On Tuesday Marines around the world, old and young, celebrated with unrivaled revelry the 245th birthday of the Marine Corps.
As part of the celebration and in deference to the Marines who earned the Corps' reputation through bloody fights around the globe, Marines near Washington D.C., led by Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black and Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Gary Thomas, put wreaths on the graves of 30 Marines.
While nearly all the Marines honored are former commandants or sergeant majors of the Marine Corps, six Marines were specifically chosen by Black and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger for their contribution to the Corps' history.
Here are those six Marines:
Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “hashmark”Johnson: Johnson enlisted into the stewards branch of the Navy in 1929. As a black man, it was one of the few Navy jobs open to him. Johnson was serving on the dreadnought battleship Wyoming in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when it was attacked by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the integration of the armed forces a year later, Johnson requested a transfer to the Marine Corps. At Montford Point Johnson earned the nickname “Hashmark” because he was one of the few men there with more than 10 years of military service, according to the Marine Corps.
During World War II Johnson became one of the first black men trained to be a drill instructor and later led 25 combat patrols while stationed on Guam, according to the Corps.
He also was the first black man to be promoted to sergeant major in the Marine Corps.
“Sgt. Maj. Gilbert ‘Hashmark’ Johnson is being honored for his place in Marine Corps history as one of the original Montford Point Marines, being one the first African-Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps and one of the first African-American sergeants major in the Marine Corps,” Master Sgt. James McCrohan, a spokesman for the Marine Corps, told Marine Corps Times.
Pvt. Robert Maulding: Maulding joined the Corps after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The young Marine ended up in the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and was promised to be one of the first Marines to face the Japanese toe-to-toe, according to HonorStates.org.
In the summer of 1942, as the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the Raiders along with Maulding were sent to attack a small atoll on the Gilbert Islands in the hopes of distracting the Japanese military, the website said.
Maulding was killed on Aug. 17, 1942, shortly after the operation began.
Sgt. Benjamin Moffatt: Moffat enlisted in the Corps before the war broke out, but re-enlisted in time to serve in World War II. The young Marine died in Iwo Jima, Japan, on March 9, 1945, months before the war ended.
“This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII and Pvt Maulding represents one of the earliest Marine casualties of the war (Aug 17, 1942) and Sgt Moffat represents one of the latest Marine casualties of the war (March 9, 1945),” McCrohan said.
Pfc. Bill Johnson: Johnson, 21, fought with the 1st Marine Division in the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea. One of the famous “frozen Chosin,” Johnson went missing Nov. 30, 1950, according to the Department of Defense.
Johnson was one of 55 Americans killed in the Korean War whose remains were returned to the U.S. in 2018, according to the Department of Defense. He officially was identified and accounted for on Aug. 7, 2019, and was buried in Arlington Cemetery Feb. 11.
Pfc. Michal Kocopy: Kocopy served the Marine Corps during World War II and was part of the force that attacked the heavily fortified Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands.
“A million men cannot take Tarawa in 100 years," Japanese Admiral Keiji Shibasaki, in charge of the Japanese defense, allegedly bragged.
It took 4,000 Marines roughly three days to take the atoll.
But the cost was heavy.
More than 1,000 Americans lost their lives and more than 2,000 were wounded, according to the Department of Defense.
Kocopy was one of the Marines killed on the first day of the battle.
His remains were declared “non-recoverable” in 1949, but in 2019, the nonprofit History Flight Inc., identified his remains and worked to move them to Arlington National Cemetery.
After the decades of spending Marine Corps birthdays alone for both Kocopy and Johnson, the commandant wanted to ensure they were honored this year.
“Gen. Berger wanted to pay respects on our birthday to two Marines who gave their lives in defense of our nation,” said Maj. Eric Flanagan, a spokesman for the commandant’s office.
Berger originally was scheduled to lay the wreaths, but other “obligations” in the Pentagon caused the assistant commandant to take over for him at the wreath laying ceremony.
Lt. Gen. John Lejeune: Though Lejeune is a former commandant his importance to the modern day Marine Corps was so significant that Berger and Black felt he should receive special prominence.
Lejeune joined the Corps in 1890 serving with the Marines from the Philippines to Cuba. During World War I he became the first Marine to hold an Army division command, leading a force of soldiers and Marines as they faced off against the Germans in the trenches of the Western Front, according to the Marine Corps.
As commandant, Lejeune formalized the Marine Corps birthday celebration and his message to the Corps that is still read today at every birthday celebration, according to the Marine Corps.
“Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the nation’s bravest and most honorable men and women to have served in uniform,” McCrohan told Marine Corps Times.
“Though only a few wreaths will be placed at graves in honor of the Marine Corps' 245th birthday, all who rest in Arlington are deserving,” he added.