07 April 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 09 April 2010

A few Marine friends who happen to know Brigadier General Padilla, the current commanding general of U. S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, sent me notes saying what a great guy he is and that he could not have been the one responsible for changing the sign.

In a short email today General Padilla commented the sign has been around for a few of his predecessors, and there are eagle, globe and anchors that flank each side of the sign (not visible in the photograph).

Searching for more images on the Internet I found one where an eagle, globe and anchor is visible on a shorter wall flanking either side of the main wall. The photograph is posted to the left.

So, in short, eagle, globe and anchors remain as part of the front gate sign at Parris Island. Our emblems were moved from center stage to make room for the inclusion of "Eastern Recruiting Region" and the names of the Depot commanding general and the sergeant major--which Marines offering comment on this issue so far believe to be so much clutter.

I sent General Padilla a short 'thank you' note for his time and information and noted that whomever, always giving Marines the benefit of the doubt, made the decision to change the iconic sign surely had good reason but that such escaped those on the perimeter hence the disappointment and calm outcry. My Post Script read, "On a lighter note, the old gate was better! You should think about restoring it."

There are ample photos of the past and present gates (signs) posted to the left. I prefer simplicity--the essence. You decide which is more reflective of the Marine Corps.

By Andy Weddington
Friday, 09 April 2010

When recalling his time as a lieutenant in Asia, a highly decorated Marine--twice awarded the Medal of Honor--offered...

"I selected an enormous Marine Corps emblem to be tattooed across my chest. It required several sittings and hurt me like the devil, but the finished product was worth the pain. I blazed triumphantly forth, a Marine from throat to waist. The emblem is still with me. Nothing on earth but skinning will remove it."  Major General Smedley D. Butler, USMC (1881-1940)

Last week a Marine on a long overdue return to the South Carolina low country and visit to the U. S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, snapped a photograph of the entrance to the historic post of the Corps and posted it on Facebook. See photo left of this Commentary.

Little did that Marine know what a firestorm her innocent post would create.

That photograph caught my eye because something was wrong and something was missing. It also increased my blood pressure, quickened my pulse, caused me to mumble, "What the hell?" and stirred me to action.

For since at least the World War II timeframe and until somewhat recently, the sign greeting all passing through the front and only gate at Parris Island reflected the Marine Corps ethos--teamwork. With its striking red background, simple and bold Depot identity, and adorned with the most distinctive military emblem (a pair of them) in the world--the eagle, globe and anchor--the sign was powerful and classy. Likewise, see photo to the left.

That iconic sign "said" all that needed to be said: "This Depot makes U. S. Marines." And, implied that Marines and recruits quietly come and go but the process--the mission--endures.

And that sign, fronted by a small guard shack manned by a Marine sentry 24 hours a day every single day of the year, was illuminated during the hours of darkness. One benefit being that when busloads of recruits slowly approached the gate and rolled by in the middle of the night they not only knew their lives were mere moments away from being changed forever but they saw the emblem they came to earn.

Now the emblems are gone--replaced by the names of the commanding general and sergeant major. And notice that "Eastern Recruiting Region" clutters the sign. Parris Island is not the "Eastern Recruiting Region"--that territory east of the Mississippi River. Parris Island is where the commanding general of the region is headquartered. Parris Island is one of two recruit training depots. That's it. The question is: Is identity of the recruiting region and the general (and sergeant major), by name, relevant to the Depot mission and does anyone care? No. And no.

And it's not just me that's disappointed and angered by the change--a change that goes far deeper than some superficial concern about aesthetics of the sign.

Last week I passed the photo along to my Marine contacts. As I included in my note to them, "Linnea, my wife, is standing here and looked at the photos and just said to me in so many words, "My God, it's where Marines earn the eagle, globe and anchor...they even have an emblem ceremony toward the end of training...why would they remove them from the gate for the names of the general and sergeant major?"

An excellent question. And one I could not answer then and as of this writing still cannot answer.

Following is a sampling of what has come back so far.

"I agree the sign at Parris Island sucks and I sent it to my Marines. When there is some action we can take, let me know, I will send it out." Sergeant

"Ego sacrilege." Sergeant

"Unfreakenbeleivable...is nothing sacred anymore? What the hell happened to tradition...who gives a damn about the name of the general or sergeant major...put our emblems back where they belong!"
Master Gunnery Sergeant (Drill Instructor)

"I'm shocked! How is it that one of the most recognized symbols in the world, a symbol that represents a title that can only be earned, a symbol that bonds generations of men and women together forever be replaced by the names of the commanding general and sergeant major!? To me it's evidence they don't understand what "Making Marines" is all about. They've lost the bubble! They've elevated themselves above all whom those emblems represent. Shame on them! Perhaps a re-education of the 14 Leadership Traits with a focus on Unselfishness is in order."  CWO5 (Drill Instructor)

"Posting those names at the front gate is nuts! You put a star on somebody's shoulder and they think they are God. The commanding general is a narcissist!" Captain

"I agree with the observations made. Next thing they will do is paint over the yellow footprints. What is it about timeless traditions that doesn't sink in with some people." Major

"YGTBSM! Incredible! What Marine would ever condone or order to have removed, the most iconic symbol of military prowess in the world (eagle, globe and anchor) in order to have the names of the commanding general and sergeant major displayed in their place? It can't be true. I can't even imagine it!!"  Lieutenant Colonel

"I have had a couple of calls telling me "No! Not in my Corps?" etc. I'm surprised we've not seen action yet!?" Lieutenant Colonel

"I understand the eagle, globe and anchor have been replaced by the name of the commanding general on one side and sergeant major on the other. I knew our traditions were under assault from all quarters, but never expected this to happen. Generals and sergeants major are pretty faces on the reviewing stand, on parade decks, but other than signing some occasional orders, serve little purpose in making any base operate." Colonel

"I concur wholeheartedly. Bunch of crap to have to hang a shingle out to let the world know who the commanding general is...not enough colonels down there telling the Old Man that it is a bad idea to put his name on that sign...should have been the sergeant major but we see what happened there, didn't we. No one is willing to call the BS anymore...just PC all the way..." Colonel

"I, of course, am a “Hollywood Marine” but fully understand the importance of what “they” have done at Parris Island. I will forward this to some retired general officer friends." Colonel

"I can't believe my eyes! Whoever issued that order should be dragged through the swamp in back of the butts all the way out to the rifle ranges! Now I know that our Corps is being sold down the river to the highest bidder!!! What a crock of crap!" Colonel (DI in the 1950s)

"Oh no, my goodness, looks like shrine-building." General

"Not sure we have to confuse the message by naming and displaying the names of the senior leadership at the front gate; particularly at the expense of a long-standing iconic symbol. The only thing I can come up with, is that the trend of late, has been the practice of plastering names over the welcome aboard sign. For instance, there are so many names plastered over the Camp Pendleton front gate sign that in order to read them all, you run the risk of causing a traffic accident...I'm afraid we've yielded to what is popular without regard for perhaps the larger message we want to send which is, first and foremost, THIS IS THE MARINE CORPS." General

"What a sad, cheap-looking entrance to Parris Island. When our 27th Commandant made his last official visit to Parris Island he was presented a framed photograph of the main gate. Hope General Conway isn't presented a picture of what is there today." General

Marines are notorious for emblazoning our emblem on everything. Decals and bumper stickers with the emblem and the words "United States Marine Corps," "U. S. Marines," or just "MARINES" adorn cars, motorcycles, trucks, RVs, boats, and any other form of transportation you can think of. Ball caps, T-shirts, sweatshirts, polo shirts, sweats, sweaters, jackets, ties, golf club head covers, key rings, jewelry and more are similarly decorated.

Not once in more than 30 years of holding the title "Marine" have I ever seen or heard of a Marine plastering a general officer's name (nor sergeant major's) on anything. And that includes the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. The Corps is not about any individual--no matter their rank or billet. Every Marine is only a small part of something much, much larger than themselves--a point hammered in to every recruit and officer candidate the moment they arrive for training--where "I" is extinguished from the vocabulary and replaced with "this recruit" or "this candidate" and "we." Team first.

It is especially ironic that our emblem was removed from the entryway to the very grounds upon which Marines are made. And that recruit training includes a 54-hour test of mettle called the "Crucible"--an ordeal characterized by sleep and food deprivation, foot-marches with combat load, problem-solving, leadership training and more with successful completion dependent upon teamwork. It's the culminating hurdle of training recognized by a formal, intimate presentation known as the "Emblem Ceremony" where Senior Drill Instructors present each of their recruits with an emblem and for the first time address them as "Marine." The moment so emotional new Marines, after more than two months of grueling training--psychologically and physically, are moved to tears and at a loss for words. Yes, it's a defining moment.

Funny, again in an ironic way, a new Marine a week after departing the Depot will most likely not be able to recall the names, memorized as part of their chain of command, of the commanding general or sergeant major. But the names of their Drill Instructors will not fade--for life. And the emblem they earned will mean more and more as they tackle life's challenges. For the title "Marine" and the emblem is theirs for life.

Now, in the name of full disclosure, two points...

First, a Marine friend told me he heard the emblems on the sign had been removed, refurbished, and placed on exhibit in the Depot's museum. That it fine. But replicas for the front gate are easy. And if the commanding general and sergeant major--whomever they may be--feel it essential to have their names adorning a sign then post another sign closer to Mainside--about a mile or so from the Depot's entry. With any luck, no one will notice it.

Second, a couple of Marines quoted above admitted to knowing the current commanding general and commenting, "He's a good guy." But that did not temper their sentiments of displeasure nor prevent them from a pause to wonder if maybe pinning on a star had triggered  a change of perspective.

The iconic sign that weathered more than six decades oozed Marine Corps. As for the current sign, it reeks of bureaucracy, looks cheap, is unfamiliar to Marines, and frankly seems pointless.

One friend suggested perhaps we are becoming the curmudgeonly Marines we light-heartedly bemoaned in our younger days. Perhaps. But not on this issue. More like older Marines pointing out to younger Marines they may be a little wet and have momentarily lost their way.

Important? You bet! It goes to chipping away at the very core--tradition and more--of the Corps; something Marines cling to with a death grip. Parris Island (nor any other aspect of the Marine Corps) is not about two Marines. It's about the Corps--and making Marines. With no better nor appropriate place to send that clear message to the public--and new recruits--than the gate protecting entry to the Depot.

Some may wonder and suggest, with the country at war and Marines in the thick of it, that the Parris Island sign is no big deal and why am I concerned about it. To that, they are correct. It's not a big deal. It's an even bigger deal. It's more important than ever that it be right.

It seems to me the astute general who hopes the current Commandant, General James Conway, is not  presented a photograph of the current sign established the perfect acid test. Can you imagine?

Brigadier General Padilla may or may not be responsible for the current sign's design. I don't know and it does not matter. For he, as the current commanding general and only a temporary custodian of the Depot, bears responsibility and certainly has the authority to correct it.

Therefore, General, a growing collective of bewildered, disappointed Marines, families of Marines and friends of Marines respectfully request you fix the sign.

Semper Fidelis.

Post Script

Every day for three years (1983-1986), typically long before sunrise, I either peddled my bike or drove my pickup truck by that iconic sign on my way to 2nd Recruit Training Battalion--where I had a small hand in supervising recruit training. Not that I ever forgot but the sign was a good reminder of what I was part of. I cannot imagine any of the generals under whom I served aboard the Depot ever giving consideration to removing the emblems and posting their names. For any reason. Not a chance in hell. Not one. Nor a subordinate so much as suggesting it to the general(s)--without suffering, at a minimum, a quizzical if not stern look(s) of disbelief. The same look that has been on my face for a week and half.  

All are welcome to weigh in on the cause and join the Facebook group and post a comment. It's simple. Just copy and paste the following group title into the Facebook search window: Return the iconic front gate sign at Marine recruit depot, Parris Island

Feel free to pass this Commentary along to Marines and friends of the Corps.

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