Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
				Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.

Chosen Few "the Men from Montford Point"

Since that eventful year of 1942, an entirely generation of Marine has come into our Corps. Most of those doing today, what you and I were doing from 1942, 1949 most hadn"t even been born during those great times when Marines were marching down between the pine trees at the only place in the world. Where Harlem Drive and Rochester Lane come together, remember? So as befits an older generation, it becomes our privilege to look back on some of eventful years and pull from those things we keep as memories. And those memories some of them-will be of times spent in unpleasant places, with an unpleasant enemy. But not all of them. If all wartime memories were bad, we wouldn"t have reunions. Nor would there be a Montford Point Marine Association. Marines are a sentimental breed. We like to speak of remembered things; have our minds dwell on great events; and get together with old friends. And at times such as this one, we bring faces to minds-faces whose names may have left us long ago, but faces associated with deeds we can never forget. On our 52nd Anniversary, I"d like to share a few memories with you.

Mounted in a large, glass -cover frame which hangs on the bulkhead at headquarters Marine Corps-there are all the shoulder patches that Marines used to wear. A couple of them have embroidered outlines of anti-aircraft guns pointed towards the sky. One bears the numeral "51" the other "52." And there"s a third patch. This one in the form of a red shield, surmounted with an eagle, and bearing a golden circle inside of which is southern cross ? No motto of any kind ? What do they mean ?" Well, they found out what they meant in a mighty short time. They meant the breaking of all anti- aircraft gunnery records that had been set by Marines. One of the gun crews that helped set those new records proudly dubbed their 90 millimeter in honor of the greatest female vocalist of that day- "Lena " was the name they painted on their gun barrel.

But "Triple A" gunnery wasn"t the only record. Montford Point showed every team around Camp Lejeune how to play baseball-and 5 foot 4 inch Platoon Sergeant Charlie Riggs cleaned up every honor to be had in the boxing ring. They found out some other meanings for those patches. This one in the form of a Red Shield, depicting the long, hard road to Japan- islands with names like Funafuti and Eniwetok; Roi-Namur and Saipan; Guam and Kwajalein. And they meant ammunition in the hands of riflemen and machine gunners; ammunition in their hands at highly critical moments on such god-forgotten places as Peleliu and Iwo Jima. On Peleui the 5th Marines were running out ammunition. The password that night was any American automobile. And all night long the 5th Marines heard those words.: "I"m a Cadilllac; I"m a Chrysler; I"m a Lincoln Continental; I"m a one-man working party and I"m bring bullets to the line. Don"t shoot! " Those carrying parties from the 7th Ammunition Company did get through, not only to the 5th Marines, but everywhere else there were friendly troops on the island. And, on their return to the beach, they carried out the wounded. There are more meanings to those patches. They meant ammo dumps on the terrible beach at Iwo-where the black volcanic ashes tugged at your boondockers and cut through those old canvas leggings.

There a young Marine from the 8th Ammunition Company dared to use a satchel charge for a pillow. Somebody accused him of being reckless with his life. "Listen, " the Marine said, "If just one Jap lands around here, then everything goes sky-high. I"m not being reckless, I"m just being comfortable." So he, and many another Marines, yearned for the comforts they"d had back at Montford Point. They"d have traded the entrie island for that friendly sand and those cozy Quonset huts on the banks of New River. Montford Point had become the next best thing to home. Even the tender hands of Judo Instructor, Al Ghazio- or the soothing voices of "Hashmark" Johnson"s D. I."s-even those were pleasant compared to the pounding of Japanese mortars and aritillery. More than one Marine would have welcomed the sight, even, of Boondock Shorty." Yes, Montford Point had its characters in those days. It had its brighter moments, too. There was Bobby Troup"s Dance Band, playing for the famous tap-dance team of Henderson and Reliford- and anybody else who felt like jitter-bugging in the aisles. There was a song that Bobby Troup wrote. It expressed the tempo of those times, and the feeling of all Marines stationed at New River. Remember? The words were: "Take me away from Jacksonville.

Marines used to belt out that song around Montford Point. They sang it on the long, long, trains for the west coast. They hummed it standing in those endless lines at the Trailway Bus anywhere outside Onslow County. In May of 1943, one Marine managed to get as for as Terminal and on the buses to Kingston, Rocky Mount, or Wilmington-those liberty runs to Cleveland all turned out to see in his $54.00 dress blues. But the police in Cleveland had never seen a Montford Point man-so they picked him up and charged him with Impersonating a Marine." But (PFC) R. J. Wood soon proved that he was, indeed, a United States Marine. And so did 21,609 other men who went through Montford Point. The great majority proved it overseas. Others proved it up in Philadelphia at the Supply Depot, and still others at the Naval Ammunition Depot out in McAlester, Oklahoma. But-it all had to pass, someday. So finally, in 1949, they closed down the recruit training operation at Montford Point. Some said they were ending a tradition with that closing. But I disagree. I say they established one, one we keep today as we recall more than over 50 years of dedicated service to Corps and Country. One we keep alive when we honor Black Marines on this 52nd Anniversary. There"s one name should recall- that of Colonel Samuel A. Woods, the first Commanding Officer of the "Special Duty" outfits that were created, trained, and sent to war from down there at New River long before it was known as Camp Lejeune. Colonel Woods passed away on the 12th of March, 1968, in Phoenixville, Pa. I know he"s proud of his Marines, and of his association. And for every Marine in our Corps- I"m sure his thoughts would have paralleled my own which are these: The footprints of Montford Point Marines were left on the beaches of Roi-Namur, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. The tides and winds have, long ago, washed them out into the seas of history. But, "the Chosen Few" in field shoes and canvas leggings, also left their mark in the firm concrete of Marine Corps History. And, as new Marines learn to match in those footprints, their cadence assumes the proud stride of the men from Montford Point.


Category: Current Organizations | Subcategory: MPMA | Tags: marines , Oklahoma
Related Topics / Keywords / Phrases: 1942, 1943, 1949, 1968, 5th Marines, 7th Ammunition Company, 8th Ammunition Company, Aden, AL, Blues, Boondock Shorty, Camp Lejeune, Charlie Riggs, Chosen Few, Cleveland, Henderson, Japan, Lincoln, Marine, Marines, Montford Point, Montford Point Marine Association, Montford Point Marines, New River, Oklahoma, Philadelphia, Rochester, Sergeant, Wilmington (North Carolina),