Local Marines Celebrate Annual Birthday

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On Saturday, Nov. 9, nearly 80 Marines, other military personnel, and their families and friends gathered at the Litchfield Moose Lodge to celebrate the 244th birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

Servicemen and women swapped war stories prior to the blessing of the meal by Chris Gutierrez, Marine Corps League commander, at 6 p.m. Dinner was provided by the Litchfield Moose Lodge and included fried chicken and catfish as the main dish. 

The official program began at 7 p.m. with Master of Ceremonies Rick Robbins welcoming everyone to the event. All stood for the national anthem, and Marines young and old remained standing at attention for the Marines' Hymn, silently showing their pride in their fellow Marines, their Corps and their country.

Sgt. Major Dave Strowmatt then delivered the Lejeune Message, a reminder of the honorable service of the Marine Corps written by 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General John A. Lejeune, on Nov. 1, 1921. 

A video containing the birthday message was also shown. The Rifleman's Creed, written by Major General William H. Rupertus during World War II, was recited by Brett Holiday. 

Featured speaker for the evening was Lieutenant Colonel John K. Williams, who was raised in Nokomis and graduated from Nokomis Township High School in 1956. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in September 1962, and served 27 years of continuous active duty until his retirement from the Marine Corps in July 1989.

Williams delivered a  humorous speech regarding two "near death" experiences during his time serving with the Marine Corps. The first anecdote took place during the first of Williams' tours of duty in Vietnam, while he was serving as advisor to the 3rd ARVN Infantry Battalion, 2nd ARVN Infantry Regiment, 1st AVRN Infantry Division, near Quang Tri City. 

He described living in a rat-infested bunker made of logs and insulated with bamboo mats. As it was monsoon season, the men had very little to do and passed some of their time playing cribbage. One day, after the morning round of cards, Williams got up and stretched only to find himself face-to-face with a pit viper. 

Stunned, but not stopped, Williams high-tailed it out of the bunker and with the help of his friends captured the snake and ate it for dinner. 

"And had that snake not been too lazy to bite me, I would not be here addressing you today. You're so lucky to have me here," Williams said with a laugh. 

His next "near-death" experience came while stationed in Kaneohe Bay, HI, in the late 1970s, where he served two and a half years in the Marine Corps Air/Ground Officer Exchange Program. During his time there, he was invited to ride along with Manfred Reitsch, who flew more than 700 jetfighter combat missions during his 24-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps. 

During the ride, they simulated combat with another jet, and the constant twists and turns did not agree with Williams' stomach. After landing, the terribly sick Williams received the nickname "Supersonic Grunt" and was thrown in the Kaneohe Bay. 

Following Lieutenant Colonel Williams' speech, Rick Robbins gave a toast to area Marines who have passed away since the first Marine Corps birthday party held in Litchfield. The toast was given with the traditional Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a spicy pickled egg. 

After the toast, the youngest and oldest Marines present were invited to cut the cake, the oldest Marine representing the Corps' long and rich history, the youngest representing the Corps' vibrant future. The oldest Marine present was 81-year-old  guest speaker John Williams; the youngest was 25-year-old Brett Holliday.

To conclude the evening, a gun was raffled off, with thanks to Mules Shooting, a 50/50 was conducted and silent auction items were raffled off.

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