INDIAN OCEAN --
Lance Cpl. Kyle Lejeune quietly withdrew from the podium after reading Lt. Gen. John A. Lejeune’s words to hundreds of 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit members Nov. 10. He said reading his great-great grandfather’s historic message during a Marine Corps birthday celebration was something he always wanted to do.
The ceremony was held on the mess deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard, currently sailing in the Indian Ocean and home to more than 1,200 11th MEU Marines deployed as a quick-reaction force.
“Our ceremony today reminds us of the connection we have to our duties afloat,” said Col. Gregg P. Olson, the 11th MEU’s commanding officer. “We are, in fact, soldiers of the sea and have been so since our founding.”
Foul weather had Marines celebrating the 234th birthday indoors, in a crowded ship’s mess, seats filled and walls covered shoulder to shoulder.
Celebrating the birthday only once before, Lance Cpl. Lejeune, from Naperville, Ill., said it was just a matter of time before he had the chance to read his ancestor’s message.
“It’s an honor to be part of a ceremony with so much tradition and history in it,” said the 24 year old. “Getting to read something from someone who is straight bloodline means a lot.”
It has been tradition and a Marine Corps order since 1921 to have Lt. Gen. Lejeune’s message read every year on Nov. 10.
“To have a direct descendent of the 13th commandant aboard makes today even more special,” said Olson. “That eternal spirit that has animated Marines of every generation is literally embodied here in Lance Cpl. Lejeune.”
When the message finished, four Marines wheeled out a cake. Olson cut the cake using a noncommissioned officer’s sword, and a narrator explained that the sword was a reminder that Marines are a band of warriors.
Following another Marine Corps tradition, Olson handed the first piece of cake to the oldest Marine present, Master Gunnery Sgt. Roland Salinas from the MEU’s command element. Salinas took a bite and passed the cake to the youngest Marine present, Lance Cpl. Elton A. Ricketts from Company E, Battalion Landing Team 2/4, the MEU’s ground-combat element.
“I thought it was nice just to celebrate on deployment,” said Ricketts, a Deltona, Fla., native. He said not many people get to say they were the youngest at such a ceremony.
The cake was made by the ship’s food-service personnel. Among them was Lejeune.
“My name gives me big shoes to fill,” said Lejeune. “I’m going to try to fill those shoes to the best of my ability.”