“Where it all begins” is a phrase used at the Marine Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C. “We make Marines” is another phrase that is quite evident throughout the Depot. These phrases are frequent reminders that the depot receives tens of thousands of civilians each year and in a relatively short period of time turns them into Marines.
The change in appearance and demeanor is remarkable, as many parents who attend graduation will attest. They are shocked at the change in such a short period of time.
I went through recruit training in 1953 and returned in 1982 as the commanding officer of the Recruit Training Regiment for more than two years. I attended a reunion at Parris Island of drill instructors and officers from company F who served with me at Parris Island in the early ‘80s. There were more than 50 Marines and family members who came from as far away as California. The greatest percentage had remained in the Corps for a career and almost all retired as sergeants major. Many went on to careers in numerous areas and quite a few remain active in civilian endeavors. This is a microcosm of what this country is all about. The potential to progress as far as possible depends solely on your talents and drive. These men are proof of that.
We attended morning colors where the national ensign is raised as the start of the day. That was preceded by patriotic numbers played by the depot band. It is sad that all of our citizens have not had the opportunity to view this daily ceremony on military bases because it is quite moving and patriotic. Following that, we attended the graduation of six platoons of new Marines who had completed their training and will go to additional training in their respective areas in many parts of the country. I had a chance to speak with drill instructors about the training that occurs now. There is little difference from what we did 30 years ago. The quality of the recruits remains high, with most being at least high school graduates. All of our enlisted Marines attend boot camp either at Parris island or in San Diego. The training regimen is the same at both locations although the climate is significantly different. The heat and sand fleas at Parris Island must be experienced to be appreciated. Many of those who attend a graduation ceremony during the summer get a sampling of both.
The old Marines related many stories of our time in the field. Laughter reigned as we recalled humorous situations and personnel. We observed some aspects that gave us concern — such as no iron sights on the rifles, but rather scopes; but at least the rifles are kept in the squad bays and not the armory. The drill instructors continue to look sharp as they go about their task of making new Marines. There were few lieutenants, but many more captains than in the past. That caused us some concern because officer supervision seemed to be reduced. There is a bond that develops among people who go through certain trials and it was obvious that bond existed among the drill instructors and officers who were in attendance. The final day was a Low Country boil/picnic at an outdoor affair in Beaufort. Beaufort is the local township with many ties to the base so I am sure the locals recognized we were Marines.
It is uplifting to attend these reunions of either drill instructors or Vietnam vets. It merely reinforces the fact there are Americans who are willing to take up arms to defend this country and its values. I remain optimistic about the future of this country because of them and those who follow in their footsteps.
Donald Myers is a retired Marine Colonel and regular contributor to Hernando Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.