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Will Hayden: Happy Birthday Marine Corps

Recently, I was invited to be the guest of honor at the Marine Corps Ball here in Louisiana. I then found out that they wanted me to be the guest of honor and that I would need to give a speech.

I think it goes without saying, it was an incredible experience for me. I'd never gone to the ball, you know, even when I was active service. My first experience with it was as the guest of honor, it was also my first experience at public speaking. It was really great being back in the full company of Marines. We did the ceremony and walked out with Honor Guard, cut the cake, watched the color ceremony and then I gave my short speech. They actually filmed this, so it'll show up eventually.

I was pretty nervous about the whole thing, I mean, "What to say?" I'm not a politician, so no "vote for me" speech. I don't have a movie I want them to all go watch or a book to plug. I have a little show on TV, which to me is a pretty trivial accomplishment. I have a business that I'm proud of, but I've never made a sales pitch in my life, so that's out.

Besides, these are Marines. They have a different set of priorities. So I thought about it and threw away everything I had written and just walked out with a question.

Now, there's one question every Marine gets: "What's it like being in the Marine Corps?" I've never tried to answer this one. Because there's just no way to explain it, not in words they'll understand -- or at least I've never been able to do it.

How do you tell somebody what it's like doing bends and thrusts until you puke, and still keep going because your drill instructor's not tired? How do you tell people what that's like? Walking your post in a military manner, and there's nobody around for two miles to see you do it, and you're still doing it right. I couldn't tell you why. Living and serving with people that live words like "duty," "honor," "courage" and "integrity" every day of their lives. It's not just stuff that they see in a movie or words they see on a page in a book; it's their whole reason for being. How do you tell people what it's like knowing men like that? I can't.

How do you tell people what it's like to serve with men who put on their uniform every day knowing that they are their nation's sacrifice for freedom, for honor, for dignity? I've never been able to express it. 

How do you tell people what it's like when you look down the line and you see all the Marines that aren't with you anymore? There's no knowing. There's no way of telling people what that's like.

Being called "Marine," was the proudest moment of my life. It's a title I felt unworthy of then, and one I'm still trying to live up to this day. There were a lot of young Marines at the Ball and I wanted to tell them "thank you," and I wanted to tell them that as they go through live and through the ranks, they'll earn many titles, but it's that first title, "Marine" , that will make all the rest possible. 
Happy birthday, Marine Corps. I wish I could tell people what it's like, but one of y'all will have to step up because I can't. And Happy Veterans' Day to all the servicemen and women of the Armed Forces -- God love you and keep you safe.

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