America's First Black Marines
by Melton A. McLaurin
The companion book to the American Public Television documentary
The following excerpt is from The Marines of Montford Point: America's First Black Marines published by The University of North Carolina Press
from the chapter Joining Up
Everybody, with the rare exceptions of those persons who were 4f, [or] had some disability, or perhaps were in some essential occupation, everybody else went [into military service]. So you never gave a thought to not going. . . . And peoplewere dying that you knew. So-andso’s big brother who lived across the street or around the corner.
And I figured a way to stay alive is to be well trained.Well, and the way to be well trained is to be a Marine. And so I tried to enlist in the Marine Corps. Well, the idea is you have to enlist before you get drafted, because once you’re drafted, they tell you where you’re going. You say you want Navy, they give you Army. You say you want Army, they give you Navy. Nobody gets what they wish. So, I set out to enlist. In 1945 there were no recruitment offices in Trenton, New Jersey, where I then lived. So, in succession, not necessarily in this order, but I went to Camden, to Philadelphia, to Jersey City, to Newark, to NewYork.
I went, actually went to all those places attempting to enlist. I was either told that we have our quota of Negro Marines, or you have to go to the state of your residence. So I pestered them in Philadelphia so long and so much that they finally let me fill out the papers. And I took the physical and they said you have high blood pressure. Now, at that time I weighed about 128 pounds soaking wet. And so I didn’t believe it. And so I stopped at a doctor’s office in Philadelphia, blood pressure normal. I went home to the family physician who had been an Army surgeon, blood pressure normal. So I go back to Philadelphia, they take my pressure on my left arm, right arm, lying down, standing up, always high. But I was so persistent that they wrote a letter to my draft board and gave me a copy. It said if this man passes the physical and requests the Marine Corps, put him in the Marine Corps. And so, on the 10th of July, 1945, I turned eighteen, I registered for the draft, and requested immediate induction. And I think it was the 18th, pretty sure it was the 18th of July, I was called.
Both the film and the book are based on more than forty-six hours of taped interviews with sixty Montford Point veterans. The film...uses thirty-five minutes of those interviews. The book...provides about five hours of the very best material from the interviews.
--Melton A. McLaurin, from the author interview