Marines love traditions. They get their first taste of them at Parris Island. Here are some of the biggest:
1. Yellow footprints
In the early 1960s, yellow footprints were painted on the pavement in front of the recruit receiving barracks.
Their purpose: To help brand-new recruits -- straight off the bus and terrified by screaming drill instructors -- to learn where to stand in formation.
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The footprints also serve as a powerful reminder that more than one million Marines have stood on Parris Island as new recruits and taken this same first step.
Once recruits find a spot on the footprints, a drill instructor barks a well-rehearsed speech:
"You are now aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, and you have just taken the first step toward becoming a member of the world's finest fighting force -- the United States Marine Corps. ... Tens of thousands of Marines began outstanding service to our country on the very footprints where you are standing. You will carry on their proud tradition."
2. Silver hatches
Fresh recruits are then marched through two silver doors, called hatches, at the receiving barracks. They are the symbolic threshold between the outside world and Parris Island. To walk through them is to accept the challenges that boot camp brings. Visitors cannot walk through the silver hatches.
3. Sand gnat burial
Old Marines tell a similar story about Parris Island that goes something like this.
On one of their first days of basic training, as they stood at attention with sweat running down their faces, a tiny winged bug began buzzing around. Within seconds, that one bug was joined by another and then another until hundreds were in the swarm.
The barely-there pests -- attracted to sweat and fear and drunk on Parris Island's 100 percent humidity -- suicide-bombed into recruits' eyes and ear canals.
Most recruits did not dare defy the drill instructor and unroll a palm to swat at the gnats.
But inevitably in these stories, there is one brazen recruit who does just that, catching the eagle eye of the DI.
And the enraged instructor demands that the whole group of recruits get on their knees and find the tiny casualty. Then, the offending recruit is ordered to dig a tiny hole and give the bug a proper burial.
It's called a sand gnat burial -- sometimes a sand flea burial.
But the point is the same.
When the drill instructor gives a command, you do it.
It is one of the most enduring images of life aboard the depot -- a drill instructor marching a unit while belting out a cadence. Motivated recruits respond in unison.
Performed while marching and running, these back-and-forth anthems can be incomprehensible to the uninitiated. But every Marine has his/her favorite one. And no recruit finishes boot camp without memorizing a few.
Ah 1, 2, 3, 4 (Unit responds by yelling, "Marine Corps" after each line)
Ah 1, 2, 3, 4
Ah Army, Navy was not for me.
Air Force was just ah too easy
What I need was a little bit more
I need a life that is hard-core
Parris Island is where it began
A little rock with ah lots of sand
It is during basic training that the recruits first learn some of the creeds by which Marines live and work. Shouting them in unison is a way the Corps reinforces its values.
The Rifleman's Creed, written during World War II by Maj. Gen. William H. Rupertus, is one of the most well-known creeds that all Parris Island recruits learn:
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will ...
My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit ...
My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will ...
Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and I are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!