Leave it to the U.S. Marines to find novel ways to celebrate their 215th birthday Saturday in a liquor-free desert.
Marines delivered as much pomp and ceremony as they could. At the main party, a band from the 1st Marines Expeditionary Force slung rifles and gas masks with their trumpets and tubas, escorts carried a birthday cake on a stretcher and a color guard adorned in desert camouflage instead of dress blues paraded with the U.S. and Marine Corps flags."We'd have to be up to our ears in firefights to keep us from celebrating," said 1st Sgt. George Spear, 40, of Coleman, Ala.
Spear recalled a time 21 years ago when he was pulled off Hill No. 41 near Da Nang in the Vietnam War and put on duty in the rear as a cake carrier.
"No matter where we are, we're going to take time out to celebrate who we are and what we are," said Spear.
According to one unconfirmed report, a Marine had called to make dinner reservations for 30,000 at a hotel in Kuwait City. That's how many Marines are on the ground in Operation Desert Shield.
Marines in the remotest desert foxholes took time from their duties to mark the day in 1775 when the Continental Congress authorized the formation of two battalions to fight on land and sea.
Since then, the Marines have fought storied battles at the Argonne, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir and Khe Sanh. The Marines have been called on more than 240 times to charge ahead on foreign shores.
Every Marine in the world celebrates the birthday. At the main desert celebration, they ate a three-tiered yellow cake with white icing from disposable plates. Some units toasted themselves with non-alcoholic beer.
"Marines, you're a special breed. There are no others in the world like you," said Lt. Gen. W.E. Boomer, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force deployed in Saudi Arabia.
Boomer then cut the cake with a saber. The traditional drink of rum was missing because alcohol is taboo in conservative Saudi Arabia.
The Marine band was flown by helicopter to 18 desert stops in the past two days to entertain the ranks.
Elsewhere, the Marines gave a special reception to Brig. Gen. Patrick Cordingly, commander of the British 7th Armored Division, or "Desert Rats," who are under Marine command here. As Cordingly spoke, the Marines barked and grunted - a tradition passed on when they were called "Devil Dogs" by the Germans for the ferocity in which they fought in World War I.
"You've frightened me," Cordingly told the troops. "Heaven knows what you'll do to the other side."