Montana town preparing for Marines' birthday celebration
The (Kalispell, Mont.) Daily Inter Lake
Before the Halls of Montezuma and the shores of Tripoli, the U.S. Marine Corps was defending the interests of the American people and fighting for freedom in the American Revolution.
Today, millions of men and women have served in the Corps, and their service and traditions are celebrated each year in November at Marine Corps birthday balls across the world.
Here in the Flathead Valley, that celebration will be Nov. 9 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kalispell and will mark the Corp’s 238th birthday.
Hosted by the Flathead Marines, a nonprofit service group, the ball is open to the public as well as former service members.
Celebrating the birthday of the Marine Corps is more than just a tradition. In the Marine Corps, it’s an order, and in the Flathead Valley, it’s a welcome way to remember fallen comrades, strengthen ties of friendship and service, and raise some money for local charities.
Money raised from ticket sales will offset the cost of the celebration and any remaining money will be used to assist local charitable veterans organizations, according to Tim Norton, a member of the Flathead Marines who is involved in organizing the local ball.
For the past three years the Flathead Marines have hosted the event, and they have seen attendance grow from year to year, in part thanks to a large military community in the area as well as general interest from those who have never served.
“The Flathead Marines have become a close family that has grown to more than 175 Marines here in the Flathead and our military service spans from World War II to the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” according to a statement from the Flathead Marines.
“One of the things that makes the ball special to me is that no matter where you are as a Marine, your ties to the Corps are always strong,” said Patrick Ward, a member of the Flathead Marines who is on the ball planning committee. “Whether you did four years or retired, the Corps will always run strong and deep. I’ve met new friends, rather brothers and sisters, that I share a bond with even though I never knew some of them until about two years ago. I immediately felt comfortable around them because they are Marines. The ball is about Marines helping Marines and their community. It shows that even though we don’t carry a rifle anymore, we still can, and do, make a difference, no matter what we do or where we are.”
An evening of dinner, drinks, dancing, and camaraderie, the event will feature live music by local band Swing Light, fronted by BJ Lupton, owner of Snappy Sport Senter, and guest speaker Lance Cpl. Tomy Parker.
While on a foot patrol in the late afternoon of Dec. 11, 2010, Parker, a Ronan native, stepped on an improvised explosive device, resulting in a left leg amputation at the hip, a right leg amputation directly above the knee, and all of the fingers on his left hand, leaving only his thumb.
“It means a lot to be asked to speak at an event like this,” said Parker, who served with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. “It’s quite an honor, and I hope to see a really good crowd come out to support it.”
Although the Flathead Valley is not home to any major military installations, carrying on the tradition of the Marine Corps Birthday celebrations is something that members of the Flathead Marines and other community members feel is important.
“Some of these people won’t be around for much longer, and it is important to honor them when we can,” said Laron “D.” Shannon, a Flathead Marines member involved in the ball planning. “It’s our heritage, and it should be remembered. But you also get to see the new generation, kids like my son, Colin, coming home in their blues and continuing those traditions, while connecting with us old farts.”
Formed by an act of the Second Continental Congress on Nov. 10, 1775, the Continental Marines were the historic start of the modern-day Marine Corps, even though they were disbanded in April 1783. They re-formed July 11, 1798 in preparation for war with France, and have been in existence since then.
Although the Corps is steeped in history and tradition, it wasn’t until 1921 that the Marine Corps officially recognized and celebrated its birthday on Nov. 10, and it wasn’t until 1925 that the first ball was held in honor of the Corps’ creation.
In 1956 formalized celebrations, including an official cake-cutting ceremony, were added to the Marine Drill Manual, and the Flathead Marine ball follows those traditions.