JACKSONVILLE, N.C. --
Tradition is one of the highest-held aspects of the Marine Corps, its legacy throughout the centuries being carried on strong by every generation of Marine executing various annual traditions. There is no time like the Marine Corps birthday when many important traditions are practiced, aside from the birthday ball.
One tradition many may not be aware of is the laying of wreaths at the graves of all former commandants and sergeants major of the Marine Corps, no matter where in the world they have been laid to rest, as set forth by the Marine Corps Casualty Procedures Manual.
“When we honor the fallen, we start with those who have led us through tough times,” said Sgt. Maj. Michael Jones, sergeant major of 2nd Marine Division. “The purpose of this ceremony today is to reflect and remember great Americans.”
Within the grounds of the Coastal Carolina State Veterans Cemetery, adjacent to the Lejeune Memorial Gardens, the gravesite of Thomas J. McHugh rests, a World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars veteran and the third sergeant major of the Marine Corps from June 1962 to July 1965. It is here elements of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune conducted the traditional wreath-laying ceremony, Nov. 10.
“We have to keep traditions alive in the Marine Corps, because they keep the Marine belief alive in turn,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Phillip McNair, training chief of Headquarters and Support Battalion operations, MCB Camp Lejeune. “Ceremonies are what keep the Marine Corps going and what makes these younger Marines understand what their heritage means.”
At 7:30 a.m. at McHugh’s gravesite, a lone, solemn Marine marched down through the rows of similar stone markers toward a large wreath with a Marine standing at either side. The slow, somber melody of ‘taps’ floats out of the bugle, mixing with the cold, crisp air of the morning. Those currently serving rendered a sharp salute while those who have left the service proudly held their hands over their hearts.
McHugh’s infamous path of service took him from the blazing shores of Guadalcanal to the frozen hills of the Chosin Reservoir to the dense forests of Vietnam. Leaving active duty in December 1970, he eventually passed away 20 years later, with his accomplishments in the Marine Corps earning him a place forever on the mantel of Marine Corps history, and honors to be remembered every following Marine Corps birthday.
“Personally, as I get older, I have a greater appreciation for those who have served before me,” said Jones. “Less than two percent of Americans wear our uniform, which makes it all the more important to teach others the significance of remembrance.”
With one more Marine Corps birthday come and gone, this current generation of Marines, as with those who have gone before, not only keeps the flame of honor and tradition burning, but also passes on the ways of the Corps to those who are destined to follow. Without tradition and remembrance, history is ill-fated to be lost.