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"The Marine Corps Birthday: What It Means To Marines."

Marines young and old and all over the world still celebrate that day, and remember the role being a Marine played in their lives.

By Bryan Kirk, Patch Staff
The Marine Corps Birthday: What It Means To Marines

Everyone has a birthday, and on Saturday the United States Marine Corps will celebrate its birthday. For the last 243 years, the Marine Corps has had the reputation of being the smallest, and the toughest branch of the U.S. military, and it is something that anyone who has ever been called Marine holds dear with a sense of pride, including myself.

In June 1986, my drill instructor called me "Marine" for the very first time in my life, and it is a title I have long cherished.

My journey started at the age of 22, on a bus ride to Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. It was April 7, 1986. I'd slept on the flight from Houston into Phoenix, where I and four other Houstonians had shipped out for boot camp. I would realize hours later how smart sleeping on the plane had been.

My first step off the bus from the airport landed me on a set of yellow footprints with a young sergeant yelling in my face. I was a little intimidated, but three months later I was a different man.

We went through field training, Marine Corps history, rifle marksmanship training, first aid training and had fire watch at night.

Before light's out each night we'd all lay in our bunks and hear the bugle playing loudly, and we'd all say the Marine's prayer that ended with, "Goodnight Chesty, wherever you are."

On the day I was called a Marine the first time, my parents were there and my girlfriend and her mother were there too, all of them making the long trek to see just whom I'e become.

I still remember my father, a disabled Vietnam veteran, walking around the perimeter of the auditorium to scan the faces of my fellow recruits to see if he could find his oldest son.

His eyes locked on mine and he smiled. I knew how proud he was of me in that instant.

Like all new Marines, I went home, then went to my school and was eventually assigned to a duty station in North Carolina.

We all had the same nick-names too: Devil Dog when it was coming from a senior Marine, or Jarhead, from our peers.

Along with the training, field ops, and missions we did as a unit, we also had fun, and that included celebrating the Marine Corps Birthday at the Marine Corps Ball on Nov. 10 of each year.

We'd celebrate the names of Maj. Samuel Nichols, who birthed the Marine Corps in Tun Tavern, Lt. Presley O'Bannion, who took on the Barbary Pirates, Lt. Dan Daley, who led the Marines at Belleau Wood in World War I and won the Medal of Honor twice. We'd remember the battles at Iwo Jima, and Guadalcanal in World War II, and we'd celebrate being Marines with our brother, sisters, and friends.

Marines young and old and all over the world still celebrate that day, and remember the role being a Marine played in their lives.

"Coming from a military family it gave me the experience of family, friends, memories and camaraderie that I used to hear about from my dad and uncles. I wouldn't trade it for the world," said retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Robert Holzworth, who lives in Tampa, Florida.

Terri Herrle, of Seguin, Texas, didn't serve in the Marine Corps, but she was the wife of a Marine. Her husband, Doug, served 21 years, in the Marine Corps and carried on that service to area veterans as the head of the local Disabled American Veterans, until his death in 2014.

"Doug was a Marine to the end. It made him the caring man of integrity that I was proud to be married to for 33 years before I lost him. Semper Fi," she said.

Chip Holtkamp, who recently recalled stepping on those yellow footprints to start his recruit training 32 years earlier, said it was one of the best experiences of his life,
"Wouldn't trade it for the world," said Holtkamp who lives in Millersburg, Missouri. "I met a lot of outstanding leaders. Made lifetime friends with outstanding memories. Allowed me to see parts of the world that many can only dream of."

While many like myself, have packed away their old uniforms and awards, there are some who never left that way of life. Eddie Flores, still works the boots on the ground as a military contractor in the Middle East.

"I owe my career to our Corps," said Flores, who lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. "At 51 I am still serving the war fighter as a contractor and loving that we can take care of our active brothers and sisters."

On Nov. 10, Marines all over the world will raise their glass in a toast again for birthday number 243. Some will reflect on the history.

But many more will remember their friends and take some pride in the eagle, globe and anchor, the Marine Corps motto - Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful - as well as the uniform and camaraderie they all shared when they were so very young. I know I will.

Semper Fidelis.