Local Military News

Parris Island in the 20s: Boat rides to boot camp and saltwater showers

Prior to 1928, boats were the only way to transport recruits to Parris Island.
Prior to 1928, boats were the only way to transport recruits to Parris Island. MCRDPI

Following World War I, Parris Island received some much-needed improvements, including a one-lane causeway that linked the military base to the mainland. The decade also brought a new bridge over Archer's Creek and the construction of the Horse Island gate, allowing the free flow of cars, horses and carriage to the Port Royal and Beaufort area.

The improvements meant an end to the practice of boating supplies -- and recruits -- to Parris Island.

The ferrying process had long been considered a hassle. Recruit Joe Johnson, for example, took a train from his home in Boston to the Lowcountry in 1926. At the Yemassee train depot, he and other recruits then hopped a smaller coach train to Port Royal. And from there, they took a boat over to Parris Island, according to an interview Johnson gave years later for a Marine Corps oral history project.

All recruits had to be unmarried, English-educated male citizens, with no dependents and "sound as to senses and limbs," according to Parris Island records.

Reveille was at 5:30 a.m., but they didn't have buglers. The drill sergeant would wake them with shrill blasts of a whistle, and they had to move fast, Johnson said during his oral-history interview.

"When I blow that whistle for outside, I mean outside," Johnson recalled the drill instructor commanding. "And if you have to jump out the window, you still fall in at attention. You can take the window frame from around your neck after I give you 'at ease.'"

Johnson said the drill instructors were tough, but the recruits were not treated too badly.

"They were a little bit hard, but nobody was beaten up," he said.

The water situation, however, was another story. Fresh water had to be transported by barge to the island.

"The only thing that I minded was the fact that we had salt water for washing clothes and taking a shower," Johnson said. "That wasn't too keen."