Most Viewed Stories
For Yuma Marines, Birthday Balls honor Marine Corps tradition
Celebrating History and Tradition
It's fairly obvious to the casual observer that the Birthday Balls held by the squadrons at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma are evenings filled with highly polished uniforms, beautiful dresses and the pomp and circumstance of an extremely formal event. But to the men and women who wear those uniforms, it is about so much more.
“Outside of coming home from combat, this is the biggest event of the year,” said Sgt, Major William Wiseman, of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. “My wife looks forward to it. Every year she buys a new dress.”
Wiseman explained that the Birthday Ball is just one of the ways in which Marines celebrate the creation of the Corps., which is held on or around Nov. 10 each year. It is also a time, he said, for Marines to share in the history and traditions that have been passed from one generation to the next, and to reflect on those who have worn the uniform, wear the uniform, and will someday wear it, as well as the sacrifices they have made.
“Ultimately we are celebrating the history of the Marine Corps through this ball. I tell Marines that the legacy you leave behind is the history we inherit,” Wiseman said. “All the Marines who came before us, and did these great things, made us better Marines by doing that because we inherit that legacy.”
Wiseman said for generations, Marines, no matter where they are deployed, will come together for this time-honored event. Celebrations, he added, range from the very elaborate ball, to a simple shared cake delivered into a combat zone — something he experienced once while deployed to Iraq in 2004 — to just quietly raising glasses in a toast.
“Given the nature of your environment, you will have to adjust. Obviously we weren't in our dress blues,” Wiseman said. “But there is always a cake. And there are always Marines cutting it. We may not have swords, there might not be a color guard detail, but we will march out there with rifles if we have to.”
Wiseman explained that the tradition of the Birthday Ball actually began back in 1925, with the first one being held in Philadelphia. He said that the reason Nov. 10 was chosen as the birthday of the Marine Corps was that on that day in 1775 the Continental Congress resolved to raise two battalions of Continental Marines.
The only other known observance of the Marine Corps birthday prior to that occurred in 1923, Wiseman said, when an evening dance was held at Fort Mifflin, Pa. Other observances taking place around the same time included Marines at the Navy Yard in Norfolk, Va., staging a mock battle on the parade ground and Marines at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, winning a baseball game over a Cuban team by a score of 9-8.
Wiseman said that over the years, the annual Birthday Ball continued to grow and take on a life of its own, eventually evolving into the polished and professional functions it is today. It was in 1952, he said, that then-Commandant, Gen. Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., formalized the cake-cutting ceremony and other traditional observances, which are still used today.
For example, he said, the Marine Corps policy now mandates that the first piece of cake cut during the birthday celebration must be presented to the oldest U.S. Marine present. The second piece, he said, always goes to the youngest Marine.
“It is symbolic of passing on the legacy on to the junior Marine,” Wiseman explained.
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma held its 236th birthday celebrations on Nov. 8 during a formal ceremony on the air station's parade grounds. The observance included a pageant of uniforms worn throughout the Corps' history, a traditional message from the Corps 13th Commandant, and the cake-cutting ceremony.
While the cake-cutting ceremony is the focal point of the Marine Corps' birthday celebrations, Wiseman said the highlight is definitely the pagentry of the Birthday Ball, which itself is steeped in military tradition.
Wiseman explained that there are 16 squadrons at MCAS Yuma, each of which will hosts its own Birthday Ball. He said since there are no venues in Yuma large enough for them to hold a single event together, each squardron puts on its own, and that they are held throughout the entire month of November. His squadron held its Birthday Ball on Nov. 18 at the Quechan Resort and Casino.
In true Marine fashion, Wiseman explained the reason the Corps celebrated its birthday and why the formal dance is such a part of it.
“It is who you want to become. Because when you are off in some far off land and the (expletive) is about ready to hit the fan, when you look at the person next to you, you aren't looking for his race, ethnicity, political views, or likes or dislikes,” Wiseman said. “You are looking for that one thing that made them want to become a Marine. That is what we are celebrating.”