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, Gen. John A. Lejeune, issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. Gen. 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, Gen. 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 Gen. 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. 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.”
Are you attending this year’s Ball? Check out Marine Corps Birthday Ball: Etiquette Do's & Dont's for essential tips and what to expect during a ball. If you would like to learn more about the Marine Corps and its traditions, attend a L.I.N.K.S. class. Click here to find a class near you.
Have you ever wondered why Tootsie Rolls hold significance with the Marine Corps?
Attending the Marine Corps Ball for the first time? Our helpful etiquette guide will tell you everything you need to know.