Santa Ana Police celebrate Marine Corps birthday with cake-cutting ceremony


The Marine Corps cake-cutting ceremony, held on the Corps’ birthday, is an annual renewal of each Marine’s commitment to the Corps and the Corps’ commitment to the nation’s quest for peace and worldwide freedom.

On Nov. 10, 2022, the United States Marine Corps turned 247 years old.

A traditional U.S. Marine Corps birthday cake is used during roll call at Santa Ana Police Department headquarters.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

With former Marines among their ranks for several years, the Santa Ana Police Department holds its own annual ceremony, adhering to the precise guidelines and traditions that the Corps employs. This year’s cake-cutting ceremony took place in the department’s briefing room.

As is the custom, Sgt. Mauricio Estrada used a sword to cut the cake, symbolizing that the Marines are a band of warriors committing to carrying the sword so that United States may live in peace. A piece of cake was presented to Estrada, 49, the oldest Marine, signifying the honor and respect afforded to his experience and seniority.

Santa Ana Police Sgt. Mauricio Estrada uses a Marine Corps noncommissioned officer’s sword to cut the cake during a traditional Marine’s cake cutting ceremony at roll call to honor Veterans Day.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

As the oldest Marine, Estrada passed a piece of cake to the youngest Marine present, Officer Johnny Peralta, as a symbolic gesture meant to show how Marines have nurtured and led young Marines, who will fill the ranks.

Estrada entered boot camp two weeks after graduating high school and served in the Marines from June 1992 till December 1996.

“It was an amazing experience,” Estrada said. “The discipline that I learned, the world view that I gained and the experience I gained in the Marine Corps has really been the foundation of everything I’ve accomplished afterwards.”

Santa Ana Police Sgt. Mauricio Estrada, left, and Officer John Choi, both U.S. Marine Corps veterans, cut the traditional cake for the other officers at roll call.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

At first Estrada wasn’t sure what he would do when he left the Corps, but knew he wanted to continue to serve others.

“Where else could I give back and where else could I provide service? So, I looked into law enforcement,” said Estrada, who has been with Santa Ana PD for 24 years. “(Law enforcement) is kind of a natural transition. It shares a lot of the same values, a lot of the same camaraderie and the sense of service really attracted me.”

Peralta, a Santa Ana officer for four years, served in the Marine Corps Reserves from 2106 to 2022. He wanted to go into law enforcement long before he entered the Marines and served as a SAPD Explorer at age 18 before enlisting.

Santa Ana police officers stand for the National Anthem during roll call on Veterans Day.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“I had other family members serving in the Marine Corps so I had that pride growing up,” Peralta said. “I always wanted to be a Marine. The brotherhood and traditions we have, that’s what I like most about the Marine Corps.”

The ceremony included a reading of a letter written by John Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corp on Nov 1, 1921. Lejeune directed that his message be shared with all Marines every year on the Corps’ birthday.

Part of the letter read:

“In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term Marine has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.”

The letter was read by Officer John Choi, who joined the Marines right out of high school and went on to serve in the Corps for 22 years. Initially, Choi planned to serve four years before becoming a police officer, but once he became a Marine, his plans changed.

A traditional U.S. Marine Corps birthday cake used during roll call at Santa Ana Police Department headquarters.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“I grew to like the structure, the formalities, the challenges, because every day was different,” Choi said. “Being trusted to hold a weapon at the age of 18, travel the world, meet different people — it was a sense of excitement and a sense of duty.”

Choi, who did one tour in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said his service in the Corps gave him a solid foundation for his life.

“Switching over to law enforcement was a very smooth transition,” Choi said. “The structure, chain of command, the formalities. Although I love the Marine Corps and I miss it, I don’t think I miss it nearly as much as I would have if I didn’t go into law enforcement. So, this has been one fulfilling career after another.”