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thedrifter
03-18-06, 08:44 AM
Parris Island has long history of escapes, deaths, deserters
BY LORI YOUNT, The Beaufort Gazette
Published Saturday, March 18, 2006

PARRIS ISLAND -- Originally home to a Naval prison and later grounds to one of the world's most rigorous basic military training, many unwilling residents of Parris Island have concocted escape plans during its history.

But most aren't heard of because the Marines try to keep it quiet if possible, said Eugene Alvarez, a published historian on Parris Island who was a recruit there in 1950 and served two tours of duty there as a drill instructor.

He said he's heard stories of recruits hiding in cars, in trucks and being found more than 100 miles away. As a drill instructor, Alvarez said, he tried to scare any thoughts of escape out of recruits' heads.

"We would tell stories like there were sharks in the water," he said.

But sharks may be the least of the worries of recruits looking to brave the marshes off the island.

Alvarez said the most infamous escape attempt -- and murder -- came less than 10 years into Parris Island's training mission under the Marine Corps. On June 26, 1924, three recently graduated recruits deserted by wading across a shallow creek onto Horse Island, and the next day two of them surfaced alive on the shores of Port Royal Island.

The third showed up a couple days later in a marsh by Horse Island -- without a head.

After a systematic search, the head of Pvt. Aaron Fredericksen was found hidden in bushes. It had been "severed from the body by a knife or razor," the like of which was found on one of the surviving Marines, according to articles in The Beaufort Gazette at the time.

Originally, Fredericksen's death was ruled a drowning, and according to the Gazette, it was thought "a shark might have mangled the body, as an arm was mangled in addition to the loss of the head."

About the time the body was discovered, the Beaufort County sheriff found the other two deserters, in civilian clothes and Army boots. They were arrested because Parris Island officials led the sheriff to believe the two men were thieves.

Once returned to the recruit depot, Marine Corps officials refused to give them up, even after they were indicted by a civilian coroner's court for Fredericksen's murder. The court proffered the theory that Fredericksen had second thoughts about deserting, "and in order to forever stop his mouth, the other two killed and mangled him."

According to The Gazette, Parris Island officials kept the news of the death secret for days -- the first mention of the murder came almost two weeks after the three deserted. The two Marines were never punished for deserting, and though their ultimate punishment is unclear, the writer of a Gazette article thought "no culprits ever deserved death more or ever committed a more atrocious crime."

Today, recruit depot officials try to nip the idea of escape in the bud.

Fresh off the bus and standing on the yellow footprints, the recruits hear the drill instructor's booming voice tell them of Article 86: the charge of absent without leave. The three-page article is quite detailed, but maximum punishment ranges from three days to 18 months and dishonorable discharge.

Unauthorized absences are far from unusual at Parris Island, but most recruits return or are relocated before reports of them missing make the military police blotter in the morning, depot spokesman

Maj. Guillermo Canedo said.

And in the event the prospect of a court-martial doesn't have enough teeth, an "environmental video" routinely shown to recruits during their first night on the island warns of the "dangers" of pluff mud and the perilous species that inhabit the area, such as oyster beds, poisonous spiders, vipers, water moccasins and sharks, zooming in on a menacing photo of a great white shark. Apparently four recruits in August 2004 weren't deterred by the video or the threat of punishment. During their 17 hours of being missing from the depot, they managed to swim across Battery Creek and were found by an off-duty drill instructor near The Sands in Port Royal. He picked them up in his boat after he saw one flagging for help.

"The recruits said they had left their barracks around midnight and had been crawling around in the marsh, stopping twice when they thought they saw sharks," according to a Gazette article.

After being treated at Naval Hospital Beaufort, all four recruits returned to training and ended up graduating without the Uniform Military Code of Justice bearing down upon them, Canedo said.

After all, as the recruit video states, "The safest journey off Parris Island is to graduate."

Ellie