Marines celebrate 236th birthday in Pendleton

<p>Retired Marine Corps Col. John Turner cuts a cake with a sabre while celebrating the birthday of the Marine Corps on Thursday at his home in Pendleton.</p>

Ooooooh rah.

Their uniforms have been stored away, but their fierce Marine pride remained in full force. Local jarheads gathered Thursday evening to observe the 236th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. At the home of John Turner, a couple dozen Marines lifted their glasses to an organization that is older than the country it serves.

They are a proud lot.

“You’re a Marine for the rest of your life,” Turner said. “We don’t have ex-Marines.”

Turner is president of Blue Mountain Community College, but his blood will always run scarlet and gold. He retired as a colonel after teaching at the Marine Corps War College at Quantico.

He used a curved Mameluke sword to cut a corner of the birthday cake emblazoned with the Marine Corps emblem. As is custom, the oldest Marine in attendance served the first piece to the youngest. Richard Courson, 89, did the honors, handing a slice to Hart Sheldon, 32.

Courson, former Umatilla County circuit court judge, joined the Marines at age 17 after his mother signed the necessary papers. He stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima with thousands of other Marines during World War II. Sheldon, a Walla Walla welder, served from 1998-2002 in Japan and Thailand.

The passing of the cake symbolizes the passing of knowledge and experience to a new generation. Courson, one of two octogenarian Marines at the gathering, appreciates the rituals and the history.

“Tradition grows on tradition,” he said.

The origin of the Corps, Courson said, is traced back to a Philadelphia brew house called the Tun Tavern, frequented by George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. In 1775, a drive got underway at the tavern to recruit two battalions of Marines. 

Tongue in cheek, Courson said he tossed down a few ales with “Ben” at the Tun Tavern as they hatched the idea. The wig he had to wear, Courson said, itched like crazy.

The jovial ambience turned serious as the Marines listened to a video message from Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. They stood at attention as Art Doherty, a career officer who served at several different embassies, recited Marine Corps Order 47, a staple at every Marine birthday celebration.

As they turned back to conversation, it was obvious this group had a special bond. Jared Pennington, 32, said a Marine never lets down a fellow Marine.

“You would take a bullet for the guy next to you — the guy next to you would take a bullet for you,” Pennington said. “He’s got your back.”

“It’s a brotherhood,” said Robert Tully, who served in the 70s. “You can always count on the guy next to you.”

Boot camp is where young recruits learn the Marine way.

“We all start from the same cloth,” Doherty said. “Some of us stay for only a few years, some stay for 20 or 30, but once a Marine, always a Marine.”

Hence the Marine motto, Semper Fi — “Always Faithful.”

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