The Diplomat and I went along to the US Marine Corps Birthday Ball, along with Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist, The Professor, Les Nichidas, and Cambodia & Trade. Every year the USMC celebrates its birthday. Formed in 1775, November 10th, by a Resolution of the Continental Congress this corps bore the name Marine; since that date, every year, Marines gather to honour their past and recollect their history. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne these “soldiers of the sea” have sought to remain equal to every emergency now as then; for every new marine to be a worthy successor to a line of illustrious men and women who have served.
The ball was heavy on champagne, heavy on regalia, heavy on formality. I know very little about the US military, barring what I see on various newsfeeds; I have grown up with the pomp and circumstance of British military parades; of bearskins, red tunics, massive monuments to this war or that. Britain is a nation with as much a warlike history as any other…and with such comes a need to honour, to reminisce, to bond. Seeing that same pomp at this US event brought home the intensely personal nature of such a corps. No matter what you may think of a country’s military actions or aims, this ball wasn’t to sanction those policies, rather to understand and remember people who have given their lives without question, for those around them. ‘Protect the warrior next to you” is a mantra as old as warfare, dating back to the Spartan hoplites who formed the concept of a phalanx in 690BC by ensuring their shields overlapped with the man to their left. If you failed to protect your comrade, you’d likely lose your own life and the battle. Yes, it was a party, but first, remembrance was given in the form of a video address by General James F Amos, the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
His address was heavy on pride, determined to make everyone very clear that the US Marines have never lost a battle, that their focus is iron discipline and combat excellence. As he pronounced: “This is what who we are…this is what we do!” The 238th birthday celebration was also the 70th anniversary of the landing on Tarawa, and the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Hue City. The address ended with a call to honour, a call to being faithful and a congratulations to every serving marine.
Also present was the US Ambassador, Kristie Kenney. The first female Ambassador to the Philippines from 2006-2010, she is now here in Bangkok. Her presence reflects the fact that the marines are those who protect US embassies. I have to say I was impressed with her “people skills” – well, it’s part of the job, to be honest, but she took the time to come round every table, greet people, engage in small talk, shake hands and move on. It is a lesson other Ambassadors should learn. She was ably followed by Major General Stacy Clardy III, a recently promoted two star General (since July). The man was one of those you just listen to when you hear the stories he has. I’m as guilty as every other armchair blogger of opining from the safety of my air-conditioned apartment. Meeting people like this makes me realise how little I ‘do’, how much I ‘say’. The man also glittered – Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and a Combat Action Ribbon. You can get a sense of the achievements…couple that with a story of struggling to save the life of a fellow marine, hands trying to stem bleeding, hold his hand as the man died….well you can see why he commands respect on a personal level.
Some people you don’t talk to. You just be silent and listen…and learn. I’ve met a lot of those types of people out here; it’s meant, for me, a growing awareness that the education of a British school in the 80s and 90s was not terribly impartial, that our superiority complex is based on laurels last won 80 years ago, which the current generation have no right to, unfortunately. Every nation rises and declines – it is the natural cycle of things. Britain is on the latter path at the moment – not that I think it is a bad place to be. With death comes rebirth, after winter comes spring…future generations have every opportunity to shine brightly and they will.
I digress. The rest of the evening was good, the food well cooked, served, delicious. Other high ranking Thai personages were in attendance. After the formality it descended into a chattering room where everything was talked about. Well, nearly everything. What is the axiom? Oh yes, you can talk to an American about absolutely anything, except politics and religion. If you want the ins and outs of a colonoscopy by someone you’ve just met…no problem. Asking about their views on the Tea Party might draw a stony silence; although, it does appear the axiom is being challenged these days. Some have taken a deep breath and jumped over the divide to allowing such conversations over Thanksgiving dinner. Google it…you’ll find a dozen articles discussing the “problem”.
Here’s some photos from the event:
One of the events at the ball, after the walk-in, National Colours and Anthem, was a Cake Ceremony. The cake is always cut with a sword, the first piece given to the oldest member of the Marines present, the second given to the youngest.
Before I leave you…there was one ritual at the ball that I found poignant and deeply respectful. The Marines always set a table, covered in a black table cloth, with a single black candle – it is for all those Marines no longer alive…to let them know they are remembered and always welcome at the birthday party.