Officers' orders boom through the quadrangle. Bass drums are pounded so hard they seem to get inside you and beat with your heart. Then come the sounds of trumpets, fifes and clarinets in a march cadence so splendid you would think John Philip Sousa was conducting.
Add the spick-and-span uniforms, the bright battle flags and six platoons of crack troops and you have the pageantry of the Evening Parade at the Marine Barracks in Southeast Washington.
Five hundred Marines work to put together the parade, which is held at sunset Friday nights from May through September at the barracks at Eighth and I streets SE, according to Capt. Michael Visconage, Marine Barracks public affairs officer.
"The parade tradition really started back in the '20s and '30s. That's what military units did every weekend back then -- parade," Visconage said. "But they were closed to the public. In the '50s, we opened them up. Now it's the Corps' offering to the public. It shows our sense of patriotism, our esprit de corps, our attention to detail. Our parades are a way of sharing this with everybody."
The Marine Barracks have been in continuous use since Thomas Jefferson selected them as the site of Marine headquarters in 1801. The barracks, which include the home of the Marine Corps commandant, encompass one full block.
The barracks provide Marines for ceremonies throughout the Washington military district and also provide presidential security when required.
In the Marines, appearance always counts. That's why everything on the barracks grounds, from handrails to parade bleachers to the sidewalks, seems to shine. So do the troops.
Marines escorting spectators to their seats before the Evening Parade are attentive and courteous. Polite directions inform spectators of how to reach their seats in the Barracks Yard, which can accommodate 5,000 people. Once in a while a Marine will take off his cap to compare his crew cut or "whitewalls" with young boys in the stands. It's the stuff Marine recruiters' dreams are made of.
The Marine Band opens the 90-minute show. Dressed smartly in white jackets and white trousers or skirts, band members take their seats on the center of the drill field. They play everything from a Cole Porter medley to selections from the musical "West Side Story." These musicians also are known as "The President's Own" and perform at more than 600 engagements a year.
Included in the band's 30-minute concert is "Stars and Stripes Forever," which was written by former Marine Band director Sousa.
"I have heard the Sousa marches probably thousands of times but I still get a thrill when the Marine Band plays them," said Col. John R. Bourgeois, director of the Marine Band since 1983.
As the Marine Band exits the field, six platoons in dress blue uniforms march with precision onto the parade grounds. The sun has set by this time and the marching is dramatized by floodlights. Gloved hands slap sharply off of thighs. Rifles twirl and then thunder when snapped onto the lawn.
But there's more to come. A set of trumpeters in a tower high above the grounds heralds the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps' arrival on the field. The unit marches smartly while playing such tunes as "Song of the Marines," "To the Color" and "National Emblem March."
Performances by the Marine Band and the Drum and Bugle Corps sandwich a 15-minute performance by the Silent Drill Team. Without a single spoken command the unit whips through intricate marching patterns, some fancy weapon-handling and a seemingly hazardous aerial exchange of rifles.
"At the start of every year we practice 12 hours a day," said Staff Sgt. Michael Johnston. "Once the parade season starts, we'll practice three to 3 1/2 hours a day.
"I think anybody could learn to do what we do," Johnston said. "But they have to have the desire. They have to have the dedication to do what they are doing. They have to want it bad. This company sets the standard for drilling excellence. I think throughout the Corps we're thought of as untouchable, the ultimate unit to be in."
Highlighting the drill team's show is a rifle inspector's mirroring of one of his Marines. Indeed each seems to reflect the other as they twirl, flip and toss their rifles.
Before you can catch your breath from the Silent Drill Team, the Drum and Bugle Corps has assembled for a short concert of "America the Beautiful" and two Latin-flavored numbers. Then the band and bugle corps play traditional tunes such as "Anchors Aweigh" and "This is My Country," while every Marine on the field files past the stands in review.
Shortly thereafter, the colors are retired and the officers are dismissed. When the last Marine has left the field, the parade ground goes black. A few seconds later a spotlight hits a lone bugler who plays taps on the roof of the south barracks.