MANKATO — Members of the Marine Corps League’s Forrest G. James 589 will toast each other tonight to celebrate their military branch’s 244th year.
“Gotta have some of that grog,” Marine veteran Paul Wojahn said, then described the rum-based beverage’s connection to his branch of the military.
“As I understand it, the Marine Corps, as such, was founded in 1775 at a tavern in Boston. By drinking grog, we continue that tradition.”
Getting a piece of birthday cake will be a more involved process for Wojahn and his fellow Marines.
First, party revelers will join in singing “Auld Lang Syne” as part of a cake-cutting ceremony.
Dean Roberts, who was a sergeant stationed in Arizona during the 1960s, will take on the role of senior Marine escort of the cake, the person in charge of cutting the party’s centerpiece dessert.
Roberts will use a sword to cut the large sheet cake with a Marine’s eagle, globe and anchor emblem design in its icing. The ritual doesn’t stop there.
Wojahn, a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific Theater, will be handed a plate with the first slice that he will pass down to a fresh-faced Marine.
Wojahn, the eldest “leatherneck” in the room, is then served another piece of cake.
“Paul is the oldest member of our league and our sergeant at arms,” said Senior Vice Commandant Dean Roberts, of Lake Crystal.
The cake ceremony symbolizes how the experienced Marines are willing to share their knowledge with a new generation.
The attendee who is determined as the party’s youngest Marine and Wojahn, who celebrated his 98th birthday in June, will take one forkful of the dessert before their plates will be handed to a cake escort who will return those dishes to a dessert cart.
The senior cake escort then stands next to the cart and commands: “Detail attention, forward, march.” The oldest and youngest Marines accompany the cake as it exits the ceremony area.
This ceremony is conducted worldwide.
“After this, we will have our meal and then all will get a piece of cake,” Roberts said.
Wojahn, of New Ulm, makes a point to take an additional trek to Mankato each November to attend the ball at Morson-Ario-Strand VFW Post 950.
“I do this to remember the people I served with during World War II,” he said, then explained why he’s willing to share the spotlight with someone who’s not yet seen battle. “It shows them their part in carrying on the Marine traditions and hopefully, to recognize they are ready to defend our country — which is what we had to do when we were in.”
“We never say we are former Marines, we like to say, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine,” said Jack Collins, a Mankato Marine Corps League member, who assists during the cake ceremony.
Americans who want to show their appreciation may use social media to send greetings to the Marine Corps League; and it’s acceptable protocol to say “Happy Birthday” to a Marine on Sunday.
If the Marine served after the Vietnam era, his or her response likely will be “ooh-rah.” (That phrase wasn’t used by Marines until later decades.)
The origin of the Marine Corps traces to the American Revolution, when the Continental Congress called for two battalions to be raised to serve as landing forces for the Continental Navy.
Nov. 10 is celebrated as the date the resolution passed.
Since the Marine Corps was established, members have served in every major U.S. naval action and participated in all wars fought by the United States.