"He was born on Parris Island The land that God forgot; The sand is fourteen inches deep The sun is blazing hot
And when he gets to Heaven To St. Peter he will tell, Another Marine reporting sir, I've served my time in hell."
There's an undeniable mystique about the Marine Corps' recruit training facility (read 'boot camp') at Parris Island, South Carolina. You've seen it in the movies and on TV; 'Full Metal Jacket', 'The D.I.', (now that one's going back a ways), 'The Boys in Company C', and a host of others. Most of these representations are based at least partly in fact, while the rest are simply fantasy. And at the end of the day, when the credits are rolling up the screen, the fantasy fades for the real-life recruits undergoing training, and is replaced by a world-jarring reality.
MCRD Parris Island has a tenuous relationship with the Michael Neill Adventures; Nate Crockett was a graduate prior to becoming an officer. Christina Arrens is also an alumni, along with a few other members of the supporting cast (some will say these are just fictitious individuals, players in a make-believe world, but characters can be very real to the authors who create them).
Parris Island is a place of over-the-top cliches; 'Nobody ever drowned in sweat', 'We never promised you a rose garden', 'Hurry UP, Ladies!', 'We Accept Commitments, Not Compromise'. A list of all the colorful cadences would be almost limitless, and the storied history of recruits turned Marines turned celebrities might also surprise you. It did me.
There are iconic images everywhere. The Eagle, Globe, and Anchor; crossed rifles; the 'Smokey Bear' cover (hat) of the Drill Instructors (never Drill 'Sergeants'); the yellow footprints; the scarlet and gold signs planted everywhere on base; the salt marshes; and last, but not least (and never forgotten by recruits who endured summer training), the ubiquitous sand fleas.
There are two reasons I'm blogging about this incredible place. For one thing, this is Military Appreciation month. And secondly, Parris Island holds a very dear place in my heart (in addition to yours truly, my youngest son graduated from P.I. just 8 years ago).
This past week, I traveled there with two other prior service Marines, buddies I served with in the Air Force Reserve (yes, there is life after the Corps). My friends had suggested a trip to Las Vegas, but I had absolutely no desire to visit Nevada. Instead, I suggested we drive to the Corps' most famous recruit training depot, since all three of us graduated from there (between 30 and 36 years ago). We planned it around a Friday graduation ceremony for half a dozen male platoons, and a series from 4th Battalion, the women's recruit training regiment.
Part of our visit was darkened by tragedies that touched other Marines elsewhere in the world. Marines died just before and after we arrived. An Osprey had a hard landing near K-Bay in Hawaii, killing at least one and injuring others. More Marines died assisting in humanitarian relief efforts in Nepal. Our military members' lives are always at risk, even on friendly soil. We should pray for them without ceasing, until they all come home.
Aside from those somber events--never far from our minds--it was a good trip, and the three of us will remember it for a long time. I even managed to participate in a 5K Fun Run, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the island's military history. We visited parts of the base that were off limits to us during recruit training. We learned about the history of the depot, and were brought up to speed on how the Corps does things in the present, far removed from our indoctrination into the Marines so long ago (it's funny how time dims and alters our memories; parts of the island were very familiar, while others were not).
Overall, I think everything was pretty much where I left it. And even after all these years, approaching a drill instructor with questions was done with great caution.
I have to admit that I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye during the graduation ceremony. Seeing all those new Marines reunited with their families after 13 weeks of boot camp was a sight to behold, and it made me proud. One moment stood out.
A brand new Marine was greeted by a friend or family member who asked: 'What's that arrow thing on your sleeve?' He replied by saying 'It means I'm a PFC, and I make more money than they do!'