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Marines

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Retired U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Ruth 'Mama Lou' Keller receives her birthday cake during her 99th birthday celebration, March 30, 2024, in San Jose, CA. Mama Lou was stationed at the Pentagon during the height of WWII processing Purple Hearts.

Photo by Cpl. Trystan Taft

U.S. Marines celebrate retired Marine Corps Cpl. Lou 'Mama Lou' Keller's 99th birthday

22 Apr 2024 | Cpl. Trystan Taft U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve

U.S. Marines with Headquarters Company, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division celebrated U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Lou ‘Mama Lou’ Keller’s 99th birthday at her home in San Jose, March 30, 2024.

It was the first time Marines came to visit Keller for her birthday celebration.

“Keller’s family reached out to James Brown from the Wine Country Marines, and Brown contacted us to see if we were available to visit,” said Gunnery Sgt. Kristina Perieff, a career planner with 23rd Marines.

According to an article written by James Brown for the Wine Country Marines, a nonprofit veteran's organization, Keller served at the Pentagon processing Purple Hearts for Marines fighting overseas during the height of World War II.

When the Marines arrived at Keller’s house, she was filled with joy.

“When we showed up, she had a big smile on her face, and she was in good spirit," said Perieff.

During the celebration, the Marines brought out a chocolate cake, Keller’s favorite, and sang her happy birthday.

“We sang her happy birthday and helped her cut the cake with a Mameluke sword. She was smiling and clapping the entire time,” said Perieff.

The visiting Marines were inspired by Keller and her story and the visit had a profound impact on them.

“We all gave her hugs and thanked her for her service and being a trailblazer for future women in the Marine Corps,” said Perieff. “We had three generations of Marines present, and it was awesome for our organization to be there for her.”

According to Brown from Wine Country Marines, Keller was born March 31, 1925, in Gilroy, California. Keller enlisted in the Marine Corps in honor of her late father who was a Marine Corps veteran of World War I. She became the first woman from her hometown of Gilroy to enlist in the Marine Corps.

Throughout her years in the Marine Corps, she was a pillar of leadership and inclusion, evading many social and exclusive norms that were present in society during that time. After her service in the Marine Corps, Keller returned home to California and went to San Jose State University to become a stenographer. Soon after, she met and married her husband. Later, after finding work at a bakery, she fell in love with the culinary art.

Keller is now under hospice care and despite the situation she finds herself in, her spirit remains unbroken.

“I will see you on my 100th birthday, you all better be here,” Keller told the Marines.

Keller has been a trailblazer for generations of Marines, with her extroverted spirit and honor to duty she has inspired many to follow in her footsteps. She claims that hospice will not stop her from continuing to encourage the next generation of Marines and tell stories of the bravery and courage of Marines during her time of service and onward.

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