John McCoin, 73, retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve Corps.
But the Lawrence resident began his military career with the Marines in 1940.
"I'm kind of proud of my service," McCoin said Wednesday. "I joined out of patriotism and comradeship. I'm proud of the time."
After all, as the saying goes: Once a Marine, always a Marine.
McCoin was one of about 50 people who turned out Wednesday to celebrate the 229th birthday of the Marine Corps and have a slice of birthday cake cut with a Marine sword.
Following tradition, Marines on ships, on bases and in combat zones around the world participate in a symbolic cake ceremony to honor the Corps' special day.
It was the 14th year for a Marine Corps birthday party in Lawrence. And for the second year, the tradition for Marines was celebrated at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.
Most attendees said they attended the event every year. But this year's celebration, because of the war in Iraq, seemed bittersweet.
"They have a tough job," said Sam Hall, who was drafted in October 1965. "It's going to be a rough road. It's a hard situation to defend."
He said the war in Iraq was very similar to the battle fought in Vietnam. As soon as a place is secure, people fighting against the mission will roll back into the town or village, he said.
"It will take time," Hall said.
On the eve of Veterans Day, some of the servicemen said the traditional birthday party was another time to recognize the sacrifices of the men and women currently serving, to remember soldiers killed in action and to reflect on their time of duty.
Marvin Metzger, 82, joined the Marines because of World War II. He said he considered the Marines to be an admirable group of men, which was something he said was glorified in movies.
"We all kind of looked out for each other," Metzger said.
Hall agreed. He said while he had no choice but to serve, he chose to serve as a Marine.
Metzger and Hall said, however, they could have done without the basic training.
"That's something you don't forget," Hall said. "It's pretty grueling, and they expect a lot out of you."