Above: The first official graduates of Naval Station Port Royal, circa 1909.
By Sgt. Dana Beesley, USMC
For 130 years, Marines have been on Parris Island.
On June 26, 1891, a Marine guard consisting of one sergeant, two corporals, and 10 privates were assigned to Port Royal, thus establishing the first Marine posting. The base itself overlooks Port Royal Sound, one of the biggest deep-water harbors along the eastern seaboard. The post eventually became known as Marine Barracks, U.S. Naval Station Port Royal, S.C.
It would be another two years before these Marines had barracks lodging, and any access to the base itself had to be by boat. At the turn of the 20th century and beyond, fresh water had to be shipped in to the Marines and eventual recruits because of the high salt content that harmed the well system on base.
In 1909, Naval Station Port Royal became the location of Marine Corps Officer Candidates School. By 1911, a recruit depot became officially operational as a secondary function of OCS – which eventually transitioned to Norfolk, Va., after the Department of the Navy indoctrinated Port Royal as a disciplinary installation.
In 1915, the Marine Corps bought the land and entitlements from the United States Navy for one dollar, thus making Parris Island the Second Oldest Post in the Marine Corps. It was here where a massive expansion of the depot began to take place. During this construction is when the local government eventually dubbed the installation Marine Barracks Parris Island on May 3, 1919.
During World War I, recruit training was eight weeks long, as opposed to the current 13 weeks. The recruits who came to Parris Island after 1923 were lucky to witness the construction of the causeway that now divides Parris Island from the towns of Beaufort and Port Royal.
Between the years of 1918 and 1941, Parris Island was home to multiple units such as an Advanced Training Seagoing Depot, Field Music School and various aviation elements. In the first months of World War II, the intake of recruits to the depot was simply too much for the base to hold, and the only solution was to shorten training programs and ship new Marines off Parris Island quicker than before. This process eventually waned to better prepare Marines for combat, establish a full-fledged Drill Instructor School, and welcome women reservists to train aboard the depot.
After the Integration Act of 1948 came into effect, women began training in full-sized platoons. By the next year, both African American and female recruits were fully integrated into recruit training aboard Parris Island. During World War II, approximately 138,000 Marines were made on Parris Island; this number grew to nearly 200,000 as the Vietnam War began. The depot was instrumental in providing Marines in every major conflict since 1915, including 138,000 troops during the Korean War.
Parris Island became re-designated as “Marine Corps Recruit Depot/Eastern Recruiting Region, Parris Island, S.C.” on April 1, 1976. With the introduction of the Crucible in 1996, values-based training and inclusion became the norm. Today, Parris Island graduates 18,000 Marines each year. During its illustrious history, the depot has continued to make Marines and carry on the traditions that began at the depot’s founding.