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Stunning 'Battle Colors Ceremony' at Camp Pendleton

Uniform. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word as: “Having always the same form, manner or degree: not varying or variable.” That word describes the manner of marching and musical accompaniment at Camp Pendleton’s Battle Colors Ceremony, which was held twice on Friday, March 6.

It looked like well over a thousand spectators filled the bleachers and spilled out onto the grassy football field in the late afternoon as the “Commandant’s Own” – the United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps and the Silent Drill Platoon demonstrated their skills in 55-degree weather. Occasionally a trumpet or belt buckle would catch a glint of sun in the waning daylight.

Amid the clash of cymbals and call of bold trumpets the corps performed contemporary songs by composer John Williams as well as a repertoire of rousing marches, including “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” The group presented their thrillingly choreographed marches in precise motions.

The US Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, travels throughout the nation, and sometimes to other countries, performing 500 shows a year. They are based in Washington, DC, and are combat-trained, which adds to the mastery of the performances.

Members wear scarlet and gold breast cords, which were initially awarded by Franklin D. Roosevelt as he was president in 1934, when the corps was first formed. Highly polished in every way, each uniform consists of a red jacket, white pants, white hat, white gloves and gleaming patent leather shoes.

Synchronization is the word that best describes the Silent Drill Platoon, a 24-member group organized in 1948 that performs without verbal commands. There is even a height and weight requirement to create a more uniform performance. The slap of leather gloves on the uniforms and the soft cadence of shoes on the lawn was the only sound to be heard as the Silent Drill Platoon marched. Then came the only verbal order of the performance: the order to affix the bayonets. The platoon members use fully operational hand-polished M-1 rifles weighing 10.5 pounds each. It is important to note that this is not just entertainment but a highly disciplined performance that is infused with military tradition.

The heavy rifles were tossed and spun as if they were light majorette batons. A “rifle inspector” glided gracefully down the firm line as rifles were tossed back and forth in a random exchange. Only two Marines each year are selected for duty as rifle inspectors.

Excellence was the standard during the entire performance, but then, we shouldn’t be surprised. These are “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”

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