Marines celebrate birthday

Published 9:03 pm Monday, November 10, 2014

As they’ve done every year for almost 40, area Marines both serving and retired gathered in Suffolk on Nov. 10 — Monday — to celebrate the birthday of the U.S. Marines Corp.

More than three dozen Marines gathered at Kelly’s Tavern on West Constance Road for an evening of camaraderie, celebration and — of course — tradition.

Tony Prebe receives the first slice of cake during a birthday celebration in Suffolk for the U.S. Marine Corps on Monday, which was the Corps’ 239th birthday.

Tony Prebe receives the first slice of cake during a birthday celebration in Suffolk for the U.S. Marine Corps on Monday, which was the Corps’ 239th birthday.

Jack Eure, active duty from 1967 to 1970, said the annual celebration started with a phone call from buddy Bill Harrell. Before both joining the Marines, they attended Suffolk High School together.

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“Bill Harrell called me up in 1975 and said, ‘Do you know what today is? Let’s have lunch,’” Eure said. “After that, we started sending out invitations to everybody we could think of.”

The list currently has about 170 names and addresses, Eure said.

“When we started talking, we realized there’s a lot of Marines down here,” said Harrell, whose Marine father-in-law fought on Iwo Jima in World War II, while he himself was “probably within an hour or two of going into Cuba” during the narrowly-averted crisis.

To start with, the birthday party was held at the old Holiday Inn on Route 460. It’s been held at Kelly’s for years, though, and Eure said it would continue to be “until this place burns down.”

A reading of Maj. Gen. Commandant John A. Lejeune’s 1921 birthday message kicked off official proceedings for the 239th birthday in Suffolk.

It recounts how a resolution of Continental Congress created “a Corps of Marines” in Nov. 10, 1775.

“It is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history,” Lejeune states.

He speaks of the “eternal spirit which has animated our Corps for generation to generation,” adding, “So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency.”

At the party in Suffolk, which was mirrored at countless locations, the cake is usually cut with a sword. But the bearer of that sword was running late. The oldest and youngest marines present — George Staudter 83, and Tony Prebe, 41 — made do with a regular knife.

“It’s almost teary to see all these guys,” said Staudter, who passed Prebe the first slice of cake — as is tradition.

Staudter served in Korea from early 1951 to the end of that year. Prebe, in contrast, served in Iraq.

“Over the years we’ve had a lot of World War II veterans,” Eure said. “We had one from Iwo Jima two or three years ago. But they are fading away.”

“To be a Marine is a life-changing experience,” said Ben Scofield, who’s been coming to the Suffolk birthday celebration for about 20 years, only missing them every once in a while.

“It sets the tone for your life. It changes your outlook and gives you a confidence and real sense of belonging in something bigger than yourself.”

Harrell said Marines “go in there for a purpose: To keep the country free.”

“It’s the greatest group I have ever been with,” he said.