Military News

Parris Island at 100 years

New recruits for the U.S. marines during a parade, part of training on Parris Island in 1942.
New recruits for the U.S. marines during a parade, part of training on Parris Island in 1942. File photo/The Associated Press

Each year, Parris Island “makes” about 19,000 new Marines – 16,000 male recruits and 3,000 female recruits. It’s the nation’s only location where female recruits are trained and one of only two for male recruits. The other is the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

Parris Island has been instrumental in providing Marines in every major American conflict since 1915, including:

41,000 recruits in World War I

205,000 in World War II

138,000 in Korean War

250,000 in Vietnam War

Fewer than 10 percent of potential recruits are “walk-ins.” The rest are located by recruiters and motivated to join.

Not all who are recruited will make it. Of 100 young people who want to join, many will not pass medical and educational screenings. Others will fail drug tests and criminal background checks, while others won’t make it through recruit training. Of the original 100, just 55 will graduate from the School of Infantry at Parris Island.

Boot camp lasts 13 weeks and culminates in a graduation ceremony. Graduation requirements include earning the water survival qualification and the rifle qualification, passing physical fitness and combat fitness tests, earning a martial arts tan belt, academic mastery such as learning Marine Corps history and military law, passing a battalion commander’s inspection and making it through the Crucible, a grueling 54-hour training exercise.

Parris Island is the second-oldest Marine Corps Base. It’s four miles long and three miles wide, encompassing nearly 8,100 acres, nearly 3,300 of them inhabitable. It includes more than 100 archaeological and cultural sites, including the 16th century Spanish settlement, Santa Elena.

Purchased in 1715 by Alexander Parris, Parris Island overlooks Port Royal Sound, one of the best deep-water harbors along the eastern seaboard.

During the Civil War in 1861, Union forces captured the harbor for use by the Navy. The area’s strategic location allowed federal forces to strike at the Confederacy and greatly contributed to the final Union victory.

An act of Congress, approved on Aug. 7, 1882, authorized the establishment and construction of a coaling dock and naval store house at Port Royal Harbor and allocated $20,000 for the work. A board of naval officers, appointed by the Secretary of the Navy, selected Parris Island as the site.

During World War I, recruit training lasted eight weeks. Today it is 13 weeks.

Boats were the only way to get on and off the island before 1929. New recruits were ferried in from Port Royal on small boats as were drinking water, food and depot supplies. A causeway and the completion of the Horse Island Bridge brought the water era to an end.

Over the years, the spelling of Parris Island has flip-flopped. In 1917, the post was renamed Paris Island with a single R. In 1919, it was renamed with two R’s to match the island’s namesake, Alexander Parris.

In the first couple of decades of the 20th century, the high salt content of the surrounding bodies of water — the Beaufort and Broad rivers — made it difficult to maintain a fresh supply of drinking water. Salt-water wells were reserved for washing stations and bathing. Drinking water had to be shipped in by boat.

In the 1870s, two lighthouses were built on Parris Island, one at the tip of the island and one in the center. The center light was a unique structure. Every night the lighthouse keeper ran up the lamp from the lens house building to the top of the tower. The lens house is the oldest surviving structure on Parris Island. In 1880, a state quarantine station was established on the site of what is today the depot club.

There are a number of people who can be considered the father of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Some give credit to Commandant George F. Elliott, who attempted to establish an officer’s school and a preliminary school for recruits at New London, Conn. The Navy balked at establishing the depot, but Elliott did gain permission to place the school for officers at the old naval station on Parris Island. The school on Parris Island was officially opened in 1909 during Elliott’s last year as commandant of the Marine Corps.

By the 1920s, the depot was more populated than the towns of Beaufort and Port Royal combined. The base grocery and general merchandise store did more cash business than both towns by 1923, and the island had more paved roads than Beaufort County.

The 1920s also brought the introduction of academic night courses for Marines, the organization of musical organizations and ladies visiting from Savannah to attend base dances and club events. Base recreation in the 1920s included horseback riding, fishing, swimming, bridge parties, teas, piano recitals and the formation of a literary and dramatic club.

Back then, off-post liberty for Marines at Parris Island was mostly confined to Savannah or Beaufort. In 1922, the boat trip to Savannah required four hours and a fare of $1 per person or $15 to ferry an automobile.

The Roaring ’20s were banner sports years for the Corps and Parris Island, too, which adored Gene Tunney, a Marine and a world heavyweight boxing champion. Tunney enlisted in the Marines on July 1, 1918, and expressed an interest in boxing while he trained as a recruit on Parris Island.

Few automobiles were on Parris Island in the early 1920s. Horses were prevalent and were subject to depot rules. Post orders directed horses would not be galloped on paved roads or any hard surfaces except in emergencies.

But by the mid-1920s, the automobile was changing the appearance and post routine. Base regulations read that salutes were to be rendered to officers in cars, smoking was not permitted in automobiles or while riding motorcycles, and Parris Island's speed limit was set at 15 miles per hour.

Few events have affected Parris Island as much as the completion of the causeway, which connected the island with the mainland. Construction of the mile-long artery, and a section between Horse and Scout islands, possibly began as early as 1923 and no later than June 1925.

Labor for building the Parris Island causeway was supplied by some 9,000 men, which included Parris Island naval prisoners and Beaufort County laborers. Several Beaufort residents recalled that for each day a prisoner worked on the causeway, two days, rather than one, were subtracted from his sentence.

In 1923, Lt. Col. Presley M. Rixley, commander of the Naval Prison at Parris Island, decided that prisoners should be responsible for farming on the island. Within a few years, the new farm encompassed more than 500 acres where crops were grown and chickens, hogs and cows were raised.

Milking-barn radios played constantly in those early years to keep the cows content to encourage the production of milk.

By October 1925, the post farm at Parris Island had roughly 500 acres under cultivation, which included 160 acres planted in corn. Additionally, there were 46 cows, 25 calves, about 300 hogs, 2,100 chickens and 300 laying hens.

The naval prison provided a steady stream of new workers to operate the growing farm. (The roughly 550 prisoners were serving a minimum of six-month sentences for being absent without leave or some form of embezzlement.) By 1946, the post farm was making about $15,000 per month in trade revenue. Islanders could purchase fresh eggs for 55 cents per dozen and milk for 20 cents per quart.

The retail store, where islanders could buy the farm’s produce, was closed permanently in 1949, leading to the end of the farm. The acreage is now part of the Wake Village personnel housing and several weapons and field training battalion rifle ranges.

In October 1929, the nation plummeted into the Great Depression. Parris Island survived but with scaled-back operations. Among these were the closing of several barracks and the Naval Prison.

At the leanest training point in 1932, Parris Island processed only 500 recruits for the entire year.

Troops found interesting ways to have fun. They used telescopes and binoculars to view the nudists on nearby Cat Island, the nation’s first nudist colony. Additionally, the base had its own radio station. Wild boar hunts were carried out on the island.

A hurricane with 104-mph winds caused $1.5 million worth of damage at the depot on Aug. 11, 1940. The parade ground was under several feet of water with snakes and alligators swimming over large areas of the island.

World War II caused the largest expansion of recruit training in the history of Parris Island. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the recruit age was lowered from 18 to 17 and enlistment periods were extended from three years to the duration of the war. Initially, training was reduced from eight to four weeks before being expanded to seven weeks. By war’s end, recruits received 16 weeks of training. Within two months of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the number of recruits grew from 2,869 in four battalions to more than 15,000 in 13 battalions.

In addition to basic instruction, Parris Island also has served as a training site for a number of specialty schools and units, including defense battalions; the 5th Barrage Balloon Squadron; and Marine Glider Group 71. Even Hilton Head Island was used.

Parris Island was a thriving city during World War II. The new post office could not have opened too soon. By June 1944, Parris Island was receiving more than 700,000 outgoing pieces and 2 million incoming letters, plus more than 10,000 bags of parcel post each month. The record day of the 1940s was immediately after Japan surrendered, when 47,171 letters were received on one Sundayalone.

Across the street from the post office was the two-story brick post exchange, which was built in 1941. The new PX had a cafeteria and a soda fountain in its two lower wings, and elsewhere a barber and shoe repair shop, photo studio, bank, library, recreation room, major salesrooms, offices and storerooms.

In 1942, recruits began to train with the M1 Garand rifle aboard Parris Island. Adopted by the U.S. Armed Forces in 1936, the Garand was hailed as the greatest implement of battle ever devised by Gen. George S. Patton. The semi-automatic rifle changed warfare for the individual rifleman.

Parris Island was visited by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 14, 1943. He was the first sitting United States President to visit the Marines at Parris Island and would be the only sitting president to visit Parris Island until Ronald Reagan in 1986.

Construction began in May 1944 on a new post inn to replace the facility opened in 1919. The new structure (Building 293) opened in April 1945. The 30-room guesthouse offered visitors rooms with hardwood floors, a dining room and soda fountain, and a sun deck. Initially, rooms with private baths rented for $10 a week, while rooms with adjoining baths were rented for $7.50 per week. Currently the structure is home to Parris Island’s Staff Judge Advocates Office.

During the mid-1940s on Parris Island, a new headquarters building was constructed as well as a new staff club, a chapel and quarters for bachelor officers. The post farm — with more than 2,000 laying hens, 100 cows, turkeys, ducks, geese and hogs — served permanent personnel and their families.

More than 200,000 recruits passed through Parris Island from Dec. 7, 1941, to Aug. 14, 1945. The peak load topped 18,000 recruits in August 1945.

Although most notably known for recruit training, Parris Island has been a home to a number of other commands. This includes Page Field, Barrage Balloon and Glider Units, Women Reserves and Defense Battalions. Located on the neighboring islands were Coastal Beach Patrols, Horse and Dog Patrols, and a Naval Air Station.

At the age of 50, Paul H. Douglas became the oldest Marine to undergo recruit training at Parris Island. After graduation in 1942, Douglas went on to the Pacific theater, where he won two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. In 1948, Douglas was elected a senator from Illinois.

The old Naval Hospital was closed in 1949 and a new hospital was built along the Beaufort River.

Both black and female recruits began training at the depot in 1949. Initially, the black recruits were placed in segregated platoons with black drill instructors, but within six months, the base commander, Maj. Gen. Alfred Noble, realized that this mode of training was undesirable, and by September 1949, Noble received permission to integrate all aspects of recruit training.

Female Marines also came to Parris Island in 1949 following a federal decision to make them a permanent part of the Marine Corps. Parris Island was chosen as the exclusive training site for enlisted female recruits.

After World War II, numerous changes occurred on the depot. More than 150 unserviceable buildings were demolished or removed from the depot. New construction began to replace the Quonset huts with new brick barracks.

The Marine reputation of being “the first to fight” attracted to Parris Island thousands of recruits who were motivated to serve the nation during the Korean War. In the spring of 1950, there were 2,000 recruits on Parris Island divided between two male and one female training battalion. In all, some 138,000 Marines graduated from Parris Island for service during the Korean War.

Due to the influx of recruits for the Korean War, there was a shortage of qualified drill instructors. The depot recognized the need for a formal school, and on Oct. 6, 1952, a drill instructors course was established.

Parris Island’s drill instructors have been wearing their distinctive venerated field hat, known as the campaign cover, since 1956. With four depressions on the top and a straight brim of uniform diameter around the base, the hats shield drill instructors from harsh weather.

The recruit training physical conditioning uniform has undergone revisions throughout the years. In 1956, a recruit’s physical training uniform, known as PT gear, consisted of tennis shoes, red baseball hats, red shorts and gold T-shirts bearing the acronym USMC. Today, Marines wear what is known as green-on-green, which is a short-sleeved, green skivvy T-shirt, green shorts or a sweatsuit. In 2008, the Marines procured a running track suit, which is issued to all graduating Marines to retain throughout their Marine Corps career.

In 1957, recruits were given silver painted helmet liners, known as chrome domes, to reflect the sunlight. This practice was kept until the mid-1980s, when they went back to wearing soft utility hats. Today, recruits wear an assortment of head gear, depending on the mission and task at hand.

In 1960, Hurricane Gracie hit Parris Island with winds varying from 100 to 140 mph. It caused the depot’s commanding officer to move out of his quarters, Quarters One, until repairs were completed. Seated next to the historic Lyceum building on Panama Street, Quarters One is currently under renovation again and is scheduled to be completed in late 2015.

In 1961, the M14 7.62mm rifle was adopted at Parris Island for marksmanship training. Seen as an improvement to the M1 Garand, the M14 featured an external 20-round box magazine, which allowed the rifle to be reloaded faster. The rifle saw limited use during the Vietnam War before being phased out for the M16 rifle, which has been modified and is still in use today.

In January 1965, Parris Island’s recruit receiving moved from Headquarters and Service Battalion to a new location near the Recruit Training Regiment Headquarters. This is the first time the infamous Yellow Footprints appeared. To this day, upon a recruits’ arrival to Parris Island, they are ordered off of their bus, or van, and instructed to stand on the yellow footprints, where they get their first taste of recruit training with a speech from a receiving drill instructor.

During the Vietnam War, about 250,000 recruits graduated from Parris Island with a peak load of 10,979 in March 1966.

So what’s physical fitness training like at Parris Island? Common exercises include sit-ups, push-ups, bends and thrusts and a 300-yard shuttle run. Recruits also engage in team building exercises such as the obstacle and confidence courses, log drills, rope climbing, body carrying and tug of war. Additionally, recruits are instructed in hand-to-hand combat techniques with bayonets and pugil sticks.

A major event for women occurred during the Vietnam War, when the construction of a modern complex was completed on the site of the old base golf course. The new facility could house more than 200 permanent personnel in semi-private rooms and 200 female recruits. The complex included an exchange, beauty shop, classrooms, mess halls, clothing issue, storage, offices, and parade and athletic fields.

In 1975, recruits began training with the M16A1 Rifle. The M16A1 saw service with Marines in Vietnam. The rifle is chambered in 5.56mm NATO, and boasts a 30-round detachable box magazine, although at the time was utilizing 20-round magazines. Originally a select-fire weapon capable of fully automatic fire, the rifle was later modified to fire in either semi-automatic (1 pull of trigger = 1 shot) or three-round burst (1 pull of trigger = three shots). It was modified over the subsequent years, and recruits today train with the M16A4 service rifle.

In 1976, with the Vietnam War over, Marine Commandant Gen. Louis H. Wilson instituted the use of a new training order termed “Standing Operating Procedures for Male Recruit Training.” This detailed and strict training guideline emphasized drill, academics and physical fitness. Today, the Recruit Training Order is the governing document that provides structure to daily training operations on Parris Island.

In the 1980s, recruit training for both male and female recruits averaged about 11 weeks with 56 actual training days. The average recruit was between 19 and 20 years old. Those who had high school diplomas or equivalents topped 99 percent.

In 1981, women began a limited exposure to combat training, and in November 1985, they began firing for score at the rifle range.

The Individual Combat Training portion of the curriculum for recruits was added in 1971, which aimed to develop the skills of a basic rifleman in all recruits. In 1988, the program was expanded and named Basic Warrior Training.

New innovations were added to recruit training during the tenure of Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak. These included the Crucible and the teaching of core values to recruits. The Marine Corps values of Honor, Courage and Commitment are stressed to this day. Watch Parris Island marines discuss their core values at

The Crucible, a 54-hour training exercise relying mainly on teamwork, includes about 40 miles of total movement by foot. Training was extended from 11 to 12 weeks to accommodate the course. The first recruits ran the course Dec. 12-14, 1996.

During the last quarter of the 20th century, tremendous changes occurred to the physical landscape and organization of Parris Island. World War II-era buildings went out of use and were replaced with new structures.

While formalized recruit training operations had been well underway for the better part of a century, it wasn’t until 1997 that the Drill Instructor Ribbon became a uniform item. This service ribbon, which is an olive drab with a khaki stripe in the center, is awarded to Marines who complete rigorous 36-month assignments as drill instructors.

For the first time in history, Parris Island was evacuated when Hurricane Floyd threatened the Lowcountry in 1999.

The majority of the training program initiated in the 1990s was retained into the first portion of the 21st century. By 2003, the Crucible was being conducted earlier in the training schedule. Water survival requirements were increased and a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) was initiated, requiring recruits to qualify at the tan belt level.

Keeping with the phrase “Every Marine a Rifleman,” all recruits who graduate Parris Island, regardless of their chosen occupational specialty, attend the School of Infantry East in Camp Geiger, N.C.

After Sept. 11, 2001, and during the start of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, additional tactical training requirements were added. These included updated first aid training, restructuring of marksmanship qualification, increased fire-team level tactics and immediate action drills.

Values-based training is the method by which recruits are instilled with the Marine Corps core values of honor, commitment and courage. Values-based training also binds the core values to the traditional Marine concepts that define the Marine Corps of the past and future. These include every Marine a rifleman, first to fight, tradition, fitness, teamwork, take care of our own and small-unit leadership.

Combat training for male and female Marines wasn’t always the same, but the period of instruction is now identical.

On June 4, 1986, President Ronald Reagan visited the depot.

In 1993, the Parris Island Museum was certified as the Marine Corps’ first command museum. The museum is undergoing renovations, adding two new displays scheduled to open this month as part of the depot’s centennial celebration. Check them out at

It was an end of an era on April 12, 2013, when the final Parris Island Boot was published. The on-base newspaper ran from 1943 to 2013.

It is possible to tell how far a recruit has progressed in training by the uniform that he or she is wearing. Recruits who have just arrived to the island and are undergoing processing wear the camouflage utility uniform with unbloused pant legs and tennis shoes. This changes on training day one, when footwear is replaced with boots. Changes in the uniform occur throughout the phases, until graduation week, when the newest Marines wear the normal versions of the Marine Corps uniform seen today.

The depot includes several pet cemeteries, which contain Parris Island mascots, provost marshal dogs and family pets.

The largest of the cemeteries’ markers is the monument to Mike, an Irish terrier and the first Parris Island mascot, who served from 1915 until 1916. Mike, born in 1905, pulled tours of duty in Cuba in 1909, at Annapolis in 1910 and landed at Vera Cruz, Mexico, with the Marines in 1914. The following year he moved to Parris Island and became the depot’s first mascot.

Mascots are now considered to be active-duty Marines and are expected to conduct themselves with courage, professionalism and vigor. They are rewarded with awards and promotions. The current mascot is a bulldog named Legend. See a video of Legend at

While more bulldogs than any other breed have served as mascots, a Great Dane and a German shepherd have also held the position.

Other depot mascots have been Snoopy, Blitz, Getchy, Duke O’Strathmore, Duke, Judge, Skipper, Sir Lord Windsor, Sarge, Iron Mike, Hubert The Valiant, Klinker, Paul Bunyan, Baron, Chesty, Thor, Iron Mike (a different bulldog) and Archibald Hummer.

Prior to and during initial processing at Parris Island, a recruit must complete an initial strength test. For male recruits, it requires a minimum of two pull-ups, 44 crunches, and a 13:30 timed 1 1/2-mile run. Females must be able to complete a 12-second flexed arm hang, 44 crunches and a 15:00 timed 1 1/2-mile run.

If a recruit fails to meet the standards, he/she will not enter into training and will be sent to the Physical Conditioning Platoon, where they will exercise until they meet the requirements to assess into training.

The Parris Island Marine Band was established on Oct. 28, 1915. Its primary mission is to provide musical support for recruit graduations and other military ceremonies and events. To see the band perform, go to

Parris Island is the second oldest post in the Marine Corps. It is the longest continually operating recruit training installation. Over the past 100 years, Parris Island has made more than one million new Marines.

In 1920, 100 officers and 9,000 enlisted men created a “living emblem” of the U.S. Marines.

Recruit training at Parris Island is constantly evolving to keep pace with changes in warfare. During the fall of 2006, for example, lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan led to new combat fitness training that stressed strength training over stamina.

Parris Island is open to visitors who play golf, visit the depot’s various historical sites, tour the museum, attend a graduation ceremony and much more.

The depot is a key part of Beaufort County’s economy, generating $401.38 million in economic activity in 2014.

Parris Island has seen much diversity in its leadership in recent years. Its first female commander, Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds, oversaw the depot from 2011 to 2014. Today, the installation is led by its first African-American commander, Brig. Gen. Terry Williams.

In his role, Williams not only oversees the depot but also commands the Eastern Recruiting Region, which spans 23 states that are east of the Mississippi River, as well as Puerto Rico.

Parris Island Marines are a proud bunch, always ready to belt out a ooh-rah battle cry or give a loud “semper fi” to show a fellow Marine support. Learn what this means at

Since 2011, gay Marines have been able to serve openly following the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In place for 17 years, the policy banned openly gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from military service.

Parris Island contains an abundance of wildlife and a variety of habitats from forests, salt shrub thickets, brackish and saltwater marshes, five creeks as well as small and large ponds. The island also contains Chinese tallow, mimosa, chinaberry and salt cedar trees.

The depot uses a color-coded flag system to alert drill instructors and others when it is too hot for recruits to train outside or when other inclement weather is on the way. But that doesn’t mean recruits get to lounge around. Training is simply moved indoors.

Recruits receive one hour of free time each day to give them a break from the close, constant association with their drill instructors. This free time is often used to write letters, unwind and prepare for the next day.

Upon completing the Crucible, recruits make a 9-mile hike to the Iwo Jima monument to participate in a special ceremony, where they receive their Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblems and are officially called U.S. Marines for the first time.

After Marines graduate from Parris Island, they attend a school of infantry for training in their military occupational specialty. From there, infantry Marines are assigned to permanent duty stations and begin their military careers.

Source: Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island