When the Marine Corps Birthday Luncheon at Marina Jack started with a handful of Marines in 2003, it grew through word of mouth, and eventually became an occasion not to be missed.
“There’s Christmas, Easter and the Marine Corps birthday,” said attendee Mike Rey, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
The luncheon, which hosted over 150 Marines from ages 32 to 93, was held at Marina Jack on Nov. 10 in celebration of the Marines' 248th birthday.
Tom Smith, who led the event, said the only thing many people in the room have in common is that they are Marines.
Smith said the Marines are steeped in tradition. As is the practice worldwide, the luncheon included the passing of the first piece of cake by the oldest Marine in the room, who was David Beliles, chair of Observer Media Group, who is 93, to the youngest in the room, who was Tony Fudoli, 32.
"This is my first time being the youngest, but it was a pleasure with a group group full of a generation of Marines that are that building a foothold that we stand on as Marine Corps," Fudoli said.
Some attendees who were even younger also found a meaningful experience.
Ayla Edwards, a 12th grader who is regimental commander at Sarasota Military Academy, was one of the students to attend on behalf of the school. Also present was her father, Bill Edwards, who is a Marine.
“It's really important to me, especially having someone in my family who is a Marine, and being in that position at my school to be a part of this and actually be able to contribute, and meet all of the real-life heroes of our time," she said. "I just think it's really important to have that connection."