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Marines, city toast their union of 54 years

Retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Ray Wilburn laughs Friday while celebrating the commemoration of the Marines at Twentynine Palms.

Jay Calderon, The Desert Sun

When Sgt. Major Ray Wilburn was stationed on the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base in 1954, trailers were the only housing and the doorways and bathtubs would fill up with sand whenever the wind blew.
Since joining the Marines in 1939 - for $20.80 a month - 87-year-old Wilburn served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Then after 35 years of retirement, he donned a new uniform Friday and returned to active duty. For one day.


Michelle Mitchell
The Desert Sun
August 19, 2006

He was ordered to report to the 54th birthday celebration of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms and became part of the event's symbolic link of the past and present.

Wilburn joined other Marines and civilian community members to dedicate 29 newly planted palm trees to commemorate the history of the Marine Corps and the city of Twentynine Palms.

A Marine and a civilian VIP stood in front of each tree Saturday morning, and when a a cannon fired at about 10 a.m., they simultaneously snipped 29 ribbons.

"It's a really nice connection between the community and the Marines," said former Twentynine Palms mayor Jim Bagley.

Community members included the mayors of Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley and other elected officials, business leaders and representatives from service organizations.

"They in their own right represent the history of the Marine Corps and the history of the community," said Brig. Gen. Douglas Stone.

In front of each palm, a sign lists a battle in Marine Corps. history, from Tun Tavern, the birthplace of the Marines in 1775, to the Iraq war battle in Fallujah - a battle in which many Twentynine Palms-based Marines fought.
"We tried to put a lot of subtle symbolism here that those who think that way will find," Stone said.

For example, Wilburn helped dedicate the tree representing the battle of Sai Pan, where he fought in 1944. He celebrated his 25th birthday in a Sai Pan cane field.

Stone said the 29 chosen battles were the most representative of the Corps' history, not necessarily the most notable.

Other details were carefully thought through, even down to the type of tree.

The specific species of Washingtonian palm trees planted along the entrance to the base is native to the area.

Even giving Wilburn a modern uniform was meant to be symbolic. "The uniform may change, but the Corps' values don't," Stone said.

Though Twentynine Palms officially has a row of 29 trees, Marines won't change their nickname for the base - "Twentynine Stumps."

"Still the Stumps," said Cpl. Brian Tuthill, 20. "It's always referred to as the Stumps, that will never change."

"What we are today is a product of what we were yesterday," Stone said, adding that the past can offer insights into the current war in Iraq.

Stone also said that because of the nature of American democracy, American citizens will make the difference in the outcome of the war.

"It is you who decides whether we win this war," Stone said.

He said he is not worried about the Marines, even though some based at Twentynine Palms are approaching their fourth tour of duty, because they want to be there and they know they will win.

His concern is that Americans may not share that idea.

"Americans, regardless of how they feel, they need to be engaged," Stone said. "You can disagree with how (the war) is being fought but don't give up on it."