Recently my son attended Marine Corp Officer Commissioning School (OCS) and towards the end of the 10 weeks of training he had the opportunity to call home usually once a week on Sundays. I remember one phone call where he discussed the Montford Point Marine challenge that he and fellow Marines went through. He discussed with pride the history of the Montford Marines explaining their courage, perseverance and how their work led to the integration of the Marine Corp in 1949. He said their ability to press on in spite of adversity and the challenges they faced was an example to he and his fellow Marines candidates. After the call, I looked up the challenge and found an online post which summarized the event and history:
“The Montford Point Challenge is a timed, three-and-a-half mile run, which pits a squad of candidates against hilly, waterlogged terrain, battling obstacles and carrying logs, ammunition cans and stretchers. It was created to honor the sacrifice and heroism of the more than 20,000 black Marines who trained at Montford Point, N.C., from 1942 to 1949. ‘Any resupply that was required on the front lines, they were tasked to do that’.” (Quantico Sentry, 2011)
About a week after the call, we went out to see his commissioning ceremony and spend the weekend with him. One of the things that we did was tour the National Museum of the Marine Corp. While walking through the exhibits he and I came across the exhibit dedicated to these Marines, he again mentioned the challenge and the inspiration that he found in their accomplishments. After he wondered off to look at other exhibits, I stayed and listened to interviews of Montford Point Marine veterans conducted years after their service. In one interview, an older black gentleman was discussing how he and his fellow Montford Point Marines believe that their work would make a difference in the way they and others were treated back home. While not mentioned, there stories alluding to the Double V Campaign. While listening to the video presentation, he related a story of how after returning from the war and while in uniform he was faced with a white waitress that refused to wait on him trying to get food in a diner. He elaborated that this event left him feeling that his service hadn’t changed a thing back home. Others in the interviews however did believed they their service was beneficial although not to the level that they had hoped.
As the video reached its conclusion I couldn’t help to reflect on our class discussion of the Double V Campaign – Victory abroad and Victory at home. Despite the efforts of these men and women to step up and serve their country that it wasn’t until the country had to improve their image that progress was made in the courts – especially for educational rights. As highlighted by Bell (1980) and his discussion of the intersecting convergence of needs. As highlighted by the Brown decision which “helped to provide immediate credibility to America’s struggle with Communist countries to win the hearts and minds of emerging third world peoples” (Bell, 1980, pp. 524). In effect to further what might easily be classified as colonization efforts around the globe and improving the national economic status. As Bell argued in his article that racial progress was only possible when the interest-convergence of whites aligned with those of black citizens. Further supporting the Brown decision was the unrest in the black community because of the failure to realize the victory abroad and the victory at home following World War II and a growing sentiment that the black community would not want to support another war especially with Russia (Bell, 1980).
While knowing this history and having read the various interest-convergent pieces, the impact of counterstories – hearing the effects from those effected especially in their own voice is so much more powerful. I won’t forget the sadness in the voice of the black veteran Marine as he shared his story, his hope for improvement at home and the sense of loss. I’m glad the Marine Corp honors these men and shares their history with all Marines going through training. I wonder, would some argue that this is an example of meritocracy as the exhibit and the Montford Point Marine challenge highlights how a group of black Marines were able to succeed? As a fellow veteran, I do not believe it is, I feel their service deserves to be honored, remembered and celebrated. History is not objective and hearing stories from those that lived the experience provides an insight that deserves to be heard.