This month all over the world distinguished famous Marine Corps generals and heroes are speaking at Marine Corps birthday balls.
I had a very modest military career. I was never a general. I never wore stars. But I did wear the Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor with great pride.
I have the privilege to recognize our Guest of Honor, the Vice President of the Republic of Botswana, His Honor Mokgweetsi Masisi. Thank you to all the government of Botswana officials present, members of the diplomatic corps, and the Marine Security guards of United States Embassy Gaborone, U.S. Mission colleagues and family members, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, and fellow Marines.
I will now read a message from Secretary of State John Kerry on the 240th anniversary of the United States Marine Corps:
On behalf of the Department of State and all our employes serving overseas and at home, I wish the United States Marine Corps congratulations on your 240th birthday.
The Department and the Corps have a special, historic relationship. U.S. Marines have protected our embassies and consulates since 1948, but our common effort to promote peace and security around the world goes back much further. Your dedication to duty and achieving the mission gives us all the confidence to perform our work, knowing you are vigilantly protecting our security. We are extremely grateful for all that you do and your willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice, if necessary, to protect our great nation. Marines represent the very best of what America stands for, and America thanks you – not only on your birthday, but every day.
This past year I had the honor of re-opening our embassy in Havana, Cuba. As I watched the Marines who lowered the flag in 1961 pass it on to the Marines now serving in Havana to be raised again over our embassy, I observed the notion of “once a Marine always a Marine” and the values passed down through the generations. From our embassies and consulates to the front lines of our war zones, the courage and valor it takes to serve and fight for freedom is embodied by every Marine’s promise to support and defend the Constitution of the United States with true faith and allegiance. It is this promise that unites us in a bond unique to our great nation.
We continue to face many challenges as we work together to protect our people both abroad and at home, but we know the Marines are always there to ensure that America will succeed. For everything you do, we thank you. Happy Birthday Marines and Semper Fidelis!
This is my 24th Marine Corps birthday ball. I attended my first 11, so proudly, in Marine dress blues or camouflage utilities in the field. Now, as a mere civilian and mortal, I attend each year as a member of the United States Foreign Service to honor the Corps and our Marine Security Guards who so courageously protect us and our diplomatic missions around the world.
Years ago, when I told my friends at university I was considering joining the Marine Corps, they asked, “Why the Marines?” “They’re too…tough.” Among other unlovely descriptions they offered of my beloved Corps like “crazy” and “maniacal.” Well, you couldn’t tell a 22 year old knucklehead like me something is too tough. I had to rise to that challenge. Why can’t I join the Marines? I’m tough.
So I signed up for the Marine Corps officer selection program and was soon on my way to Quantico, Virginia. About one minute after my arrival in Quantico, I didn’t feel so tough. I felt as if I had joined a strange monastic sect where very big, very loud men with very little hair found me deficient in just about every way imaginable. But roughly 90 challenging – “challenging” is a commonly used euphemism in the State Department for “hellishly difficult” – days later I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
It was, it is, the proudest day of my life. What a privilege to be a leader of Marines.
I have been astonished by the bravery of fellow Marines in combat and their humanity and decency at battle’s end. I have seen Marine Security Guards under fire evacuate three U.S. Embassies, leading our people to safety and always the last to leave. I had the privilege to be the senior State Department security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad where our Marine Security Guards fearlessly stood post as mortars and rockets thundered down on our Embassy for days and nights on end.
As a former Marine officer and Foreign Service security officer I was charged to lead and inspire these Marines. They led me. They inspired me. And I am in their debt.
You’ve heard tonight about the legendary history and traditions of the Marine Corps. That legacy continues. It’s embodied in the Marines who have invited us to join them here tonight.
And tonight, around the world, in harm’s way, on board ships at sea, at our diplomatic missions, Marines are on duty. The magnificent men and women of our armed forces, our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, are risking their lives to protect us and our freedoms, many in circumstances almost unimaginably difficult and dangerous. God bless them all.
Aren’t we proud of them? I hope they are proud of themselves. No matter what they do the rest of their lives, they did this. They served their country. They were soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines of the United States of America.
What does it mean to be a United States Marine? The following is a story often told at Marine Corps Balls. Private First Class Michael Mansfield served in the Marine Corps from 1920 to 1922. He returned to Montana after his honorable discharge, attended and taught college, and then ran for public office. He was elected to Congress in 1942 and went on to become the longest serving Majority Leader in the history of the United States Senate. Among his many accomplishments he played an important role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. After he retired from the Senate in 1976 he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Japan where he served from 1977 to 1988. His personal awards and honors are too numerous to mention but include the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ambassador Mike Mansfield died in 2001 at the age of 98. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. If you want to visit his grave, don’t look for him near the Kennedy Eternal Flame where so many politicians are laid to rest. Look for a small, common marker shared by so many American heroes. Look for the marker that says, “Michael J Mansfield, Private First Class, United States Marine Corps.”
To the Marines of Marine Security Guard Detachment, United States Embassy, Gaborone, and to all Marines, past and present, who have served in our beloved Corps. Thank you, Happy Birthday, and Semper Fi!