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Friday, December 13, 2013

Dad Survives Financial Hardship During the Great Depression

Because of financial hardship, many African American children sometimes live with relatives for a while. It is not uncommon for children to reside with an aunt or uncle for extended periods of times. Children from "up north" in the United States would often spend their summers in the south.They stayed with loving yet stern grandparents who would pass on important traditions of lifestyle and culture.

 I also have many friends who shared stories of staying down south, or in the country surrounded by tons of cousins in the summertime. These trips were mainly because they were out of school and relatives were the trusted resource for childcare. Children were supervised, and consequently not getting into mischief, nor running the air conditioner all day long and eating up all the food.

Fresh, home-cooked food was always featured in my friends' "down south" stories, along with tales of outdoor games, cook-outs and family reunions. Friends would unconsciously slip into an Alabama, Georgia, or Carolina accent when discussing their relatives and the great time that they had visiting. On the few occasions when I traveled to the south as a youngster, kids would remark, "Where is Connecticut?", or "You talk so proper."

My father lived with his maternal grandparents in Tampa, Florida. It was after directly after the "Dad Causes His Family To Get Fired"  incident. At one time his entire family lived with his grandparents after the Primus Family job dismissal. Eventually, the family secured employment in Daytona Beach, FL. Dad remained with his grandparents and an aunt in Tampa. He indicated that he was close in age to his younger brother Ted and that times "were rough during the Great Depression." One less mouth to feed would be easier.

Dad explained he was spoiled by his grandparents. His grandfather was Z.K. Rose, an African Methodist Episcopal minister who had his own church. The Rose family lived in a parsonage. Pastor Rose was given milk, sweet potatoes and "a few quarters thrown in the cigar box" by grateful church members. My father accompanied him on some of his ministerial trips. The presiding elder would pay dad's grandfather once a month.  His other job was working in a phosphate mine in Floral City, Florida.

Dad went to school every day with his Aunt Bootsie, whose real name was Loretta. She was unmarried then and an elementary school teacher. His classmates included Black Cubans.  They were forced to attend his segregated school away from their siblings that had a White appearance. Cuban families immigrating to America for a better life were racially divided within their own family. One does not have to be a revolutionary psychiatrist like Frantz Fanon to guess the inter-generational familial damage this policy created.

The Rose family lived across the street from a Cuban store. Dad said he was able to eat sausage all the time. That fact is telling; sausage was considered a delicacy due to adverse economic conditions. Americans were forced to have meatless dinners. Furthermore, back in 1928, Herbert Hoover's Republican campaign brochure promised a "Chicken in every pot"* for Americans. Americans were starving and desperate. There were no assistance programs such as government cheese, or free and reduced lunch programs for hungry school children. Folks had to be extremely resourceful when it came to meals.

One of my father's candies of choice.
Named after New York Yankee Babe Ruth.

After some time, Dad moved to Daytona Beach, Florida and lived with his parents and brothers and sisters. He attended Bonner Elementary School there. His grandparents and his aunt regularly sent him money. Dad's pockets were always jingling with nickles and dimes. Additionally, he would eat Baby Ruth and Goodbar chocolate candy bars in front of his siblings and refused to share. I guess this is where the "spoiled rotten" part comes into play.

 As a teenager Dad worked at Hubert's Pharmacy and Harry's grocery store. He swept and arranged items in the stores, and loaded the car for delivery. Obviously, few people owned cars. Dad delivered groceries on his bike. He was also a newspaper carrier and had educator and civil rights icon Mary McLeod Bethune on his paper route.

Apparently, Dad was a hard worker as a juvenile. And that spoiled rotten part? He eventually outgrew that phase and made ultimate sacrifices for his country and family. A true Marine.

Notes: Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) is a Martinique born, French writer, psychiatrist and activist. He is famous for his books, White Masks, Black Skin and The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon became involved in the movement to free Algeria from French colonialism. He has had a profound effect on post-colonial discourse and leaders.

*"Chicken in a pot every Sunday" was originally attributed to Henry IV of France, when speaking about peasants during the 17th century.

**African Methodist Episcopal Church-Was the first major religious denomination in the Western World that had its origin over sociological and theological beliefs and differences. It rejected the negative theological interpretations which rendered persons of African descent second class citizens. Its founder was the Reverend Richard Allen of Philadelphia, PA in 1816. Allen and other leaders left St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church because of discrimination. From

***Phosphate is a mineral that is mined. In north America it can be found in central Florida. Plants need phosphates to stimulate healthy root development. Phosphates are used it in food, and in industrial detergents, acts as a anti-corrosion agent, plus a myriad of other uses.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dad Causes His Family to Get Fired During the Great Depression

I have described my father's life as an elderly veteran for quite a few posts now. But a popular post among readers is the entry, The Great Depression and Hard Times: Part I.  The post strikes an emotional chord with people because of the the similarities with the Great Recession, which is commonly known as the worst recession since the Great Depression. ( The Great Recession is believed to have started in 2007)

Some people now have to go to food banks, and apply for unemployment insurance for the first time. "Thrifting" and holding out on unnecessary purchases became the norm. Middle class people lost significant wealth and the poor became even poorer. Global readers have been effected by the Great Recession, and regular folk, students, the curious, all wanted to glean some lessons from The Great Depression, a destitute time in American history. Moreover, the frustration that the unemployed have in trying to seek jobs when they are fewer positions available fueled discontent among the younger generation. Millennials, as they are called, had difficulty obtaining employment after graduating college or they are inevitably underemployed. On the other hand, there is also ageism; companies do not want to pay higher salaries and health insurance to older applicants because of the additional expenses.

 Readers researched the Great Depression because they were curious about the types of food that families ate, and how Americans managed day to day. They were particularly concerned about the plight of African Americans, who occupied the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder, as previously enslaved chattel. I know this as I check the key words which cause viewers to land on Montford Point Marine and Honor Blogspot.


"You know, we used to live in Palm Beach County, Florida," My father stated, when I shared that I traveled to the area.
"My father had a brother named Howard. Some of them ended up in Missouri, and other places but you do have relatives there. You also had a cousin who worked at Clark College*, do you remember her?" "Yes, I remember her," I answered. She was a dorm director and was pretty popular.

"My father's family worked for a wealthy family. I caused my family to get fired."

It was my dad's notorious story of mischief. The story was passed around among family and extended relatives. Family members usually tell the story with raucous laughter, unable to recount the story with a straight face and a serious tone.

The story went like this:

Dad's father was a landscaper. Dad's mother was a domestic, standard occupations for Negros during the early part of the 1900s. His parents were blessed enough to secure work as a couple employed by a rich family. The wealthy family were members of a well to do community in Palm Beach, who enjoyed the posh lifestyle and resided in a palatial estate. The building boom, attractive climate, and beautiful Spanish architecture made Palm Beach the perfect locale for moneyed entrepreneurs. Palm Beach was a winter haven for the rich back then as it is now. It represents one of  the highest per capital income locales in the United States.

Dad began playing with the owner's little son. The son had a shiny new tricycle. This trike was especially appealing to dad, for many children had no toys or bicycles. Toys that were in existence either were hand me downs, or makeshift.

Suddenly, Dad and his new little friend ended up in the water that bordered the lovely compound. Neither child could swim and their frantic cries for help reverberated throughout the grounds. The male adults, clad in white seersucker suits, rushed to the aid of the young boys, dad remembered. I know for a fact that my father could not swim; the young boys could have easily drowned. "I want you to leave the premises NOW!!" The employer shouted to the Primus family. No opportunity was made to explain, or given extra time to make alternative housing arrangements.

The Primus family were immediately plunged into unemployment as a result of a Dad's incident with the tricycle.


 My paternal grandfather was forced to walk many miles looking for employment in the hot Florida sun. There were no state labor departments or applying for positions from the comfort of home electronically like today. Pictures of this era show men going from town to town on foot, desperately looking for work. Some places resented the influx of unemployed men in their area, due to to the scarcity of jobs and food. Dad said that the family stayed with friends during this stressful time.

The horror of losing a job for a breadwinner can be monumental. The Primus family consisted of numerous children during this dire situation. Dad had major guilt, which was a considerable amount of pain for a young child to bear. To top it off, he was described as a child with considerable energy, and simply could not sit still.

Even now, when I watch my Dad try and stand up after sitting, I notice the impulse to move quickly;  his "chronologically advanced" joints remind him to slow down.This same energy enabled him to work several jobs, own a business, get a real estate license, travel, sign up for combat duty as a Marine, socialize and participate as an active member of the Masons.** The list goes on. In short, he is the type of individual who was in perpetual motion.

However, when you are kid and your family gets fired because of your extra energy and carelessness, there is no consolation. All you know is that your parents aren't happy with you and your family has now joined the significant ranks of the unemployed -- during the Great Depression.

See Also:  The Great Depression Part II

* Clark College is now known as Clark Atlanta University-Clark Atlanta University (CAU), established in 1988 as a result of the consolidation of two independent historically black institutions - Atlanta University (1865) and Clark College (1869), is a United Methodist Church-related, private, coeducational, residential, and comprehensive urban research university. The University offers undergraduate, graduate and professional, and non-degree certificate programs.

**Prince Hall Masonry- is a branch of North American Freemasonry founded by Prince Hall in the 18th century and composed predominantly of African Americans. 
The ideas of liberty, equality and peace were appealing to men of color, who were turned down by the Boston Chapter.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Montford Point Marine Veteran Receives a Special Gift from a Businessman

My father received a phone call before heading to his Medal of Honor Congressional Ceremony in June of 2012. It was a local businessman who read about Dad's Montford Point Marines story in the Hartford Courant. His name was John Carmon, a director of a funeral home. Mr. Carmon thanked my dad profusely for serving our country. He said had the utmost respect for soldiers. Mr. Carmon even took it a step forward and offered to pay for all of my dad's travel and lodging expenses to Washington, D.C.

Dad graciously replied that his expenses were already paid by the government, and he appreciated his offer. The business owner countered with paying for an engraved brick. Dad listened as Mr. Carmon explained that the brick would have his name on it and it would be on the walkway at the National United States Marines Corps Museum. Semper Fidelis Memorial Park overlooks the state of the art museum.

So Dad accepted. From the site

"Your engraved brick will affirm for posterity, your esprit de corps with the men and women who risk their lives for the freedom."

An exhibition area from the National Marine Museum. Source:

The brick was later spotted by a family member. Mr. Carmon kept his promise. Dad was very touched by the gesture. He laughed, and exclaimed, "These funeral homes love an old geezer like me!" In fact, another funeral home had called to congratulate Dad. The owner of this particular funeral home served in the Army.

Folks in social media heard the news of Dad's Medal of Honor and extended best wishes to him; he was briefly featured on a local news broadcast. It was a culminating experience that brought Montford Marines and the "Lost Battalion", the 51st Defense Battalion, into American History.

I notified all of Connecticut's United State Congress members. They promptly responded with official congratulatory letters addressed to my father. The letters are nicely framed on the living room wall.

Sadly, we saw Mr. Carmon for my mother's funeral in March of 2013. Mother passed suddenly, and they handled the funeral arrangements, just as they did for my brother in 1992. They were always consummate professionals.

The kindness and generosity of the Carmon Funeral Home will always be appreciated. They were there for our family in times of sorrow, and in times of joy. It all started with a compassionate individual responding to a newspaper story and helping out a World War II Veteran. It was a far cry from the Non-Welcoming Military Homecoming my father received after his tour of duty in 1945.

National USMC Museum at night.. The shape of the building is said to invoke the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima.
Source: Montford Point Marines Association

See the post:  "My Mother: Dorothy Marie Brooks Part II"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Non-Welcoming Military Homecoming for the 51st Defense Battalion, The First WWII Black Combat Division

All of my newly acquired information on Merchant Marines, Hugh Mulzac, and Liberty Ships prompted me to ask my father if he were familiar with the subjects. He listened intently as I described Captain Mulzac successfully ferrying over 18,000 Allied troops across the oceans aboard the Booker T. Washington. "Booker T. Washington," He reflected appreciatively. "Oh yes, I remember traveling on a Liberty Ship to the Marshall Islands. In the beginning of the war we traveled on Liberty Ships. They were rough going, the guys would threw up from motion sickness. Some would vomit right into their food. The "Chow Hounds" would eat the rest of people's food that they didn't throw up in."
"Chow Hounds?," I inquired with amusement.
"You know chow hounds, folks that eat all the time, they weren't too particular about food, they ate everything." Dad chuckled and continued his narrative. "The Liberty Ships would go out at night with a Destroyer and a Destroyer Escort. There were Japanese submarines out there. Towards the end of the war we rode on Victory Ships. They were smoother and they went at six knots an hour. When it was time to go home we traveled on a regular Dutch liner. It took us a month to get home to San Diego."

SS Lane Victory-Victory Class Cargo ships were used in WWII, The Korean War, and Vietnam War. SS Lane Victory named after HBCU Lane College. Now a standing museum and a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Source:

Dad's 51st Defense Battalion was initially viewed as an "Experiment", as the idea of Negros in combat for nonbelievers were wrongfully synonymous with failure. But even during training, the 51st impressed all. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt personally visited them at Montford Point to witness the Marines practice shooting down drones. Moreover, Montford Point Marines received excellent reviews from their commanding officers as evidenced by official military documents. They completed their duties in the Marshall Islands once the war was over in August, 1945.

It was time to return home for civilian life. Dad remembers the lively guys from Chicago who hired a taxicab to take them from San Diego, California, all the way to the Windy City. That must have been a pricey fare. But Dad also remembers a more poignant memory: His Military Homecoming.

Throngs of people awaited the arrival of the 51st Defense Battalion in San Diego, California. The Red Cross provided coffee and donuts. It appeared the 51st would receive a heroes' welcome, the antithesis of how they were treated before deployment. Indeed, on my dad's way to Montford Point, he was forced to substandard, segregated travel arrangements. Many folks gave uniformed Montford Point Marines a hard time because they resented them being Black Marines. Perhaps with the Allied victory, treatment would be better.

The Red Cross women hugged and greeted White Montford Point Marine Officers warmly after they disembarked from the ship. Excitement and gratitude permeated the air, and refreshments were distributed to the officers. Military celebrations at the end of WWII were epic, monumental occassions.

 And then the festivities were promptly over. For the remaining Black Montford Marines, they were greeted with leftovers. Not one person was around to acknowledge the Montford Point Marines. Not one handshake. It was as if they did not exist.

To this day, my father carried that memory of the Red Cross shunning the 51st Defense Battalion in his mind. For the longest time, he despised the Red Cross. He still had love for the Marines and his country.The bitterness that manifested is similar to many Veterans who return from battle receiving no thanks from their country. There were no parades or glory. Just...nothing. Dad receiving the Medal of Honor eased his pain.

                                                                                       Artwork by USMC Veteran Timothy Giles.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

First Black Captain of WWII Ship: Hugh Mulzac

A woman from Trinidad once told me that she could never stand for the discrimination that Blacks in the United States had to endure. A Jamaican family friend long ago insisted that she would never sit in the back of a bus, like Negros once had to because of Jim Crow laws. To the woman from Trinidad I gave her a brief history lesson and patiently explained to her what would happen to her if she resisted. She then understood.

 Blacks from other countries often experience a major culture shock upon coming to America. They hail from lands where Blacks are the majority and hold political and social power. This is not to say that Non-American Blacks did not experience discrimination, because many of these countries were colonized by Europeans at one time. But coming to America, from either Africa or places of the African diaspora, one can be in for a rude awakening.

One such person who was subjected to a rude awakening was Hugh Mulzac. He holds the distinction of being the first Black to be captain of a ship during World War II. Stipulated Mulzac:

 "Under no circumstances will I command a Jim Crow vessel."
As you may recall, the Merchant Marines during times of war or national emergency acts as an auxiliary to the military during times of war or national emergency. Hugh Mulzac commanded the Booker T. Washington, one of 18 ships named after prominent African Americans. See Ships named After Famous Black People in WWII: Liberty Ships.

Mulzac was born in the  British West Indies (Union Island, St. Vincent and Grenadines) in 1886. He worked on the sea after high school, traveling on British vessels. The sailor attended Nautical School in Swansea, Wales, where he earned a mate's second in command license. During World War I he sailed as a ship's officer.

Caribbean-born Mulzac was confronted with the "barbarous customs of our northern neighbor", meaning the United States. He attempted to attend a North Carolina White church while on port of call from a Norwegian ship. Mulzac was refused entry because of his color. This incident became his first exposure to the stinging racism of America's Jim Crow South.

Mulzac later immigrated to the United States in 1918 and became a citizen.  In 1920 he scored 100 percent on the US shipmaster exam. However, there was no shipmaster assignment. The belief system of the day made it difficult for a Black person to captain a ship. Being a cook or cleaning were the few options for a Negro sailor.  In the meantime, he became an expert in food service.
Captain Hugh Mulzac with his crew. (Mulzac is fourth from the left)

Hugh Mulzac later served as a mate on the SS Yarmouth, a ship of Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey's Black Starline, in 1920. He became displeased with the operations and resigned; the ambitious line went out of business in 1922.  Years would go by, and Mulzac held on to his dream of being a captain of a ship. He was a founding member of the National Maritime Union in 1937. A good two decades would pass until finally Mulzac was offered his plum assignment:  Captain of the Booker T. Washington during World War II. Mulzac was 56 years old.
Everything I ever stood for, fought for, dreamed of, came into focus that day. The concrete evidence of achievement gives one's striving for legitimacy, proves that the ambitions were alive, the struggle worthwhile. Being prevented for those twenty-four years from doing the work for which I was trained had robbed life of its most essential meaning. Now at least I could use my training and capabilities fully. It was like being born anew."

Hugh Mulzac had a fully integrated crew representing 18 different nationalities. He was originally assigned an all Black crew, which he refused. Protests resulted in an integrated crew. The Booker T. Washington made over 22 round trip voyages in five years. Under Mulzac the vessel carried 18,000 troops and cargo to Europe and the Pacific. He braved extremely dangerous waters. The Merchant Marines suffered a high ratio of casualty losses compared to the various branches of the military.

German submarines were sinking Merchants Marine ships at a record clip; the Booker T. Washington never lost a crewman to enemy fire. This was due largely to the navigational talents of its submarine dodging captain.

Unlike surviving Montford Marines who are in their seventies-nineties, Hugh Mulzac received limited glory. After the Allied victory he was unable to command a ship. He filled a lawsuit against the ship operators in 1948 and lost. He was also blacklisted for being a member of the labor movement at the height of McCarthyism, where groups associated with Communism were considered Un-American. Mulzac ran for NY Controllers Office and was defeated. He made his living for the next two decades in the steward's department on several shipping lines.
Hugh Mulzac (1886-1971)

Hugh Mulzac did have success as a self taught painter, however. His works were on display at the Countee Cullen Library, New York City, in the year 1958. Two years later, his license and seaman's papers were finally restored by a federal court.  The former captain was able to work again at age seventy-four--as a night mate. Mulzac died before Merchant Marines would win the right to receive Veteran's benefits.

Hugh Mulzac successfully helped America defeat the Axis Powers by providing his impeccable navigational skills. He made history as the first Black to command a WWII era ship, and repeatedly made the perilous journey of crossing German submarined infested oceans. He ultimately never gave up his dreams of commanding an integrated ship.
Crew of the Booker T. Washington
with mascot dog.

Sources: History: Profiles of Black Americans


African Diaspora- Countries throughout the world where people of African descent dispersed.

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)-Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur.

McCarthyism-Named after Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957). 1950s era hunt for people believed to be Communist and often without evidence.

Port of Call-  A brief harbor stop where passengers are discharged.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ships Named After Famous Black People in WWII: Eighteen Liberty Ships

 "I'm going to join the Merchant Marines!," a young man who wanted to see the world would often shout in the classic movies. But what exactly did they mean?

The term Merchant Marines refers to the commercial ships or fleet of a nation and to the people who operate them. The United States Merchant Marines also serves as an auxiliary of the Navy in time of war or national emergency, transporting goods or materials needed by the Armed Forces. The United States Merchant Marine has played a vital role in every national conflict since 1775, and played a particularly large and vital part in World War II.      From:


Persons who served in the Merchant Marines are known as mariners, sailors, commercial sailors or seafarers. This organization suffered a high rate of casualties during World War II and were recognized for their impact in 1988 by a federal court. The Merchant Marines had 24,000 African Americans that served in the integrated Merchant Marines during World War II. In a previous post on the Navy's USS Mason, I wrote about the significance of the ship being named after an African American. He was an ensign who was killed in battle.

                                                   Famous Opera Singer Marian Anderson
                                                    christening the Liberty Ship Booker T. Washington.

 Merchant Marines had eighteen ships named after famous Black Americans in World War II. This was significant because... well, you already know why if you are a regular reader of this blog. They even had ships named after Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  Liberty Ships were a class of ships quickly constructed during WWII. There were over two thousand constructed and eighteen of the vessels were named after Famous Blacks in Military, Business, and History. Victory Ships were another class of ships. Four of the Victory ships were named after HBCUs.

When I brought up the Merchant Marines to my father, he stated that he had briefly considered joining them in his youth. I am familiar with some of the more famous Black people that the Liberty Ships are named after;  several were named after sailors. One ship was named after an entertainer. Singer and actor Bert Williams' tragic story saddened me. He was an intelligent man in real life, but donned black, minstrel show make-up and a completely dumbed down persona. Williams ended up dying from alcoholism in his forties. I viewed his performances on You Tube and developed an understanding of his dichotomy and inner struggle.

The remaining folks on the list represent individuals who left an enduring legacy in other realms of society. In reading the list, you have to agree that this was a strong class of American leaders.

  1. Booker T. Washington- Leader in Black Community, founder of Tuskegee University.
  2. George Washington Carver- Botanist, scientist and educator, inventor of peanut butter.
  3. Frederick Douglass- Escaped slavery and became a noted writer and statesman.
  4. John Merrick- Successful businessman, founder of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co.
  5. Robert L. Vann- Editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, a national Black newspaper.
  6. Paul Laurence Dunbar- Poet, first African American writer to gain wide attention.
  7. James Weldon Johnson- Writer, lawyer, songwriter, leader of the NAACP.
  8. John Hope- Educator, religious leader, first Black President of Atlanta University/Morehouse College
  9.  John H. Murphy- Publisher of the Afro American.
  10. Toussaint L'Ouverture- leader of the Haitian Independence movement, defeated Napoleon.
  11. Robert S. Abbott- Lawyer, newspaper publisher of the Chicago Defender.
  12. Harriet Tubman- Abolitionist, Union Spy, led slaves through Underground Railroad.
  13. Edward A. Savoy- Traveled to Paris as a US Envoy after the Spanish American War.
  14. Bert Williams- Vaudeville performer, actor, singer, best selling musical artist before 1920.
  15. James Kyron Walker- Second cook, lost on the Gulfamerica when it was torpedoed.
  16. Robert J. Banks- Messman on Gulfamerica, also killed after German attack.
  17. William Cox- Fireman from sinking David Atwater gunned down by Germans.
  18. George A. Lawson- Messman on the Tug Menominee which was torpedoed and sunk.

  1. The Fisk University
  2. The Tuskegee Victory
  3. The Howard Victory
  4. The Lane Victory

                                                                            Liberty Ship


    Lane College is a Coed, liberal arts college located in Jackson, TN. "The college played a significant role in reducing the rate of illiteracy among Blacks in the South in fewer than fifty years."

    See Also:
    A Montford Point Marine and Tuskegee Airmen In One Family  (for info on Historically Black Colleges and Universities)

     USS Mason: The World War II Ship With A Mostly Black Crew                                                        

    Monday, October 7, 2013

    Early Black Military Experiences: Colonial America and the Revolutionary War

    White Americans have been ambivalent over the years about Black participation in military organizations and in most instances have encouraged or allowed Blacks in military activities only when forced by circumstances to do so.  -

    Across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe, defending one's city or country was the responsibility of all male citizens. Wealthy, prominent men became prestigious officers and lower class men served as regular soldiers for service overseas. Similar military practices were adapted in the New World, where settlers from Spain, France, Britain, and the Netherlands established colonies in America.

    The institution of slavery was also brought to America.  A range of policies existed for militia participation of both Free Blacks and Enslaved Africans. Major milestones during the Colonial Era and Revolutionary War listed below gives us a foundation on prevailing attitudes prior to forced desegregation of the armed forces. Early Black Military Experiences included outright banning, and eventually inclusion.  Many of the heroic contributions were quickly forgotten.

    Reenactment Soldier

    Colonial Era

    1. 1639 - the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted a bill excluding Negroes from being provided with arms or ammunition.
    2. Dutch West Indian Colony of New Amsterdam (New York) armed slaves with a "tomy hawk and a half pike" to assist in fighting murderous Indians (Native Americans).
    3. 1653 - Massachusetts Colony required all Negroes and Indians from sixteen to sixty years of age "inhabitants or servants", to attend Military training along with the English.
    4. New England later followed Virginia in excluding Blacks from the militia. However, this led to Blacks having the same social standing as upper class men who were excluded from the militia. Blacks were then assigned laborer type tasks, such as building defensive fortifications.
    5. South Carolina, on the other hand allowed for "trusty" servants to help in defending the colony in 1703.
    6. Other Southern colonies did not allow for Blacks to become members of militia. There were larger populations of Blacks in the South and the power establishment feared slave mutinies and revolts.
    7. North Carolina, did make an exception when it came to Indian uprisings. In these cases every able bodied man was allowed to help terminate Indian uprisings.

    Revolutionary Hero Salem Poor* 

    American Revolution (America's Independence from Britain) (1775-1783)

    1. 20% of the Colonial population of 22 million was Black.
    2. April 1775 - Black Minuteman fought at Lexington and Concord.
    3. May 1775 - Massachusetts adopted a resolution that no slaves be admitted into the Continental Army. 
    4. July 1775 - Under General George Washington and General Horatio Gates, Continental Amy recruiting officers were not to enlist any "stroller, Negro, or vagabond."
    5. November 1775 - John Murray, Royal Governor of Virginia, representing the opposing British, offered freedom to enslaved Blacks willing to bear arms against the colonists. Murray was known as the Earl of Dunmore or Lord Dunmore.
    6. December 1775 - 300 Blacks joined on the British side with "Liberty to Slaves" etched on their uniforms, calling themselves the "Ethiopian Regiment."
    7. December 1775 - As a result of Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, Washington changed part of his policy and allowed free Blacks in the Continental Army.
    8. 1777 - It was reported that some slaves substituted for their masters despite the policy barring slaves.
    9. 1778 - Washington's Continental Army integrated a number of African Americans. There was also an all Black battalion from Rhode Island and Black companies from Connecticut and Boston, called the Colonials and Bucks of America.
    10. 5,000 Black Soldiers fought in the 300,000 Continental Army


     1775 -  Several states paid bonuses to Black crew members and granted freedom. In short, the Continental Navy did not bar Blacks. The Navy was supplemented by individual state and private funding. Ship crews were integrated and Black crew members came with prior maritime experience. (It was reported that some made it up the ranks of pilots; pilots are responsible for navigating a ship through narrow or congested waterways.)

    Secretary of War James McHenry
    Established Policy Banning Negroes in the Marines.


    1. A dozen or more African Americans served in the Marines.
    2. First African American to fight as a Marine was John Martin (Keto). He was enlisted without his Delaware slave owner's permission and saw combat on the USS Reprisal. He was at sea for a year and a half and perished when his ship sank in October, 1777.


    ***1798 - Marines re-instituted. Secretary of War James McHenry proclaimed, "No Negro, mulatto, or Indian to be enlisted." Following British protocol, the United States Marine Corps enacted a policy which "set a higher standard of unit cohesion for Marines so that they would remain loyal, maintain shipboard discipline and help put down mutinies."

    The Marines did not change their long standing policy until 1942, when Howard P. Perry became their first African American recruit and launched the history of the Montford Point Marines. Protests, letters to Congress, and the Axis Powers' machinations of World War II, led to the signing of Executive Order 8802. It ended discrimination in the National Defense Industry. No longer could Blacks be prevented from enlisting in the United States Marine Corps.

    Throughout history it has been shown that Black participation in military service has been met with reservations. Reasons given include fear of slave revolts and mutinies, not wanting African Americans to ascend the socio-economic ladder, and the belief that Blacks were not intelligent enough to fight in combat situations. In reality, since the American Revolutionary War, Blacks had received high marks and praise from their commanding officers and demonstrated bravery. It is indeed unfortunate that Blacks were able to participate in military service only after military organizations were forced to allow them. So little faith was behind the Montford Point Marines in the 1940s that these soldiers were considered an experiment, and they were sent to outlying regions of the Pacific.

    Early Black Military Experiences demonstrate the willingness for men, who in some cases, did not have their freedom, but were ready to fight. The Colonial Era and the Revolutionary War provided a preview of what Blacks in combat could achieve.


    Notes:  * Despite Salem Poor's surname, he was able to purchase his freedom as a slave with a year's salary in 1769. Salem Poor was sent to build a fort in Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War. He killed British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie in Charlestown, MA during combat. The Battle of Bunker Hill had approximately 1,000 African American casualties. 14 American Officers sent a petition to the Massachusetts legislature, proclaiming that Poor "Behaved like an experienced officer as well as an excellent soldier." Salem Poor was featured on an American Postal Stamp two centuries later. From

    In 1736, Blacks served as officers in a military unit to defeat the Natchez Indians in Mobile, Alabama.  This marked the first time Negroes were officers.


    Thursday, October 3, 2013

    Executive Order 8802 Bans Discrimination In the National Defense Industry

    On June 25, 1941 months before Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802. Executive Order 8802 banned discrimination in the National Defense Industry. The President's official statement accompanying the bill was as follows: "The democratic way of life within the nation can be defended successfully only with the help and support of all groups." Roosevelt was prompted into signing this law by his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, a tireless champion for Black advancement. His decision was also spurred by civil rights activists such as A. Phillip Randolph.  Randolph had threatened a March on Washington.

    Consequently, the United States Marine Corps could no longer prohibit Blacks from joining their ranks. Blacks since the Civil War had been recruited to join the Army and the Navy, but were excluded by the Marines. The 100 plus year policy of exclusion of Blacks was now mandated to change after FDR's signing of Executive Order 8802.

    Howard P. Perry, First Black Marine Recruit

    The first Black recruit was Howard P. Perry of Charlotte, North Carolina. He arrived to Montford Point on August 26, 1942, and in September he and 119 other privates began the arduous process of becoming Marines.  - National gov. archives

    These Marines were assigned "special housing" at Montford Point. They were not allowed to go to Camp Lejeune unless they were accompanied by a White Marine. Reported Montford Point Marine, Thomas S. Turner, "they didn't want us in there to begin with. They referred us as "you people" as if we were some type of animals. It was rough, but we survived."

    Executive Order 8802 enabled African Americans such as my father to obtain employment in defense factories.* Thousands of Blacks were able to work in defense factories and help our nation at war. Dad was then encouraged to become a Montford Point Marine by James Huger, who worked for the War Department. Furthermore, Blacks could then procure middle class life styles. Executive Order 8802 became an impetus to desegregate other institutions in the future.

    In essence, the contributions of all Americans were needed in the war effort. Months before Pearl Harbor and the United State's entry into World War II, policy makers believed that the contributions of African Americans were necessary. The Montford Point Marines were a result of Executive Order 8802. It essentially banned discrimination in the National Defense Industry. But we know that the Montford Point Marines were in fact, discriminated, since their training facility was segregated and their treatment received was less than honorable.


    Notes: Executive Order 8802 did not extend to Japanese Americans; many were placed in internment camps during WWII.


    * See Previous Related Posts:

    The Person Who Influenced Dad's Decision to Become a Marine
    Dad's Arrival in Connecticut

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    Canadians Sent to Hong Kong in World War II

    Canadians were sent to Hong Kong in November of 1941 for military and political reasons. It was their country's first action in World War II. Canada is a member of the British Commonwealth, and its support was needed to protect Britain's Far East Possessions. The Brits were consumed with the Germans in the European Theater.

     An agreement was brokered for the Canadians to go to Hong Kong in World War II.  Lieutenant General Arthur Grasset, when referring to the Japanese, stated that "they fought well against third rate Chinese, but they had yet to meet first class troops such as his battalions, which would give them a bloody nose." Grasset was the Commanding Officer of China.

    Hong Kong Commanding Officer Major General CM Maltby remarked shortly after the Canadian November arrival:
    And there were only 5,000 Japanese nearby, ill-equipped, short of artillery, unused to night fighting, and their few supporting obsolete aircraft were flown by myopic pilots.

    The stereotype that prevailed in military circles at the time were that the Japanese were nearsighted because of the appearance of their eyelids! This was a belief shared by General Douglas MacArthur as well. Furthermore, the Canadians were not privy to military intelligence. They were sent to war, ill prepared and untrained. The plan was to train them en route to Hong Kong and upon arrival.

    The Royal Canadians and their dog Gander before deployment to Hong Kong. Gander
    sacrificed his life by catching of a grenade meant for soldiers.  Source:

    Meanwhile, six Japanese fighter and bomber squadrons were assigned to Hong Kong. The attack commenced at 7:30 am, on December 8, 1941. It was scheduled around the same time period as offensive military actions in Guam, Wake Island, Philippines, Thailand, Malaya and Pearl Harbor. The Japanese Squadron obliterated the British aircraft  at Kai Tak Airport.  Bridges were destroyed but accompanying Japanese engineering units quickly repaired the them.

    Hong Kong was considered a precarious situation for years;  Japan already had a million men stationed in China as part of the Sino-Japanese War. Japanese General Lt. Takashi dispatched 52,000 men. The fierce, hardened warriors, who were now seasoned fighters, were no match for the young, inexperienced Commonwealth Soldiers. The Canadians (dubbed  C Force) joined some 14,000 British, Indian and Hong Kong Volunteers.

    Canada sent 1,975 men to Hong Kong in November, 1941. The Canadians deployed two battalions: the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada, a brigade headquarters group. They fought diligently for 18 days in the Battle of Hong Kong. Their commander, Maj. Gen. Maltby finally surrendered. The Japanese later stated that despite the overwhelming odds against them, that the defenders fought valiantly. John Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers even received the Victoria Cross, posthumously, in recognition for landing on a grenade to save lives. 550 Canadians did not return; Prisoners of War were imprisoned in Hong Kong or Japan under heinous conditions. Japan unsurprisingly did not support the 1929 Geneva Convention POW Policy that stipulated humane treatment for prisoners. C Force members were later rescued in 1945 from POW camps.


    Prisoners of War before rescue. The malnourished men had just received an
    air drop of food from the Allies in 1945.


    Notes: The Veterans that returned home to Canada were originally treated like outcasts. They eventually received recognition, a former apology, and a museum in their honor.

    Monday, September 16, 2013

    Aircraft Recognition: Would You Be Able to Identify World War II Planes?

    As the narrative continues we cannot forget about the various aircraft used during World War II. I have posted samples of some airplanes. In a earlier post I discussed the "Mitsubishi Zero" and how it created many Japanese victories during the early part of the war. WWII planes were responsible for some of the most cataclysmic aerial battles in history. But a question arises. Would you be able to identify World War II planes? I have known pilots that can look up into the sky and easily identify airplanes. It is one thing to recognize aircraft on a peaceful, sunny day. Try identifying them in a middle of a war-torn country.

    World War II was often a battle of technological advances. Throughout the war, the Allied and Axis Forces constantly worked to improve the abilities and features of their equipment. No type of technology showcased this battle for supremacy better than the fighter planes. Every few months saw the introduction of a new or improved fighter plane to combat the latest version developed by the opposing side.
     There were over three hundred planes manufactured in WWII from dozens of countries. I could conceivably develop an entire blog on aviation of this era; fortunately, there are blogs, websites, and books already devoted to military planes. I am focusing on the major types of WWII planes, just as I did with ships.


    Fighter: Air to Air combat with enemy planes as well as air to ground combat. Armed with cannons and machine guns.

    Dive Bombers: As the name implies, during a plane's dive, a bomb was released over an intended target

    High Level Bombers: These large planes dropped several bombs, which increased their chances of hitting the target.

    Torpedo Bombers: Torpedo bombs were ejected into the ocean headed on a swift path to a submarine or ship.

    Patrol Planes: Designed to travel long distances over the water, sought out submarines and enemy ships. Also, used for rescue.

     Both Army and Navy provided official Aircraft Recognition Manuals. There were even official playing cards that had the images printed on them. Soldiers during their recreational time would be able to practice learning the different diagrams. It was vital that the personnel could look at the wing, tails and body to determine if an approaching aircraft were "Friend or Foe". This certainly avoided cases of friendly fire, where a Soldier would mistakenly shoot down one of their own planes. Of course, reconnaissance missions and surprise attacks required the keen ability to identify aircraft within seconds. It was simply a matter of life or death. Aircraft Recognition in World War II then, was extremely important even among civilians.




     Civilians had to identify aircraft as well.

    So, this was what my father was trained to do, over seventy years ago in the Marshall Islands. He had to understand Aircraft Recognition. Dad manned the 90mm Anti-Aircraft Artillery. Would you be able to identify WWII planes during the war?

    Sunday, September 15, 2013

    Japanese Attack Philippines, Malaya, Thailand, Guam and Wake Island

    Japanese Invasion of Thailand

    December 8, 1941- Philippines
    Lieutenant General Walter Short and Admiral Husband Ekimel, Army and Navy Officers, were relieved of their command in Pearl Harbor and demoted. Their punishment was for "being surprised" by the Japanese attack.The invasion of the Philippines was ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Half of the bombers at Clark Field were destroyed; they were integral aircraft of General Douglas MacArthur's Far East Air Force. Consequently, the Japanese were able to invade by land without being stopped. General Douglas MacArthur was informed about Pearl Harbor nine hours before the attack but failed to take action.

    The Japanese had assembled 500 hundred fighter planes and bombers at airbases on their territory of Formosa (Taiwan). General MacArthur retreated to Bataan peninsula under the War Plan Orange, since reinforcements were thousands of miles away. Underquipped and unprepared American soldiers died of malaria, dysentery and hunger. MacArthur was not removed from his command nor did he receive a reduction in rank as the Army and Navy Commanders at Pearl Harbor did.

    December 7/8, 1941- Wake Island
    Wake Island is to the north of Japanese occupied Marshall Islands and also to the north of Guam. As tensions mounted with Japan, the US Navy began to fortify the island. An airfield was constructed and twelve F4F Wildcats planes had been sent to the island via the U.S.S. Enterprise. Radar detection was left behind at Pearl Harbor and protective shelter for the aircraft had yet to be built. On Dec. 7/8, 1941, (Wake Island is on the other side of the International Date Line) the Japanese destroyed eight of the twelve Wildcats and destroyed the airfield. Twenty three men were killed and eleven wounded. After the attack, Wake Island became a tenacious battleground.

    Known as the "Bicycle Blitz".

    Midnight December 7/8, 1941-Malaya
     Malaya, was also located on the other side of the International Date Line (See map below). Japanese forces invaded Malaya via three transport ships carrying 5,200 Imperial Japanese troops. Veterans of Chinese campaigns, it was said that these men were well trained. They were accompanied with light cruisers, destroyers, minesweepers and subchasers and entered Malaya through multiple positions. The defending forces were the British, Australian and Indian units, with both sides suffering heavy casualties. The Japanese famously entered the country by bicycles and were able to penetrate the thick jungles. Air Marshall Sir Robert Brooke L. Popham, like General MacArthur, sensed an impending Japanese military action and had even contemplated a preemptive strike. British ships H.M.S. Prince of Wales and H.M.S. Repulse were sunk. Popham was granted permission to surrender.

    The International Date line adds or subtracts a day depending on which direction a traveler is headed.
     It was created in 1884.  Since WWII, there has been changes in this imaginary line.

    Beach invasion

    December 8, 1941-Thailand
    Japanese troops invaded Thailand from its bases in French Indochina. Fighting between the forces did not last long and Thailand surrendered, giving the Japanese free access to its transportation, military bases and communication. This would assure easy passage into Burma and Malaya.Thailand had the distinction of being an independent country, free from colonial rule. It had maintained decent relations with Britain and the US in hopes that Britain would protect them from Japanese aggression. However, the leader of Thailand, Prime Minister Philbun, had a previous "agreement" with the Japanese as well. The agreement was to allow unchallenged entry into Thailand.  Pressure by the Japanese caused Thailand to later declare war on Britain and the United States.

    December 8, 1941- Guam

    Guam, the lone American base in the otherwise Japanese controlled Marianas, was part of Japan's "Outline Plan for Execution of the Empire's national Policy" The Plan's intention was to expand the outer perimeter so wide that Japan would not be threatened by aerial attacks against the home islands, meanwhile include sources of raw materials to feed her growing Imperialistic goals.    

     Prior to the attack, on October 17, 1941, the U.S. began evacuating non essential personnel from Guam, Mariana Islands. On December 8, Japanese aircraft from Saipan attacked Guam, bombing various buildings and sinking the minesweeper U.S.S. Penguin. One person was killed and 60 wounded. Navy Captain George J. McMillin, who was also Governor of Guam, was forced to surrender. McMillin was subsequently imprisoned in Manchuria, China.


    As Japan raced across Asia, they left a well calculated, huge swath of mayhem and destruction. The attacks left the Allies stunned. Although much attention was given to Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese attacked the Philippines, Malaya, Thailand, Guam and Wake Island, these nations were shocked with the swiftness and casualties. Truthfully, military correspondence recovered later discussed impending Japanese invasions. All of the above countries were soon occupied by the Japanese. Further atrocities were committed on POWS, and civilians. What other locations would be next as the Japanese raced through Asia?

    Sources ww.historytoday,com,,,,

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    What World War II US Navy Ships Looked Like and a Brief Glossary

    In order to have a better understanding of the battles in the World War II era, it is necessary to have a reference point in what the US Navy ships looked like and their functions. I will be describing these battles in future posts, so this page can be bookmarked. These diagrams were originally included in Navy manuals and it was every enlisted man's responsibility to be able to recognize them on sight. Additionally, the included brief glossary provides definitions and basic functions of US Navy ships.



                                                  Diagrams courtesy of :


    Battleships-Supported aircraft carrier groups and bombarded land installations.
    Carriers- Fighter planes and bombers took off from the decks of aircraft carriers to target enemy ships and land targets. Light carriers, 30-40-planes; large carriers, 100 planes
    Destroyers- Heavily armed warships
    Destroyer Escorts-Brought troops, supplies, and planes to large ships.
    Cruisers-Participated in shore bombardment, protected aircraft carriers, carried anti aircraft weapons.
    PT Boats-(Patrol torpedo boats)-Ambushed barges and slow moving ships.
    Submarines-Germans had early dominance in this fleet of vessels. They attacked enemy merchant shipping and provided surveillance of enemy ships and coastal installations.

    These diagrams are in no way the most extensive compilation of what World War II US Navy Ships. There are countless official and unofficial websites, blogs, and military books devoted to this subject created by experts and history lovers. Again, each category of ship had a specific function and provided crucial support in defending the seas against the Axis powers.




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