Today marks the 233rd birthday of my beloved United States Marine Corps.

By order of the Continental Congress:
"Resolved, That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors, and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to office, or enlisted into said battalions but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve with advantage by sea when required; that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present War with Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress; that they be distinguished by names of First and Second Battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered as part of the number which the Continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of."

It is traditional on this day to throw a party at all Marine commands around the world, whether they be at massive bases such as Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Camp Pendleton in California, Camp Butler in Okinawa, small recruiting offices in the American heartland, or Marine outposts and combat bases engaged in the War on Terror.

This tradition includes a birthday cake, which is cut with a ceremonial sword. A piece is then served to the oldest Marine present and the youngest Marine present, to ensure that the values and traditions of the past are observed and honored, and that they are passed on to the younger generation for care, preservation and updating as new battles are fought and won.

Although today is the official birthday, dating from Nov. 10, 1775, this weekend saw many small celebrations too. I was honored to speak at a gathering of nearly 200 Marines and family members in Enfield, Connecticut. Brian Delano, whom I met through the Together We Served website, did a terrific job of arranging an SOS breakfast - it really is creamed chipped beef on toast, and if you want to know why it is called SOS you'll have to look it up.

We also had the traditional cake cutting ceremony, and the reading of the Marine Corps Commandant's message, as follows:

During the summer of 1982, in the wake of a presidential directive, Marines went ashore at Beirut, Lebanon. Fifteen months later, on 23 October 1983, extremists struck the first major blow against American forces - starting this long war on terrorism. On that Sunday morning, a suicide bomber drove an explosive-laden truck into the headquarters of Battalion Landing Team 1/8, destroying the building and killing 241 Marines and corpsmen.

Extremists have attacked our Nation, at home and abroad, numerous times since that fateful day in Beirut. Their aim has always been the same - to kill as many innocent Americans as possible. The attacks of 11 September 2001 changed our Nation forever, and our president has resolved that this Nation will not stand idle while murderous terrorists plan their next strike. Marines will continue to take the fight to the enemy - hitting them on their own turf, crushing them when they show themselves, and finding them where they hide.

Only a few Americans choose the dangerous, but necessary, work of fighting our Nation's enemies. When our chapter of history is written, it will be a saga of a selfless generation of Marines who were willing to stand up and fight for our Nation; to defend those who could not defend themselves; to thrive on the hardship and sacrifice expected of an elite warrior class; to march to the sound of the guns; and to ably shoulder the legacy of those Marines who have gone before.

On our 233rd birthday, first remember those who have served and those "angels" who have fallen - our reputation was built on their sacrifices. Remember our families; they are the unsung heroes whose support and dedication allow us to answer our Nation's call. Finally, to all Marines and Sailors, know that I am proud of you and what you do. Your successes on the battlefield have only added to our illustrious history. Lieutenant General Victor H. "Brute" Krulak said it best when he wrote, " ... the United States does not need a Marine Corps ... the United States wants a Marine Corps." Your actions, in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the globe, are at the core of why America loves her Marines.

Happy Birthday, Marines!

Semper Fidelis,

James T. Conway
General, U.S. Marine Corps

For a montage of Marine operations please visit the site below.

I'd also like to point out that heroes can be found in unlikely places. From FOX news this past weekend:

LAKE FOREST, Calif. - A half-dozen off-duty Marines who raced through a burning motel on Sunday warning sleeping guests that it was on fire were hailed as lifesaving heroes.

Everyone escaped the Americas Best Value Inn motel, including one elderly man who required oxygen after he was carried to safety by one of the Marines. Marine Pvt. Colton Oliver said he and two colleagues were walking along a second-floor landing about 8 a.m. when they saw flames and smoke. They rousted their fellow Marines and all six began knocking on doors and windows of rooms, urging people to leave.

"Everybody was out by the time the firefighters got here," Oliver said. "It's what we're trained to do."

"I'd call them absolute heroes," said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Pardi.

Some of my favorite Vietnam photos:

Marine Infantry and a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, silhouetted against a monsoon sky.

Even in war there was a haunting beauty. Ridges poking through the clouds just south of the Demilitarized Zone. The Razorback and The Rockpile were two high points we used to monitor enemy troop movements. Troops there were resupplied by helicopter which required skillful maneuvers by the pilots.

In Every Clime And Place - A Rare Quiet Moment in Quang Tri, Vietnam, 1968. Oppressive heat, and a cigar.

Happy Birthday to all my Marine brothers and sisters. And please take a moment today to remember those who served with us and have fallen, either in combat or in the years after.

Semper Fidelis