South Carolina

When Ronald Reagan flew to Parris Island to pitch his budget, 3,700 recruits greeted him

When the Gipper visited Parris Island, Marines baffled him chanting “Ooh rah”

U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in June of 1986.
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U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in June of 1986.

On June 4, 1986, Ronald Reagan needed the Marine Corps help.

The 40th president had campaigned on a platform to cut taxes, reduce domestic spending and increase spending on the military.

In 1981, less than a month after the Gipper was inaugurated, his speech to Congress proposed increasing military spending and decreasing taxes.

Later that year, after signing a law cutting taxes, Reagan turned his attention to the military, declaring the U.S would build the B1 Bomber and the the Peacekeeper, an intercontinental ballistic missile.

In 1983, he pushed for his Strategic Defense Initiative — a proposed virtual dome that promised to shield the country from nuclear attacks.

He proposed a defense budget of $320 billion in 1986. Both the House and the Senate trimmed it down.

So he came to Parris Island to make his case.

It was, at heart, a media event, and he had a more than receptive crowd.

Despite a heavy rainstorm, Air Force One touched down at Marine Air Corps Station Beaufort at exactly 10:50 a.m., according to a Beaufort Gazette news story from the period.

Reagan boarded one of the waiting Marine helicopters that took him and other dignitaries to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

“To all of those who say we must always cut defense first, that America can’t afford a strong military, I have just one thing to say: Tell it to the Marines.” Reagan said from the headquarters building on Parris Island as recruits, graduates and Parris Island staff and families cheered.

He had quite an entourage with him. It included Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger; national security advisor Vice Admiral John Poindexter; Sen. Ernest F Hollings, D-SC; White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan; Rep. Thomas F. Hartnett, R-SC; Sen. J. Strom Thurmond, R-SC; Rep. Carroll A. Campbell Jr., R-SC; and Sen. Jesse A. Helms, R-NC.

Some notable moments from his visit:

State Rep William N. Cork and Beaufort Mayor Henry C. Chambers gave Reagan a Lowcountry painting by Beaufort artist Nancy Ricker Webb.

A recruit fell into the water hazard while negotiating the “slide for life” as Reagan was watching recruits move through a 12-obstacle “Confidence Course.”

Reagan later joked from the podium that watching the recruits navigate the obstacles was very similar “to getting a bill through Congress.”

When the estimated 3,700 recruits cheered for Reagan’s speech and chanted “Ooh rah,” Reagan leaned over to commanding Maj. Gen. Stephen Olmstead and asked, “What are they saying?”

Olmstead explained.

At that time, Reagan was the first sitting U.S. president to have visited Beaufort County since President Franklin Roosevelt, who traveled by train from Yemassee to Port Royal in April 1943.

President George Washington slept in Beaufort in 1791. In 1819, President James Monroe visited the county.

Bill Clinton was in Beaufort County several times, attending conferences and playing golf on Hilton Head Island.

How long was Reagan’s visit?

The president gave a 10-minute talk within a two-hour stay. He then left for a fundraising stop for U.S. Rep. James T. Broyhill in Greensboro, N.C.