ELMONT, N.Y. – Have you ever seen an old Viking movie where the Norsemen would gather at a table telling stories of their epic battle as they drank from massive cups overflowing with mead while feasting on more food than any man should be able to eat in one sitting? Then you have an idea as to what a Marine Corps Mess Night entails.
Although the time of Vikings has long past and today’s traditions are far more regimented and orderly, at its heart, the Marine Corps Mess Night is still a celebration of the warriors who have come before us, battles won and sharing camaraderie amongst the Marines of a unit.
In keeping with the time honored tradition, the Marines of the 1st Marine Corps District, the unit charged with Marine recruiting in the Northeastern United States, gathered Sept. 7 at the American Legion Post, here, for a mess night.
“We do this as Marines because it’s part of our traditions,” said Col. J. J. Dill, 1 MCD’s commanding officer. “Most units don’t host mess nights anymore. They say they are too busy or they don’t have the time. This is what makes Marines unique, that we cherish our customs and courtesies and traditions.”
The event began with several traditional rituals. The marching in of the mess followed by the marching of the head table, which included Dill as the president of the mess and the guest of honor, retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ed G. Farah.
The event then continued with the ceremonial marching of the beef, during which Dill had a Marine in attendance taste the meat served and declare it was fit for human consumption.
While the Marines enjoyed the dinner the floor was opened for fining, a mess custom during which the Marines accuse members of the mess of committing “crimes,” which can range from minor uniform discrepancies to playing pranks on each other designed to bolster camaraderie and morale.
Marines found guilty by the president of the mess were sentenced to paying a fine and the more “heinous” offenders had to endure the nauseating punishment of drinking from the grog, a liquid concoction of whatever is available designed to be less than pleasing to the pallet.
Some of the more popular accusations were Sgt. Edwin Ramirez, administrative clerk, placing a toy rat and snake underneath the seats of two staff noncommissioned officers and accusing them of bringing pets into the mess.
“I thought of pranking them because I thought the majority of the fines were going to go the (noncommissioned officers) and I wanted to make sure the Staff NCOs got their fair share,” said Sgt. Edgar Caballero, an administrative clerk and the true mastermind behind the toy animals.
Sgt. Alex B. Cardarelli, logistics noncommissioned officer-in-charge, then accused Gunnery Sgt. Dennis K. Smith, logistics chief, of listening to Disney music while working. Smith did not deny the claim, but Carderelli was ultimately fined for being biased against an American institution that provides jobs to thousands of Americans across the country.
“Sgt. Carderilli got really winded so I just said, ‘Like OJ sir, if it doesn’t fit, you must aquit,’” Smith said.
Although there were many other accusations and defenses to the crimes, no defense was greater than Master Sgt. Theodore J. Grell’s defense to the vice president’s accusation of bringing outside drinks into the mess.
With a booming performance, Grell convinced the commanding officer that as an “old school” Marine there could be no greater crime than for a Marine to leave a drink behind and waste alcohol and was not fined or sentenced to the wretched grog.
“It was the best rebuttal I have ever heard at a mess night. It was logical, funny … and it kept with Marine Corps tradition,” Sgt. Malik S. King, a supply clerk, said jokingly.
Once dinner was finished and the fining came to an end, it was time to honor Marines past and present with the ceremonial toasting. It is mess night tradition to toast to the Marines who have served in past conflicts, the Navy corpsmen who tend to them, the president of the United States and to the health of the Marine Corps.
The mess came to a conclusion following comments by Farah who expressed his gratitude for being the guest of honor and shared a few sea stories. Farah served in active and reserve components of the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1983. He was present at the Japanese surrender during World War II and served in the Korean War as well. He was an intelligence officer by trade.
For those Marines who had never been to a mess night, it was an experience that many described as impossible to forget.
“It was awesome,” said Cpl. Stephanie M. Bonilla, an administrative clerk. “It was very professional, well organized and a lot of fun … and the food was great.”