Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominiqu
On November 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress ordered the creation of two battalions of Marines. Samuel Nicholas was commissioned as a captain of the nascent force of Continental Marines and at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Nicholas mustered two battalions of Marines and thus began the U.S. Marine Corps.
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 founding of the Marine Corps has been celebrated with a birthday ball every year since 1925. 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. 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 the 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, they will always hear “Happy Birthday Marine.”
When is the Marine Corps Ball?
November 10 is the official Marine Corps birthday, and the Marine Corps ball is ordinarily held on that day. However, circumstances vary, and given that Marines are all over the world, celebration dates might vary.
When is the Marine Corps Ball Celebrated by Units?
When in doubt, a Marine’s chain of command is the best source to answer this question. Marine Corps units effectively spread the word about the Marine Corps Ball, so it should be known well in advance that the ball is coming.
FACT: Most Marines are given plenty of notice by their units to get themselves ready and presentable for the ball. Remember, if a ribbon or medal refresh is in order, order well enough in advance to ensure they arrive on time. Notifying your date or spouse of the event in advance will also help them find something to wear in plenty of time. The more lead time, the better.
Photo by USMC Cpl. Gabrielle Quire
When is the Marine Corps Ball for the Marine Corps Reserve?
U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve units are similar to other Marine units except they are comprised of part-time Marines. Given many of the members have civilian job requirements and Marine Forces Reserve training requirements, Marine Corps Balls for the Marine Forces Reserve are held at the discretion of the unit.
FACT: This is a formal event, so guests/dates/spouses must wear formal, full length dresses for women, and tuxedos or suits for men. Marine Corps affiliated organizations recommend less cleavage and lower dress slits. Dresses should not be cocktail dresses. Men should wear suits or tuxedos. In both cases, the color and the outfit should complement the Marine’s uniform. Remember to keep it comfortable.
U.S. Embassy Guyana photo
When is the Marine Corps Ball if Stationed at a U.S. Embassy?
There are nine Marine Corps Embassy Security Regions around the world and believe it or not, the Marine Corps celebrates birthdays with a birthday ball at those remote locations. Ordinarily, the ambassador is the president of the ball, and the guest of honor is a dignitary from the host nation. The celebrations aren’t large, but they are still fun and meaningful.
FACT: Traditions are an important part of Marine Corps culture. It is important to adhere to those traditions and guests, newcomers or veterans to the Corps, must be respectful of tradition. The ceremony, which lasts about an hour, is the highlight of the evening. A cake will be cut, speeches will be delivered, and then there will be a reading of Gen. John A. Lejeune’s birthday message, and the birthday message from the current commandant. Nobody should standup during this time or leave their table for bathroom breaks.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert
When is the Marine Corps Ball if in training?
Marines in training will still celebrate, or at least pause to recognize, the Marine Corps birthday. Much is dependent on what training course the Marines are attending, but at the very least, a happy birthday greeting will be rendered.
FACT: The Marine Corps Ball is a social event, but don’t make it about social media. In many cases, there will be assigned seating which will require attendees to possibly speak to strangers or people they do not know. It’s okay to have another attendee take a photo but sitting at a table with a craned neck glued to a screen isn’t a good look. Be social, interact with other guests and take in the event.
Photo by D. Myles Cullen
When is the Marine Corps Ball if I’m deployed?
As mentioned, most Marine Corps units do something to recognize the birthday. At Camp Fallujah in 2004, during combat operations, Marines were seen and heard singing Happy Birthday in the showers. Later, they congregated for a austerely baked cake and did a ceremony as best they could with what they had on hand.
FACT: While alcoholic beverages are a part of most birthday balls (unless restricted due to general order restrictions overseas), there is no need or requirement to drink. If a Marine and their date imbibe, keep it within reason. Understand that the point of the ball is to recognize and honor the traditions of the Corps. Getting drunk is not a good optic.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ryan Young
When is the Marine Corps Ball if A Marine is Afloat?
Much like the circumstances faced when a Marine is deployed, being afloat might cause a modification in the celebration. This is a great time to be Semper Gumby. Remember, if on a ship, Marines are doing the work they’ve always done. Any celebration will be meaningful.
FACT: Conversations over dinner should not include topics like politics, religion, controversial issues, or any shop talk. This is a great opportunity to ask questions about those at the table. Where they are from? How long have they been associated with the Corps? Ask questions about their families, etc.
When is the Marine Corps Ball if Home on Leave?
Marines home on leave can celebrate the Corps’ birthday on their own, or find a local unit and see if they can attend that birthday celebration.
FACT: Toasts are a part of military balls. If a Marine or the Marine’s date are not alcoholic beverage drinkers, they should not refuse the toast. Not toasting is poor taste. Marines and their guests should use beverages suitable to their values and raise those glasses for the toast. For those who do drink alcohol, take small sips when responding to toasts. Do not chug or drink the entire glass. This is in poor taste.
When is the Marine Corps Ball for Marine Veterans?
Everyone knows, there are no such things as former Marines. Once a Marine, always a Marine. That said, Marine veterans if interested in attending a Marine birthday ball should reach out to local Marine units and inquire about attendance. If there are no local units or if Marine units restrict attendance to only unit members, then Marine veterans can explore veteran organizations nearby which likely will have an event recognizing the birthday.
FACT: The Nation until recently has been at war for more than 20 years. Without a doubt, the birthday ball will honor fallen Marines. Being ready for this emotional part of the night is important. Remember that this is a birthday celebration of Marines, past and present.Marines know when the Marine Corps birthday ball is, so when they are heard asking “When is the Marine Corps Ball?” it is more an acknowledgment that they know it is approaching, that they need to prepare, and that they are ready to recognize the birth of their beloved Corps. Semper Fi.