News: Former sergeant major of the Marine Corps reflects
Story by Christine Cabalo
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Kaneohe Bay — Sharing a bit of history, former Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Alford L. McMichael visited Feb. 22, speaking at the base’s African-American Heritage Month Luncheon.
“For us, it’s not about being African-American, it’s not about being anything other than being a Marine,” he said. “And if you’re a Marine, it’s about being a great American.”
Encouraging the crowd to look beyond race, McMichael spoke about the late Pfc. James Anderson Jr., with local unit 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. In 1968, Anderson was the first African-American Marine to receive the Medal of Honor. He is also the namesake of Anderson Hall Dining Facility, where the luncheon was held.
McMichael has a special tie to Anderson Hall Dining Facility, since he was present when the building was dedicated in the 1970s. McMichael was then a lance corporal and one of many standing in formation from Marine Barracks Pearl Harbor.
“I was beaming with pride,” he said. “But I have to be honest with you. It wasn’t because I was proud he was an African-American. I was proud because he was a Marine.”
Although McMichael credited his success to others who gave him an opportunity, many in the audience thought of the former Marine as their hero. Among them was Staff Sgt. Liza Jones, Headquarters and Service Battalion equal opportunity representative, U.S. Marine Forces, Pacific.
“As an African-American female in the Marine Corps, he’s very inspiring to me,” said Jones, who also performed a gospel spiritual before the speech. “His visit has shown me a lot about great leadership. I think fellow Marines see him accomplish something and feel pride.”
For some, McMichael has been a role model long before he became sergeant major of the Marine Corps. Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Ilaoa, data chief, Headquarters Company, 3rd Marine Regiment, said he looked to the retired Marine’s example since McMichael and his father were friends. Ilaoa said he tries to have the same commitment to helping others succeed as McMichael.
“He’s really taught me to have integrity in everything I do,” Ilaoa said.
After his talk, McMichael gave an autographed copy of his book “Leadership: Achieving Life-Changing Success From Within” to one of the audience members, Cpl. Matthew McPheeters, ammunition technician, Headquarters Company, 3rd Marines.
After listening to McMichael, McPheeters said it was the first time he heard of Anderson’s life and achievements.
“I’ll definitely read through the whole book,” he said. “He’s very admirable and knowledgeable.”
McMichael’s visit to Anderson Hall Dining Facility is only one of several stops here. On Feb. 26, he continues his talks with staff noncommissioned officers at the Officer’s Club.
When asked for advice to young Marines, McMichael said people shouldn’t dwell on their differences but work on making a difference in their communities. Everyone should continue striving to do better than before, he said.
“People understand the contributions of African-Americans to the nation,” McMichael said. “We’re only good as a united people, not as one ethnicity.”