About 40 student and faculty veterans gathered Thursday night near the flagpole in the Diag with cake and camaraderie to ring in the 241st birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Fifteen attendees wore only their boots and underwear — referred to as “silkies” by attendees — as part of the Veterans Week tradition. The cake was cut with a traditional non-commission officer sword that students received approval from the Division of Public Safety and Security to have on campus, according to lecturer Eric Fretz, a University of Michigan alum. The ceremony was observed by Marines who were no longer on active or on reserve duty, with the goal of showing respect for the members and traditions of their community, Fretz said, and that as part of the ceremony, the cake first went to the oldest and youngest Marine present.
Business senior Jonathan Chen, president of the Student Veterans Association, said he organized the event for the first time three years ago and has been coordinating it ever since. Chen said it felt particularly meaningful to be surrounded by his peers because this will be his last year participating in the event.
“I think the biggest thing is … nobody’s going to do it but us,” Chen said. “This kind of camaraderie and revelry and us being kind of stupid as well — it brings us together in the end of the day. In terms of social identities, this is our culture, this is what we’re used to.”
Art & Design senior Julian Rebel, who was given the first piece of cake as the oldest veteran at the ceremony for the second year in a row, said he feels grateful for the community they have on campus.
“I’m glad we practice this tradition on this campus, not just because of the large amount of veterans that we have here, but because it’s something that’s really sentimental to each and every one of us,” Rebel said. “We’re very fortunate to be in this town where they are very receptive of veterans in general.”