Marine Corps Ball Traditions Every Recruit Should Know

It's a celebratory toast to one of the most terrifying forces on the planet: the USMC anniversary, whereupon a multitude of Marine Corps Ball traditions take place each and every year.

The history of the Marine Corps begins on November 10th, 1775, when a branch of the US Armed Forces was created, in part, as a protective and domestic agent, yet it was intended as a swift and tactical task force that was capable of rendering even the most dangerous of areas into a pseudo-state of order whose actions and responsibilities were directly dictated by the sitting US president. What are the requirements for joining the Marine Corps? A whole hell of a lot of grit, stamina and courage, not to mention an attitude that's been molded and blended under a set of life principles that you'll carry to the grave. That is just one single part of what has made them a treasured and ever-loved faction in the history of the American military, but there are still quite a few things you may not know about the US Marine Corps

Among these secret Marine Corps particulars is a birthday celebration, for which many have forgotten the meaning of, since the military faction call it the "Marine Corps Ball." Decked out in dress blues while participating in anything from the cake cutting ceremony, to the singing of Marine hymns, a recruit's first ever Marine Corps Ball experience would point out that it's as much of a birthday party as it is an eternal writ of their ideal initiative. These are inundated under a plentitude of ongoing traditions carried out throughout the celebration, for which many a new service member might regard as either strange, or uncalled for; this is, after all, the Marines. If you've been added to the worldwide "Semper Fi" mentality, or have always been among them through family or interest, read on to discover some of the most ridiculous and spellbinding Marine Corps Ball traditions.

Unit Run

A delegation of the Continental Congress took place, like many early US political discussions, within a Philadelphia bar by the name of Tun Tavern. It was here where the Marines would be officially established after the drafted resolution met its approval on the 10th of November, 1775. 

Thus, to honor this great day as not only a celebratory one, but one upheld by absolute patriotism and dedication to this country, among Marine Corps Ball traditions is the unit run. Marine Corps service members from around the world partake in an early morning unit run early on November 10th, kickstarting the birthday celebrations like the centuries-old kickstarting resolution that had birthed their very existence. 

Guard Posting

As with practically any Marine Corps, or Armed Forces ceremony, one of the most obvious and unmistakable Marine Corps Ball traditions would have to be the posting of the guard. 

Under the rumble of excited boots and the clamor of a National Anthem sung in unison, nothing quite so tops off this extraordinary event as the guard posting. Veterans and active duty service members alike will don their dress blues and march alongside one another in the ritual of guard posting colors. 

Birthday Cake Escort

It wouldn't be a formal Marine Corps event if someone or something wasn't accurately escorted out into the foray; what better way to express adoration and dedication to the Corps than escorting the military branch's own birthday cake around for all to see? 

It may not be the most satisfying or extremely profound of all the Marine Corps Ball traditions, but it serves an underlying purpose in rectifying the good name of the Corps as a protective force and living spirit of its own. Traditionally, Marines will stand at attention while unwaveringly singing Marines hymns as the cake is transported to the center stage. 

Cake Cutting Ceremony

Having been initialized in 1952 by Commandant Gen. Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., the formulation of the annual cake-cutting ceremony no sooner took root and was an instant success among Marine Corps Ball traditions. It was even entered into the Marine Corps manual as of 1956, from then on becoming a key component of the Marine Corps birthday celebration. 

This custom is still upheld to this day, and involves, among the birthday cake escorting, the cutting of the cake with a sword. This symbolizes how the Corps delegates independence on both sea and shore, additionally in providing a concept of defensive mentalities in their own birthday cake cutting ceremony. That's unheard of and is not found in any other military branch.

First Three Cake Slices

After the cake's been adequately cut into the specified three pieces, the oldest officer and the youngest officer present are gifted these first two slices. It's among Marine Corps Ball traditions that actually somewhat makes sense and is highly anticipated. 

The third slice is offered to the current guest of honor, all of which is done to show, as the Marines are prone to expressing in practically any event, brotherhood, connection, and companionship. Those three service members can then intermingle as the procession continues into the oral tradition and recitation of the Marine Corps Order No. 47...

Reading from the Scroll

Along with reciting the Commandant's Message to all of those present, among Marine Corps Ball traditions is the "reading from the scroll," which service members most often refer to the reading of Order No. 47.  It's not always an actual scroll, but either one or two Marines will take to the center stage and discuss the birth of the Marine Corps, plus a brief history as to its calling and goal points. 

The reading from the scroll is, as most Marines consider it, a boring procedure since they literally know the Corps like the back of their own hands. Yet, for friends and family who were lucky enough to be granted as guests, this tiny portion of the entire event encapsulates the Marine Corps ideology, one that has now even tested to go beyond the likes of simple patriotism, and adheres to a more codified system inherent among the likes of family, brotherhood, and freedom. 

Marine Corps Birthday Pageant

It's not something you'd expect to see among Marine Corps Ball traditions, but the pageant was first inducted in 1951. Despite this fact, a few evidences reveal the Marine Corps pageant may have been inserted as early as the 1920s, due to a 1925 Leatherneck magazine showcasing some Marines from Utah undergoing their own pageant, for which the magazine states was "several years ago."

No matter when the pageant first took place, it's been continuously upheld since by way of annually memorializing past uniforms and equipment from certain periods. It's actually a hilarious spectacle to be a part of, but is not as often anticipated as other more active customs. 

Musical Performances

Though it's not as traditional as the other particulars off this list, certain musical performances and dances have taken place throughout the history of the Corps birthday celebration. For one, as with the recitation of Marine hymns, certain musical performances from past iterations were kept after the ceremony had simply become a "Ball," which wasn't until 1925 and most likely in Philadelphia. 

One such celebration held on Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania in 1923 involved a succession of dances and songs played throughout Marine barracks in the celebrating of the Corps' 148th birthday. Obviously, several variants and differentiated interpretations only evolved into the future, but after 1951 all November 10th celebrations were deemed a "Marine Corps Ball." 

Sporting Events

Among the less viewed Marine Corps Ball traditions are sporting events that, as of today, don't necessarily make it into the entire celebration, but back in the day was widely considered unpatriotic without them. 

The utilization of sporting events in the Marine Corps Ball can be first witnessed by the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station's birthday celebration, which was held on the 12th rather than the 10th. On the day of the Corps birthday celebration, service members partook in a range of activities, from water sports and shooting competitions, to a full baseball game and even boxing matches. Though they may not have made it into the formal celebration rundown, such sporting events would be capitalized in various iterations from across both time and place setting. 

Mock Battles

Even the Marine Corps birthday couldn't get any more militarily minded, some of its earliest renditions even preformed mock battles to show their valor and strategic superiority on the battlefield. Either by way of paying tribute to battles won and lost throughout their long history, the use of mock battles in the Corps Ball didn't get cemented into tradition as most other customs did, yet it still adds a hint of varied flavor to their history.

These recreations would be used throughout time, but one of the most memorable of Marine Corps Ball traditions was held on the Norfolk, Virginia Navy Yard. Portsmouth and Norfolk citizens would be witness to a 20 minute long sham battle held in commemoration of the Corps birthday. 

Wreathing of Samuel Nichols' Grave

Although slightly morbid and, yet, still among the most anticipatory events amid Marine Corps Ball traditions, service members will gather around the grave of the first official Marine Corps Commandant, Samuel Nichols, which can be found at the Arch Street Friends Meeting graveyard in Philadelphia.

In addition to ceremoniously wreathing his resting place while singing hymns and remembering his legacy within the creation of the Continental Marines, present military personnel will also sometimes leave parting gifts to show their connection, from life to death and well beyond, with that of the Corps and its many various histories. 

Donald Gray
Donald Gray

Politics may be a disgusting battlefield, but it is a necessary vice in our country, and a particular fancy of mine, like productivity and success. These are important facets in the modern world, and must be expounded upon.

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