By Maureen Robertson
The oldest Marine at the 236th anniversary celebration of the U.S. Marine Corps in Ramona, 89-year-old Normand Brabant, sat quietly at the bar in Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3783 on Kelly Street. Nearby, the youngest Marine at the celebration, 27-year-old Brennen Milton, sat amongst the Ramona Community Brass Band members, his clarinet on his lap.
Both were waiting for the ceremonial Passing of the Cake Ceremony, when the oldest Marine passes a slice of cake to the youngest Marine to symbolize the passing of history and traditions to the next generation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is customary at Marine Corps birthday celebrations worldwide for Marines to cut a traditional cake in celebration of the birth of our illustrious corps,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jesse Barta, narrator for the evening’s celebration and drum major for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band.
According to Marine tradition, a sword is used to cut the cake as a reminder that the Marines are “a band of warriors, committed to carrying the sword, so that our nation may live in peace.”
At the Ramona VFW ceremony, guest of honor Master Gunnery Sgt. Steven R. Schweitzer, U.S. Marine Corps (retired), used the ceremonial sword to cut the first piece of cake, which he tasted and declared “very good” before giving the next piece to Brabant, who in turn passed the cake to Milton, “symbolizing the passing of experience and knowledge that are hallmarks of our Corps,” said Barta.
“Happy birthday, Marine,” Brabant said, handing the cake to Milton.
Brabant, a native of Falls River, Mass., served in the South Pacific and Guadalcanal in World War II and in the Korean War. Because he speaks French, he trained interrogators during the Vietnam War and retired as a first sergeant. A Ramona resident for the past six years, this is his second year as the oldest Marine at the birthday celebration.
Milton, born in Memphis, Tenn., enlisted in the Marines on May 29, 2007. He is a musician with the 2nd Marine Division Band.
About 50 people attended the event last Thursday evening. The brass band, directed by retired U.S Marine Gunnery Sgt. Ken Serfass, played patriotic songs before and during the ceremony. Barta read a message from Gen. James F. Amos, 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a birthday message prepared in 1921 by the late Major Gen. John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
“Most Americans have no idea what it takes to keep this country free,” Schweitzer, bandmaster of the 1st Marine Division Band during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said. “...You know.”