Ambassador Atul Keshap’s Speech at 240th Marine Ball

November 14, 2015

Honorable Minister Sagala Ratnayaka, Your Excellency the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, High Commissioner of South Africa Geoff Doidge and Mrs. Doidge, General and Mrs. Banta, American Embassy colleagues and family members, members of the Colombo American community, and all distinguished guests, I bid you all a very good evening.

I am honored to extend a very warm welcome to all of you who have gathered for tonight’s celebration to honor the 240th anniversary of the founding of the United States Marine Corps.  Karen and I extend our particular thanks and affection to Staff Sergeant Frank Hewett, Mrs. Robin Hewett, and to the U.S. Embassy’s Marine Security Guard Detachment for planning such a spectacular event and inviting us to be a part of this special occasion.

Karen and I have attended Marine Corps Birthday Balls in Conakry, Guinea, Rabat, Morocco, and New Delhi, India.  Celebrating this occasion with the Marine Corps means a lot to us.  Wherever they are, all around the world and all around the Fleet, Marines gather every year at Birthday events that honor their glorious history and grand traditions, and remind all of us how much the Corps believes in mentoring its youngest members to prepare them for leadership.  It’s an inspiring reminder to all of us to invest in a brighter future while respecting the hard-won lessons of the past.  And, most importantly, it proves an adage sacred to the Corps:  “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

And today, as we celebrate 240 years of Marine Corps history and look towards the future, we are all privileged to gather tonight in a Sri Lanka whose citizens have renewed their country’s commitment to democracy and human freedom.    The world has noted with strong appreciation the positive transformation in this country as its people and government advance the cause of democracy, human rights, good governance, and reconciliation for all the people of Sri Lanka.  I am excited by the new opportunities for partnerships between the United States and Sri Lanka; as Secretary of State John Kerry said during his visit in May, the United States will stand by Sri Lanka’s side in a future marked by peace and prosperity.

And speaking of freedom loving people, I want to pause for a moment to remember those killed in cowardly terrorist attacks last night in Paris.   The American people will always owe France a very great debt of honor; the Marquis de Lafayette, Comte de Rochambeau, and Admiral de Grasse were crucial to America’s victory in the Revolutionary War, and we Americans will always stand in solidarity with France and the French people.

Friends, permit me to reiterate my great respect and heartfelt appreciation for the men and women of the U.S. Marine Corps.  Each of you represents the best of the Marine Corps and its hallowed traditions. When you joined the Marines, you signed a blank check to your country, indicating your readiness to give all that you have in service of the United States and its democratic values and freedoms.  Marines just like you have earned the respect and admiration of millions around the world for their supreme courage and devotion to duty, from Tripoli to Tarawa, Belleau Wood to Guadalcanal, Chosin Reservoir to Iwo Jima.

My 80 year old mother is here with us tonight; her great-great uncle, Corporal Edward Winfield Taylor, USMC, volunteered from Virginia to go to France, and was killed in action on June 11, 1918 at the Battle of Chateau Thierry, and lies buried in the American Cemetery in Belleau, France.  Like many thousands of Marines before and since, he gave his life for his country, and for the great cause of democracy and human freedom.   President Ronald Reagan said, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world.  But the Marines don’t have that problem.”

Marines, every one of you here tonight is a member of the greatest fighting force in the world, an elite family of warriors who have stood vigilant guard over the United States for 240 years.  You belong to a great and glorious tradition, and I want you to know that your hard work, your dedication, and your enthusiasm are an inspiration to me and to all of us here tonight. We are proud to have you as members of our Embassy family.

Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The Department of State and the Marine Corps have a special, historic relationship. U.S. Marines have protected our embassies and consulates since 1948, but our common effort to promote peace and security around the world goes back much further. Your dedication to duty and achieving the mission gives us all the confidence to perform our work, knowing you are vigilantly protecting our security. We are extremely grateful for all that you do and your willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice, if necessary, to protect our great nation. Marines represent the very best of what America stands for, and America thanks you – not only on your birthday, but every day.”

That’s enough from me.  This is your night, Marines.  You should celebrate with pride this 240th birthday – may God always bless and protect you!

Happy Birthday, Marines, and Semper Fi!