Former Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro’s Remarks at the 240th Marine Corps Birthday Ball, Tel Aviv

On behalf of the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv, my wife Julie, and the entire State Department, I am again honored to offer congratulations to the United States Marine Corps—this year on its 240th birthday.

Major General Eshel, Colonel Gregory Gillette, Mrs. Gillette, former Marine and Deputy Undersecretary in the Department of Homeland Security Ronald Clark, honored guests, distinguished men and women of the United States Marine Corps–in particular, the members of our Embassy Marine Detachment—Ladies and Gentlemen, their proud supporters, good evening.

A special word of thanks to Colonel Gillette for joining us tonight, and for his many years of service to his country.

Service to country takes many forms, both military and civilian. This week a lot of tears were shed at the Embassy over a fallen colleague, Vincent Romero, who served at our Embassy from 2009 to 2012, and met his wife Iris while here.

Vincent carried many ranks and titles during a life that was tragically cut short just days ago. I will only mention four of the most noteworthy: husband, father, foreign service officer, and Marine. As a community, we will do everything we can to comfort his family in the weeks and months ahead. He was so dear to all of us who served with him.

Each year, we gather to honor the Marine Corps and the character, courage, and professionalism we associate with its members. To our outstanding Embassy Marine Detachment under the superb leadership of Staff Sargent Rudy Talon, and through you to Marines stationed the world over, we say: your courage and dedication to your country are humbling and worthy of our highest respect.

Yet each year we are reminded that all Marines cannot celebrate as we are celebrating tonight.

Right down the street, there are Marines who are standing guard at our Embassy so that other Marines can be here tonight. Worldwide, there are thousands of Marines on missions far and wide, from Afghanistan to Iraq, and from stations in Japan and Korea, all effectively working 24/7 missions—many of them without conventional front lines, yet all of them sharing a common dedication to devote every ounce of their strength, their bravery and their excellence, as best epitomized by the Marine’s eternal creed: semper fidelis, or “always faithful.”

It has always been thus: at Guadalcanal, at Iwo Jima, at Korea, at Vietnam, at Fallujah and everywhere Marines have fought.

Since 1948, the State Department and the Marine Corps have enjoyed a special, historic relationship. U.S. Marines have protected our embassies and consulates since that year, where the first Marine guards took up their posts in Tangiers and Bangkok. Here in Tel Aviv, yours are the faces that greet us as we come to work in the morning, and the faces that bid us farewell as we leave to go home at night. And how reassuring that is! You serve here, standing watch, as your fellow Marines stand at the ready all over the world—for our safety, for our shared values, for our democracy, and as Marines have done for nearly two and a half centuries.

You are also an integral part of the unique alliance between our two great countries. Marines, along with our soldiers, sailors, and airmen, learn and train together with the Israel Defense Forces, trading new skills, perfecting old ones, and building bonds that tie our two nations together like ships in a storm. Marine Corps scientists and engineers are working together with Israeli counterparts on technology that will save lives on the battlefield, and to counter terror tunnels that threaten Israel’s security. And General Eshel, like so many leaders of the IDF, can share countless stories of friendships built between Marines and Israeli fighters in pursuit of our common security.

This bond and quest is tested year after year as Americans and Israelis grapple with the threats of enemies who seek to do us harm and terrorists who aim to take what is most precious to us. Even in recent days, Israelis and Americans have died together in such attacks, and tonight, one American victim, Ezra Schwartz, is being returned to his family for burial. We wish them, and the families of all the victims, comfort and healing.

Alongside recent tragedies, we also had cause for celebration. I was deeply honored to tour the USS New York, one of the Navy’s newest vessels, its hull forged with steel from the World Trade Center that was destroyed on 9/11. The USS New York transports Marines to missions far and wide, literally carrying them to the fight. It was just one of many naval ship visits that brought Marines to Israel this past year.

Let me just add one last anecdote, which may seem mundane, but illustrates how selfless Marines can be. Last December, the Embassy was trying to rush a Hanukah menorah to none other than the Commander in Chief, President Obama for a White House Hannukah celebration. We could not have done so without Sgt. Justin Morales volunteering to lug–and I mean lug—an enormous crate with him on his flight home, after completing his service in Israel.

Marines never cease to amaze me.

This year marked the passing of another Marine who served both of our countries with integrity and valor. Lou Lenart, of blessed memory, born the son of Jewish farmers in Hungary, came to the United States at the age of 10, and enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was 17. Almost given up for dead after a mid-air collision during flight school, Lou went on to serve in World War II with valour, seeing action in the Battle for Okinawa and around the Pacific, and was discharged honorably at the end of the war with the rank of Captain. He went on to serve in the newly formed Israel Defense Forces, leading the attack on advancing Egyptian troops in 1948 that earned him the title of “The Man who saved Tel Aviv.” He was one of the stars of “Machal.”

“The Machal forces were the Diaspora’s most important contribution,” said founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion,” to the survival of the State of Israel.” At their memorial near Sha’ar HaGai, on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a verse from Joshua is inscribed: “All those of valour shall pass armed among your brethren, and shall help them.”

That also seems a fitting epitaph for the men and women of the U.S. Marine Corps. Marines are people of valour who have chosen to bear arms and put themselves at risk to defend their brethren. There is no higher calling, and we are forever in your debt.

Happy birthday Marines, thank you, and Semper Fidelis!

Now I’d like to introduce Major General Amir Eshel, Commander of the IAF. He’s a great friend to me, the U.S., and the U.S. military. I’d be honored if you would offer your greetings to our Marines.