Marines

Contributions to Corps highlight important role

11 Feb 2003 | Cpl. Kristin S. Gambrell

February is Black History Month for numerous reasons, such as birthdays of great African-American figures and the first African-American senator who took oath in February 1870.

African-Americans have filled important roles in the history of the United States and throughout military history.

The first class of 1,200 African-American Marine recruits began its training at Montford Point in 1942.  At that time, training was segregated.

Since then, African-American Marines have proven their place in the Corps and contributed greatly to its history.  The following are just a few fine examples of African-American Marines.

Sgt. Maj. Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson (Deceased)

Earning the name "Hashmark" due to his age and many years of service, Sgt. Maj. Gilbert Johnson was one of the first African-Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps.

Johnson served 32 years in the military, 17 of those as a Marine.  In 1943, he was one of the first African-Americans to train as a Marine drill instructor. 

In World War II, the Mount Hebron, Ala., native belonged to the 52nd Defense Battalion on Guam.  After asking that African-American Marines be assigned to combat patrols, since they were not allowed at the time, he personally led 25 patrols.

In his honor, Montford Point was dedicated as Camp Gilbert H. Johnson April 19, 1974.

Pfc. James Anderson Jr. (Deceased)

Private First Class James Anderson Jr. gave his life to save his comrades Feb. 28, 1967, during the Vietnam War.

Anderson's platoon, 2nd Platoon, Company F, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, was advancing through the jungle northwest of Cam Lo, Vietnam, when it came under attack.

The platoon acted quickly and returned fire. Several men were wounded by the enemy assault.

During the fighting an enemy grenade landed near the Marines.

The Los Angeles, native, grabbed the grenade that was thrown amongst his platoon and curled his body around it to absorb the impact.

For his heroism and valor, he received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen (Retired)

Lieutenant General Frank E. Petersen was the Marine Corps' first African-American aviator, first African-American general, and, as of April 1998, the only African-American Marine to wear three stars.

The Topeka, Kan., native, joined the Navy in 1950 and then went on to the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. In 1952, after completing flight training, he accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

Petersen was promoted to brigadier general in 1979, to major general in 1983, and lieutenant general in 1986.

Throughout his career, he flew more than 350 combat missions and had more than 4,000 hours in different fighter/attack aircrafts.

His numerous decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with Combat "V," Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat "V," and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

Sgt. Rodney M. Davis (Deceased)

Sergeant Rodney M. Davis gave his life to save his comrades Sept. 6, 1967, during the Vietnam War.

The Macon, Ga., native was directing his men's fire during an attack by North Vietnamese Army Regulars.

Enemy forces pinned down elements of Davis' platoon. He was moving from man to man shouting words of encouragement when an enemy grenade landed in the trench next to his men.  He threw himself upon the grenade, taking in the shock and preventing harm to his men.

For his heroism and valor, he received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

Sgt. Maj. Edgar R. Huff, USMC (Deceased)

Sergeant Major Edgar R. Huff enlisted into the Marine Corps in 1942 and was the first African-American Marine to be promoted to the rank of sergeant major.

The Gadsden, Ala., native attended recruit training at Montford Point.  During that time, Montford Point was the only Marine training area for African-Americans.

Among his many assignments, Huff served as a drill instructor in March 1943, field sergeant major of all recruit training by November 1944, and following World War II, he served as the noncommissioned officer in charge of recruit training until 1949.

Huff's decorations consist of three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Star Medals with Combat "V," three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and the Combat Action Ribbon.