History of the Marine Corps Birthday Ball
The annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball is a celebration of Marine Corps history and traditions. It represents where the Marine Corps started and where it is now while giving us a glimpse of the past, present and future. Throughout the world on 10 November, Marines celebrate the birth of their Corps -- the most loyal, feared, revered, and professional fighting force the world has ever known.
In 1921, the 13th Commandant, General John A. Lejeune, issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. General Lejeune's order summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps. It further directed that the order be read to all Marines each year on 10 November to honor the founding of the Marine Corps. Soon after, Marine commands began to not only honor the birthday, but celebrate it. In 1923 the Marine Barracks at Ft. Mifflin, Pennsylvania staged a formal dance. The Marines at the Washington Navy Yard arranged a mock battle on the parade ground. At Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Marine baseball team played a Cuban team and won with a score of 9 to 8, but this was only the beginning.
The first “formal” Birthday Ball took place in Philadelphia in 1925. Guests included the Commandant, the Secretary of War (known today as the Secretary of Defense), and a host of statesmen and elected officials. Prior to the Ball, General Lejeune unveiled a memorial plaque at Tun Tavern, the birthplace of the Marine Corps. Then the entourage headed for the Benjamin Franklin Hotel for an evening of celebration.
Over the years the annual Birthday Ball grew, taking on a life of its own. In 1952, Commandant General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr. formalized the cake-cutting ceremony and other traditional observances. Current Marine Corps policy mandates that the first piece of cake must be presented to the oldest U.S. Marine present and passed to the youngest Marine representing the passing of tradition from generation to generation. The birthday cake is traditionally cut with the Mameluke sword. The first piece of cake is given to the Guest of Honor. Traditionally, the second piece is given to the oldest Marine, then handing the third piece to the youngest Marine signifying the passing of experience and knowledge from the old to the young of our Corps. Among the many such mandates is the reading of the Commandant’s birthday message to the Corps. Like the U.S. Marine Corps itself, the annual Birthday Ball has evolved from modest origins to the dignified function it is today. On 10 November, regardless of where Marines are stationed or deployed, you will always hear “Happy Birthday Marine.”