Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Basic Racial Policy
Change Comes to the Marine Corps
Face-to-Face with Segregation
Starting from Scratch
Building the 51st Defense Battalion
The 51st Battalion at War
The 52nd Defense Battalion
Combat Service Support
Seizing the Marianas Islands, Sapain, Tinian, and Guam
Peleliu and Iwo Jima
Okinawa, Japan, and China
Returning Home
Pride Mixed with Bitterness
The 'Great White Father'
Gilbert H. Johnson
Edgar R. Huff
Special Subjects
African-Americans and the Marines
The Stewards' Branch
The Death March
The Route West
Mop-up on Guam
The Third Battle of Guam
Unfinished Business

THE RIGHT TO FIGHT: African-American Marines in World War II
by Bernard C. Nalty

Okinawa, Japan, and China

The fight for Okinawa, which proved to be the last battle of World War II, involved some 2,000 black Marines, a larger concentration than for any previous operation. On 1 April 1945, the 6th and 1st Marine Divisions stormed ashore alongside two Army divisions, while the 2d Marine Division engaged in a feint to pin down the island's Japanese defenders. The three ammunition and four depot companies assigned to the 7th Field Depot, supporting the III Marine Amphibious Corps on that day, were divided between the demonstration and assault forces. The 1st and 3d Ammunition Companies and the 5th, 38th, and part of the 37th Marine Depot Companies accompanied the 2d Marine Division, while the 12th Ammunition and 18th Depot Companies, along with the rest of the 37th, participated in the landings by the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions. Within three days, almost all of the amphibious force's black Marines were in action ashore, and reinforcements soon arrived. By the end of April, the 20th Marine Depot Company reached Okinawa from Saipan, and in May the 9th and 10th Depot Companies from Guadalcanal, together with the 19th from Saipan, joined the 7th Field Depot.

Drenching rain and seemingly bottomless mud hampered the work of the ammunition and depot companies as the troops advanced and supply lines grew longer. The same parties that moved ammunition and other cargo forward to sustain the fighting also brought back the wounded. Stewards, too, made an essential contribution to eventual victory by serving as stretcher bearers. Indeed, casualties were almost equally divided between combat service units, 11 wounded, and the Stewards' Branch, seven wounded, one of them twice, and one killed.

beach at Iwo Jima
On the beach at Iwo Jima, two black Marines crawl past the smouldering hulk of a DUKW all the while being subjected to heavy Japanese machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire. They struggled in the volcanic sand to set up supply dumps. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 111123

The exhausting work of handling supplies continued after Okinawa was declared secure on 22 June 1945, for the island became a base from which to invade Japan. When hostilities ended on 15 August, after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the III Marine Amphibious Corps received orders to proceed to North China. Meanwhile, the V Amphibious Corps, which had conquered Iwo Jima, would participate in the occupation of Japan.

Assigned to the 8th Service Regiment (formerly the 8th Field Depot) in support of the Marine V Amphibious Corps, the 6th, 8th, and 10th Ammunition Companies arrived in conquered Japan between 22 and 26 September, along with the 24th, 33d, 34th, 42d, and 43d Depot Companies. The 36th Marine Depot Company joined the earlier arrivals by the end of October. Even though the mingling of Marine units on the battlefields of the Pacific War had broken down, at least temporarily, the wall separating blacks from whites, the occupation forces in Japan — and in North China, as well — reestablished racial segregation.

34th Depot Company
PFCs Willie J. Kanady, Eugene F. Hill, and Joe Alexander of the 34th Depot Company relax during a lull in the action on Iwo Jima, where danger persisted even after the island was declared secure. Before they left Iwo, the company would become engaged when the Japanese mounted a banzai charge against Marines and soldiers. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 113835

The African-American Marines who landed in North China at the end of September 1945 — men of the 1st and 12th Ammunition Companies and the 5th, 20th, 37th, and 38th Depot Companies — encountered a cool initial reception from the Chinese. Edgar Huff recalled that a Chinese might run up to a black Marine and touch his face, as if to determine if the color would rub off on the fingers. Until the sight of African-Americans became familiar, the local civilians remained wary of them, but, Huff continued, "as soon as they found that this paint wouldn't come off, or what they thought was paint," the Chinese "got to be very charming and very lovely." Because local labor proved readily available, the men of the depot and ammunition companies frequently performed guard duty at American installations and on the trains that Communist guerrilla forces preyed upon in their war against the Nationalist government, which was trying to assert its authority in the region.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division