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Thursday, February 14, 2013
A local link to World War II history was the topic of discussion and celebration at the Heritage Council of North Augusta's Feb. 5 meeting, with emphasis on the Marine Corps' first-ever black members, also known as the Montford Point Marines.
The name is a reference to the Camp Montford Point, in Jacksonville, N.C., where the pioneering Marines were trained. They went on to be recognized, in November 2011, with the Congressional Gold Medal, and the speakers wore their medals during their local visit.
Addressing the group in conjunction with Black History Month were North Augusta natives Calvin Jones, who now lives in Augusta, Theodore Britton Jr., now of Atlanta, and, representing a younger generation, North Augusta resident Mozelle Steward, daughter of Willine Steward, who died in 1989.
Jones, who served as a cook, recalled serving in Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Hawaii and, for his first battle experience, Okinawa. A native of Carpentersville, he left the CSRA for the first time in 1943.
Jones, who went on to work in the Veterans Administration, described himself as "one of the ones that broke the color barrier and wound up becoming acquainted with Sen. Strom Thurmond ("He always called me 'son'"), as did Britton, through his various governmental roles involving service in South Carolina.
Jones was also recalled for service during the Korean conflict, and one of the roughest parts of his service, in terms of "feeding these guys their three meals a day," was in seeing an empty chair and realizing that its former occupant would probably not return. "It just hurts to think about it," he recalled.
Britton, who went on to become U.S. ambassador to Barbados and Grenada, served in the South Pacific, preparing for an invasion of Japan.
He recalled, "So much of North Augusta remained in my memory that it must have been a very pleasant time. I remembered, for example, I had a one-room schoolhouse with four rows and four grades and one teacher."
At age 10, he moved to New York City with his family in 1936, where one of his teachers called him "a gentleman and a scholar," in the midst of a shift from segregated to integrated schooling.
He also commented on his swing from a small town to America's biggest city, en route to a career that would take him to 150-plus countries and 49 states (he's still looking to visit North Dakota).
"Regardless of where you came from - it can be a small town as North Augusta was then or wherever - if you've got a good head and good manners, a good background and good folks, you can make it in life, and I think that's the thing that's been pushing me."
Steward, whose dad went on to become a barber, said he shared memories of "very trying and difficult experiences, but it taught him to realize the value of an education."
She added, "He just said the training was very difficult, but he enjoyed his tour in the South Pacific. He went to Okinawa, Saipan and Guam and, during the last leg is his tour, he spent some time in Shanghai, China.
"He said he learned quite a bit while in the Marines, after basic training. ... He just said it was quite a difficult and learning experience for him."
The heritage group also has a Black History Month event set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at First Providence Baptist Church.
"Local historian Milledge Murray will give an overview on Fort Moore and local historian Wayne O'Bryant will talk about the African colonial forces that served as its early garrison," as noted in promotional material. The event is free and refreshments will be served. Details are at 270-9400.