22 April 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 23 April 2010

The beat goes on...

And word continues to spread, via the world of electrons, faster than a vaccine-resistant virus with one--and only one--remedy to halt the bug and "cure" the infection.

The iconic sign that once greeted busloads of recruits slowly rolling aboard U. S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, in the middle of the night, and the subject of the last two Commentaries, continues to garner engagement from Marines--far and wide. And maybe even from some dead ones.

So, by demand from the field to continue airing the opinions of Marines and dutifully acting as the central repository and voice, a third Commentary is in order.

Corporal Anderson opined...

"Thus far I have avoided commenting on the sign, but it's time to throw in my views as a Marine 42+ years removed from my sole extended "visit" to Parris Island. Like the MSgt, I too arrived in the early morning hours of darkness in February, 1968 to the rotten smell and almost unbreathable humid air that was alien to my Yankee soul. Lest I be tempted to wax romantic, I will say only that my sojourn at MCRD was not particularly enjoyable but the end result was predictable. I left a Marine.

I look at the pictures of the current sign with all of the names and titles and am reminded of those signs on major highways entering our various states and on large new construction projects everywhere. They are rife with the names of politicians and functionaries whose only concern is self-glorification and self-promotion to give them a leg up at the next election. Bluntly and crudely put, it is tacky egocentrism. A much larger objection occurs after even a cursory view of the current sign, it is plain out poor graphic design!! Tradition aside, a proper sign for any purpose needs to be balanced, attractive, and clearly convey to the viewer a message, purpose, or location. The main purpose of Parris Island is to make Marines and any mention of recruiting in the sign dilutes the main message. This sign is the public face of Parris Island and is viewed by countless Americans. Return it to the original which had high graphic impact, excellent design, and bold execution."

Another Marine sent me an email remarking...

"After seeing the photographs, my first thought was the only thing more egregious would be somehow marring the Iwo Jima Memorial. Who is responsible and what were they thinking when first deciding to 'improve' the sign?"

If ever a photograph was worth a thousand words, this one is worth a million. Pictured left is a squatting
Private First Class Scott Jackson, USMC. He was a member of Platoon 1193, D Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment and the photograph taken after graduation earlier that morning on Friday, 16 September 1994...

"I am so glad my Dad made me stand there by the sign for that picture."

Think about it. Young Mr. Jackson, now in his mid-30s, thought enough of his achievement to save that photograph his proud father snapped. However he came upon the newly established Facebook group to 'fix the sign' is moot. He felt strongly enough to post the photograph on the group's Wall and add a comment. I, too, am glad his Dad made him "...stand there by the sign for that picture." And I'd bet a small fortune there are divisions-worth of Marines that now wish their Dads (or Mothers or anyone close to them) had made them likewise stand by that sign.

And note the photo below Jackson's of a new Private following graduation in October, 1981 standing in front of the sign. Any doubt another Dad's idea for a "Kodak moment" and what those emblems and that photograph mean to that Marine today?

Another Marine asked...

"So what's next? Remove the statue of Iwo Jima and replace it with a Romanesque bust of these two?"

Maybe a little sarcasm there but his point made. Change things slowly enough and you never know what you can get away with. Kind of like slow-boiling a frog starting with him resting in a pot of cold water vice tossing the amphib into an already roiling boil. As to busts, no way in hell. But, then again what Marine would have believed emblems would be subjugated, as one old Marine put it last week, "to bookend duty" for names.

And another...

"Unfortunately it is "marines" (yes, I used the little "m" in derision) like these that place their ego's above all else. I served proudly and honorably from '93-'98 with Weapons Company 1/2 [1st Battalion/2nd Marines], 81's Platoon, 2d Marine Division and I can promise you none of us living or dead (we've lost some dear friends along the way) would approve of this show of vanity. Put it back the way it should be..."

And yet another...

"It should remain the way it was, "U.S.MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND SOUTH CAROLINA" with our BELOVED and SACRED EAGLE GLOBE AND ANCHORS!!! The Marine Corps is based on Tradition and that sign should stay the same as it always has been as long as there are Marines defending this Great Country. Semper Fi."

Recent notes from friends confirm senior Marines--active and retired--are engaging. One who graduated from Parris Island several decades ago and now wears the silver oak leafs of a lieutenant colonel commented more than a handful of Sergeants Major he personally knows were unaware but are now looking into the matter. He offered...

"To me this is a similar situation to the Air Force wanting to put their monstrous memorial next to the Iwo Memorial (sacred ground) in Washington, D.C. No, USAF,...you may not do this. I find this situation equally (perhaps more) egregious...What bothers me is this seems to have taken place, initially and gradually for the past seven years...and NOBODY did anything about it!! That really bothers me. But since it has transitioned gradually to an ever-worse front entrance, perhaps the Marines just did not notice. I sure as hell did...It might be a long, hard fight but you will be VICTORIOUS!! The sign will be returned!!"

And another friend, now retired--who also wore silver oak leafs, opined below and passed along the matter now has the attention of a retired Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.

"The sign now is an advertisement as to what the CG [Commanding General] commands - MCRD and ERR - it is not about what is behind the gates. MCRD Parris Island is what is behind the gates!! NOT the Eastern Recruiting Region. I'm confident this will be fixed."

And there are many more with similar expressions of disappointment. Yet there's not a single favorable comment for the sign's current look--not so much as a wobbly, half-hearted endorsement.

The low-country area surrounding Parris Island is gorged with Marines; many of whom are retired and some who served multiple tours of duty--some as Drill Instructors--aboard the famed Depot. Perhaps their alibi is they were too close to the sign and unable to focus--a plausible, but thin, defense in extenuation and mitigation.

Why it took a retired colonel residing 3,000 miles away to point out the obvious is inexplicable. But it did.

The Facebook group: Return the iconic front gate sign at Marine Recruit Depot, Parris Island is rolling along. Membership presently stands at 451with the distinguished roster growing by the hour.

Perusing the membership Wednesday evening a couple of notables caught my eye.

One was "James Baker" whose photograph had him alongside Medal of Honor recipient Major General James Livingston, USMC (Retired). The photo appeared as if it was taken in the vicinity of the Parris Island drill field/parade deck. I served with General Livingston at Parris Island--he was a lieutenant colonel in those days. I can guess what he thinks about the sign.

The other--a name--was particularly interesting; "Chesty Puller."

For the benefit of readers unfamiliar with Puller (1898-1971), he is a hero of the Corps. His many decorations for combat heroism are topped by five Navy Crosses--the decoration for extraordinary valor and leadership under hostile fire, distinguished by its navy blue color and centered white stripe, second only to the star-bedecked pale blue ribbon of the Medal of Honor. He retired from the Corps a lieutenant general serving for thirty-seven years--beginning in 1918 as an enlisted man undergoing recruit training, but where else, at Parris Island. The island was officially designated a Marine Corps Recruit Depot on 01 November 1915. And the Depot has been making Marines ever since. As of posting this Commentary, there has been no photographic proof "the sign" stood in Puller's day.

I just finished reading "Hero of the Pacific--The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone" by James Brady (author and Marine who fought in the Korean war). I recommend the book--to Marines and all others. It's interesting--as goes today's lingo, "it's a page-turner."

Sergeant Basilone (1916-1945), a skilled machine-gunner, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism and leadership on Guadalcanal (WWII) and as a gunnery sergeant posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his extraordinary actions during the initial assault on Iwo Jima. A bit of mystery remains to this day about Basilone. But there's no disputing his bravery.

After a hitch in the Army, Basilone completed recruit training aboard Parris Island. Photographs (not in the book but posted last week) indicate the iconic sign was probably there in his day. What would "Manila John" Basilone say? If he, too (ironically, he and Puller fought on Guadalcanal in the same battle), pops up on the Facebook group his "presence" will merely confirm what we already suspect his sentiments would be--"fix the sign."

Coincidence, happenstance, karma, or fate I stumbled on the Brady book last weekend? Take your pick. The Post Script may help you decide.

Post Script

As noted in last week's Commentary, a Marine commenting on the sign and passing to a civilian contact aboard Parris Island said, "Please pass this to 'Jane.' This needs to be corrected. General Barrow would literally turn over in his grave...if he hasn't already."

Well, a development Thursday afternoon (22 Apr 2010) just may be proof General Barrow not only rolled over but has risen. In Thursday morning's mail the general's son, Rob, received a drawing (posted left) of his Dad. Note what is at the bottom of the drawing--the sign that for decades greeted all boarding the Depot. Here are the words of Lieutenant Colonel Rob Barrow, USMC (Retired) who sent me scanned images of the drawing...

"Incredible that I would receive this now. This was done by Marine Gunnery Sergeant Don Moore. He was a Drill Instructor at Parris Island when Dad was the Commanding General. He lives in Killeen, Texas, and knows my sister Cathy who also lives in Killeen. Anyway, he wanted Cathy and me to have a copy of this drawing he did of Dad knowing how much Dad loved Parris Island and, of course, knowing how important Parris Island is to the Marine Corps. Gunnery Sergeant Moore is actually depicted in the drawing as the Drill Instructor."

I spoke briefly with Rob who assured me Gunnery Sergeant Moore knew nothing of my Commentaries and is unaware anything has happened to the sign he remembers from more than 35 years ago. And, I wrote back to Rob...

"This is perfect! In regard to the Marine's comment last week regarding the sign--'about your Dad rolling over in his grave'--this is our sign not only has your Dad rolled over he's risen. There is much we don't know about our world and life and this is too damn eerie to merely off-handedly dismiss as coincidental. This is better than Cajun country voodoo. [General Barrow was born and raised in Louisiana]

Commentary three regarding the sign will be posted this evening. Were I the current Commanding General at Parris Island I'd ensure that sign was fixed before this weekend is over. And I would say a little prayer nothing happened to me in the interim."

With generals Puller and Barrow "present" it's just a little haunting. Even unnerving. Yes, fix the sign so these Marines (and all others) may rest in peace.

1 comment:

ak said...

When I was stationed aboard MCRD PI I was told that the old gentleman who was the cobbler for many years is the one who fabricated the Marine Corps Emblems that guarded the front gate...I wonder if that is true fact or is it fiction.

MGySgt A. A. Karam (Ret)