100 years of excellence: Parris Island celebrates centennial anniversary
At Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, everything has changed, yet nothing has changed.
The depot may look vastly different from when the island on Port Royal Sound first became the home for Marine recruit training on Oct. 25, 1915, but the mission hasn't changed since that day a century ago. They're still making Marines, more than a million of them in 100 years.
On Friday, Corps veterans, current Marines and new graduates all celebrated the historic institution's centennial with a day's worth of festivities, starting just after daybreak with a traditional morning colors ceremony before recruit graduation.
Gen. Robert Neller, who became the Corps' new commandant on Sept. 24, served as the parade reviewing official during recruit graduation.
Neller said he had "great confidence" Parris Island would continue its mission of training Marines for another century.
"Parents, thank you for trusting your sons and daughters with us," he said.
Nearly 600 recruits graduated Friday after spending 12 grueling weeks becoming "the future of our Marine Corps," as one speaker put it.
"Look at the Marines before you, the ones next to you and the future Marines," the drill instructor said. "Never let them down."
New Marine Pfc. Jacob Smith said his training battalion -- nicknamed the "centennial company" for its historical significance -- learned about a month ago that Neller could be attending the graduation, but they didn't know for sure until a week ago. Smith, of Buffalo, N.Y., said he wasn't nervous about the highest-ranking officer in the Marine Corps overseeing his graduation.
"It was just exciting to see him," Smith said. "It feels great to be done, to be a Marine."
Seeing the commandant was an "extra special treat" for James Mineo from Easton, Pa., who graduated from Parris Island in the 1950s.
Mineo and veteran John Mitzak, who trained at Parris Island in 1966, said much had changed since they were recruits. Mitzak, the detachment commandant, could point out where his old wooden barracks were near the parade ground, in a spot now occupied by large brick-and-cement recruit dormitories.
"There was no golf course on the island when I was here," Mitzak joked.
Mineo came at a time when the receiving station was still at the Yemassee Train Depot. He and the others in his group planned to attend a reunion at the train depot Saturday.
"I don't recognize it much," Mineo said. "They have made so many changes and improvements here."
Even for younger Marines, the change was still shocking.
Jason Smith, a veteran from Emmaus, Pa., who went through boot camp in 1999, said his trip to Parris Island this week was his first since graduation.
"A lot has changed," he said. "They have made a lot of modifications and improvements, but the basics are always there."
Friday's celebration not only attracted veterans but future Marines as well. Over 80 members of the Parkview High School Junior ROTC program from Luverne, Ga., attended, having spent the previous few days getting a taste of recruit training.
High school seniors Juan Villa and Bradley Taylor said it was exciting to see Neller up close and hear him speak.
"Once we found out he was the commandant, it was pretty awesome," Taylor said.
Villa said he planned to enlist soon after high school graduation in May. Taylor already has signed up and will ship out to Parris Island on July 11.
Other events Friday included the rededication of two statues on base -- the Drill Instructor Monument, honoring those who shape recruits, and Molly Marine, honoring the women who have served in the Corps.
For Col. Neal Pugliese, assistant chief of staff at Parris Island, Friday's celebration was the culmination of nearly two years of planning.
"I think it turned out spectacularly," he said. "It's a better environment in execution than what we envisioned in planning this."
Marine Corps veteran and Parris Island Historical Society member Eric Junger spent the day basking in the base's special atmosphere.
"There's just some mystique about the words 'Parris Island' when you talk to a Marine," he said. "It's just alchemy, when you mix the pluff mud, the sand fleas and the drill instructors, and you make Marines."
A compilation of tweets and other social media related to events today and upcoming at Marine Corps Depot Parris Island to celebrate the post's 100th year anniversary.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.