29 April 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 30 April 2010

"It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a facade of order - and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order." Douglas Hostadter (1945- )

Every once in a while, amidst chaos, happenings and circumstances--crisscrossing time-space--inexplicably converge and make for order of the eerie flavor. And the order is not necessarily meant to be understood by mere mortals. Such is life.

So goes today's Commentary--as another unexpected piece of 'the sign as you enter Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island,' recently converged on the developing story for a tad more order.

Now to today's words...

Commentary posted Friday, 09 April was the first, and only one intended, to address the Parris Island gate sign. The purpose to raise awareness--pointing out one of the oldest posts of the Corps, had, for whatever reason and most unlike Marines, steered away from history and tradition. The general presently in command of the Depot was innocently clueless as to what had happened--he simply inherited 'the problem'.

I expected Marines, who cling to our history and traditions with a death grip, to respond and engage. They did. And continue to do so--from far and wide and from every generation of living Marine going back to the late 40s and early 50s. The majority of them conquered Parris Island. Moreover, as mentioned last week, there's a creepy sense dead Marines are also weighing in.

What I did not anticipate was writing two follow-on Commentaries--today a third--and forming a Facebook group that is growing by the hour--Marines, families of Marines, and friends of Marines advocating for restoring the iconic sign.

In response to last Friday's Commentary I received an email--a story--from the woman who took the photograph (not even a month ago) of the present Parris Island sign and posted it on Facebook--the photograph that caught my eye. The photograph that started this effort to restore what once stood and should rightfully be standing today guarding entry to the Depot.

As you will read, she is a Marine. The spirit seared into her more than thirty years ago when earning the coveted title and her Eagle, Globe and Anchor. Her life would never be the same. And yet she was not mature enough at the time to fully understand and appreciate her accomplishment; a realization that would take years to gel.

Little could she have imagined during her days in uniform that an impromptu return visit to the Depot three decades later and snapping a happenstance photograph would lead to a fellow Marine seeing that photograph on an application called Facebook hosted on a globally-connected medium called the Internet and saying, "Wait a minute. That's not right." What are the odds?

Anyway, her story is the beginning--what triggered that first Commentary about the Parris Island sign.  It's a good one, and a bit spooky if you have been following the saga.

"I read your 3rd commentary regarding the sign and had to drop you a note as there is more "voodoo" or irony in this whole scenario than even you realized. Forgive my lengthy letter, but it will lose its impact without the details.

When Mark asked me to tag along to Beaufort with him (he has a current contract at the Naval Hospital), I could not pass. Right before my graduation at MCRD, our DI's took us into Beaufort and we toured 2 old homes. I had never forgotten it and knew that I would someday return to get a better look at the town as I fell in love with it.

I had no intention of going to Parris Island. Time did not permit...I had a full agenda of things I wanted to see and do plus we were going to spend our last night of the trip in Hilton Head as a rare "romantic getaway". I dropped him off that morning (we only had one car) and then I headed out. I noticed the directional sign for PI and thought..."okay...I will just do a quick drive through for old time sake."

I stopped at the sentry gate and spoke with a lance corporal. When he asked me what my business was for entering, I told him I was a former Marine and just wanted to look around. He let me know quickly that I could not get on base without a purpose. I left, went back into town and got a cup of coffee. I struck up a conversation with an old retired Marine and he told me to go back and tell them I wanted to see the history museum. I did just that and the same Marine that I had previously encountered smiled and told me to get a permit.

While getting the pass, I asked (a different Marine) if I could get out and take a picture of the gate. He was very agreeable and told me where to park so that I would not block the traffic. I had taken 3 steps towards the gate when 3 Marines came out of the sentry hut running full-force at me. The one that had just let me on base started yelling "Ma'am, Ma'am...where are you going and what are you doing?" It scared the hell out of me.

I was a nanosecond away from caving and running back to my car until I thought,"I am going to get a damn picture of this gate...I don't care what he says." I told him I wanted a picture of the gate. Two of the Marines turned around and went back to the hut. The lance corporal eyed me very suspiciously and stood looking at me while I snapped away. I left and told the Marine to have a good day.

I encountered the "roundabout" in the road. Not knowing which way to go, I veered to the right and headed towards the 3rd Battalion. I drove around for awhile, but was nervous. I kept waiting for someone to "bust" me since I did not go to the history museum and worried that I was in complete violation (and probably was) of Marine security policies. I just wanted to see the recruits and DI's; I wanted to see the drill, the PT and the DI's in someone's face. I had to see it!

I did not remember anything about the area I was in and thought, "there is more to this base than this, but where is it?" I drove around for awhile longer...saw a few platoons, but left as I was getting paranoid. I went back out into town and got breakfast. While eating, I remembered the roundabout and knew there were other avenues that I had not ventured down. I finished eating, got back into my car and headed onto base again.

If you have not been counting...this was my third time going through the gate at MCRD....the place I had no intention of visiting. I realized that I had to see the barracks that I lived in as a recruit. I went back on base and took the road that denoted "mainside"...or something like that. I traveled a short while and then BINGO...it all began to unfold and I found what I had been looking for.

How did I remember it? The overhead pipes were a huge clue plus there were many more buildings. To my left, looming larger than life, the Iwo Jima statue and the huge 1st Battalion grinder with the bleachers! There were recruits, DI's, lieutenants and captains everywhere. THIS is what I had been looking for.

I was still scared as hell. I was waiting for MP's to descend on me at every turn. I did not care though, I was on a mission. I drove around for a long time just soaking up all that I saw. The one thing that I vividly remember (as a recruit) was our DI's taking us to a place on the water. We were in very close proximity to officer housing (majors and higher). It was beautiful as there was one stately home after another. Their backyards butted up to the water. It was a beautiful spring day; sunny, crisp with a slight breeze. I think we had lunch out there, but I really don't remember. We were close to graduation, I do remember that. I wanted to find that area, but never did. I am sure you know the area I am referring to.

I remembered that I was to pick Mark up for lunch so I drove back to Beaufort. When we were finished, I took him back and decided I needed to start touring Bay Street. I took a carriage ride through the historic part of town. I went into a bookstore and bought every book that I was interested in and walked out to the marina area. I looked at the sailboats for awhile and then jumped back into the car and headed to Parris Island. I had completed a third of what I had set out to see.

I knew I had to find the barracks that I lived in as a recruit. After taking every side street, I came upon it (or at least I think it was the building), pulled over on the side of the road and got out to take a look. My understanding is that there were 2 WM [Woman Marine] barracks at the time of my training. There was a brand new facility that housed WM's and then a very old building. I was in the very old building. We were told that it would soon be phased out, but they needed it awhile longer.

The building that I was looking at was currently being used as offices for some type of Marine family support. I took a couple of pictures. I had intended to send them to you to see if you could verify my memory, but never got around to it. There is a brand new DI School across the street from it. It did not exist when I was there. I think I have the correct building as nothing else I saw was even remotely close to what I remember.

Again, I drove around trying to find the officer's housing section that I remembered. No luck. It was getting late and a little chilly and I decided I was going to leave when I drove past the 1st Battalion grinder. There were several platoons practicing drill so I looked for a parking space. I was in luck...there was an open space that could not have been any closer to the field. I looked at the Iwo Jima statue for a very long time. I thought about what it must have been like for the Marines the day they took Mt. Suribachi. I looked at each of their names and wondered about them all. I wondered what their lives were like after that experience. I wondered if they had ever discussed it with their families and friends.

I decided to take a seat on the bleachers and just watch. As I sat there, a huge flood of memories and emotions washed over me. And of course it did, how could it not? Parris Island is loaded with so much history. So many people have been through that gate. There are so many people that have been through that gate, earned the Eagle, Globe and Anchor and then died, offering our country the ultimate in sacrifice. Parris Island is a legend larger than life and always will be. It was shortsighted of me to think I could get so close and not feel compelled to relive the biggest life-changing experience of my life.

At any rate, I began remembering many things...the stories of Chesty Puller, but the strongest thoughts I had were the one's regarding the man that had been Commandant of the Marine Corps when I served my sole tour. That man was General Robert Barrow.

I have no idea why my mind turned to him, but as I sat there, I wondered if he was still alive. I wondered what recruit training must have been like when he went through and if it was greatly different than what recruits experience today. I wondered what it was about him that made him the obvious choice for such an esteemed and revered position. I wondered about the various posts and duties that he served before becoming the Commandant. I remember thinking that he had to have seen so many changes in the Marine Corps during his tenure. I wondered what he would say about the change if asked. I wondered if he had written a book on his experience in the Marine Corps. I even remember wondering why I did not have to go through drug testing as a Marine until the last 4 months of my tour.

When the wind and dropping temperatures became too much, I left. As I was getting into my car, I happened to look to my right a little and that is when I noticed the sign. I had parked in the CG's parking space. In my haste, I had overlooked it. Brigadier General Padilla...correct? The one whose name now graces the front gate at MCRD?

Upon my arrival back to Raleigh, I wanted to write and tell you about the emotional impact that my trip had, but decided against it. Men and women see things so differently, I felt it would make you uncomfortable if I shared that. I do not know if I believe in fate...the jury is still out on that one.

You wrote [in your last Commentary], "Why it took a retired colonel residing 3,000 miles away to point out the obvious is inexplicable. But it did." The fact that it was my picture from a day that was supposed to have been spent so differently than the way it was spent, is completely eerie. You used the word "unnerving" in your Commentary as you mentioned General Robert Barrow. I will tell you that in light of the way this has unfolded, I am completely unnerved. And now, I will say to you...'Semper Fidelis'."

Note: Non-italicized bracketed text inserted for clarification.

I thanked her for the detailed and heartfelt story. With her time becoming reacquainted with Parris Island not only the reason for this, the fourth Commentary, but a fitting piece--actually the first but coming late--for the order. One more piece to go. Marines are standing by.



As Paul Harvey (1918-2009) famously declared on his popular radio program, "Now you know...the rest of the story."

Semper Fidelis.

Post Script

In closing my note to her, I kindly pointed out the innocent but not-to-be-repeated error of identifying herself as a "former Marine" to the lance corporal sentry. Remember, Marines are either 1) Active; 2) Reserve; 3) Retired; 4) Not in a duty status; or 5) Dead. Never a "former Marine"--for the change is forever. "Once a Marine, always a Marine."

Facebook group: Return the iconic front gate sign at Marine Recruit Depot, Parris Island has surpassed 500 members.

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