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After all these years of attending the annual United States Marine Corps Birthday Ball, it finally happened to me; my date was the oldest active-duty Marine present. I guess I had it coming.

Since 1989, I have been attending these annual celebrations that take place all over the world. It has always reminded me of prom night without the aggravation of having to worry about a date.

The "old Marine" and I did something this year that we have been talking about for a long time; we took all three boys along with us to the ball. They got all dressed up in rented tuxedos and managed to behave themselves all night, believe it or not.

I enjoyed experiencing the yearly ritual through the eyes of my sons. Jimmy repeatedly asked me throughout the evening, "So this is what you do, just stand here while Daddy talks to people?"

The first time he asked me this, I was standing over in a corner waiting for Ron to figure out he had lost me somewhere in the crowd.

Unfortunately, that happens a lot when my husband knows half the people in the room and I only know seven, including my sons. At least this year I had people to talk to.

I think the boys were impressed by their first Marine Corps Birthday Ball. Jimmy’s official take on it was, "It was cool, but kind of boring."

The most fun the boys seemed to have was in going around pretending they were James Bond in their formalwear. Jimmy even introduced himself to people by saying, "I’m Zich, James Zich."

Tommy described the evening as "fun" and said his favorite part was the food. "But write down something that makes me sound sophisticated," he told me, suggesting I replace "food" with "atmosphere."

Ronnie readily admitted that his favorite part of the celebration was the birthday cake. When asked if there was any "worst" part of the night, he said, "Yes! It was when they announced the oldest Marine."

"What was so bad about that?" I asked him.

"It was embarrassing!" he said.

Embarrassed or not, having their father called up in front of the crowd as the oldest active-duty Marine didn’t seem to ruin any of my sons’ appetites.

Nor did it discourage them from hitting the crowded dance floor with their "old Marine daddy" when the music started playing.

I noticed several other Marines had brought their children to the ball, who ranged in age from a few months to their teens.

Despite the long line of people waiting to get their pictures taken, everyone was patient with those of us who took more time to pose because we had extra people to squeeze into the photo.

There were no big events for the boys to witness, such as the time Ron saw a Marine faint during the ceremony and fall face-first into the birthday cake. But still, I think it is a night the boys will always remember.

And if they don’t, I took about a million pictures to remind them.

A mother of three boys, Pam Zich has been married to a Marine for 18 years and currently lives in Springfield, Va. You may e-mail her at homefront@stripes.osd.mil or visit her Web site at www.lifeonthehomefront.com.

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