The oldest recruit to complete Marine Corps boot camp - We Are The Mighty
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The oldest recruit to complete Marine Corps boot camp

Today, the average Marine recruit attending boot camp at MCRD San Diego or Parris Island is 21 years old. However, when Paul Douglas attended boot camp in 1942, he was 50.

Douglas was born in 1892. He worked as an economics professor from 1916-1942. He also ran for and won a seat on the Chicago City Council in 1939. By the time WWII broke out, Douglas had become acquainted with many high-profile politicians including future Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. With Knox’s help, Douglas enlisted in the Marine Corps five months after Pearl Harbor. Driven by the surprise attack on American soil, Douglas was determined to become a Marine and see combat.

Leaving behind his wife, child, and career, Douglas reported to Parris Island, South Carolina for boot camp. Despite being old enough to have fathered his own drill instructors, Douglas shined during training. He completed boot camp and earned the coveted title of United States Marine. “I found myself able to take the strenuous boot camp training without asking for a moment’s time out and without visiting the sick bay,” he wrote of his experience at The Island.

Following completion of boot camp, Douglas was assigned to the personnel classification section at Parris Island. With some help from his political influence in the Roosevelt administration, Douglas was promoted to corporal after three weeks, and staff sergeant a month after that. After seven months as an enlisted Marine, Knox and Douglas’ CO recommended he be commissioned as a Marine Corps officer. He became a captain and served as division adjutant to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.

The oldest recruit to complete Marine Corps boot camp
Every Marine is a rifleman and Douglas was no exception (U.S. Marine Corps)

During the Battle of Peleliu, despite his position as an adjutant, Douglas made several trips to the front to help evacuate the dead and wounded. During one of these mercy missions, he noticed that the Marines were low on flame thrower fuel and ammunition for their rocket launchers. After grabbing the supplies, Douglas braved heavy mortar and machine gun fire to resupply his fellow Marines. For his actions, he was awarded the Bronze Star. Later during the Battle of Peleliu, Douglas was wounded by shrapnel and earned his first Purple Heart.

Douglas later served during the invasion of Okinawa. He was promoted to major, but still ran around the battlefield with the vigor and energy of a younger Marine. While carrying out another resupply mission for Marines at the front, Douglas was hit in his left forearm by machine gun fire. Pfc. Paul E. Ison was part of the resupply mission. “If I live to be 100 years old I will never forget this scene. There, lying on the ground, bleeding from his wound was a white-haired Marine major. He had been hit by a machine gun bullet. Although he was in pain, he was calm and I have never seen such dignity in a man,” Ison recalled. “He was saying ‘Leave me here. Get the young men out first. I have lived my life. Please let them live theirs.'” Douglas was evacuated and, despite his protests, returned to the states.

The oldest recruit to complete Marine Corps boot camp
Douglas is presented with his Bronze Star (U.S. Marine Corps)

He was sent to a hospital in San Francisco before he was moved to Bethesda. After more than 14 months, he was dismissed from the hospital and medically retired from the Marines. Douglas only partially regained use of his left hand. However, in recognition of his courage in combat and exemplary service, Douglas was promoted to Lt. Col. in 1947.

He returned to Chicago as a war hero and was elected as an Illinois State Senator in 1949. During the race for the senate seat, his opponent notably refused to debate him. Making light of the situation, Douglas debated himself, switching chairs to answer his own questions. During his time in office, Douglas proudly displayed the flag of his beloved Corps in his office. He served as a state senator for 18 years until he retired at the age of 74. He died in his home in 1976.

In recognition of this exemplary Marine, the Parris Island visitor center is named for Paul Douglas. The memorial marker on the building reads, “By his personal courage, fortitude and leadership, the Honorable Paul H. Douglas demonstrated the personal traits characteristic of Marine leaders.”

The oldest recruit to complete Marine Corps boot camp
Douglas (third from the left) meets with President Truman in 1949 (Public Domain)
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