Ribbon Creek Drownings
April 8, 1956 - It was on this night that a drill instructor ordered 74 Marine Corps recruits on a disciplinary march through a swamp on Parris Island, South Carolina. Some of the men could not swim and 6 of them drowned.
When news of the tragedy spread there was a public outcry against the brutality. Staff Sergeant Matthew McKeon was brought up for court martial but he claimed he was only following the tried-and-true procedures of typical Marine Corps training.
McKeon's trial opened a heated debate on the tactics used to harden recruits in preparation for combat. The prosecution painted the picture of a drunken sadist sending men to senseless deaths, while the defense claimed that harsh disciplinary actions were important tools in toughening young men for the challenges they would face on the battlefield.
When it was over McKeon was acquitted of manslaughter. He was found guilty of the lesser charges of negligent homicide and drinking while on duty. He was sentenced to nine months in the brig. The Secretary of the Navy later knocked his confinement down to only 3 months.
McKeon eventually returned to active duty and served another 16 years before retiring. In a 1970 interview he said he was haunted by the tragedy and that every day he prayed for forgiveness.
The incident at Ribbon Creek did lead to reforms in the Marine Corps training procedures.