Yemassee receiving barracks, 1918
Although Parris Island’s first recruits arrived on the USS Prairie in October 1915, the Marines developed that same year a train station at Yemassee, S.C., which was the depot’s initial receiving point for the central and eastern recruiting stations. The town then had a bank, a general store, a few houses and “an abundancy of South Carolina pine.” A hotel was also there in 1915, and the Marines praised its ballroom and the gracious hospitality of the townspeople, especially its pretty girls. Recruits arriving at Yemassee on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad would be transferred to the Charleston & Western Railroad, which ran to Port Royal. Once there, the World War I recruits would be placed on everything from side wheel ferryboats, barges, long boats or a kicker (a small motor boat) for the trip to Parris Island.
During World War I, nearly 50,000 recruits passed through Yemassee on their way to Parris Island. At Yemassee, they would be greeted by YMCA representatives and received their first taste of Marine Corps discipline as active duty Marines took charge of the recruits and sent them on to Port Royal. During the 1920’s, the road between Beaufort and Yemassee was paved, but the recruits were still shipped on the railroad. At this time Yemassee was referred to as the “bridge from civilian life to life in the Corps.” By 1926, Yemassee was experiencing a boom with the construction of a first-class soda fountain and several new brick buildings.
Located on two major highways and with a train arriving every hour, Yemassee continued to grow during the Depression. In 1931, the town had over 30 buildings besides its homes and had a population of over 500 people. By 1932, the Greyhound Bus Company operated between Yemassee and Beaufort, and the town remained the last stop for civilians heading to Parris Island. In the early 1930’s, the Marines established a receiving center in a wooden building that was used to billet recruits who were waiting for the train to Port Royal. Though the causeway connecting Parris Island to the mainland was completed in 1928, there was no bridge over Battery Creek, so the recruits were placed on kickers or other vessels that carried them to Parris Island.
With the United States’ entry into World War II, Yemassee again became a center of activity. In 1942, the Marine Corps leased a facility from the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to house incoming recruits. During World War II, over 250,000 recruits began their introduction into the Marine Corps at Yemassee. The town became nationally acclaimed in May 1942 when Life magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt did a photographic essay on the town. The seven pages of photographs were entitled “Life Spends a Day At Yemasee Junction,” where the town was described as “a railroad junction not too big to be confusing, not too small to be trivial.” From Yemassee, the final segment of the journey to boot camp was undertaken as nervous young men boarded the train for the trip to Port Royal. At Port Royal, the new recruits were de-trained, placed in large “cattle” trucks and motored to Parris Island or shipped across the Beaufort River on a barge. Due to fuel shortages, it was more economical to send the recruits in trucks across the Battery Creek Bridge, which was completed in 1939.
Besides being a receiving point for recruits, Yemassee was the point where graduated Marines would catch trains to go home or to their next duty station, and permanent personnel were constantly passing through the town. During World War II, women reservists came through Yemassee, and beginning in 1948, women recruits began arriving at the railroad junction. Supplies and equipment were also shipped to Yemassee and then transported to Parris Island on the railroad or in trucks.
After World War II, the Yemassee receiving station was staffed by a gunnery sergeant and several military police. At the same time, as passenger service between Yemassee and Port Royal was reduced. Recruits were usually placed on either Palmetto or Greyhound buses for the 33-mile trip to Parris Island. Yemassee remained the bridge to Parris Island during the Korean War as recruits continued to pass through the railroad junction with as many as 350 a day arriving at Yemassee. Any late arrivals were retained overnight under the care of the receiving section.
On June, 30, 1965, the Marine Corps terminated their lease with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company and returned to the railroad the receiving facility that had served the Marines for 23 years. After this, recruits were flown to the Charleston airport and bused to Parris Island, thus ending a 50 year association that had seen over 500,000 recruits pass through Yemassee on their way to Parris Island.
Yemassee is also referred to in a number of Marine Corps cadences and rhymes. One was a punishment given to recruits who called their rifle a gun. While doing extra physical conditioning with their rifle, they had to repeat over and over:
I’m a yardbird from Yemassee,
I called my piece a gun you see
So wo is me wh-ho is me.