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Whether in Europe, Afghanistan, on a boat in the middle of an ocean, or here in Lawrence, active and retired Marines are eating cake this weekend and celebrating the 238th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Friday was also the 21st time the city and Kansas University jointly celebrated the genesis of the Marines. At a ceremony at the Bob Dole Institute of Politics, local Marines gathered for cake, song and "sea stories."
Mike Denning, director of KU's Office of Graduate Military Programs emceed Friday's event, and the Lawrence High School Chorale was on hand to sing the national anthem, "America the Beautiful" and the Marine hymn. There as guest of honor was retired Lt. Col. Perry Puccetti, currently president and CEO of technology consulting company Triple-I Corp. in Overland Park.
Puccetti said that "the man, the Marine, the CEO and the father" he is today he owes to his military service and an early desire to carry on the legacy of the Corps.
As a child, the stories Puccetti's uncle told of his own military experience in the Pacific theater during World War II set Puccetti's imagination ablaze, driving him into libraries to read about the marines and the war and, eventually, to serve himself. For Puccetti, the continuation of Marine tradition from one generation to the next defines it as an institution.
"Every organization has a history. Fewer have a heritage," he said.
The transference of the Marine legacy from one generation to another also helps define the Corps' birthday celebration, which is laden with symbolism and formality wherever it takes place. Cake, after being cut with a sword, is passed from the oldest Marine in the room to the youngest, meant to represent the Marine's heritage transferring from older generations to younger.
At the Dole Institute Friday, the oldest Marine present was James Stokes, 90, of Lawrence, who passed a piece of cake to Edward Stimac, 29, of Kansas City, Kan.
Stimac is a student at Kansas University and enrolled in the Naval ROTC program at the university. He has served in the Marines since 2007, with plans to become an officer and eventually a pilot after graduating. Stimac said the Corps' birthday "is more important than my birthday."
"Every single Marine will eat cake this weekend," he said.
The first such celebration in Lawrence took place in 1991 and drew just five KU veterans. It has since outgrown several locations before finding its current home at the Dole Institute.
Ervin Hodges, a former Lawrence mayor and retired Marine who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, was one of the first to attend the Lawrence celebrations. Since then he's been to every Lawrence birthday celebration, or near to it.
At the Dole Institute Friday, Hodges said the yearly celebrations are a time for "Marines to take a short break and remember those who served before them."