BEAUFORT -- Would-be Marines sat cross-legged on the parade deck at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, watching closely Thursday afternoon as the depot's Marines began celebrating the 233rd birthday of their beloved Corps.
"This is probably the most important day of your Corps career -- this is your first Marine birthday," said Brig. Gen. James B. Laster, Parris Island commanding general. "Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you'll remember this day."
Laster's remarks were part of a birthday pageant that brought together the base's Marines, recruits and some of the families of the more than 675 recruits set to graduate today from basic training.
The pageant featured 13 Marines and a sailor in period uniforms dating to the Corps' inception in 1775.
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Those Marines, selected from the depot's various battalions, were chosen because of the uniforms' unique tailoring, said Master Sgt. Mark Oliva, depot spokesman.
"Who's in the uniform is whoever fits in the uniform," Oliva said. "Those uniforms are limited commodities."
Laster said he was proud to be a part of a fighting force that has helped defend the United States for more than two centuries.
"For 233 years, the Marine Corps has distinguished itself and won our nation's battles," he said of the Corps, founded 233 years ago Monday in a tavern in Philadelphia. "I don't know about you, but I'm dadgum proud to be a United States Marine today."
The pageant concluded with the cutting of a white, three-tiered birthday cake adorned with American flags and the Corps' red battle colors. Laster cut the cake with a sword.
Marines have celebrated the Corps' birthday with a cake cutting since 1952, when Commandant Lemuel C. Shepherd started the tradition in Philadelphia.
Thursday's ceremony was one event of many scheduled at Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to celebrate the Corps' birthday. The air station held a ball for the base's enlisted personnel Thursday night at MCAS Beaufort's Officer's Club. Galas for the air station's officers are scheduled to follow tonight and Saturday night. Parris Island will host galas for its respective battalions this weekend and next week.