H & S Marines address the mess

24 Feb 2006 | Lance Cpl. John J. Parry

In 1776, the United States declared its independence from the British government. However,
the United States Marine Corps finds itself 230 years later, modifying the traditions of the
British Royal Marine Corps and using those traditions as a foundation to create some of
their own.

H & S Company NCOs of the “Oldest Post” carried on the tradition of formal military dining,
or the Marine Corps Mess Night, Wednesday, Feb. 22.

First Sergeant Walter C. Baldwin, company first sergeant, H & S Company, said the purpose of
the Mess Night, although formal, is to provide a change of settings from the normal
workplace, creating an environment that allows Marines to share experiences with each other.

“Some people, put them in a different setting, and you’ll get a different result,” said
Baldwin.

The history of the Marine Corps Mess Night is a mostly undocumented, word-of-mouth tradition
passed down from generation to generation and is used by leadership to build esprit de corps
between Marines.

“It’s beneficial for Marines to have these outings to build strong relationships with each
other,” said Sergeant Clayburn Perry, food service inspector.

According to the Naval Historical Center, the history of military dining dates back to the
Roman Legion holding victory feasts in celebration over its conquests of rival factions.
Centuries passed and the tradition of these feasts continued with the Vikings and even King
Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

In sixth century England, the traditions of formal feasting spread into non-military society
through religious clergy. The traditions of formal mess were taught to educators by the
clergy through the years, and these educators began to teach British officers the mess
traditions.

The Marine Corps bases their Mess Night on the traditions passed down from the British. The
first Mess Nights were held in Washington, D.C. by the Marines from the “Oldest Post”

Over the course of American history, the British and American militaries continued to interact
with each other using the formal dining tradition. In 1867, the British and American militaries held a formal dinner in Hong Kong, which involved “The Presidents Own,” the Marine Corps Band who calls 8th & I home.

Through the course of the 1930’s and 1940’s, the British and Americans had a series of mess
nights that eventually led to the first literary mention of mess traditions in the Marine
Corps. By order of General Lemuel C. Shepherd, 20th Commandant of the Marine Corps, the book
“The Marine Officer’s Guide” was the first written documentation of mess etiquette.

At a Marine Corps Mess Night, British tradition can still be observed when the president of
the mess tells the vice president of the mess that “It’s time to shed a tear for Lord
Admiral Nelson.” The vice president, or “Mr. Vice,” dismisses the Marines when instructed by
the president, or “Mr. President,” to quickly use the restroom.

The NCOs of the “Oldest Post” carried on the traditions of a mess night in full dress blues
from the beginning of cocktail hour, which begins at 6:00 p.m. in the bar, to the fining of
Marines for “disloyalty” and “disrespect” toward the mess just before 8:00 p.m.

The purpose of the fining is to have a laugh among Marines about the outrageous stunts
pulled by the Marines to lighten the mood of the dinner, said Sergeant Marcus G. Chatman,
president of the mess.

Sergeant Clint V. Reynolds, battalion and ceremonial drill education non-commissioned
officer, accused another Marine of bringing his ketchup into the mess “because he loves it
so much”.

“Say it ain’t so!” said Corporal Robert M. Speir, grounds worker for the “Oldest Post.”
The mess went into an uproar, resulting in Chatman levying the maximum fine, which was set
at three dollars for this mess.

Marines forced to pay fines at mess nights are summoned to see the vice president, normally
the youngest member of the mess or for the NCO’s mess Corporal Raul E. Damiani,
administrative clerk, H & S Company, who collected fines and enforced the mess’s
presidential decisions.

“The night went very well, I felt as though certain bonds and friendships were made that
could last a long time,” Chatman said.

Chatman was the Marine who brought up the idea of putting the night together for the NCOs.
Using the same techniques to put the mess together as the Marines before him, Chatman
consulted Baldwin about putting the mess together. Baldwin gave Chatman information about
all the mess nights he had attended prior.

Of course, Baldwin didn’t mind helping, “The food is good, and the event was fun. Most
military clubs do great cheesecake.”

The mess was successful and we plan on putting together more in the future, Chatman said.
Chatman suggested that more Marines in Mess Night because doing so is following the
tradition set by the Marines before him and possibly bringing in something new to the event.