Making and Preserving History
By Randy Gaddo, CWO-4 USMC (Ret)
Photography by Christian Lee
Caroline Fermin returned to Beaufort as the Executive Director of the Parris Island Historical and Museum Society—the first in its 25-year history.
The retired Marine lieutenant colonel’s father was a 26-year-Navy veteran. “My dad was deployed on the USS Constellation when I was born,” she says.
Her tone reflects the jagged course her life has taken. “I believe that through trials and tribulations of life, your faith is what anchors you,” she says.
Her father’s service in the Navy Medical Corps brought him to the Marine Corps Air Station dental clinic when she was 15. After graduating from Battery Creek High School, Caroline had her eye on the Marine Corps, but she wanted to get her degree first. After two years at USC-Beaufort and two years at the University of South Carolina, Caroline earned her Bachelor’s in Psychology. She eventually earned three master’s degrees and is currently enrolled in a graduate program for nonprofit management.
In 1985, budgetary constraints had recruiting backlogged and Caroline had to wait three years to get into an officers’ program. In the meantime, she worked for the University of Maryland in Okinawa as the graduate program coordinator. “It was a great job and I was able to maintain my affiliation with the Marine Corps,” she says.
In 1988 she was working in Washington, D.C. ready to re-apply for the Corps. The officer recruiter had to select one woman from five candidates to go to the next Officer Candidate School (OCS) class. “He asked why he should choose me. I told him I’d been out of college a few years, I’d worked, I’d seen the world and I had experience,” she says. Caroline was selected for OCS, a grueling 10-week-screening process. “I was in good shape and I was goal oriented to succeed,” she says.
She conquered OCS and became a communications officer. Still, she wasn’t necessarily focused on making the Marines a career. “I always knew I wanted to be a mother, but conceptually I didn’t know if you could do both. The demands of being a Marine and a wife and mother are hard,” she says.
Caroline married and while stationed in Washington, D.C., she became pregnant with her twin sons, now 17 and living with her in Beaufort. Pregnant, working full time for the Marines and going to school full time for one of her master’s, then-Captain Fermin had her hands full.
Her husband left the family when the twins were 3 years old. Relying once more on herself, her faith and strong family ties for strength, Caroline persevered. To complicate matters, she suffered a spine injury that required surgery, but she persevered. “I would run PFTs (physical fitness tests) immediately after the surgeries because I didn’t want to compromise my career,” she says.
In 2010 her car was rear-ended, compromising the previous surgery, adding seven more ruptured discs, and again testing her faith. Eleven surgeries later, the Marine Corps referred her to a medical board. “I believed I could stay in and meet the standards,” she says. “But I also knew God had a plan for me.”
Caroline medically retired in 2013, and soon after was asked to interview for the museum job at Parris Island. Adapting to life here again, with her sons in Battery Creek, she is active in several ministries at St. Peters Catholic Church. She continues to get up at 4:30 a.m. to exercise and stay ahead of the day.
Her parents live next door and other relatives nearby. All three of Caroline’s brothers (one a retired Marine) live in Beaufort. Almost every week 22 family members get together for a dinner.
Her most recent encounter of bettering herself was a 30-day retreat, part of an on-going, three-year program to become a spiritual director. It included a vow of silence. “I would get reprimanded almost daily by my spiritual director, a Jesuit priest,” she says. “He’d call me chatty Kathy because I could not pass an opportunity to talk with folks, even if it were to say ‘good morning.’” Intensely introspective, five hours a day was spent in prayer and the rest of the day in meditation, soul searching—and silence. “The first couple of days I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she says. “But I did because I believe that God always finds a way to make things happen.”
Her heros: “My mom and dad are my heroes. Dad imparted his core values. Mom was the constant source of selfless love and support.
Changes in life: “I don’t think I’d do anything differently…everything that has happened was supposed to.”
Favorite pastime: “Spending time with family, raising my sons.”
What quotation energizes you: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13