A fully-outfitted U.S. Marine Corps band, dozens of officers strong, began to play a Jelly Roll Morton jazz standard.
It was certainly a unique privilege getting the chance to start off Carnival season with the Legion of Mars. As the only Carnival organization dedicated to honoring the officers of military and first response, the annual Grand Ball of the Legion recently held at the Hyatt Regency hotel was one-of-a-kind for the city's indoor Carnival celebrations. While many of the parading krewes of Mardi Gras are generations-spanning social clubs for specific neighborhoods around the city, the Legion's unique service-oriented purpose and theming lend it both the feel of an established Carnival institution and the dynamic vigor of an up-and-coming Krewe getting ready for its eighth parade.
Inspired by both the format of a traditional military ball and the celebrations of contemporary Mardi Gras, the event opened with a wide spectacle of ceremonies that, in my observation, highlighted both the members' rock-solid military discipline and the ultimate celebratory feel of the evening. The Marine Corps band switched on a dime between triumphant renditions of "House of the Rising Sun" and other famous New Orleans songs, to a dignified performance of each branch of the Armed Forces' theme, accompanied by the standing and respecting of its present officers. Just as quickly as the presentation reveled in comedic offerings of each branch's contribution of an ingredient in the Legion's traditional "Mardi Grog" cocktail, so too did it parlay this upbeat energy into an obeisant commemoration of the fallen officers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, signified by an elaborately adorned empty table.
Once the Royal Court had completed their assembly and the ceremonies had reached their conclusion, a long night of revelry followed. The event saw many tuxedos and floor-length ballgowns, but the highest honors were given to those in uniform. Many active-duty servicemen and women wore their regalia, and others were adorned in WWII period fatigues as a collaboration between the Legion and the National WWII Museum. Here, a group of active-duty officers in the USMC. There, Purple Heart veterans from the Vietnam and Afghanistan eras. Given the event's namesake of the Roman god of war, all parties also mingled freely with costumed Roman centurions. Having had a chance to talk with honored veterans and first responders, it was a common sentiment that there was a special honor attached to receiving recognition from a group specifically composed of and dedicated to fellow officers.
Getting a chance to try the much-hyped Mardi Grog near the end of the evening, its distinctive sour-sweet palate encapsulated both the trials and discipline faced every day by those in uniform, and the commendable celebration of honoring their commitment. Indeed, the Legion's event was composed for a group of officers who have, with no doubt, earned their respect and the celebrations of the night. The organization is diligently preparing for its annual "Mardi Gras War" down St. Charles Avenue this season, and I am anticipating nothing short of a decisive victory.
The Legion of Mars annual Grand Ball occurred on January, 28th at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The Legion is set to parade in Uptown New Orleans alongside the Krewe of Alla on February 18, 2022, at 7 p.m. For more information on the Legion of Mars, visit their website at legionofmars.com.