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Monday, June 17, 2013

"They Don't Tell You Where They're Going To Send You, You Just Go!"

Well, the clamoring for dad's "missing" 51st Defense Battalion whereabouts, led to action. The Pittsburgh Courier's story reverberated across Black America. Members of the 51st were soon going to be deployed as a result of the story. Military officials, previously concerned about racial dissension in the ranks relented, and deployed my dad's unit.

"So dad, when you were in San Diego, did you know where they were going to send you?" I inquired. "No!"  my father answered in an irritated voice, as if I should have known better. "They don't tell you where they're going to send you, you just go!"

"They sent us to Ellice Island." I asked him how it was spelled, because it sounded like the "Ellis Island" in New York, the point of entry for myriads of immigrants into the United States. "It's an island off the coast of Australia and that is where we (The Marines) picked up and received our mail", my dad explained.

"We also ended up in Enewetok and Kwajalein." Dad pronounced these names with ease. I automatically remembered conversations from years ago that these were islands in the Marshall Islands.When I looked at a map, I saw tiny dots in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Marshall Islands were named after a British captain in 1788. They were previously explored by the Spanish in the 16th century. Germany unsuccessfully attempted to control the islands, but the islands utimately ended up in the hands of the Japanese in 1914.*

The Marshall Islands are located halfway between Hawaii and Australia. The Islands are considered a part of Oceania, and make up two archipelagic island chains of 29 atolls, each made up of small islets and five single islands in the North Pacific Ocean.

The area is roughly the size of Washington, D.C. (181 km). Also, the Marshall Islands climate is tropical, hot and humid. Its wet season is May through November, with the islands bordering the typhoon belt. Finally, Micronesian peoples were the first inhabitants of the archipelago.**


Source: www.



 June 27, 2012. It was the evening before the Medal of Honor Ceremony at the official Montford Point Marines hotel. Dad, normally a talkative character, was very nervous. I watched the older gentlemen meet and greet each other and exchange information. Some of the Marines already knew each other from their area Montford Point Marine Associations. My dad was standing in line and I watched as his doppelganger approached him. By doppelganger I meant someone of his exact stature and personality.

"Do you know who your commanding officer was?" A short, expressive man with a puffed out chest asked. My Dad could not remember his officer's name. "I don't remember his name, I'm eighty-nine years old", dad answered tersely. Both families of the men watched, amazed at the mirroring that was taking place. The two elderly men stood staring at each other for it seemed like eternity, and then sauntered on, chatting with other Marines.

 I then went to the wife of my father's "twin", and talked to her. I guessed her to be an educator, but was close. She worked with troubled female teens and her husband was a retired vocational teacher. We joked around a bit about her husband's and my dad's assertive personalities.The kind woman then set out to trail her feisty husband.  Her spouse reminded me of Adolph Ceaser, the actor that played an Army officer in A Soldier's Story, and the father of "Mister" in A Color Purple. In any event, the whole scene was indeed 'colorful.' The seriousness of the special occasion prevented a heated exchange.

Source: A
The late great actor, Adolph Ceaser

Some checking on my end  turned up some additional details, which I later shared with my dad: Colonel Samuel Woods, Jr., commanded the Montford Point Camp and formed the Battalion.Woods was its first commanding officer.Others in command were: Lt. Colonel William B. Onley, Lt. Col. Floyd A Stephenson, Lt. Curtis W. LeGette and Lt. Colonel Gould P. Groves. Source: Condition Red: Marine Defense Battalions in WWII Summaries,

So, from the time my dad was stationed in the Marshall Islands, he had a handful of different commanding officers. The 51st Defense Battalion, was originally supposed to be an infantry division. Their mission was to prevent the Japanese from furthering their aggressive military conquests. Thanks to the Negro Press, my dad would finally play a part in World War II.

Sources: * www.infoplease,**

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