By Elaine Owen, Editor ~~
The 242nd Marine Corps Birthday Ball was held Nov. 4 at The Club at Bear Claw on Tennis Court Road in Blue Ridge. With greetings of “Ooh-Rah!” or “Yut!” the Devil Dog ‘bark’, or the more traditional greeting of an officer, “Good Evening, Sir,” Marines love to sound off to each other.
Cocktail hour was scheduled for 1730 (5:30 p.m.) with more than 60 Marines and their guests strolling around the tennis courts, enjoying the fall weather in the mountains, and greeting long-time friends or meeting new ones.
At approximately 1830 (6:30 p.m.) guests dressed in full Marine uniform or other finery, found their seats, and the lights went off.
Jeff O’Neill, Commandant, Marine Corps League, Lake Blue Ridge Detachment #1438 welcomed the group to the 242nd Birthday of the Marine Corps.
Rev. Ron Wikander gave the Invocation, beseeching God to help us always prove ourselves a people mindful of His favor and glad to do His will.
“Save us from violence, discord and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every
evil way. Defend our liberties and fashion into one united people the citizens of many races and languages. Provide your spirit of wisdom to those who exercise the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace…show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.
“Take away all hatred and prejudice and whatever else may hinder us from godly union…fill our hearts with thankfulness…and sustain our trust to persevere. Take into thy almighty and most gracious protection the United States Marine Corps, and all who serve therein. Preserve them from violence of the enemy so that they may continue to be a safeguard to the United States of America…so that we may live in peace and quietness and serve God.”
A short video from the Commandant of the Marine Corps began the ceremony.
Commandant General Robert Neller message was (in part), “Seventy-Five years ago today, after months of fighting at Henderson Field and along Edson’s Ridge, Marines on Guadalcanal spent the night of 10 November 1942 planning and preparing. Although the Battle of Guadalcanal would continue for three more months, the plans laid on our Corps’ most sacred day became integral to the amphibious campaigns that followed. Success at Guadalcanal proved to be the turning point that ultimately paved the way for Allied victory in the Pacific. Those warriors defended their positions in brutal conditions against a formidable enemy – and triumphed.
Through every major conflict our Nation has seen since the Revolution, Marines performed their duty with utmost courage, devotion, and raw determination. Their valiant deeds in the face of overwhelming challenges give us confidence and inspire us to meet the trials of today. As we pause to celebrate the birth of our Corps this year, we honor the legacy that was passed down to us and we recommit ourselves to carrying those traditions into the future.”
Colors were presented, the National Anthem played.
Following tradition, a message from General John A. Lejune 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, was read. Part of it included:
“On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousands of men have borne that name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the Birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history…So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.”
After the cutting of the Birthday Cake, the oldest and youngest Marines were introduced.
Gunnery Sgt. Bobby V. Armstrong, USMC (Ret.) was the oldest Marine in attendance. He served on two aircraft carriers in World War II, China and Vietnam. Accompanying him were his son and two granddaughters. The youngest was SSgt Malachi McPherson who joined the Marine Corps in 2007 and became a Marine Recruiter in July 2017. SSgt McPherson is now assigned to the 6th Marine Corps Recruiting District, Blue Ridge. He is married to Lindsey McPherson and they have 4 children.
Col. Mike E. Nunnally introduced the speaker, (Ret) Brigadier General Denis L. Shortal who graduated the University of Missouri. He was a naval aviator, flew 300 combat missions in Vietnam. His last assignment was as the Commanding General, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Camp Lejeune, NC. He retired from the Marine Corps Nov. 1, 1994.
General Shortal immediately connected with every person in the club. Without the aid of notes or a script, the General strolled between tables, speaking directly to each person, recognizing some marines by name.
The General began with an encounter he had with a 6’4” gunnery sergeant named Elmo Clark, an 18-year-old squad leader who loved combat movies. While that encounter was not what he expected, the Gunnery Sergeant basically told him, “Now remember—don’t forget.”
Shortal said, “He was an inspiration. As long as I live, I will note the pageantry and sacrifice as Elmo Clark explained the whole history of the role of sergeants in the Marine Corps.
“He was an inspiration to me then, inspiration to me now, and will be an inspiration as long as I live. When I was promoted he wrote me this quick note that I want to read to you. He wrote, ‘Long before my time, the well-known part of the Marine Corps began with blood and smoky noise. Everything is a part of circumstances. The pageantry of ceremony includes the tragedy of sacrifice. Pride cannot be taught nor explained. I used to tell my Marines about it in my own clumsy way. Only certain boots that are susceptible can catch it and only a few of those can maintain their perspective and their will to do what has to be done. I offer my congratulations.’
“That to me sums up the United States Marine Corps. Lewis Battle (sp?) once said, ‘Don’t go where the path may lead. Go your original path and make a trail.’ Gunnery Sgt. Elmo Clark made a path for me for the rest of my life.”
Gen. Shortal described early battles of the Corps, calling out a specific Marine, Lt. Hawkins, in the 2nd Marine Division who fought against Japanese forces in 1943 and repeatedly risked his life to reclaim a beachhead. Even after he was seriously wounded, he refused to be withdrawn and was an inspiration during the battle to his Marines. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Gen. Shortal told the crowd that what was most important about the encounter, was what the Lieutenant said when they tried to evacuate him.
“He made one of the most profound statements I ever heard in my life, ‘I did not come here to live forever.’ Passionately, Gen. Shortal said to the attentive group, “What I want to tell you is this, I love heroes, especially Marine heroes. And Lt. Hawkins was an example—he showed how ONE INDIVIDUAL CAN TURN THE TIDE OF BATTLE.
“The objective was to accomplish the mission at all costs. Victory was ours. But there were 17 Japanese survivors out of 4,700. And there were 3,000 Marine casualties.”
Other memories, other victories, other heroes, and other losses.
“Many think the Marine Corps is banners, fancy rifles, fancy aircraft (F-18s, F-4s), fancy uniforms…whatever you’ve got…but that’s not the Marine Corps. The heart of the Marine Corps has always been—and the heart of any unit–is dedicated Marines. The individual Marine is what makes the United States Marine Corps. In doing their duties, they bring credit to our country and to our Corps.”
The General then asked those who have served to stand and be recognized. “Thank you for your service,” he said.
“The Marine Corps is a few simple disciplines practiced every day. And for those of you who have been in the Corps, you know that’s what we do. Many of you here tonight have stood on the front lines of history. You are the patriotic warriors. You’ve walked the walk…not talked the talk.”
He then asked for a moment of silence for those lost, ending with, “For those who gave up their tomorrows so that we might have our todays. In my own inadequate way, I try to carry their banner with me with honor every day of my life. And I’ll do that, as long as I walk the face of the earth.”
In closing, General Shortal thanked the families who “bear the brunt of having to sacrifice for having a loved one who serves in the United States Marine Corps. Their support is critical and should never, ever be underestimated.
“So today, I celebrate with you, the Blue Ridge Battalion, the 242nd Birthday of the United States Marine Corps. On this day, we remember the sacrifices, the pain, the heritage, and everything else that has been handed down to us from generation to generation. Remember those we lost. And then…we celebrate!”