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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Matter of Public Discussion and Images

The beauty of social media is having an audience of people who support you. From far flung places such as Macao and Mauritius, to people in my father's town, the interest is there.

In the meantime, other stakeholders have become involved. More individuals have decided to help tell my father's story of the Montford Point Marines and the 51st Defense Battalion. I am very grateful for Kevin Sullivan of the Wilson Branch Public Library in Windsor, Connecticut for allowing the talk on the Montford Point Marines and the 51st Defense Battalion to happen. The branch is located fifty yards from my father's residence.

The following week while I was outside of the library on a bench, a teen aged female approached me. She was one of the attendees at my father's event that took place at 4 pm on April 10, 2014. It was early morning and I wondered why wasn't she in school.  I then realized that she was on spring break from school. She inquired about my dad;  I thanked the young lady for her concern and told her I would let him know that she asked about him. 

I couldn't help but notice that there was a group of teen-aged boys that were at the library during the presentation. A librarian had wanted them to join us but they refused. She apologized but I understood-- I taught high school before. For some young people of color, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and general history, is too far removed from their day to day reality. Yet in fact it is relevant because many issues that African American youths face today are similar to what was faced generations ago.

If the young males were present, they would of learned that my dad came to Connecticut by himself about the same age that they were. He ventured north because that's where so many jobs were at the time. As soon as my father descended the stairs from the bus back in the 1940s, he was accosted by people desperately looking for job seekers. Living in New England was not always the promised land. But rather than bemoan the young males lack of interest, I revisited marketing and presentation. I developed a creative idea which I will detail next month. 

Seen in 1968 is John Phoenix, 83, one of the surviving members of the Montford Point Marines
Montford Point Marine John Phoenix
He fought in Korea and Vietnam. He is now 83 years old.

The above photo was the image that was on my father's poster for his talk at the library. I chose this particular image because it is a photo of a Montford Point Marine that is rarely shown. His name is John Phoenix. I also selected this picture because of the rifle and the bulging bicep. While the person is a Montford Marine it is not a World War II era photo. Clearly the Office of War Information would not have approved of this picture.

Nonetheless, powerful.

"Easter Eggs for Hitler"
Source: National Archives

The above photo was the original image for my father's event. It was the famous "Easter Egg for Hitler" photo. A strong and timely message since Easter was the following week. But I immediately knew that the soldiers were from the Army and served in the European Theater. I pointed it out and the pictures were swapped out of the program. My father would insist that they be Montford Marines.

The story behind the photo comes from Eisenhower National Park Service Museum*:

Technical Sergeant William E. Thomas and Private First Class Joseph Jackson prepared a gift of Special "Easter Eggs" for Adolph Hitler and the German Army. Scrawling such messages on artillery shells in World War II was one way in which artillery soldiers could humorously express their dislike of the enemy.

By March, 1945 many more U.S. combat units of African-Americans were on the front. Lieutenant Colonel Chet Hansen, aide to 12th Army Group commander Omar Bradley, noted in his diary on April 8, 1945, that Negroes are now being used in volunteer (combat platoons with our divisions) and according to Bradley they are doing well.

In summary, the talk on my father's experience as a Montford Point Marine at our local library is a beginning. Photos used conveyed the spirit of African American men finally allowed to participate in combat. The brave soldiers also performed well which later led to significant socio-economic gains for African Americans as a result. 

Moreover, the next objective is to educate young people about the Montford Point Marines. Young people need to learn about the sacrifices made and not take advancement for granted. As noted in present day times from our continuous news cycle, discrimination is not going away.

 Knowing history helps young people master their future.

Finally, in the interest of transparency, there is a long-term oversight that I need to address concerning Montford Point Marines and Honor Blog. What do you think the glaring omission is that requires at least two posts? Don't forget to share this post and become a follower! 


See Also:
African American Migration: Dad Chooses Connecticut
My Father's Story on the Montford Point Marines and the 51st Defense Battalion
Roger Smith Captured Iconic Images of Montford Point Marines

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