Black Marine Officers
On 10 November 1945, Frederick C. Branch, the first African-American ever commissioned in the Marine Corps, and a veteran of the 51st Defense Battalion, smiles proudly as his wife pins the gold bars of a second lieutenant on his uniform.
SInce this time many African Americans in all branches of service have become officers and gained notable prominance within all branches of Service, to include a signifacant break through in the ranks of the women in the Military. For the Marine Corps, the notable rise of General Offices and enlisted have truely demonstrated an acceptance of the many challenges that have been placed amoung the African American community. These strives are the cutting path of many whom chose to become a part of the military community and shows that any African American can be a sucessful leader and mentor for those whom wish to follow in the foot steps of the many that made this possible. Click on the images to learn more details of the Marines below.
Frank E. Peterson - Ronald S. Coleman - Willie J. Williams
Walter E. Gaskin - Ronald L.Bailey
Clifford L. Stanley - Arnold S. Fields - Anthony L. Jackson
Cornell A. Wilson, Jr. - James L. Williams
Charles F. Bolden - Jerome G. Cooper - Leo V. Williams
Vincent R. Stewart - Terry Williams
George H. Walls - John R. Thomas
Approximately 20,000 African American recruits received training at Montford Point Camp (less than 10% of the Marine Corps end strength) during World War II. The initial intent of the Marine Corps hierarchy was to discharge these African American Marines after the War, returning them to civilian life - leaving the Marine Corps an all-white organization. Attitudes changed and reality took hold as the war progressed. Once given the chance to prove themselves, it became impossible to deny the fact that this new breed of Marine was just as capable as all other Marines regardless of race, color, creed or National origin.
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Breaking more than just the sound barrier
Breaking more than just the sound barrier
Being the first at anything can be a challenge. Being the first African American pilot in the Marine Corps was no exception for Lieutenant General Frank Petersen. The Marines may have sought him out for the training, and encouraged his success, but when the young officer arrived for his first assignment, the reception was a little different.
"For the most part I had total acceptance, but there were some pilots that were upset I'd broken into the exclusive club," the retired three-star General said. "When I got to the base, the other officers didn't believe I was one of them. They started grilling me on where I'd trained and what else I had done. Eventually they called the MPs and I was confined to quarters for impersonating an officer."
The next day the base commander was livid at the treatment LtGen Petersen received, he said; adding, "Once we were in the air, all differences were set aside."
Yet when he reflects on 38 years in the Marine Corps, that incident isn't what he recalls first. He didn't set out to be a role model, he says. "I was there to find out what I could do. I wanted to see how far I could go."
On the way to earning three stars, LtGen Petersen achieved a lengthy list of firsts, and exceeded his own expectations repeatedly. His is one of two stories being highlighted as the Marine Corps celebrates Black History Month. The other is that of Major General Charles Bolden, whose military career includes 30 days in space as the first African American Marine astronaut.
The two men are being highlighted because their careers epitomize the important firsts African American Marines have achieved to help future Marines define their legacy in the Corps.
Both generals look back on their careers as opportunities to excel based on their capabilities. But they also worry that not enough African Americans are considering what they can achieve through becoming a Marine.
"The Marine Corps is special, and it's really not looking for people who are looking for a job. We're looking for people who want to help people, and serve their country," MajGen Bolden said. "When you look at communities of minority young men and young women, there are a lot of them who are interested in making a difference, but they need to know who and what we are."
The Marine Corps had integrated only 10 years before LtGen Petersen joined following a two-year stint in the Navy. He made the switch hoping to become the first African American aviator in the Marine Corps.
"It wasn't that I wanted to break a barrier, I just always loved airplanes and here was a chance to fly in combat," he said. Over the next 38 years he flew a lot: 285 combat missions over Korea and Vietnam. He also racked up more than 4,000 hours in every airplane in the Marine Corps inventory at the time.
LtGen Petersen was already breaking new ground as the first African American fighter squadron commander when Major General Charles Bolden entered the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. A Naval Academy graduate, MajGen Bolden never set out to be a Marine.
"When I got to the Naval Academy, there were only two things I knew for certain. I would never be a Marine and I would not fly. Aircraft are inherently dangerous," he said. "There certainly was never a vision of being a pioneer."
He made the about face after meeting a Marine Infantry Officer at the academy. In the course of his career, MajGen Bolden overcame those early concerns, repeatedly, becoming a test pilot and then an astronaut.
"Others like General Petersen came before me, and the Montford Point Marines had come before him," he said. Montford Point became the Marine Corps' first training depot for African American Marines in 1942.
MajGen Bolden's career certainly built on the legacy of those who preceded him. In 1980 he became the first African American Marine selected by NASA to become an astronaut. Over the next 14 years, he flew four shuttle missions, including commanding both Atlantis and Discovery.
But he doesn't consider going into space to be the highlight of his career. That honor would be his command of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"When I look back on my life, nothing compares to the last nine years of my career - being with young Marines going into combat and helping their families," he said. "We had such a commitment to each other; it's a team in every sense of the word."
For those willing to consider becoming a Marine, the opportunity to succeed is only limited by their potential, LtGen Petersen said.
"I would tell any young (African American) man or woman that we've had a great deal of success in the Marine Corps," he said. "This is not a journey you are starting on your own. This road has been trod by many before you."
posted: Jan 30 2009 Courtesy of: Our Marines.com
Montford Point Marines
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USS Mason, a WWII warship manned by a predominantly Black crew
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General William E. Ward
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General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
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