JACKSONVILLE, N.C. -- Former and active-duty Marines and sailors joined distinguished guests and friends of the 2nd Marine Division for a parade in downtown Jacksonville, North Carolina, Feb. 6, to celebrate 75 years of faithful service to the nation and the unit’s partnership with the community.
The division was established Feb. 1, 1941, in Camp Elliott, California. Following the outbreak of World War II, the division’s Marines and sailors went on to see action in Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa. In the years after WWII, the unit continued its legacy in several conflicts, operations and wars.
The more than 5,000 member parade, believed to be the largest in Jacksonville history, began at Montford Landing Road and proceeded through East Railroad Street past City Hall, before ending at Riverwalk Crossing Park.
“It’s an honor to be out here standing in front of such a fine group of Marines who are dedicated to service,” said Capt. Marcial Garcia, India Battery commander, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. “I think the parade had a great turnout and the city of Jacksonville was very receptive of our Marines.”
Marine Corps veterans, many of which served in the Division, truly embodied the service’s motto, “Semper Fidelis.”
“Over the years, I have seen a lot of changes for the better,” said retired Gunnery Sgt. Raymond Byrnes, who served in the Marine Corps from 1959 to 1979. “During my time in the division and other commands, I remember going around the world, from Cuba to Vietnam. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
These veterans agreed that, although a lot can change in 75 years, Marines remain as steadfast as ever.
“It was a really unbelievable parade and one of the biggest Marine parades that I’ve ever seen,” said David DiPaola, a former captain and veteran of 2nd Tank Battalion from 1976 to 1983. “The division has seen some downsizing, but I don’t see any less enthusiasm in these Marines than I did back when I was still in. I think of the esprit the corps and the camaraderie that Marines still show. Semper Fi.”
The parade route concluded at Riverwalk Crossing Park, where Marines, sailors, families and friends gathered for games, food and other activities. Division units presented static displays of vehicles and equipment for the community to explore, ranging from tanks to artillery weapon systems.
Active-duty Marines and sailors took the time to celebrate alongside the local community and interact with the veterans who shaped the Corps into what it is today.
“There are a lot of members of the 2nd Marine Division that still live in the local area and they were out here today,” Garcia said. “It’s important to honor your heritage as well as the community in which you thrive in.”
The 75th anniversary celebration began Thursday, Feb. 4, with a memorial service honoring 2nd Marine Division men and women killed and missing in action from WWII to Operation Enduring Freedom. After the service, the division honored the legacy of their subordinate units with a battle color re-designation and individual awards for excellence. The celebration concludes with a free public concert by the 2nd Marine Division band at Northside High School at 6-8 p.m.