Parris Island: American pride open to the public

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comFebruary 21, 2012 

An old joke has it that Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is Beaufort County's first gated community.

They've been hemming in wide-eyed recruits and invisible sand fleas to make Marines there for almost a century.

But that's not all that happens on the infamous island in Port Royal near Beaufort.

A reader asked me this week what there is to do on Parris Island.

More than 120,000 visitors pass through the gates each year, making it one of the world's most visited military installations.

You can be a regular tourist and enjoy The Legends golf course. It winds through the dripping Lowcountry, filled to the gills with wildlife.

The Traditions Restaurant is open to the public in a newly renovated marshside building dating to the early 1900s.

People get goose bumps at the graduation ceremonies held almost every Friday morning. Parents have trouble believing their eyes as they watch this pageant of precision performed by what were children only 12 weeks earlier. The music alone is worth the trip.

Graduation ceremonies at the Drill Instructor School are less celebrated, but equally moving.

The Parris Island Museum is free and open to the public. It offers a feel for the legacy of the Marine Corps and of the Port Royal region. It's the best place to quickly grasp the staggering history of this area, from American Indians to the first colony of the French, to a city of Spaniards, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the story of the Marine Corps' evolution on Parris Island.

You can join the Parris Island Historical and Museum Society. One thing it usually offers is the Iron Mike Bike Tour, a 15-mile course across the island highlighting historical locations.

That includes the Iwo Jima Monument where everyone likes to take pictures of each other. It's a coated plaster version by Felix de Weldon made to raise money for his famous bronze version in Arlington National Cemetery.

Other monuments include Iron Mike, honoring World War I veterans; the Drill Instructor's Monument; Purple Heart Monument; and Molly Marine, honoring female Marines where all female Marines undergo boot camp. Don't miss seeing Quarters One, the commanding general's historic house, and the Mascot Cemetery and gazebo nearby.

The Charlesfort and Santa Elena monuments tell a story that no other community shares. It shows civilization here before St. Augustine and before Plymouth Rock.

Nearby is a nature and history trail, with a crashed World War II bomber and a wooden walkway to a breathtaking view of Port Royal Sound.

Unlike a lot of places in Beaufort County, the Parris Island gates are open to the public. Just be prepared to present a driver's license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration.

It would be best to start at the Douglas Visitors Center.

And give yourself time to soak in an American treasure.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at

Related content

  1. U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island
  2. The Parris Island Museum

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