MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, California --
Marines and Sailors gathered in front of 1st Marine Division’s historic, “White House,” which serves as the unit’s headquarters building, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the oldest, largest, and most decorated division in the Marine Corps, Feb. 4, 2016.
Retired and veteran Marines and Sailors, some members of the 1st Marine Division Association, were also on hand to join in honoring the proud legacy of the division.
The 1st Marine Division was formed Feb. 1, 1941, and not long afterward, its Marines found themselves fighting in the harsh, tropical islands of the Pacific during WWII.
During the next 75 years, Marines and Sailors of the division would distinguish themselves in every clime and place – from Korea to Vietnam, and from Iraq to Afghanistan.
The day of celebration began with a Battle Colors Rededication Ceremony, during which veteran and active duty Marines replaced streamers signifying campaigns and unit awards on the unit’s Marine Corps flag. Later, anniversary attendees dined together and cut a unit birthday cake while listening to a speech from the 1st Marine Division commanding general, Maj. Gen. Daniel J. O’Donohue.
Marines as young as 19 and as old as 92 came from all over the country to share pride in the unit’s legacy; a trait common to all who serve in the “Blue Diamond.”
“What sets us apart is the history of the division,” explained Sgt. Maj. William T. Sowers, the division sergeant major. “When we were formed just before World War II, we were most ready when the nation was least ready.”
There’s an instant connection between Marines who have served abroad during times of war, as most of those in attendance had, added Sowers. It’s common ground the veterans are not likely to find among their civilian counterparts.
“This is the second time that I’ve been to this ceremony,” said Jack D. Shelver, a rifleman who served in the Korean War with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Mar. Div. “It’s pretty stirring; it brings back a lot of memories.”
In the days preceding the ceremony, the veteran Marines toured the base, visiting some of their old units and speaking with Marines who currently serve in them, Shelver said. There were static displays of modern equipment including weapons and vehicles the veterans could see up close.
Association members fired at electronic targets in the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer, had lunch with young Marines at a chow hall, saw observation equipment and sniper rifles at 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, walked the dozens of M777 lightweight howitzers at the 11th Marines gun park, and watched as recruits navigated obstacles during the Crucible- the culminating event of recruit training that would mark them as ready successors to the veterans themselves.
The veterans said they liked spending time with the Marines who are continuing their legacy, but those active-duty Marines also found value interacting with their predecessors.
“What I’ve taken away from the veterans is just how much of a brotherhood we have as Marines,” said Sowers. “To see them come back here, reliving their youth, visiting the areas that they were at before leaving for war, it brings back a rush of emotion for them. Just being able to witness that is very inspiring.”
Despite changing technology, and changing global politics, the Marines of the 1st Marine Division remain largely unchanged after 75 years, Sowers said.
“The division is just like it was during the times of Guadalcanal,” Sowers stated. “The same warrior heart is inside of all these young men and women. If called upon, this division is prepared to do what the nation needs, just like the generations before it.”