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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dad Becomes A Rifle Expert

Clifford Primus was now in Camp LeJeune as a US Marine Recruit. He had enlisted in Springfield, MA on April of 1943. He would have been exempt from the military as a defense factory worker, but he insisted on signing up after learning that the US Marines were finally allowing Negroes to join their branch of the Armed Forces and also authorized them to participate in combat.

My father stated that he had an Uncle Howard that served in World War I (1914-1917). My Great Uncle Howard was stationed in France while in the Army and supplied ammunition. In France, the African-American Soldiers had freedom from United States racism; the soldiers enjoyed themselves at dance clubs. The French did not have a history of deeply entrenched institutionalized racism as the United States. Consequently, the French welcomed the African American soldiers in their country without a problem. It was the white American Soldiers while abroad that had a problem with the Negro soldiers.  According to Dad's recent recollection of his uncle's story, fights broke out among both races of American soldiers.

Negro WWI Soldier

For World War II (1941-1945) the separation of the races still existed. The bus to Camp LeJeune lead to a separate training facility at Camp LeJeune called MONTFORD POINT. It is located in Jacksonville, North Carolina. If you served in the US Marines in the 1940s and were Negro, you trained at Montford Point. Montford Point Marines fought in World War II and the Korean War (1950-1953). Over twenty thousand African American men underwent training at this grueling boot camp.

Montford Point Marines Receiving Training.

For my Dad, training consisted of early morning excercise drills*. This morning he shared how he was assigned to the Anti-Aircraft Division in the 51st Battalion. As luck would have it a white Marine Sargent on the rifle range took a liking to my dad and by mere happenstance hailed from-- Springfield, MA. This guy spent extra time with my dad and showed him pointers on firing a M-1 Rifle. The M-1 rifle would automatically rise after firing, but paying extra attention to the weapon makes for mastery of the rifle. Because of this kind man from Springfield, MA, Dad had the highest score within his group and was awarded a rifle badge. On his discharge papers it lists that he was a Rifle Expert.

The Sargent that took a liking to my dad reminded me of  Pee Wee Reese of the Jackie Robinson story. In my previous post I wrote about how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. Robinson underwent the most inhumane treatment with constant racists taunts and death threats. Players on his own team the Brooklyn Dodgers, resented him being a member. (Maybe not so much after Robinson helped them win the World Series.) Pee Wee Reese was the teammate and Captain of Dodgers that stood by Jackie Robinson and was his advocate. In life, when one is faced with challenging circumstances involving life or death situations, an ally is needed. So, this Springfield, MA native and white Sargent on the rifle range was greatly appreciated.
Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese

In my upcoming posts you will see how other Marines and civilians treated Montford Point Marines, America's First African-American Marines.

*Part of dad's bootcamp was swimming with a heavy backpack. Despite being from Florida he is not much of a swimmer but managed to swim across the water for a distance. He recalled a Montford Point Marine from Detroit who effortlessly swam. "Old boy from Detroit swam across with one arm...", he marveled. Some of my father's most colorful stories involved men from Chicago and Detroit.

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