Washington, D.C. -- style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt;">On July 5, 1957, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band performed in the first official “Friday Evening Parade,” held at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. Sixty years later, this 75-minute performance of music and precision marching and drill has become a universal symbol of the professionalism, discipline, and Esprit de Corps of the United States Marines.
While the first Friday Evening Parade took place in 1957, it was simply the formalization of more than two decades of ceremonies and parades that Marines had been performing at Marine Barracks, the “Oldest Post of the Corps.” Military reviews, parades, and ceremonies have been conducted at Marine Barracks since it was founded in 1801. In the 1930s, parades were held at the Barracks in the late afternoon typically on Mondays or Thursdays from April through November. Those parades evolved over the years until the Friday Evening Parade was established in 1957 thanks in part to the Marine Barracks Commanding Officer Col. Leonard F. Chapman Jr., the future 24th Commandant of the Marine Corps. Chapman had served as the Commanding Officer of Marine Barracks, Yokosuka, Japan, where he had initiated weekly parades on base to motivate his Marines and sailors stationed overseas. The parades were so successful with the general public in Japan that he hoped the same would be true in Washington, D.C.
Another influence on the Evening Parade was the British Royal Marines’ Searchlight Tattoo, which began after sunset and utilized elaborate lighting throughout the ceremony. A visit to Britain’s Searchlight Tattoo in Bermuda by Marines from Washington prior to the 1957 parade season prompted the implementation of an evening parade with spotlights.
In 1957, almost 3,000 guests attended the first official evening parade, which was “offered solely to express the dignity and pride that is the 200 year heritage of all Americans,” as was printed in the programs distributed to guests. Today parades average 4,500 guests who receive VIP treatment from the time they enter the gates of the “Oldest Post” until the time of their departure. A hosting detail of Marines in dress blues receives guests as they arrive to salute and escort them to their seats.
“Evening Parades provide an opportunity for the Marine Corps to tell its story,” said Marine Band Executive Assistant to the Director Lt. Col. John R. Barclay. Since he joined the Marine Band in 1988, Barclay has participated in the Friday Evening Parade. He marched as a clarinetist and cymbal player and has also served as Drum Major, Parade Adjutant, and ultimately Parade Commander. “Many guests who come to the Barracks during the summer have heard about the parade but may have never met a Marine. I believe the hosting detail is as important as the marchers. Most folks won’t notice during the parade if alignment isn’t perfect or if a Marine drops a bayonet. What they do remember is being treated like they’re special. They remember that squared-away Marine corporal or sergeant who greeted them and escorted them to their seat.”
According to Lt. Col. John H. Admire’s “The Evening Parade: A History of the Marine Corps’ Most Famous Ceremony,” “no one who visits a parade is a ‘visitor’—everyone is an honored ‘guest’ … their impressions of Marines and the parade may be based solely on their personal contact with a host.”
This sentiment was echoed by Marine Band euphonium player Master Sgt. Mark Jenkins, who serves as the Crowd Educator Program Coordinator for the events. Jenkins has been a crowd educator since 2003 and the coordinator of the program since 2014. The primary function of the program, formalized in 2000, is to personalize the parade guests’ experience with friendship and welcome and educate them on the role the Marine Corps has played in shaping our nation through the story of the Barracks. The crowd educators, consisting of 15-20 Marines who volunteer from all ranks and all companies at Marine Barracks Washington, position themselves before the crowd to welcome the guests as they wait in their seats for the parade to begin. Crowd educators share with the guests anecdotes on life at the Barracks as well as Marine Corps history.
“We want to make sure we welcome guests and provide historical context for the parade,” Jenkins said. “But I think the most important aspect of the Crowd Educator program is to allow the guests to shake hands and speak with and meet an actual Marine. As part of our presentation, we tell our story—our name, where we’re from and why we joined the Marine Corps. The personal connection is the most important thing we do as crowd educators. This may be the only time someone meets a Marine.”
Guests also receive information about the parade, the Marine Barracks, and the Marine Corps over the PA system from the Ceremonial Narrator for the “Oldest Post,” Master Gunnery Sgt. Peter Wilson. Wilson, who has been a violinist in “The President’s Own” since 1990, has been announcing Friday Evening Parades since 1995. Earlier that year, the Marine Barracks held auditions for the position and Wilson’s audition tape was selected. Now in his 23rd season as narrator, Wilson writes all scripts and presents live and recorded narration for all parades. The narration includes pre-parade announcements, musical selections performed by the Marine Band and “The Commandants Own” The Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, introductions, and special recognitions for guests and groups.
“I consider it to be a ‘living’ script—always a work in progress,” Wilson said. “Every season I revisit each segment within the parade and try to improve the introduction to that sequence. In 2001, the Barracks celebrated its Bicentennial, so I was asked to compose special narration for the parade, reflecting on the long and rich history of the ‘Oldest Post.’ Some of that verbiage is used in the narration to this day.”
On his observation of the parade and the Marines that participate, Wilson said: “There is something magical that happens to Marines of the Barracks when they train for the parades in the early spring. There is a transformation that happens—one that takes these hardened, crucible Marines and injects a fierce level of esprit de corps through the pageantry of the outstanding music coupled with a relentless pursuit of ceremonial perfection. It is often said that the ‘Oldest Post’ at 8th & I is the heart of the Marine Corps. I would go a step further and say that the Marines who serve here reveal the soul of the Corps, and the parade is the window into the soul of every Marine represented throughout the globe. These Marines have an enormous impact on our guests every summer, and I believe these parades are invaluable for this reason. For me, the Marines who serve here and participate in the execution of parades are the ambassadors of our Corps.”
Members of “The President’s Own” have proudly served as Marine Corps ambassadors during the parade by providing the ceremonial soundtrack since 1957. Whether it is the presentation of the colors, the march-on of the battalion, Sound Off, Pass in Review, or the lowering of the flag, almost every drill movement is choreographed to the sounds of the band and the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.
“The Evening Parade without music would be like going to see ‘Star Wars’ without the John Williams’ soundtrack,” Barclay added.
In addition to providing music to accompany and signal movements throughout the parade, the band presents a pre-parade concert, a performance which always includes the stirring strains of John Philip Sousa’s march, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
“We choose selections for the parade by researching the Hosting Official and the Guest of Honor to find music that would be important to them,” explained Drum Major Master Sgt. Duane King. “For the ceremonial music, it is selected to highlight the troops that are marching or executing drill and corresponds perfectly in length, tempo, and style to add emphasis.”
King continued: “Most everything that happens during a parade either has music to accompany it or music is needed just before or just after, leading into the next segment of the parade. If we miss a cue, it can throw off the entire sequence.”
To prepare the band for Friday Evening Parade season, the Drum Major conducts drill rehearsals to clean up marching technique and cover musical changes. During parade season, the band combines each week with the rest of the units at the Barracks to rehearse the overall sequence of the parade. But the Friday Evening Parade isn’t just about the music or the band’s performance for Drum Major King.
“I am always humbled when we have Wounded Warriors, Medal of Honor recipients, Gold Star families, and honored veterans as Guests of Honor at the parades,” King said. “It is a reminder to all of us of why we are doing this. We are telling the Marine Corps’ story and supporting those who are truly putting their lives on the line for our freedom.”
Each parade concludes with a Pass in Review with a tribute to the Guest of Honor and Reviewing Official, with Marines marching and saluting smartly while the band plays The Marines’ Hymn. Guests of Honor are typically veterans, prominent military officers, politicians who may have an affinity for the Marine Corps, leadership of federal agencies, or civilian individuals or groups who provide a service to the military. According to Marine Barracks Washington’s Protocol Chief Capt. Desiree K. Sanchez, Guests of Honor and Hosting Officials are ultimately approved by the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Guests of Honor have included six Presidents of the United States, Medal of Honor recipients Col. Harvey Barnum, Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, and Sgt. Dakota Meyer; Montford Point Marines; Senator John Glenn; Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Antonin Scalia; and many other notable groups and individuals.
“We want to promote respect and confidence in the Marine Corps and evoke pride and patriotism, so I have always been proud to welcome our Guests of Honor,” Barclay said. “Since 1957 we’ve been providing the musical soundtrack for Evening Parades, performing at Marine Barracks Washington for members of Congress, our highest ranking military officials, and the President of the United States. However, I always think more about that family from small town America who may be seeing Marines for the very first time. If they leave feeling good about their Marines, I am content.”
The Evening Parade at Marine Barracks Washington takes place at 8:45 p.m., Fridays through Aug. 25. The parades are free; however, reservations are recommended. Please visit www.barracks.marines.mil.