Jessica Singhoffer, a Chief Executive Assistant with Squared Away, shares her experiences of the time honored tradition of the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.
A night of celebration and fun, but also a night to reflect and remember the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices our service members make, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country. Each year through November and December, the Marine Corps celebrates the birth of its existence by hosting The Marine Corps Ball. On November 10, 1775, the Marine Corps was established — in a bar. That’s right, a bar. Tradition tells that two newly commissioned Captains organized the first Marine Corps muster at the Tun Tavern on Water Street in Philadelphia. This year the Marine Corps is celebrating 244 years since that day; the Marine Corps was founded.
It’s that time of year again; my husband, Austin, is carefully putting on his dress blues uniform. He looks so good in those blues! I rarely get to see him in this uniform. The dress blues are the formal attire that is required for service members to wear at the Marine Corps ball. Women wear ball gowns, and men wear tuxedos and ties.
Rewind to 5 years before Austin, and I had kids, you could find us having celebratory drinks before the ball. Now fast forward five years and two kids later, our priorities are a little different this year: get our professional picture taken and check the kids into daycare, then grab a drink at the bar. Itinerary this year says, “Cocktail hour starts at 1800, the ceremony begins at 1930, dinner served at 2030, then open dance floor until 2400.” We are ready to find our seats and let the night begin!
When the ceremony began, our attention was brought to a single table; no one was sitting at. The narrator started, “As you entered the room, you may have noticed a special table; it is reserved to honor our missing men. Set for one, the empty chair represents Marines who were or are missing, but all with us in spirit. Some here were very young, or not yet born, however, all Americans should never forget the brave men and women who answered our nation’s call and served the cause of freedom in a special way. Let me explain the meaning of this table, and then join me for a moment of silent prayer.”
The lights dimmed, and a single spotlight lit up the table. My eyes glazed over with tears, and I couldn’t help but feel emotional as I held Austin’s hand.
The narrator continued,
“The table itself is round to show our everlasting concern for our missing men.
The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.
The black napkin stands for the emptiness these warriors have left in the hearts of their families and friends. A Purple Heart medal can be pinned to the napkin.
The single red rose reminds us of the life of each of the missing and their loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers.
The candle symbolizes the everlasting hope for a joyous reunion with those yet accounted for.
The slices of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.
The salt upon the bread plate represents the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers.
The wine glass, turned upside down, reminds us that our distinguished comrades cannot be with us to drink a toast or join in the festivities of the evening.
The chair is empty, they are missing… a moment of silence”
The Marine Corps Band began playing Taps. The sound of the song flooded my mind with memories from our last duty station when we attended a memorial for 12 Marines who had lost their lives. The Fallen Comrade table hits so close to home for me.
The band begins to play the Marines’ hymn proudly, and the Marines of past and present stand at attention. Four Marines march forward as they present the birthday cake for viewing. The oldest and youngest Marine follow behind. The cake is to be cut traditionally by a Marine Corps sword. The first piece of cake will be given to the oldest Marine and the second piece of cake will be given to the youngest Marine.
Each year at the ball, there is a guest of honor who gives a speech or tells a story relating to the Marine Corps, oftentimes I need to have the tissues ready for this. Followed by the speech, waiters and waitresses deliver dinner to everyone’s seat. After dinner, each person receives one slice of the birthday cake. Soon after, the tables are cleaned up, the bars are open, and the DJ is cranking up the music for some dancing. The rest of the night will be spent mingling, dancing and hearing our service members proudly say to each other: “Happy Birthday Marine.”
Veronica Bennett, Chief Executive Assistant and Team Lead, “Last year’s ball, the top of the cake had a beautiful sugar sculpture. During the ceremony, the cake was rolled on to the dance floor and the sugar sculpture fell and broke all over the floor. Everyone gasped, but the ceremony detailed went on like nothing happened. All you heard was the crunching of the sugar as the procession got into place and as the guest of honor, the oldest Marine and the youngest Marine walked out to the cake. The hotel staff was only able to clean it up after the ceremony was complete. #wontstopcan’tstop”
Sarah Copeland, Chief Executive Assistant, “I met Jessica at the TBS ball last year, she told me about her job at Squared Away and ever since then it has been a goal of mine to work here after I moved and had my baby. And it happened!”
Brittany Hardenburgh, Chief Executive Assistant, has been attending Marine Corps Balls since 2008 when her husband, Major Cody Hardenburgh, commissioned in the Marine Corps. Brittany and her husband have been together since high school and enjoyed the ball this year in Spokane, WA, with their son Konnor, who joined later for some dancing.
Haley Newhall and Jessica Singhoffer, both work for Squared Away and met for the very first time at The Basic School (TBS) Marine Corps Ball, Washington D.C. 2019.
Squared Away’s CEO, Michelle Penczak, attended the ball this year with her husband, Major Sean Penczak. Attending the same ball as Michelle is Heather Patinos, Chief Executive Assistant and Team Lead of Squared Away.
This blog was written by Jessica Singhoffer, a Marine Corps Spouse and long-time Chief Executive Assistant with Squared Away.