MCRD Parris Island, SC HistoryMCRD Parris Island has its roots in a security detachment for NS Port Royal, a former Navy base established as a Union coaling station in the Civil War. In the 1890s NS Port Royal was building a new dry dock, and was experiencing security issues with construction workers, many of whom were "very vicious characters." Accordingly a Marine guard of one squad was assigned, under First Sergeant Richard Donovan. In 1893 Donovan's unit was instrumental in saving many civilian lives during and after the Sea Islands Hurricane (this was before hurricanes with proper names). This first Marine guard spent two years camped at NS Port Royal, at first in tents, then in a disused coal bunker, until adequate housing was built. By this time a second squad had been added. Soon after, an officer was placed in command, First Lieutenant Clarence L. A. Ingate.
In the next twenty a recruit depot was established and disestablished; the Marine guard was redesignated a few times, an officer's school was located here and then relocated, a Navy disciplinary barracks was established and disestablished. 1915 saw the permanent relocation of the recruit depot from Norfolk, Virginia to NS Port Royal, which was renamed Paris Island, after the actual Parris Island, and to make mail move more smoothly. In 1917 General Joseph Pendleton ordered the depot use the two Rs to reflect the historical (misspelled) name of the island: Parris Island.
Parris Island was established just a couple of years before a massive recruitment drive for World War One. Training groups increased from roughly 800 to over 13,000 at one point during the war, and receding to about 4,000 at war's end. Training at this time was eight weeks: three weeks were instruction and practice of close-order drill, physical exercise, swimming, bayonet fighting, personal combat, wall-scaling, rope-climbing, and other basics. The next two weeks was perfection of drill, basic boxing and wrestling, and interior-guard duty training. The last three weeks were spent on the rifle range, perfecting marksmanship. (Today's training course is, as any survivor of training knows, thirteen weeks.) The depot also provided post-recruit training, including Noncommissioned Officers' School, Field Medics' School, a Radio School, Signal School, Band School, Clerical School, Pay School, and the Cooks' and Bakers' School.
In 1918 Parris Island was entirely acquired by the Federal government for the Marine Corps. The base expanded, and added barracks housing and various other facilities. The island lacked freshwater wells and drinking water was brought in by barge; the salty well water was used for virtually everything else.
Training content and facilities varied some between the wars, but in general life did not vary a great deal on Parris Island until World War Two. Before the onset of the war, the Marine Corps had expanded from about 75,000 to about 100,000 Marines. When the war broke out, the Marine Corps suddenly had to expand very rapidly, and producing Marines at the rate required proved impossible. The recruit training course was temporarily shortened to only seven weeks, then five, and for a brief time only 4 weeks. This was soon returned to a standard length, and Marines were soon storming beaches in the Pacific.
After the war, recruit training was returned to standard, and standardized between depots. The Depot was, very strangely, used as a service separation center, for Marines exiting the Corps. Even with the large numbers of Marines leaving the Corps remained larger, and had a world of combat experience to instill into training, which was further refined from the combat experience of the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Among these improvements were classrooms (instruction previously had been in barracks) and instructors other than DI.
Over the course of World War Two, the Marine Corps had slowly desegregated, and by the end of the 1950s had entirely integrated. In 1949 the Marine Corps created a training command for female Marines, now the 4th Recruit Training Battalion, today the only all-female unit in the US armed forces, and the only training center for female Marine recruits.
MCRD Parris Island continues to produce the finest Marines in the world.