Not often do I see such a beautiful sight while crossing the bridges from Hilton Head Island on my way to work.
Oh yes, beautiful sights are always there: fog hugging Skull Creek, spartina grass in golden waves, osprey circling high above, or maybe a john boat in the creek begging me to quit my job and come live — really live — in the arms of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
On this Friday morning, the beautiful sight was a decorated Toyota van with Ohio plates.
“Parris Island Bound. My Daughter is a Marine,” read the red, white and blue letters across the rear window.
This is a wonderful piece of Americana that Beaufort County clutches to its heart. We make Marines on an infamous sandy island in Port Royal, between Beaufort and Hilton Head.
That means we see cars and vans decorated by families who have come to witness a Friday graduation ceremony at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
They have come, perhaps knocking on wood in disbelief, to witness one of humankind’s greatest transformations. Their child — and at my age, they do look like children — will crisply march across the Peatross Parade Deck as a totally new person from the one they last saw three months ago.
Somehow, Parris Island has turned their baby into a responsible adult who can scream on command life’s new guiding stars: Honor, courage, commitment. Oorah!
Most of those proud folks stay in Beaufort, so the decorated van was like a rare, visiting bird. Or, maybe a cardinal.
One week ago, a pedestrian was killed on U.S. 17 in northern Beaufort County. This good Samaritan had stopped to help someone who was in an earlier crash. In the process, she was struck by a vehicle and died at the scene.
The good Samaritan was U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Erin Rachel Lilleyfogle. She was only 23. Her graduation ceremony was two years ago. But she already served as a non-commissioned officer in charge of headquarters and Service Battalion’s administrative section at Parris Island, and she had been awarded the National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
She was in the process of being awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, which she will receive posthumously, the Corps said.
Her story made America cry. It was reported everywhere, even in The New York Post, which called our newspaper “The Island Picket.”
Cpl. Lilleyfogle had another important job at Parris Island.
She was caretaker for the depot mascot, a female English bulldog named Opha May.
Opha May Johnson, at age 39, was the first woman known to have enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, 101 years ago during World War I.
Earlier this year, for the first time in Marine Corps history, both male and female recruits trained together. Their graduation ceremony was in March.
In July, this week’s graduates arrived on Parris Island. A jarring headline in USA Today would later call it the Earth’s hottest month on record in any year dating back to 1880.
Friday was a cool day by our standards.
It was a beautiful day.
And so was that decorated van. It was an unexpected reminder that the band marches on, and that a young woman from Ohio will now have the back of Cpl. Erin Rachel Lilleyfogle, and Sgt. Opha May Johnson.
Honor, courage and commitment did not perish on the side of U.S. 17. They only came to light.