News: Marines, sailors honor heritage during Black History Month
Story by Cpl. Paul Peterson
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - He wanted to get his Social Security card so he could start working. He found out he was eligible for the draft instead.
It has been nearly 70 years since Turner G. Blount reported to Montford Point, N.C., where he and approximately 20,000 other African Americans completed their Marine Corps recruit training between 1942 and 1949.
Blount shared his experiences while serving with that historic first group of African American Marines during the 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group Black History Month celebration here, Feb. 15.
“We wanted the event to be special,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel D. Slaughter, who helped organize the event with the battalion’s equal opportunity committee. “These guys went through extensive training and the different adversities of being segregated. At the end of the day, they were Marines. They trained to be Marines and to serve their country just like everybody else.”
Blount and his fellow recruits were segregated from other Marine units. Their training facilities near Jacksonville, N.C., remained separate from their white counterparts even though the war they fought was the same.
“Someone was trying to do away with our country,” said Blount, a native of Keysville, Ga., as he casually recalled the early days of World War II. “They said there were going to be some places [we had to] go, and there were going to be some problems. I said, ‘Is that right?’”
Blount didn’t even know who the Marines were when he first began his enlistment process. He did hear they were “the best thing going,” and that was enough for him.
He joined the front lines of the war in the Pacific, where he fought through the invasions Tinian, Saipan and Okinawa.
“It was a rough time,” said Blount, as he recalled the various operations he took part in during the war. “We didn’t move fast because we had to sleep at night and dig our holes in the ground. We’d go in pairs: you and your friend … with your gun.”
The servicemembers quietly listened as Blount told them what it was like to lead his Marines during the island-hopping campaign that drew American forces closer and closer to the Japanese mainland.
After the war, Blount left the military. He returned to active duty again in 1950 during the Korean War and continued his career through the Vietnam War.
He eventually retired as a master sergeant and decided to remain in Jacksonville.
“I’m still a Marine,” laughed Blount as he addressed the room of servicemembers. “Don’t that make sense?”
In 2012, Blount and other Montford point Marines received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
“This is American history,” said Louise Greggs, a representative from the national Montford Point Marines Museum. “He was not even allowed to go into the city of Jacksonville after 5 o’clock because of the color of his skin … [later] Mr. Blount was a four-term elected city councilmen who helped make decisions for the same city he was not even allowed in.”
The battalion’s leadership honored Blount with a small token of appreciation after his speech by presenting awards and flowers to the Blount family.
“It shows the young Marines and sailors that things weren’t always the way they are now,” said Slaughter. “That’s what the Marines and sailors took away from this. Even though you’re going to be faced with adversity, you’re going to have to stay strong and just push through.”