MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The mood was joyous and the scenery a mélange of scarlet and gold as hundreds of Marines and sailors of the “Follow Me” division filled Goettge Memorial Field House here Feb. 3.
Ranked from brigadier general down to private, they had gathered alongside veterans of their infantry units to celebrate the 65th birthday of their parent command, the 2nd Marine Division.
The more than 200 elderly veterans were members of the Second Marine Division Association, an organization of approximately 8,000 members who memorialize their unit’s lineage, honor outstanding individuals within the division and award scholarships to sons and daughters of former and current unit members. They had traveled from around the nation to celebrate this momentous occasion and to swap a few drinks and tales with members of “the new Corps.”
The celebrations here had begun Feb. 2 aboard Marston Pavilion, where Marines and sailors young and old shared war stories over finger food appetizers, drinks and desserts. A guitar player from the division’s band provided a musical ambience as the veterans conversed with their brothers-in-arms of decades later.
As the evening wore on, both parties recognized how much common ground they shared and how an age difference of sometimes more than 50 years meant little among leathernecks.
“I really didn’t know what to expect at first when I came here tonight,” said Cpl. Kevin Dixon, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion. “When we started talking, I realized the only difference between us and them was that we’re younger and they’re older. They’re Marines just like us, and have been through experiences we can all relate to.”
“What we say about ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine’ seems like an understatement to me now,” said fellow Marine Cpl. Brady Sorrels, agreeing with Dixon. “I wish every Marine could experience something like this.”
For ‘Doc’ Ed Hendrickson, a Navy petty officer 3rd class who served as a pharmacists’ mate from the mid-1940’s throughout the early 1950’s, the interaction was just as enriching.
“This was my first trip back to Lejeune since ’52,” he stated. “It’s very emotional for me, and I like what I see. So much is being offered to make (these Marines) into the best units possible, and I think the Marines nowadays are receiving the best they possibly can.”
The following morning, however, the mood was somber as association members and Marines filed into the Main Protestant Chapel here to memorialize warriors killed and missing in action in battles past and present. After introductory remarks and a benediction from Cmdr. Gary Carr, 2nd Marine Division’s chaplain, candles were lit for fallen brethren in every major battle the division has fought, from Tarawa to Tinian, and Saipan to the ongoing Iraqi Freedom.
Following the memorial, the division held its battle colors rededication ceremony inside Goettge Memorial Field House. Each of its 19 battalions was called during a role call as the respective unit’s battle colors were raised.
A Marine from each battalion, walking side-by-side with an association member that had served in that unit years before, then walked up to the division’s battle colors and replaced what streamer their unit contributed. This is a Marine-Corps wide tradition of unit standards bearing a set of streamers denoting what campaigns they have participated in.
The words of Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, then rang throughout the field house as his birthday message to the 2nd Marine Division was read.
“On behalf of all Marines, it is an honor to send congratulations to the Marines and sailors of the 2nd Marine Division,” Hagee’s message stated. “From the sandy beaches of Tarawa and Saipan to the dust and grime of Afghanistan and Iraq, the “Follow Me” division has consistently answered the nation’s call to arms with professionalism, selfless sacrifice and courage under fire.”
“Semper Fidelis and keep attacking,” concluded Hagee’s message.
Association president Jim Evans then took the microphone, thanking the Marines and sailors of nowadays for continuing the proud legacy of the unit and for welcoming his men and women aboard the base.
“Everyone is thanking us, but we should be the ones thanking you,” Evans said, following it with a heartfelt ‘ooh-rah’ and stating that the troops of nowadays are just as bold as the ones who came before. “There are no boys in the service. There are no girls in the service. There are men and women in the service.”
Lastly, Brig. Gen. Joseph J. McMenamin, 2nd Marine Division’s assistant commander, walked alongside Evans to present several Marines and one sailor with the unit awards recognizing excellence in marksmanship, leadership and overall performance.
Upon concluding the ceremony, the troops filed out of the field house, but a lingering feeling of pride stayed inside young Marines like Lance Cpl. Wesley Posey.
“I felt a lot of pride getting to be among all these former Marines,” said the infantryman with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, who had hung his unit’s streamer atop the division’s battle colors. “When they stood up, thanked us and clapped for all of us … I’ve never felt pride like that before.”
Second Marine Division personnel continue writing a new chapter into their unit’s illustrious history as thousands of these Marines and sailors keep fighting terrorism overseas.