Multiple generations of U.S. Marines came together Friday at the Dole Institute of Politics to mark the 237th birthday of the Marine Corps and to celebrate the bond that ties them all together.
It’s a bond that stretched from a 89-year-old who served as an enlisted Marine in World War II, retired Sgt. Lou Hammer, to 2nd Lt. James Saunders, a 24-year-old commissioned officer whose career is just beginning.
As the oldest and youngest Marines in the house, the two took part in a ceremonial cutting of birthday cake during the celebration. Afterward, they chatted near the Dole Institute entrance about where they’ve been and where they’re going.
“I really appreciate him being here, to know what his life in the Corps is going to be like,” said Hammer, a KU graduate and a Lawrence resident since 1946.
Hammer said he’d been to nearly every Lawrence Marine Corps birthday event since the tradition began at Lawrence City Hall more than 20 years ago.
Saunders is working as a physical therapist in Lawrence before he heads to Quantico, Va., for officer training in January. He said it was his first Marine Corps birthday event, and he appreciated the advice and perspective he’d received from retired Marines there.
“That’s what I love about the Corps,” Saunders said. “We are so tight-knit, you know. It really is a brotherhood.”
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran spoke at the celebration and served as the guest of honor. He said he felt uncomfortable with that title, though, when he was in a room with so many Marines who had served their country courageously.
“I don’t consider myself at all a guest of honor,” Moran said. “I’m honored to be with you.”
He said he hoped to pass on a message of thanks, respect and love — the same message he’d felt compelled to pass on to his father, a World War II veteran, over the phone during a visit to the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.
It’s appropriate, he said, that the Marines’ birthday falls during the week following Election Day, along with Veterans Day. After a prolonged period of partisan bickering, the values of the Marines offer a nice reminder of what matters more, he said.
“Washington must follow the example of our Marine Corps to show honor, courage and commitment when it comes to tackling the challenges we face,” Moran said.
At the ceremony, the KU Naval and Marine ROTC presented the colors, and the Lawrence High School Chorale sang the national anthem, as well as “America the Beautiful” and the Marines’ Hymn. A video presentation from Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, highlighted the service of Marines in the WWII battle of Guadalcanal and in today’s conflicts.
A birthday cake was cut with a sword, according to tradition, and the first slices went to Moran, Hammer and Saunders.
Afterward, retired Marines in attendance huddled together as they ate cake.
Retired Marine Sgt. Joe Oberzan, who served in Vietnam in the late 1960s, said the event provides an annual opportunity to revisit the connection he feels with other Marines.
“There’s just really a special camaraderie between Marines, no matter where you see them,” Oberzan said.