The US Marine Corps mark their 245th year since formation in 1775 on November 10th, 2020. Though every branch of the Armed Forces celebrates their birthdays, the US Marine Corps is known for much-anticipated formal balls and opulent cakes as a traditional way to celebrate the occasion.
The Few. The Proud.
Formed by resolution of the Second Continental Congress at the dawn of the American Revolutionary War, the US Marine Corps, then the Continental Marines, were led by Captain Samuel Nicholas. Granted authorization to form two battalions of Marines, Nicholas set off to sea with 300 enlisted men from Philadelphia in December – plotting their first amphibious landing in the British-controlled port city of Nassau, Bahamas. Within a year, the Marines were fighting on land as well – supporting General George Washington in New Jersey at the Battle of Princeton. Though small in number at this time, Marines fought fiercely before being disbanded at the conclusion of the war – only to be resurrected as the United States Marine Corps in 1798.
The US Marine Corps made a slow and steady rise to prominence from their efforts in the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War. In 1834, Congress passed an act making the Marine Corps part of the Department of the Navy – acting as a sister service to the US Navy. As Marine detachments onboard Navy ships, the US Marines made significant contributions towards the success of the Navy in war. When Civil War befell the United States, about 1/3 of the Corps’ officers joined the Confederacy – marking the start of a particularly troubling period of USMC history. From the end of the Civil War through to the end of the 19th century, the Marine Corps mission was questioned frequently – especially as the US Navy advanced from sail-powered ships to steam power.
As the world began to choose sides and fight in World War 1, the US Marine Corps served as part of the American Expeditionary Force. With a large number of the Marine Corps members having battle experience, the well-experienced officers were able to successfully expand the size and capability of the Marine Corps as a whole under their lead. It was at this time that word reached back to the US the Germans fighting on the Western Front had nicknamed the Marines they were facing “Devil Dogs” due to their reputation as skilled marksmen. The nickname stuck – and so did the Marine Corps reputation as skilled fighters who instilled fear in the enemy.
Shortly after World War 1 ended in 1918, General John A. Lejeune, in 1921, issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921 – which summarized the history, mission and tradition of the US Marine Corps. Further, it directed the order be read to all Marines every year on the anniversary of the Marine Corps’ formation (November 10th) in honor of its founding. This prompted various Marine Corps barracks to not just honor the founding of the Marine Corps but celebrate it. Formal dances quickly took shape and, by 1925, the first “official” Marine Corps Birthday Ball took place in Philadelphia – back in the very city when the US Marine Corps was first formed. The Birthday Ball took off from there – with a cake cutting ceremony being added as a formal part of the celebration in 1952. In addition to cake cutting (with the oldest Marine present getting the first piece), other birthday ball traditions include a reading of the Commandant’s birthday message and – more often than not – a legendary hangover the next morning.
Happy 245th Birthday to the US Marine Corps!