Newsletters & Information > Marine opens the book on Montford Point
Marine opens the book on Montford Point

Feb 24, 2004

Marine opens the book on Montford Point
February 24,2004
CYNDI BROWN
DAILY NEWS STAFF

The gates to Montford Point may have shut in 1949, but the
closing did not mark the segregated training camp's final
chapter - that's been left to Dr. Herman Willie Smalls
Rhett.

Rhett has collected memories from 215 original Montford
Point Marines in the commemorative book "Final Roll Call,"
which will be unveiled at the Montford Point Marine
Association's National Convention in July. The purpose of
the booklet is to help promote national recognition of the
Montford Point Marines and to provide a directory of
still-living Montford Pointers. When he sent the call out,
his main intent was the latter.

"What I really wanted to do was collect names, see who was
still out there. All of a sudden, it exceeded my
expectations," said Rhett, 76 and a "Montford Pointer."

The response, he added, "was overwhelming. I was able to
muster up 215 Montford Point Marines.

"Two individuals sent me a package that thick," said Rhett
as he held his thumb and forefinger about two inches apart.
"It all started so innocently."

Rhett attended the 2002 MPMA National Convention in
Atlanta, where he shared a poem he had written about
Montford Point. The response led him to propose the
booklet, and Rhett started spreading the word that he was
looking to hear from those first black Marines.

"My wife said they'd never report in," said Rhett. "I said,
'Yes they will. They're Marines.'"

In addition to the 215 original Montford Pointers that he
heard from, Rhett had 35 families send bios on their
Montford Pointer plus about 300 photos and documents that
he used to fill the "Final Roll Call" pages. He said he
still has Marines and their families reporting in to him,
even though the book has headed to its printer,
International Graphics.

When the book is published, Rhett plans to return the
original photos and documents to their owners, but send
copies, as well as copies of his research materials, to
both the Marine Corps Heritage Center and the Montford
Point Marines Museum, which he recently visited.

Rhett and his wife of 52 years, Mary, were in Jacksonville
last week from their home in Laurel, Md. Rhett was the
guest speaker at New River Air Station's Black History
Month Luncheon, and the couple used the time to take in the
Montford Point Marines Museum, located aboard Camp Johnson,
originally Montford Point.

Museum Director Finney Greggs was on hand to welcome the
Rhetts. He said he was looking forward to the impending
donation, which Greggs expected would include pictures,
biographies and statements from original Montford Pointers.


"I think that's some of the materials we'll have.
Basically, all the research data," said Greggs. "(The
donation) will mean that researchers, educators and persons
interested in the history of Montford Point Marines can sit
down and take a look Â… from beginning to end. I think
that's significant to the citizens of not just Onslow
County, not just North Carolina, but the whole country.
This is the only place in the world where the whole story
is going to be told.

"It has a degree of nostalgia that I think people want to
associate themselves with that era, to know what happened
here and how they fit in," he added. "It's the history of a
group of Marines that just happened to be African-American.
I want people to understand that."

Rhett thinks his book will help.

"Not everyone will get to see the museum. What I wanted to
do is bring the museum to the public," said Rhett, who
could name only two books that tell the Montford Point
story: "Blacks in the Marine Corps" and "The Right to
Fight."

"My intention of the book," said Rhett, "is to draw
attention to us Montford Pointers, let the world know we
were there."

First, however, the world needs to know there was even a
"there."

"Do you know the average person I stop on the street and
ask about Montford Point Marines, they look at me like I
have a hole in my head?" asked Rhett, who said those who
have heard of the first black Marines mistakenly believe
they served only as cooks and bakers.

"That's not true. We have Montford Pointers throughout the
Marine Corps," said Rhett. "Montford Pointers were all over
the place."

Like admin, where Rhett served as the first black Marine
administrative clerk, even though he really wanted to be an
electrician - and a soldier.

Rhett took the Army's exam for electronics in 1948 but was
told the results would take a while.

He didn't want to wait.

"I was somewhat impatient," he remembered.

Rhett went to the post office where the Navy and Marine
recruiters were, and he took the Navy's electronics exam.
He was told he had failed, but there were openings for
cooks and stewards. That's when he noticed the recruiting
poster and the Marine in his dress blues.

"I signed up on the spot," said Rhett.

A day later, he received his passing score on the Army exam
and an invitation to become a soldier. He later found out
those who completed the Army electronics class were
promoted to 2nd lieutenants.

"But I made PFC," laughed Rhett, who separated in 1959 as a
master gunnery sergeant from the service - but not before
being part of Platoon 18, the last platoon to go through
Montford Point. ("I'm among the babies of the Montford
Pointers," he said.)

Rhetts, for one, was glad to see the end of Montford Point
and its segregated training.

"Yes, most definitely," said Rhett. "We're all Marines."

 JAMES E STEWART JR PRESIDENT

JOHN TILLMAN VICE PRESIDENT

Historical advisor Byron Stewart PhD

 

5708 CHRIS MAR AVE
CLINTON MARYLAND, 20735
240-535-5580
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