From 1915 to 1965, more than a half-million Marine recruits got off the train in the tiny town of Yemassee on their way to basic training.
Many of those recruits were starting a hurried career during World War II or the Korean War. Others entered in peacetime. All began their military service by getting off the train at the Yemassee station and making their way to a receiving station or barracks for the 30-mile trek south to the Parris Island training depot for training.
On Friday, the town’s unique role in American history will be recognized with the unveiling of a historic plaque. It’s something that resident Roy Hughes has anticipated for years. Hughes, who owns a general merchandise store across the street from the train depot, said he began organizing reunions for retired Marines who had passed through the station. The first reunion was held in 2003. This weekend will mark the 12th annual event.
“All these guys would keep coming back to the train station, and there was nobody working at the station so they would usually wind up over here talking to me,” Hughes said. “I would ask them what was bringing them back… and most of them would say, ‘(It’s) where it all began.'”
Those Marines will be honored in a Friday ceremony at the town’s historic train depot. Town leaders purchased the current 1955 structure from CSX Railroad in 2010 and renovated its exterior to appear as it would have looked in the early 20th Century. The new plaque will be unveiled during the 2:00 p.m. ceremony outside the depot.
“Many of them gave their lives and shed their blood in a foreign land where that they had never been before,” Hughes said. “Just young kids, a lot of them. That’s one of the reasons we want to honor all those guys and we don’t want anybody to ever forget them.”
He said the plaque was paid for by donations from the vets and their families.
Hughes said he has not yet seen the finished plaque, but said it will feature the Marines emblem and a brief inscription. It will also include the phrase Hughes said was uttered by so many veterans: “Where it all began.”