Sites & Forums!
by R.W. "Dick Gaines GySgt USMC (Ret.) 1952-72 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!The
True Birthday Of The Marine Corps 11 July 1798
THE MARINES! SINCE 1775... OR 1798?
THE TRUE BIRTHDAY OF THE CORPS!
"... When the peace treaty with Britain finally
was signed in 1783, only the Continental frigate Alliance was still in
commission. A small Marine guard commanded by Lieutenant Thomas Elwood
stayed with the frigate until Congress decided to sell the vessel in September.
With the sale of the Alliance, the Continental Navy and Marines went out
From, The United States Marines A History,
by BGen Ed Simmons...
"...As for the Marines, only the slenderest
thread of continuity can be claimed by virtue of "marines" serving in
the Revenue Cutter Service...There were to be Marine "quotas"...not "detachments"
for there was no corps from which they could be detached...
...on 11 July 1798, the true birthday of
President John Adams approved...establishing
and organizing a Marine Corps."
Customs and Traditions
Marine Corps Birthday Celebration
"The U.S. Marine Corps begins preparations
for its "birthday party" every summer. Activities become more feverish
as the fall hues arrive. By early November, every Marine is either rehearsing
his role in the "party" or pressing, polishing, and spit-shining in order
to appear at his or her best for the Birthday Ball. This has not always
been the case, however. In fact, Marines have not always celebrated their
founding on November the 10th.
Formal commemoration of the birthday of the
Marine Corps began on 10 November 1921. That particular date was chosen
because on that day the Second Continental Congress resolved in 1775 to
raise two battalions of Continental Marines.
Until 1921 the birthday of the Corps had
been celebrated on another date. An unidentified newspaper clipping from
1918 refers to the celebration of the 120th birthday of the Marine Corps
on 11 July "as usual with no fuss." It is doubtful that there was any real
celebration at all. Further inspection of documents and publications prior
to 1921 shows no evidence of ceremonies, pageants, or parties. The July
date was commemorated between 1798 and 1921 as the birthday of the Corps.
During the Revolution, Marines had fought on land and sea, but at the close
of the Revolution the Marine Corps and the Navy were all but disbanded.
On 11 July 1798, President John Adams approved a bill that recreated the
Corps, thereby providing the rationale for this day being commemorated as
the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.
On 21 October 1921, Major Edwin McClellan,
Officer-in-Charge, Historical Section, Headquarters Marine Corps, sent
a memorandum to Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune, suggesting
that the original birthday on 10 November 1775 be declared a Marine Corps
holiday to be celebrated throughout the Corps. McClellan further suggested
that a dinner be held in Washington to commemorate the event. Guests would
include prominent men from the Marine Corps, Army, and Navy, and descendants
of the Revolution.
Accordingly, on 1 November 1921, General
Lejeune issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. The order summarized
the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps, and directed that it
be read to every command on 10 November each subsequent year in honor
of the birthday of the Marine Corps. This order has been duly carried
Some commands expanded the celebration during
the next few years. In 1923 at Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania, the celebration
of the Marine Corps' 148th birthday took the form of a dance in the barracks
that evening. Marines at the Navy Yard, Norfolk, Virginia, staged a sham
battle on the parade ground in commemoration of the birthday. The battle
lasted about twenty minutes, and was witnessed by Portsmouth and Norfolk
citizens. At Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the birthday was celebrated
on the 12th, since a special liberty to Santiago had been arranged on the
10th. The morning activities included field and water sports, and a shooting
match. In the afternoon the Marines won a baseball game, 9-8, over a Cuban
team. In the evening, members of the command put on a variety show followed
by four boxing bouts.
The first so-called "Birthday Ball," such
as suggested by Major McClellan, was probably held in 1925 in Philadelphia.
No records have been located of one prior to 1925. Guests included the
Secretaries of War and Navy, Major General Commandant Lejeune, famous statesmen,
soldiers, and sailors. The principle event was the unveiling of a tablet
on the site of Tun Tavern. The tablet was a gift from the Thomas Roberts
Reath Post, American Legion, whose membership was composed exclusively
of Marines. The celebration was held in conjunction with the annual convention
of the Marine Corps League. A parade included Marines, Regular Army, and
Navy detachments, National Guard, and other military organizations. The
evening banquet was held at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel and a ball followed
at the Bellevue-Stratford.
It is not possible to determine precisely
when the first cake ceremony was held, but the first on record was held
at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., in 1937. Major General Commandant
Thomas Holcomb presided at an open house for Marine Corps officers. Ceremonies
included the cutting of a huge cake designed after the famous Tun Tavern
From 1937, observances of the Marine Corps
Birthday appeared to develop spontaneously throughout the Corps as if
they had a life of their own. The celebrations were publicized through
every media. Newsreels, motion pictures, and displays were prepared to
summarize the history of the Corps. In 1943, standard blank Marine Corps
scrap books were forwarded to all districts to be filled with 168th anniversary
clippings, scripts, pictures, programs, and other memorabilia, and returned
to Headquarters. Unfortunately none of these scrapbooks remain in official
In 1951, a formal Birthday Ball Pageant was
held at Headquarters Marine Corps. Similar to the pageant today, the script
described the Marines' period uniforms and the cake ceremony. Although
this is the first substantive record of a pageant, Leatherneck of 10 November
1925 pictures Marines at a pageant in Salt Lake City, Utah, which had
taken place "several years ago."
On 28 October 1952, the Commandant of the
Marine Corps, General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., directed that the celebration
of the Marine Corps Birthday be formalized throughout the Corps, and provided
an outline for the cake ceremony, as well as other formal observances.
This outline was included in the Marine Corps Drill Manual, approved 26
Traditionally, the first piece of Birthday
cake is presented to the oldest Marine present and the second piece to
the youngest Marine present. When and where this tradition began remains
unknown. Some records indicate this practice, and others vary it depending
on the dignitaries present at the ball. First pieces of cake have been
presented to newlyweds, the Secretary of the Navy, governors, and others,
but generally speaking, the first pieces of cake go to the oldest and
youngest Marines at the ball.
At present, celebrations of the Marine Corps
Birthday on 10 November differ at posts and stations throughout the Corps.
All commemorations include the reading of Marine Corps Order No. 47,
and the Commandant's message to those assembled. Most commands sponsor
a Birthday Ball of some sort, complete with pageant and cake ceremony
as prescribed in the Marine Corps Manual.
Like the Corps itself, the Birthday Ball
developed from simple origins to become the polished, professional function
that all Marines commemorate on 10 November around the world."
(Read Major General John A. Lejeune's Birthday