Remarks at U.S. Marine Corps Cake Cutting Ceremony

John Kerry
Secretary of State
USS San Antonio
Norfolk, Virginia
November 10, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Brigadier General-select Gering, thank you very much for your welcome. Captain Patterson, thanks so much for welcoming me aboard the San Antonio. Admiral Tidd – Admiral Tidd has just been selected to be SOUTHCOM commander. He’s been working with me now over the last year as the representative of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I’m honored to have him here with me. And Admiral Kirby who was over at the Defense Department. I stole him and he’s now the spokesperson for the State Department and he’s going a great job. I’m happy he’s here with us.

Marines and sailors, let me share with you just one prevailing thought here. There is only privilege for me in being here today, and I want to thank you profoundly – all of you – for your service to our country. It’s a great privilege to be part of the birthday ceremony here. It was a terrific ceremony until they took the cake away from me. I thought I was going to get to eat the whole thing. Excuse me, I didn’t recognize Assistant Secretary McGinn. I’m very happy to be here with him. He has a very distinguished career in the Navy – a vice admiral, served as commander of the Third Fleet, skipper of a aircraft carrier, and many other great accomplishments. So it’s a privilege to be here with him also, and I thank you.

Let me just say to all of you who are serving today, first of all, a very happy 240th birthday to the United States Marine Corps. None of you look 240 years old, but you’ve got traditions built up in those years that are second to no fighting unit and no service in the world. I’ve been privileged to visit with you in many places in the world. Every one of those 70 countries has a compliment of United States Marines, and we really couldn’t do what we do anywhere in today’s world without the safety that you provide us, the security, and the help that you give to every single one of America’s outposts. We have over 275 outposts around the world – embassies, consulates, and sometimes a variation thereon – but in every case we are kept safe by the United States Marine Corps.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting with you in many places. I was in Helmand and visited Camp Leatherneck, Kandahar, Kabul, and in Fallujah, Baghdad, and over the years many places of conflict where your fellow Marines in many cases gave their lives in service to our country and in all cases served our country with great distinction.

I look back on my years in the service – and I was telling Assistant Secretary McGinn this coming over here – as one of the greatest teaching experiences of my life. I learned leadership – I think, I hope. I learned organization, structure, hierarchy, and I learned how to get the job done. And one of the things I have always known throughout my years in the United States Senate and elsewhere is that if you have to get the job done, the first people you go to are the United States Marines Corps.

I was recently in Guadalcanal with our team. We were on our way back from the Pacific. And the sound that is outside of the base there that was secured by Marines back in 19 – I think it was ’42 or so – that base looks out on a sound where there were more than 60 ships that were sunk during the time the Marines were on that airfield taking that island. And there’s a famous ridge there called Bloody Ridge, which I visited, where Sergeant John Basilone, who was a hero to everybody, earned his Medal of Honor in addition to the Navy Cross that he later was awarded and won posthumously. But he singlehandedly on Bloody Ridge repelled attack after attack of Japanese, managed his machine gun, sought ammunition when ammunition was low, and for that extraordinary heroism he was awarded the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor.

That really is only one example. I know and you know there are stories told where medals weren’t awarded where there was sometimes equal sacrifice and equal courage. So as we celebrate 240 years of a remarkable tradition, one that I think is unparalleled in all the services of the world, it’s my privilege to come here and pay you respect, to say thank you for your service to our nation and to the world, because in today’s world the difference that we make in our leadership, whether it’s in Syria now and our efforts with Special Forces on the ground against ISIL or in Iraq or in Afghanistan or in so many other places, we are the ones leading the effort to try to restore civility, to fight back against evil, and to provide the world with a better set of choices.

For your role in that, I thank you. And on the occasion of this anniversary, 240th, I wish you a great next year of success without a sorrow and sacrifice, but hopefully one that we can count on as having built the peace and helped to make our country safer.

Thank you for the great privilege of joining you for this birthday celebration. Thank you. (Applause.)