Local Military News

From Maggot to Marine: Recruits through the decades

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Ask any Marine trained at Parris Island about their time aboard the depot, and they will tell you about standing at attention -- thumbs along their trouser seams -- as swarms of sand gnats swarm their eyes and ears.

They'll tell you about drill instructors barking for sit-ups and push-ups and then for more sit-ups and push-ups.

They'll tell you about long marches in humidity so thick a butter knife couldn't cut through it and vocal chords stripped bare from screaming, "Yes, drill sergeant!"

And they'll tell you all of this with a big smile and a beaming face.

Because Marines trained at Parris Island are proud of their shared history. For 100 years, they have come to the Lowcountry to be tested and then reborn.

Here are their stories.

Making roads out of oyster shells: Parris Island in the 1910s

The Navy turned over Parris Island to the Marine Corps in 1915, and training began in earnest for World War I after the U.S. declared war on April 6, 1917.

About 46,000 recruits came through Marine Barracks, Paris Island -- spelled with one "r" back then -- to prepare to go "Over There" to fight the Germans.

J.W. Duermit, who left Cincinnati for Parris Island on April 23, 1917, was among the new recruits.

Duermit jotted this about his enlistment in his diary, which was later donated to the Parris Island Museum:

"Well, Roy & I enlisted today in the Marines. We didn't intend to until we went up with Wilson & then Wilson didn't pass on account of his foot. He didn't seem to care much. When we came home from Cincinnati tonight, they were eating supper and I, like a nut, run in and yelled, 'Dad, I passed alright.' I'll never forget the look on his face. He seemed all broke up about it. I didn't know he thought that much about me."

Duermit and his friend Roy took the train down to South Carolina.

"We pulled in last night at Port Royal, S.C., and got on some kind of a boat, it looked like a tug to me, and rode for a while, then stopped at a wharf and then we hiked, it seemed a couple of miles," Duermit wrote. "When we pulled in at the barracks or whatever they were, they threw us a blanket, sheets, a towel, soap and some more junk. ... Woke up this morning or rather something woke me up, it sounded like a foghorn, but it must (have) been a bugle."

One of their first orders was to haul oyster shells.

"Yesterday afternoon we hiked over to the seashore and each man brought back a bucket filled with oyster shells," Duermit wrote. "I wonder what they will do with them."

It didn't take recruits long to find out what the shells were for.

Gen. Ray A. Robinson, who enlisted in 1917, said in an interview for a Marine Corps oral history project that the shells were used to build the parade grounds, adding, "that's a job, because you carry them for about half a mile over loose sand."

Robinson remembered carrying 20 buckets a day. "They also used bucket brigades for punishment," he said.

The shells were spread out and crushed, he said, "and really you made quite a good road out of them."

Robinson also remembered the primitive conditions on Parris Island: "All the toilet facilities were out on a creek they built them out over; there were no flush toilets. There wasn't even a hole there, it was just a log, and then another log so you wouldn't fall in."

The food wasn't appealing either.

"Chicken the mess man said it was. I don't believe him," he wrote. "It was as tough as a turkey buzzard."

On July 10, 1917, Duermit's eight-week stay at Parris Island was finally over.

"We're packed up and ready to move for Quantico, Va.," he wrote. "I hope it's better than this place."