MARINE CORPS AIR STAION YUMA, Ariz. -- Station Marines celebrated the 231st Marine Corps birthday by delivering birthday cake to Marine Corps World War II veterans throughout Yuma Nov. 8.
For the first time, station Marines presented cake to 13 area veterans, in a program dubbed Operation Happy Birthday, to display their respect for those who have fought and served long before the Marines of today.
Names for the occasion were collected by the station's Public Affairs Office from the veteran's family memebers and friends.
Living World War II veterans, considered to be "The Greatest Generation," are few and far between. This December marks the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"Often, these men and women are overlooked while we enjoy the freedoms they provided," said Cpl. Robert B. Smith, public affairs chief. "Operation Happy Birthday is not just about delievering cake, it is also about having the opportunity to learn from the Marines' experiences. This is the essence of the birthday tradition, the passing on of knowledge and experience."
Each year, the Marine Corps celebrates its birthday, Nov. 10, with the traditional Marine Corps Ball, Cake Cutting Ceremony and the reading of Gen. John A. Lejeune's Birthday Message.
One of the Marine Corps' mottos, "Once a Marine, always a Marine," is something that Marines take to heart. Whether a Marine serves four years or 30, they know they are and will always be a Marine.
The Marines were invited into their homes and got a chance to spend some time with veterans and hear stories from the Corps during such a demanding time period in history.
To some of the veterans, the Marines showing up at their homes was a total surprise. Their family arranged the visit so that their veteran didn't even know the Marines were coming.
LaRoy F. Smith served in the Marine Corps for 24 years. He joined in 1941 and was a grunt in World War II. He got out for a brief time in 1947, but went back for the Korean War.
The Detroit native was overwhelmed with emotion as the Marines visited, said his son Ray Smith, who served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
LaRoy and his wife Rose-Marie have been married for 60 years. They have eight children.
"My wife stuck by me the whole time," LaRoy said proudly. "Something I will always remember."
LaRoy described how he voluteered to go behind enemy lines and would take bets from his fellow Marines to see if he would come back alive.
"I'll never forget a minute I spent in the Marine Corps," said LaRoy. "I'm glad I did what I did ... at least I survived."
After he retired from the Marine Corps, LaRoy worked as a civilian employee at the station's fire department for 14 years. His wife also retired after 20 years working on the station as a barracks clerk.
"I love the Marines," said Rose-Marie. "My husband loved the time he spent in the Marine Corps and it makes me so proud that they could surprise him like this. I've never seen anything like this done."
"The families of the veterans were proud to see their fathers honored so intimately," said Cpl. Ashley Scott, public affairs editor. "It's important that Marines remember the great Marines who served long before us because without them, we would not be where we are today."
Phil Sessions, a Tacoma, Wash., native and retired police captain, joined the Marine Corps on Jan. 2, 1942 as a scout sniper.
"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," said Sessions. "I served for four years, 10 days and three and a half hours."
Sessions went back into the Marine Corps for two years to help train Marines for teh Korean War.
"The Marines didn't have all the equipment and weapons that they do now to train," Sessions said. "I had to teach them how to use a bayonet with a stick."
For some World War II veterans, it was difficult to talk about their time serving during World War II.
Robert Moody grew up in Cottage Grove, Ore., and was sworn into the Marine Corps on Nov. 13, 1942. He shipped to San Diego for boot camp for eight weeks and then to Australia for scout sniper school. After only four months, Moody was sent to war with the 1st Marine Division, "The Old Breed," which he said took 50 percent casualties.
"We lost a lot of our Marines," said Moody with tears in his eyes, "but i think our Marines have it tougher these days. Back then, we know who the enemy was. Today's Marines have a tough time identifying the enemy."
Moody got out in January 1946. He sat in Guam for 121 days before returing back to the United States, when he found out that they had sent the wrong service record book.
"They asked me if I wanted to go back," Moody said with humor. "I said, 'No way!'"
Seattle native, Harold Lysene, enlisted in January 1942 and was a Browning automatice rilfe gunner with the 22nd Marines. He spent 27 straight months overseas.
"We hiked 50 miles from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego to Camp Pendelton to get to the rifle range," said Lysene. "I'd go back in if I could."
"The Marines were great," said Dusty Fields, Yuma Fire Department Captain. "I thank them for comoing out to recognize my grandfather in such a special way."
Fields grandfather, retired Cheif Warrent Officer John Fields, Jr., served 26 years in the Marine Corps during World War II and in the Korean War.
It was not only a special treat for the veterans, but for the Marines as well.
"Seeing tears well up in the eyes of these combat Marines was staggering. We don't say often enough how thankful we are for the sacrifices of this generation, and I think thay they really appreciated hearing it," said Smith. "No matter how long ago a Marine served, they are still brothers and sisters with all of us. These men and women fought and served in some of the most decisive battles in the world's history. They deserve our respect, our gratitude, and the least we can do is give them a little cake."