The Marine Corps 247th Birthday Wreath Laying Parade -- Behind the Scenes Video
And happy Veterans' Day to those who have served our nation
The day before Veterans Day, the Marines celebrate their birthday with galas and cakes and one serious event — a wreath-laying at the war memorial and gravesites in Washington.
I attended the parade for the 247th birthday on Thursday and was able to interview Marines and share this behind-the-scenes video of the special event. WATCH BELOW:
Marine traditions for the public
The wreath laying parade is not well known but is open and free to the public every year on Nov. 10 at the Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly known as Iwo Jima, in Arlington, VA.
The Marine Corps’ two summer parades I’ve gone to and written about for you – the Tuesday Sunset parade and Friday Evening Parade at the Washington Barracks – are better known. But this more somber fall parade should be on your calendar if you are in the Washington, D.C. area.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David H. Berger, sat in the reviewing stand during the parade, which honors the sacrifices made in our nation’s history.
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“While we often associate the Marine Corps birthday with balls and fancy ceremonies and cake cuttings, in my opinion, the wreath laying is one of the most important traditions we have in our corps,” Berger told the audience of mostly servicemembers and veterans.
As you see in the video, retired Col. Barnum, who is a Medal of Honor Award recipient, was seated in the front row.
Behind the scenes
Capt. Mike Kirnon a ceremonial marcher and the Bravo Company Commander told me afterward that they have spent 18 hours preparing for the event.
I encourage you to watch my interview with Kirnon — at this timecode in video — because he explains how much effort they put into preparing to be perfect. Also, he gives a powerful testimony of why the ceremonial roles in the Marines are so important.
“This is the most fulfilling thing that I’ve done so far,” Kirnon told me of his past year spent doing ceremonial events in Arlington National Cemetary and other places to honor veterans. He said it’s more fulfilling than his deployments overseas.
As you see in the video, Kirnon is in front of the two right-most platoons in dress blues called ceremonial marchers. These Marines are all infantrymen who do ceremonial missions in D.C. and around the country. They are hand selected for this role, which entails maintaining their infantry skills while stationed at the Marine Barracks so they are ready at any time to join operating forces.
Before the parade, I found some of the Marine band members practicing behind on bus on a highway to ensure the audience did not see them until the exact right moment they appear.
The hour-long parade started at 10 a.m. There was music and precision marching by the "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band, which was founded in 1798, and the "The Commandant's Own" U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.
These Marines train twice a week for two hours with the M1 Garand rifles to hone timing, drill and synchronized firing, according to a spokeswoman.
Firing thee-rifle volleys – to pay respect to the fallen – originates from the historical custom of halting combat to remove the wounded and dead from the battlefield.
The Marine Color Guard represents the warfighting history. Look at the 55 colored streamers on the Battle Color – those represent more than 400 U.S. and foreign awards and campaigns in which the Marines have participated since the American revolution.
Wreaths to graves
At the same time as the parade, teams of Marines are sent out to lay wreaths and render honors at the gravestones of fallen Marines (listed below.) Most are laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetary, which is a short walk away. But they also go to the grave sites at the Congressional Cemetery, U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery and Marine Corps Base Quantico.
A spokeswoman for the Marines sent me this photo below of the Commandant placing a wreath on a grave at Arlington.
The complete list of the honored Marines given these honors are listed below.
Gen. P.X. Kelley, Lt. Gen. Frank Peterson, Maj. Kurt Chew-Een Lee, Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, Master Sgt. Catherine G. Murray, Cpl. Ira Hayes, Sgt. Maj. Rauber, Sgt. Maj. Sweet, Lt. Col. Burrows, Maj. Gen. Elliott, Gen. Cates, Maj. Gen. Barnett, Gen. Vandegrift, Gen. Cushman, Maj. Gen. Heywood, Gen. Greene, Lieutenant Gen. Lejeune, Maj. Gen. Russell, Gen. Wilson, Maj. Gen. Neville, Sgt. Maj. Puckett, Gen. Shoup, Gen. Shepherd, Maj. Gen. Biddle, Gen. Holcomb, Gen. Pate, Gen. Chapman and Col. Harris.
Happy Veterans Day to my readers who have served our nation. We appreciate your service.
And if you’re a Marine reading this, Semper Fi.
Very interesting info, most of which I hadn't heard before. Thank you!
BTW: were you aware that one of the Marines receiving wreaths is depicted in the Memorial? Corporal Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian from Arizona, was one of the Marines that raised the flag on Mount Suribachi in 1945.
Another wreath recipient, John Basilone, was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism at the Battle for Guadalcanal. He is one of three men that the HBO series “The Pacific” follows through the campaigns in the Pacific in WWII. It’s a hard series to watch, but worth it.