Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

Two hundred and thirty-six years ago today, a bunch of drunk civilians were sitting in a bar in Philadelphia (I know, shocker — some things never change). And since this was a time before Facebook and Twitter and cell phones, they were, no doubt, actually talking to each other. And one of them must have said, “Yo! Y’know what we need?”

“More beer?”

“Besides that.”

“More women?”

“We need a Marine Corps!”

“What’s a Marine Corps? And can we have beer?”

That’s the official version of the birth of the Marine Corps — look it up.

It’s said that wherever a Marine is on Nov. 10, he’ll know it’s the Corps’ birthday and he’ll be part of a celebration, regardless of how small. And he might even get a piece of birthday cake.

I had 12 active birthday celebrations, and most were very similar–dress blues (except in Hawaii, where we wore the uber cool whites), fancy dresses for the ladies, a historical presentation, the recognition of the youngest and oldest Marine present (I was never either, thank God), the reading of Gen. Lejeune’s message (and the Commandant’s), the cutting of the cake, etc. All in all, a good time is had by all. Those who remain upright the entire evening, that is.

But there were a few that were more memorable than others. In no particular order:

1. 1990, Saudi Arabia: Even in the middle of a godforsaken desert, we (1st Marine Division) celebrated the birthday, complete with a multi-tiered cake, serenading by the 1st MARDIV band, and a quite memorable speech by the division commander, MGen. Mike “The Cobra” Myatt. By November, we’d been in the desert for nearly three months of mind-numbing boredom. And Gen. Myatt used the opportunity to tell us all that we could forget about rotating home anytime soon — we were here for the long haul, ’til the job was done, ’til we kicked Saddam’s ass. You could feel the wind leave our sails. We’d already bought into the rumors that we’d be rotating back to The World soon, when 2nd MARDIV (uptight Lejeune douchebags) came to replace us. Nope.

2. 1987, Somewhere in the Indian Ocean: I was aboard the USS Missouri serving as the Marine Detachment XO. We’d just completed a six-month pump in the Arabian Sea, keeping watch over our flock of “small boys” (destroyers and frigates) by night as they escorted Kuwaiti tankers in and out of the Strait of Hormuz. Less than 100 of us Marines aboard the Mighty Mo, but the crew knew damn well we wanted a cake. So the mess cooks made us one and we held a small (yet very Marine Corps) ceremony on the mess decks. As the only Marine officer present, we used my sword to cut the cake. It wasn’t much, but that night it was everything. Marines aboard a ship at sea — talk about keeping it real.

3. 1993, Korea (South): The commanding general of Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific, Lt. Gen. H.C. Stackpole — an American shogun in the Pacific — was invited to celebrate the birthday with the Republic of Korea (ROK) Marine Corps and speak at the event. I was his aide, so I was part of the official party. Now, Lt. Gen. Stackpole spoke about 24 languages — Japanese, some Chinese, Italian, something I called French, and who knows what else. But Korean (Hangul) was not his strong suit. But on the flight over, he said it would be great if he could deliver his speech in Hangul. When we landed, I was dispatched to go find a Korean translator (they have them in their military) and transcribe the speech in phonetic Hangul — so Stackpole could at least pronounce the words. It wasn’t fluent Korean, but it might work. So, unbeknownst to the assembled Koreans (and there was bunches), Lt. Gen. Stackpole rose and began delivering his speech — in Hangul. And. The. Crowd. Went. Bonkers. There is a very special relationship between the American and Korean Marine Corps, forged in blood, and Lt. Gen. Stackpole was one of the most respected Marines in all of Korea, so the place just erupted as if the Beatles had just walked in carrying Elvis on their shoulders. Never seen anything like it.

Got a birthday story? Post it in the Comments section. And Happy Birthday, Marines, wherever you are.

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