The Marines are torching Christmas trees with WWII flamethrowers — and people are loving it

Sgt. Maj. William Carter, the sergeant major of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, uses a World War II – era M2 flame thrower to burn last season’s Christmas trees at Elliot’s Beach Feb. 1, 2019.

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Sgt. Maj. William Carter, the sergeant major of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, uses a World War II – era M2 flame thrower to burn last season’s Christmas trees at Elliot’s Beach Feb. 1, 2019.
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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Shane T. Manson

Leave it to the Marines to turn a annual fire safety demonstration into a fun-filled flamethrower festival.

Their annual Christmas tree bonfire is yearly event that was started by the Parris Island Fire Department to educate the public about the dangers of a dry Christmas tree, which is highly flammable, 1st Lt. Bryan McDonnell, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island spokesman told Business Insider.

The Marines then added a flamethrower, excitedly pulling a World War II-era weapon out of the museum.


The flamethrower

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U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Austin E. Renforth, Commanding General of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island/Eastern Recruiting Region, fires a flame thrower at Parris Island, S.C., on February 23, 2018.
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Photo by Lance Cpl. Yamil Casarreal

The flamethrower used at the annual Christmas tree bonfire is an actual Marine-issued M2 flamethrower maintained by the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island Command Museum, Mr. Eric Junger, G3 Curriculum Department, told BI.

The M2, an iconic weapon for Marines storming islands in the Pacific during the World War II, “is the most successful and longest serving model of flamethrower ever produced,” he explained. It could effectively pour flame on targets 20-40 meters away.

The weapon used in the tree-scorching was only slightly modified for convenience and safety.

A handheld propane torch was added as the ignition source to ensure constant ignition, as the original igniters are old, temperamental, and ridiculously expensive. And the fuel is diesel, not napalm.


The men torching the Christmas trees

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The commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island/Eastern Recruiting Region fires this M2 flamethrower.
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Photo by Lance Cpl. Yamil Casarrea

While the annual Christmas tree bonfire has been around for a few years now, the Marines first introduced the flamethrower to the event last February. The first person to pull the trigger on a Christmas tree was Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth, the depot’s then-commanding general.

The Living History Detachment, which is part of the Parris Island Historical and Museum Society, “offered the use of a WWII flamethrower to light the bonfire,” Junger told BI. “The commanding general jumped at the chance.”

Renforth donned a WWII P41 Marine Herring Bone Twill (HBT) uniform, helmet, boondockers and leggings to “look the part” for the show, which was also meant to celebrate the Marine Corps’ WWII heritage.

“After a safety brief on the history and operation of the flamethrower and short rehearsal, Brig. Gen Renforth lit the tree,” Junger said.

Read more: A Vietnam veteran explains the tactical case for the flamethrower


Back by popular demand

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Sgt. Maj. William Carter uses a World War II-era M2 flame thrower to burn last season’s Christmas trees at Elliot’s Beach Feb. 1, 2019.
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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Shane T. Manson

The addition of the flamethrower last year was such a crowd pleaser that the Marines decided to do it again this year.

Earlier this month, the Depot Sergeant Major, Sgt. Maj. Carter, put on the much rarer WWII P42 camouflage HBT uniform and grabbed the M2 to again give new meaning to “lighting the Christmas tree.”

“We are hopeful that this will become a tradition,” Junger explained.

“Having the Living Museum add the use of a flame thrower last year increased visibility of the event, and it continues to grow in popularity,” McDonnell told BI.


The festivities

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Renforth advances with the M2 flamethrower to contact — with a Christmas tree.
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Photo by Lance Cpl. Yamil Casarreal

The annual bonfire isn’t just the flames of war.

The fire department, in coordination with the Marine Corps Community Services South Carolina, provides hay rides and movies for kids. There are also food and drinks, such as grilled hot dogs, hot chocolate, popcorn.

The focus of the event, however, remains the proper torching of dry Christmas trees.