My first experience with the Marine Corps Birthday Ball was in 1965 at El Toro Marine base. My steward friends were always getting job offers to serve at various functions. Sometimes they would need extra help and asked me to fill in. Most of our jobs were with Crist Catering Service in Laguna Beach. We all had steward uniforms (white formal jackets, gold buttons and black dress pants). I had kept my military issued formal wear and put it to good use.
On November 10, 1965, we were contracted by the Staff NCO Club as servers for the banquet style dinner. It was like a very fancy Prom, except the alcohol was free flowing. The men wore formal Dress Blues with rows of medals; girlfriends and wives were dressed in glittery evening gowns. There was dancing, speeches, photography and a lot of drinking. When the big cake was cut with a sword, we served the dessert to each table (from the right, with the right), and there were no blunders on my part this time. After the plates were cleared, there were many toasts to those lost in war, and grown men were crying. I couldn’t swallow the lump in my throat. Honestly, it was a wrenching experience.
The loss of brothers in battle is life changing. There are no words to lessen the grief. Most of these Marines were WWII and Korean War veterans. There was no “Thank you for your service” in those days, the phrase hadn’t even been coined . . . it was just assumed.
Veterans Day is usually celebrated the day after the Marine Corps birthday, and hangover or not, Marines honored the memories of the fallen. Superficial “thank you for your service” statements are politely accepted, but I can say that some of us (Vietnam veterans) try to avoid the spectacle of it. It isn’t that we don’t appreciate the sentiment, it’s just a feeling of too little too late. I believe it is just another form of political correctness.