CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- The Marine Corps birthday, Nov. 10, 1775, is a sacred day for Marines, who celebrate the Corps' traditions and storied past with an annual birthday ball.
For Sgt. Katherine R. Ragazzino, a 27-year-old Philadelphia native, the ball gives her many reasons to celebrate.
Katherine, an administrative clerk with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was promoted to sergeant by her father, Augustine, at the 13th MEU's ball held at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, Nov.10.
Augustine has been Katherine's "date" for the last five balls, but he is no ordinary guest.
Mr. Ragazzino served four years in the Marine Corps during World War II from 1942 to 1945. Furthermore, he fought as a Browning Automatic Rifleman with 2nd Platoon, G Company, 25th Regiment, 4th Marine Division, in the famous "island-hopping campaign" in the Pacific, including the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima in 1945.
A week into the battle of Iwo Jima in February 1945, Augustine was hit by shrapnel in one of his legs - the same leg he was shot in while fighting in Saipan. Fearing the Japanese would continue to shoot him, he faked death and lay motionless. But when Ragazzino tried to crawl to safety, he was hit again, this time it was a bullet wound to his chest.
Miraculously, he managed to survive and was transported to several hospitals, where he spent the rest of his time in the Corps recovering before making it home to Philadelphia in July 1945.
The tragedy of losing close friends in the war in the Pacific took its toll on Augustine. Trying to remember the feelings of days gone by, tears well up in his reddened eyes and down the wrinkled, suntanned lines of Ragazzino's face. He can't recall, or he does not want to.
"When he cries, it makes me cry, because I love him so much," explained Katherine, as she leans on her father's shoulder crying with him. "When I look at him, I see so much of me. I know what he and others his age went through. Some people nowadays don't appreciate their elders, but I do. Being 27, most people don't have a parent as old as my dad (79)."
Katherine went to her father's Marine reunions, where she listened attentively. Those stories, lessons and values left an indelible mark on young Katherine.
Her father instilled patriotism and pride in her, to the extent that she still gets starry-eyed from the sounds of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful."
After graduating from Philly's Northeast High School in 1995, Katherine worked for a few years before enlisting in the Marine Corps. She said her father never talked to her about joining.
"As a young girl, he instilled in me what being a Marine was all about," Katherine said. "He never pressured me to join or talked about it. I just went off and did it. I think it was a calling for me."
Sergeant Ragazzino went to boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., in 1997, and spent her first enlistment as an admin clerk at Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division here until 2001. After reenlisting on Jan. 23, 2001, she was sent to the MEU.
Katherine was part of the 13th MEU's seven-month Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf Deployment 02-1 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
He understands first hand the sacrifice, dedication and hard work involved with being a Marine, and specifically deploying overseas in a time of war.
"I know what she has to go through, because I went through the same."
As "a man of few words," who "lives a very simple life," Augustine only needs one word to describe how he feels about Katherine being a Marine - "Great."
Regardless of the physical distance between father and daughter, Augustine remained the most prominent figure in Katherine's heart, and when times get tough, she thinks of his sacrifices.
"I feel very fortunate that he made it through World War II, simply because I wouldn't even be here today," she said. "All the pain I might feel can't compare to what he and his friends went through, and I just deal with my pain. I'm very fortunate."
With another deployment in 2003 on the horizon and hopes of being a Marine Security Guard, Ragazzino is planning a career in the Marines.
As each Nov. 10 passes, and her father returns to Philadelphia, Katherine realizes their time together won't last forever, which makes each visit more important.
"I see him once a year and I'm grateful for every moment I spend with him. I cherish the time. I take care of him now. The roles have reversed, like I'm the parent. I wouldn't change it at all. He is my life, a part of me, and he keeps me going."