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: hnsa.org|
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.