PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
Recruits learn the future of the Corps is in their hands, but those who attend the “museum class” during their time at recruit training may also put a piece of history in their hands, thanks to The Living History Detachment of the Parris Island Museum and Historical Society.
The LHD is a group of Marine historians who volunteer their time to teach these half-hour lessons. While there is a wide variety of entertaining and educational events the detachment attends each year, they regard the classes as their most important mission, because it is their way of passing on the legacy of the Corps to the newest members of its ranks.
Although the Recruit Training Order provides courses on Marine history, the tangible quality of the museum class offers something recruits can’t get from a book or a video. They can feel the weight of the weapons carried by Marines who came before them and hear the “ping” of a spent M-1 Garand clip hitting the deck.
“The biggest difference between the standard program of instruction and our class is that we are three dimensional,” said Eric Junger, the officer-in-charge of the LHD. “A slide presentation, even if it has video or still images or bullet points, can only take you so far. Our class takes you past the visual.”
The members of the LHD wear authentic World War II era service uniforms to provide a depiction of the Marines of that time period. They also lay out a display of antique gear, including gas masks, entrenchment tools and mess kits, among other necessities of the period.
“We don’t just tell you what a Springfield ‘03 is; we let you see it and hold it and smell it,” Junger said. “It gives them a better perspective than if they just saw it in a book or behind a piece of glass.”
The detachment was recognized last year by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, earning them the Col. John H. Magruder Award for excellence in depicting Marine Corps history in 2009. This year, the detachment has museum classes scheduled for every month, ensuring at least one third of the recruits at Parris Island can benefit from their lessons.
Teaching the history and culture of the Corps may be one of the most important aspects of making a Marine, said Steve Price, a founding member of the LHD.
“When you know the traditions of the Marine Corps, you begin to realize how high that standard is for Marines to uphold,” he said. “You don’t want to be the one to let that down.”
Price said recruits can better understand their core values when they know about the actions of their predecessors, which is why he ends his classes by comparing today’s new Marines to the members of “the greatest generation.”
“If you know history, you know what unit John Basilone served in, and you can still hold that billet today,” Price said. “That makes you want to aspire to lead the way he did.”
The members of the LHD know they impact new Marines because of the feedback they have gotten from former students who remember the classes long after they graduate recruit training.
Junger said Marines serving in the fleet have visited Parris Island to thank the detachment for putting on the classes. In fact, one of the detachment’s own members, Sgt. Chris Cardona, is an active duty Marine serving aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort who was inspired to join them after he attended the museum class as a recruit. Current recruits attending the classes are similarly influenced by the presentation.
“The classes provoke a lot of thought about how the past affects us today,” said Rct. William Powell, of Platoon 2008, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion. “Knowing the real history behind the uniform you’re wearing and the gear you’ve been using makes you realize you’re going to be another part of history.”
Powell, of Athens, Ga., said he was impacted by the weaponry presented in the museum class. He enjoyed learning how the Browning Automatic Rifle formed the foundation for today’s squad automatic weapon.
“There’s a Marine in a fire team right now carrying a SAW that is modeled after the same exact thing my grandfather fought with 60 years ago,” he said. “It puts it into perspective how joining the Marine Corps and going through this rite of passage connects you to something bigger than yourself.”