About 600 new Marines will sizzle in the Lowcountry heat one last time today as they graduate from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
The ceremony that ends 12 weeks of boot camp is a snapshot of America.
A new book coming out June 16 looks at Parris Island with a wider angle, but it does it with snapshots.
Karen S. Montano of Beaufort has written the latest book in Arcadia Publishing's Postcard History Series. It includes postcards from the early 1900s to the present that "convey the feel of life on Parris Island over the years."
Some of the postcards might even make the folks living nearby in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island think they, too, have been in some sort of boot camp.
One says, "Never ask a Marine to tell you where sand fleas come from." It has a cartoon drawing of row after row of buzzing boxes being loaded at the Parris Island Flea Farm.
Another includes this ditty:
"The mosquitoes here and also the gnats!
Are bigger than any kind of bats --
And you should see how they bite,
Eighteen hours a day -- and six at night!"
We learn from the postcards the first wave of Marine recruits -- training for World War I -- built the place. They lived in tents and hauled oyster shells to make roads. Montano says that was all part of"PT," or physical training.
Postcards cover women Marines, which started with "Marinette" reserves in 1918. One postcard shows women doing exercises in "peanut suits" -- one-piece seersucker uniforms with bloomers. The suits, named for their color and wrinkled appearance, finally disappeared in 1960, but the women remain. Parris Island is the only place women Marines get basic training.
The barrel-chested "Devil Dog" bulldog that is the Marine Corps mascot stars in several postcards.
Today's graduates will bid adieu to Parris Island's own mascot, a bulldog named Hummer. He's been through basic training himself. He has uniforms, and bucks for rank. Hummer is a lance corporal. His predecessor, Mac, got busted back a stripe when he urinated on a colonel's desk. A little levity can't hurt the serious business of teaching a few good men and women honor, courage and commitment.
Sometimes we take Parris Island for granted. As locals, we know we can visit anytime, maybe for lunch at the waterfront Traditions restaurant, a round of golf at the Legends course or a stroll through its museum. We can get a map at the Visitor Center for a tour, perhaps engage in civilian recreational pistol firing, or even get in on one of the "deer reduction hunts."
But we also know we can leave after our tour -- unlike the 20,000 recruits who annually grind through a base that adds almost $60 million a year to the local economy in payroll alone.
When the band strikes up The Marines' Hymn today, goose bumps will rise on the arms of proud but nervous parents. It will be a snapshot definitely worth keeping.