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Parris Island celebrates centennial in training troops

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Parris Island 1889 photos
Quarters A and Quarters B, 1889 at Parris Island. Photo: United States Marine Corps, released

Parris Island turns 100 on November 1st. The depot is celebrating a century of making Marines with a flyover today celebrating approximately 600 new graduates of Charlie and Oscar companies accompanied by a speech by the Corps’ new Commandant, General Neller.

The depot has graduated more than a million Marines since it began in 1915 and earned the title of the Corps’ second oldest post.

“We make basic Marines who embrace our shared legacy and who are imbued with our core values of honor, courage, and commitment,” Staff Sgt. Greg Thomas states as posted in the Marine Corps Times. He continued, “These core values are timeless and serve as the foundation upon which we build physically fit and ethically sound warriors.”

The elements of boot camp have changed throughout the years to today’s 12 week long camp with the arduous Crucible completed before earning the title Marine, graduating approximately 19,000 Marines each year.

“The Marine Corps is America’s 9-1-1- force, and Parris Island will continue to take the best and brightest and transform them into United States Marines, posted to answer the nation’s call at a moment’s notice,” Thomas said. “Warfighting tactics and techniques may change, but our time-proven training program leads to a mentally tough, morally sound, physically fit Marine.”

Recruits meet Parris Island drill instructors who will train them throughout Marine boot camp

Drill instructor Sgt. Abraham Miller waits with Platoon 1056, Delta Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, moments before the recruits meet their new drill instructors June 7, 2014, on Parris Island. (Photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis)

The Beginnings of Parris Island

Formed by the confluence of the Broad and Beaufort Rivers, Port Royal Sound is the deepest natural harbor south of New York. Even the earliest Spanish and French explorers recognized the area as a perfect location for a military installation. In the 16th century, Jean Ribaut, a French naval commander rightfully declared that all the navies of the world could safely anchor inside Port Royal’s deep and sheltered harbor. However, while over the centuries the area’s waterways played prominent roles in military operations, no major installation was established at Port Royal Sound until the Civil War. During the Civil War, the army, whose headquarters was on Hilton Head Island, placed bases throughout the harbor, including a coaling station on Parris Island. The navy maintained a squadron in the sound and also had some facilities on the Sea Islands. Both the army and the navy ended their operations by 1867.

The years following the Civil War brought great changes to the Port Royal region. By 1873, a railroad was completed connecting the Sea Islands to Augusta, Ga., and the coal field of Tennessee and a new community known as Port Royal took root at the rail line’s eastern terminus. Also in 1873, the region’s state senator, the former slave and Beaufort native Robert Smalls, introduced legislation calling for the state to petition the United States Congress for the creation of a naval station at Port Royal Sound. Three years later, then U.S. Congressman Robert Smalls, introduced bills to establish navigation lights and a construction of commercial shipping facilities at Port Royal.

The petitions, coupled with the navy’s need for a warm water port, resulted in the dispatching to Port Royal of a board of naval officers to survey the sound. At the same time, a bill backed by Robert Smalls and other members of the South Carolina congressional delegation was introduced in Congress establishing Port Royal as a “Naval Station of the 4th class.” The station was to be commanded by a commodore and be equal to existing bases at New London, Newport, Key West and New Orleans.

Capt. Stephen Bleeker Luce led the board that surveyed Port Royal Sound in January 1877. Luce, who would later establish the Naval War College at Newport, R.I., along with his fellow officers, recommended that a naval station be established on Parris Island. While waiting for Congress to appropriate funding, the Navy stationed in Port Royal Sound a floating supply, hospital and repair squadron consisting of the old ship-of-the-line New Hampshire, the coaling hulk Pawnee and the tug Seaweed. The vessels served passing warships by distributing supplies, coal and taking off sick sailors who were placed in the hospital on board the New Hampshire.

Finally, in 1882, Congress approved funds for the permanent naval station. Before the year ended, property was purchased on Parris Island along the Beaufort River. Work began in 1883 under the direction of the station’s first engineering officer, Ensign William Braunerstruther, and by 1884, a wharf and two quarters, A and B, for civilian engineers and officers were completed. Quarters A would eventually evolve into Quarters One, the current home for Parris Island’s commanding general.

In 1886, the station’s coal wharf was finished and work continued on an artesian well and a sea wall. Lt. Charles H. Lyman, the designated commanding officer, arrived and, with Braunerstruther, began supervising the additional construction. The following year, a coal shed was completed, and a railway started to carry the coal from the shed to the wharf. By 1888, the coaling facilities were in working order. There was a setback in 1889 when the station’s only horse died, and a request was hurriedly put in to purchase a new one. At the same time, calls were made to provide furniture and ice for the station’s officers. In 1890, the base was linked to Port Royal by a telegraph line.

Though an inauspicious start, Parris Island had received its first installation that would serve as the cornerstone for what would eventually become Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

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