult than a military branch of service. And perhaps it looks that way to someone who does not have the distinction of being able to call themselves Marine, for life. Because as the Marines say, "Once a Marine, always a Marine", and the Title Marine is not used until one actually graduates boot camp and is presented the coveted Marine Corps Emblem, affectionately called the EGA, for Eagle, Globe and Anchor by those few that wear it. The title Marine is summed up in this poem:
It Can Not be Inherited
Nor Can it Ever be Purchased
You or No One Alive
can Buy It for Any Price
It is Impossible to Rent
and It Can Not be Lent
You Alone and Our Own
have Earned It
with Your Sweat, Blood and Lives.
You Own It Forever
So now that you know why Marines celebrate their birthday, and just one of the very many reasons they are unique, it's time to talk about how they celebrated in Wine Country this weekend.
The Marine Corps Birthday Ball is a very formal, yet traditional event that includes a Guest of Honor, an oldest Marine, youngest Marine and of course a cake. This ball was no different in those aspects, as General LeJeune's order in 1921 that past, present and future Marines commemorate the birthday of our corps resulted ultimately in a Marine Corps Order, and of course inclusion in the Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Guide. But that's where the routineness stops.
The Guest of Honor at the Wine Country Marines Ball was none other than the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James T. Conway. The oldest Marine was SSgt Richard Nave, 92 years old and a veteran of the Chosen Reservoir. The youngest Marine was Cpl Evan Heath of the 23rd Marine Regiment. The narrator was 1stSgt Mario Tabarracci of 23rd Marines, and the National Anthem was performed by Captain Kelsey Casey a Marine Corps Fighter Pilot. Ceremonial Music was performed by the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West.
As tradition holds, the cake was cut with the Mameluke Sword, and the first piece went to the Guest of Honor. The second piece goes to the oldest Marine present, and he/she in turn passes it to the youngest Marine present, symbolizing the Marine Corps tradition of passing on knowledge, wisdom and experience from Marine to Marine through the generations.
Notable Guests attended the Ball, including the Deputy Consul General of Japan, Mr. Hajime Kishimori and the Vice Consul Mr. Reo Kobayashi. Also in attendance were family members of GySgt John Basilone, representatives of the US Coast Guard Pacific Area and District 11, 23rd Marine Regiment, RS San Francisco, Defense Cyberspace Operations, and most importantly - 20 Gold Star Parents were there to represent and honor their children who paid the full devotion of their duty.
The Ball this year, and thus the cake - was themed for the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal. Many Marines are aware that there were two landings at Guadalcanal, but they are not aware of the heroism involved in getting 500 Marines off the island safely from the first landing. The cake was themed for the campaign, the Commandant's speech was as well, and there was a special presentation following the official ball ceremony as well.
The cake was a three-tier tribute to the Marines who fought on Guadalcanal. The top tier, the traditional combat uniform, the middle tier the aerial view of the island of Guadalcanal, Australia and the expanse of ocean, and the lower tier the beach front the Marines landed on.
The Commandant gave a riveting speech that had guests bursting in laugher one moment, shouting out their best Oohrah!s, Yuts! and other Marine Corps war cries the next moment, and applauding more than a dozen times causing him to pause. He focused on our history from our founding, to Belleau Wood, and ultimately to Guadalcanal, the theme of this year's ball. Many senior SNCO's in attendance relayed to their younger Marines in the audience the rarity of attending such a ball and hearing such words of wisdom and inspiration.
View General Conway's speech here. (downloading enabled) (video credit: Jaime Payne)
View Oldest Marine, SSgt Nave (Chosen Reservoir) here. (downloading enabled) (video credit: Jaime Payne)
Following the ceremony, Wine Country Marines President James Brown, flanked by Chairman of the Board LtGen Rex McMillian and General James Conway, the Wine Country Marines presented to representatives from the United States Coast Guard (Captain Holly Harrison and Captain Tim Lavier) with a one of a kind Ka-Bar, engraved with the name SM1 Douglas A. Munro, and an image of the Medal of Honor. The plaque reads:
The United States Coast Guard, Pacific Area
United States Marine Corps
The Wine Country Marines
In Honor of SM1 Douglas Albert Munro, MoH
For his Sacrifice and Immeasurable Contributions
To the United States Marine Corps
After the presentation of the Ka-Bar, Captains Harrison and Lavier presented the Wine Country Marines with a jar of sand that they collected at Pt. Cruz, Guadalcanal, the hallowed ground where so many Marines, and SM1 Douglas Munro made the ultimate sacrifice.
Douglas Munro's Medal of Honor is inscribed with the following:
Thanks to Munro’s heroism, his swiftness of action, and excellent leadership, 500 Marines made it off the beach that day, and for this, Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor, the highest military award available to United States Servicemen. The 500 men he saved went on to help capture the Matanikau River early in October, which meant the beginning of the end for Japanese forces on Guadalcanal, who never fully recovered from that defeat.
Wine and Venue was donated by Fred and Nancy Cline and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, as well by Jim and Von Hurson of Valiance Wines, and Clayton Smith the grandson of our founder Iwo Jima Veteran Bruno Benziger (Capo Isetta and Benziger Wines).
The Wine Country Marines are also a Military and Veterans Non-Profit, and our mission is to provide much needed aid and comfort to our service members and veterans facing hardship. During the ball, in the courtyard outside of the ballroom, Wine Country Marines holds a silent auction and a raffle, in order to raise much needed funds to support this mission. 100% of funds raised go to the cause, and no member of Wine Country Marines receives any compensation of any kind. One of our key raffle items is a long range precision rifle. This year, the rifle was a Howa, 6.5 Creedmoor with American Flag graphics. The winner of this years rifle is 1stSgt Mario Tabarracci of the 23rd Marine Regiment.
The Wine Country Marines Ball is typically held on the first Saturday of November at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, a beautiful and fitting venue for such a magnificent event. Wine Country Marines are eternally grateful to the proprietors - Fred and Nancy Cline for their support, and more importantly for being the true patriots that they are, and that this nation needs.
Galleries are below, feel free to download. Photo credits to Dena Perdew of Crystal Clear Studios, Sonoma, Ca.
One Click Downloads of entire gallery
Ceremony Photos: (view/download in gallery - right click - then save as, or one click download with buttons above)
Photos contributed by Individuals: