CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Marines young and old alike recently celebrated 2nd Marine Division's 62nd birthday recently.
The 2nd Marine Division Association, an organized assembly of former 2nd Division Marines, joined other Devil Dogs during the two-day celebration to reflect on the Corps of the past and observe the Corps of the future. The group attended various events, including a capabilities exercise at the Marine Operations in Urban Terrain facility, a memorial service at the Protestant Chapel, and a battle colors ceremony at Goettge Memorial Field House.
"This is an unbelievably great time for us," said Bill Banning, formally a 1st Lt. with 2nd Marine Division. "(Members in the association) can get together and tell each other our sea stories anytime, but it is better to come here and tell the young Marines. Passing on history is very important to the Corps."
Corporal J. Felix Aldana-Marquez, a technician with Truck Company, Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, said it was his second time participating in the birthday celebration, and both times have been an educational experience.
"Each time one of these guys tells a war story from Vietnam or World War II, we learn from their experiences," said Aldana-Marquez. "One of them said, 'We are only here because we made it out; now it is your turn.'"
Banning said he is glad young Marines are interested in hearing what he and others dealt with during America's confrontations, but they didn't travel here to be saluted for what they did so long ago. He said it is more important to recognize the birthday and remember what the division did as a whole.
The "Follow Me" division activated Feb. 1, 1941, at Marine Corps Base Camp Elliott, Calif., as the prospect of war increased in 1940. It is a direct descendant of the 2nd Marine Brigade, which was activated July 1, 1936, at Marine Corps Base San Diego, Calif., to reinforce Marines in China when unstable conditions threatened American lives and property in Shanghai's International Settlement. After the threat passed in 1938, the brigade returned to San Diego and was soon re-designated as 2nd Marine Division.
In the past 63 years, the division has participated in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and countless operations throughout the world. The division, along with other Marine units, secured the Tarawa Atoll in World War II in less than five days in what is considered by many the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history, with more than 3,000 casualties.
Today, more than 9,000 2nd Division Marines are deployed in support of current operations. Talk of a possible war in Iraq dominated conversation at an evening social at Marston Pavilion.
"If America does go to war, I wish these guys a lot of luck," said John C. de Vries, an association member with the New Jersey chapter. "So far it looks like they are doing a wonderful job."
De Vries, a former corporal in the division in the early 1950s, said Marines now are a little more fortunate than those during his enlistment.
"The Marine Corps has changed a lot since I was in," he said. "There are a lot better weapons systems now, and the Marines are far more educated than we were."
Highly educated or not, many consider Marines to be one of the toughest fighting forces in the world, but even toughness couldn't hold back the tears in Banning's eyes as he looked on at the battle streamers ceremony, the final event on the association's agenda.
"People ask me what I get out of my trips to Camp Lejeune," mumbled Banning. "I always say ... 'A big lump in my throat.'"