On November 10 every year, the Marine Corps celebrates the Marine Corps Birthday. One unique tradition in the birthday celebration is the cutting of the birthday cake. The first piece of cut cake goes to the Guest of Honor. The second piece is presented to the oldest Marine in the ceremony, signifying the honor and respect accorded to experience and seniority. The eldest Marine then presents the piece of cake to the youngest Marine present. The gesture symbolizes years of experienced Marines nurturing and leading young Marines. Just like every other branch of the American military, the Marines take great pride in their heritage and the veterans that lived through it.
I have always found this symbolic gesture special. I am well aware of the veterans who have paved a path for me. That path has given me the exceptional honor to have served in the mightiest military the world has ever seen.
More importantly, veterans have impressed the importance of sacrifice and duty upon all Americans, civilian or military, and in return, our country has learned to bestow great respect upon our servicemen and women. George Washington eloquently claimed, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”
I am particularly proud of the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans who now fill our country’s leadership positions. Our nation’s leaders from WWII demonstrated the power of education and military experience as veterans swelled colleges and universities through the benefits of the GI Bill and created the greatest industries in the world.
Our country’s leaders from the Korean War were the first service members to integrate helicopter technology into modern warfare and thus enabled our country to have the most powerful military in the world.
In recent times, Americans learned how to properly treat our military’s heroes after the shameful disrespect spewed at the Vietnam-era service members.
As a veteran of our country’s current conflict, I recognize and appreciate that my generation has benefited from the sacrifice and hard work of our country’s older veterans.
The soldiering life is enduring. Young Military men and women have always shared a bawdy humor that befits an adolescent handed so much responsibility. Moreover, combat is combat. The only thing that changes on the battlefield is technology. Warriors in all eras will similarly encounter fear, triumph, sacrifice, camaraderie, joy, and heartache. I experienced all these things as did every other veteran.
But what has changed is the average American’s sincere appreciation and support for the military experience. I enjoy hearing “thank you for your service” when someone learns about my time in the military. I am grateful to see the many rehabilitation programs our wounded warriors can attend, and I am eternally thankful for organizations like Operation Gratitude whose volunteers selflessly serve those who serve in uniform.
So, from the bottom of my heart and from a young veteran to all other veterans: Thank you for all your painstakingly good work. Thank you for the opportunities and the indomitable American spirit that have inspired my generation and benefited our nation.
Semper Fidelis. Happy Marine Corps Birthday. Happy Veterans Day!
Editor’s Note: As the Director of Strategic Operations for Operation Gratitude, John is responsible for developing programs to meet emerging needs in the Military community. He recently ended his active duty service as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps after two deployments with the “Thundering Third”– 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. John launched the Operation Gratitude Veterans Care Package Program in September 2012. We are thankful for his service and glad to have him as a vital part of the Operation Gratitude team!