Retiree Birthday Ball lets Leathernecks continue tradition

As the saying goes, “once a Marine always a Marine.”

More than 340 Marines, family and friends gathered Saturday aboard Camp Lejeune for the annual Regiment of Retired Marines Marine Corps Birthday Ball to celebrate the service and their commitment to it.

“Being a Marine never goes away,” Sgt. Maj. Marion ‘Cass’ Carcirieri said.

Turning 91 on New Year’s Eve of this year, Carcirieri was the oldest Marine at the ball, and per tradition accepted the second piece of birthday cake.

Retiring in 1974 after more than three decades in the Corps, Carcirieri was a key part of the founding of the Regiment of Retired Marines and its annual ball. He hasn’t missed a ball since his retirement, he said, and this year was no different — except that now he was a member of the traditional cake cutting ceremony he had witnessed annually for more than 70 years.

“I am so glad to be here among Marines,” Carcirieri said. “It brings back memories of the many wonderful deeds the Marine Corps has performed and is still performing.”

He personally contributed to the Corps’ legacy as a World War II, Korean and Vietnam war veteran.

The evening held true to an active duty birthday ball, complete with reading of the commandant’s annual birthday message and the cake cutting ceremony.

Being a Marine never goes away Sgt. Maj. Marion ‘Cass’ Carcirieri Cpl. John Yeates, the youngest Marine in attendance, said he was honored to stand next to not only Carcirieri, but also the entirety of the ball attendees, seeing them as not his superiors, but his teachers.

“I hope one day to be one of these men and share my experience with the next generation of Marines,” Cpl. John Yeates said. “This is the continuation of the Marine Corps tradition. All the people here are the ones you learn these things from. We weren’t in their shoes; the only way to carry on the traditions is to learn them firsthand.”

Yeates was a member of the 2nd Marine Division Band, which performed as part of the ceremony.

The birthday ball is steeped in tradition to begin with — the retiree ball adds in hundreds of retired Marines dedicated to upholding the tradition even after they have hung up their cammies.

For Raleigh resident Col. Mike Lentz and his wife, Sandy, the retiree ball is a time for reconnection to not only friends that have become family, but the Corps itself.

“When they send you to the Crucible and you’re reborn a Marine it stays with you, it molds you,” Lentz said. “You learn honor and commitment and sacrifice.”

Sharing elbow room with the younger Marines is a special time for Lentz, he said, sharing with them his legacy and also passing on the Corps’ values.

The mix of young and older Marines creates a refreshing environment from active duty balls that can be stiff and stressful, Lt. Col. Tom Leonard said.

He enjoys spending time in the same room as older veterans like Carcirieri who continue to keep tradition alive, as well as young Marines like Yeate, who are learning how to do just that.

“I came to my first retiree ball the year before I retired,” Leonard said. “I enjoy the different camaraderie (from active duty balls). Everyone is here because they want to be here.”

For three-time Vietnam veteran Col. Wayne Morris the annual Retiree Ball is a time he and his wife, Marlene, relive their more than three decades in the Corps.

After retiring, returning to the ball each year has been a goal to help uphold tradition, Morris said.

“This is a brotherhood,” Col. Morris said. “Once a year we spend this time reaffirming who we are.”