Marine Corps Recruit Depot - Parris Island, South Carolina

Frontage Signage for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Frontage Signage for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. GGA Image ID # 1374228ca0

History of Parris Island

Parris Island, home of basic training for today’s Marines east of the Mississippi, has a colorful history. Although the first Marine Corps Activity on the island was in June, 1891, the story of its occupancy by Europeans reaches back more than three centuries into antiquity.

Covering approximately 7800 acres of land and water, Parris Island is located off the South Carolina coast about midway between Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.

The site of the earliest attempt by Europeans to settle within the present boundaries of the State of South Carolina, the island was visited in 1526 by Valaquez de Alleyn who headed a Spanish expedition in search of slaves and gold.

Probably the first European to land here, he named adjacent St. Helena Island and claimed it for Spain some 50 years before the French attempted to colonize the islands which included this Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

An expedition of French Huguenots, under Jean Ribault, landed here in April, 1562. Before returning to France, they established Charles Fort on what is now Parris Island. Historians are indebted to one member of this expedition in particular. He was a cartographer of considerable ability named Lenoyne. One of his maps of the region firmly locates Charles Fort on Parris Island.

In 1663 William Hilton, of Barbades, rediscovered Charles Fort while exploring the newly-chartered province of Carolina. Today, the Ribault Monument stands on the site of ancient Charles Fort to mark one of the first colonies established in the New World.

In 1670 an English expedition arrived in the area and settled down to establish permanent towns and the first of the famed southern plantations.

The Lord Proprietors of South Carolina passed the title to Parris Island down through several colonial settlers until 1715, when Alexander Parris, long time Public Treasurer of South Carolina, came into possession. The island’s name dates back to him.


United States Marines were first connected with the island as early as 1861, when with a band of seamen, they took possession of it and nearby Forts Beauregard and Walker during the War Between the States.

The first Marine Corps activity was established on Parris Island on June 26, 1891, when a small detachment arrived with First Sergeant Richard Donovan, USMC, in charge, for duty in connection with the U. S. Naval Station, Port Royal, South Carolina, which was located on Parris Island. The detachment was highly commanded for its service in preserving life and property during the hurricane and tidal wave which swept over the island in 1893.

In 1909, a school for Marine officers was established here, and, in 1911, two recruit companies were established. One was transferred to Charleston, S. C., and the other Norfolk, Va., during the latter part of the same year, and the buildings were used as Navy disciplinary barracks.

On November 1, 1915, the area was again turned over to the Marine Corps, and recruit training reestablished. Parris Island has since become famous as a training base of U. S. Marines. During World War I, some 41,000 recruits were trained here.

Prior to 1929, all transportation to and from the island was by small boats operating between the Post Docks and Port Royal, South Carolina. In 1929, the “water era” came to an end with the completion of the Horse Island bridge and causeway.


In August, 1940, recruit training was first organized on a battalion basis. With the coming of World War II, a flood of recruits, as well as new permanent personnel to train them arrived aboard the island.

The Baser\was enlarged to handle 13 recruit battalions, and, between 1941 and 1945, almost 205,000 recruits were trained at Parris Island. At the time of the Japanese surrender, there were more than 20,000 fledgling Marines in training at Parris Island.

At the end of the war, the island was reduced to a population low by the rapid demobilization. Prior to the outbreak of the crisis in Korea, there were only two recruit battalions in training.

At the start of the Korean Campaign, Parris Island’s recruit population was barely 2,350. That figure swelled to a peak load of 24,424 recruits undergoing training in March of 1952. From the outset of the Korean Campaign to the withdrawal of the First Marine Division from Korea, more than 138,000 Marines received their recruit training at Parris Island.

In September 1946, it was decided at Headquarters Marine Corps to reorganize the post at Parris Island in the interests of greater efficiency and economy of personnel and to give it a designation that would reflect its primary mission.

At the direction of the Commandant, the Commanding General at Parris Island prepared plans and tables of organization to carry out the change, and after a preparatory transitional period the approved reorganization officially went into effect. On December 1, 1946, the Marine Barracks, Parris Island, became the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

On May 4, 1956, the Recruit Training Command was organized under the direction of Brigadier General Wallace M. Greene, Jr. In April, 1958, this unit was re-designated the Recruit Training Regiment. It controls all activities dealing with the training of male recruits.


The Recruit Training Regiment is composed of the First, Second and Third Recruit Training Battalions, and Weapons Training Battalion.

On February 15, 1949, a separate battalion was activated for the sole purpose of training Women Marine recruits. This battalion has since been designated Women Marine Recruit Training Battalion and is the only such battalion in existence.

All support units and schools come under the command of Headquarters and Service Battalion.

In addition to recruit training Parris Island has a Drill Instructors School and Field Music School.

Parris Island’s progress has been chiefly along military lines but, in keeping pace with advances in the art of training recruits, the island has grown from a desolate stretch of wasteland to one of the most efficient and picturesque military reservations in the world.

Today the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina, stands proud of its heritage, pleased with its accomplishments and responsive to the challenges of the future.

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