Freelance Historian
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Posts Tagged ‘racism’

It wasn’t that long ago…

Posted in Shop Talk  by Steven on January 16th, 2009

I was doing some research tonight, and looked up the biography of Marine Corps General Henry Larsen. He arrived in France in the first troop convoy from America and took part in every USMC combat in France in WWI, led the first combat troops to leave the continental US to fight in WWII, and supervised making Guam a huge wartime military base.

Then I found this in an article about Frederick Branch, the first-ever black Marine Corps officer:

(Montford Point was the camp 14 miles from Camp Lejune where all black recruits were segregated for basic training.)

Unfortunately, Branch was stationed at Montford Point when Major General Henry L. Larsen, a veteran of the Pacific theater, assumed command of Camp Lejeune. Later that summer of 1943, Larsen spoke to a large group of Montford Point Marines—men who fell directly under his command. Prior to the address, energy and enthusiasm filled the air. No general had ever spoken to the Montford men. They assumed Larsen would bring both news of the Pacific fight and a promise from the Marine Corps that black units would soon engage the enemy in combat alongside their white Marine brethren.

Larsen began. “I have been fighting day and night in the jungles. But I didn’t realize a war was on until I got back to the United States.” He paused. His warriors smiled; the general understood.

Or so they thought. “When I returned from overseas and found you people here at Montford Point wearing our Eagle, Globe and Anchor, I realized a grave state of war existed right here in America.” Insulted and furious, the recruits shouted Larsen down. The general left under armed escort without having an opportunity to finish his diatribe, according to the Inquirer .

Days before we see the first black man sworn in as President of the United States, the shock that someone in such a position of leadership as General Larsen could not only think, but say such a thing to men who were eager to lay their lives on the line for this country depresses me.

I hope that we truly have moved as far as it sometimes seems, in the intervening 66 years.

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