MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- More than 410 Marines of Headquarters and Service Battalion attended their First Annual Battalion Mess Night April 17.
Mess Nights are held to promote camaraderie and esprit de corps within a unit.
While in presentation the Mess Night is an extremely formal affair, Marines have found ways of turning the stuffy into the entertaining.
Fines and grog, a vile concoction of various drinks never intended to be mixed, are dispensed for violations of protocol. As a result, pranks and setups follow. At the H&SBn. Mess Night, one captain attempted to frame a senior officer by ordering a pizza to the Mess Night in his name. The captain was caught, fined and made one of several trips to the grog that night.
A gunnery sergeant "found" mess hall food taped to the chair of the captain next to him. The captain was fined and grogged. There were of course the usual fines for uniform discrepancies, the wearing of clip-on ties and other heinous crimes against protocol.
Traditions and courtesies also dictate that no one leaves the mess without direct permission from the president of the mess. This includes "shedding a tear for Lord Nelson," better known as making a head call.
Lord Nelson, one of Britain's most beloved admirals, died at the Battle of Trafalgar. Because of the time needed to sail back to England, Nelson's body was placed in a cask of brandy to be preserved for burial.
According to legend, sailors would request to "shed a tear for the Admiral" on the trip home, drawing brandy from the keg and urinating in it to replace the fluid. Taking in account that Nelson's body was guarded 24-7 by a British Marine and arrived in England perfectly preserved, this legend is probably untrue.
Historians generally attribute the first Mess Nights as the Marine Corps knows them today to be the result of the association between Marines and British officers in China during the 1920's.
The adjutant of the 4th Marines, Capt. Lemuel C. Shepard (later General Shepard), was also the coach of the regiment's swim team. His counterpart in the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards invited Shepard and his commanding officer, Col. Henry C. Davis, to a guest night hosted by the regiment.
The Marines were impressed at the display of toasts, music and the grandeur of the event. The next day, Davis ordered Shepard to arrange a similar event to be hosted by the 4th Marines. The Scots Guards were of course invited.
Headquarters and Service Battalion ended the night, traditionally, by toasting to Marines of different eras, America's prisoners of war and missing in action, and America's fallen comrades. Finally, a toast to country
and Corps ended the night. "Long live the United States, and success to the Marine Corps!"