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Our Home Town Hero Made History

by Eugene Mosley

Thomas Mosley has been a resident of Macon, Georgia for over fifty years and a member of New Hope Baptist Church. Born in Steelton, Pennsylvania, he was one of thirteen children born to Lula Mae and Henry Mosley. His background was such that as a child he, and his brother Wilson, had to collect firewood before the long walk required to get to school.

As he got older, Thomas had an opportunity to work at Olmstead Air force base, located in Middletown, PA., as opposed to the tradition of working at the Bethlehem Steel Company. Although work would have been steady at the steel mill, there were also some negatives that one would have to endure. For starters there was the extreme heat, next there were the dangerous lung problems that many endured because of breathing in the dusts, which contained asbestos and other fibers, and then the overall heavy lifting that was required. Mr. Mosley had many in his family that were employed at the steel mill and no doubt saw the harmful effects that this type of work could have.

When the opportunity arose for Thomas to work at an Air Force base he almost jumped at the opportunity. In June of 1942, Thomas Mosley began his Civil Service Career with the U.S. Government by attending the Pennsylvania School of Aeronautics in a three month course learning about Aircraft sheet metal and the dynamics for its uses pertaining to aircraft. These times were tough for African American families and a decent income was vital for a family. Especially crippling was that the Great Depression still had a grip on America in the worst way.

By now however, WWII was at the doorsteps of America and 'Uncle Sam' was calling for recruits in the worse possible way. Thomas Mosley went to the recruiter's office to enlist for the draft. While there, another option was available that had not been an option for African- Americans for over 144 years. The other option was that he could volunteer for the United States Marine Corps. This had previously not been on the table until now and was available only because of an executive order that had been enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The United States, in preparing for war and now utilizing hundreds of thousands of manufacturing plants for production of defense materials, many that had previously been used for producing items totally unrelated to defense, was beginning to accelerate away from the grips of the depression era. Millions of jobs were being produced and employment was seeing all-time highs. For example, there were eight million women that now stepped into the work force for the first time. The auto industry had now transformed into producing much needed materials for the war. In 1941 there were three million cars that were produced but only 139 made during the entire WWII era. Hundreds of thousands of Aircraft needed to be built, as well as ships, and millions of components that went along with every aspect of material needed for battle had to be produced. Thousands of companies that had previously only had a couple hundred people employed now began to employ tens of thousands twenty four hours a day and seven days a week.

Ironically, however, when African Americans went for these very same jobs that had been newly produced they were turned away and many times they were met with violence in the worst way. Never mind that there was enough work for everyone that sought these jobs and never mind that those enacting the violence had been in soup lines just months before, many of these people did not want black Americans to have these jobs.

At this very time however, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an organized Union of the Pullman Company, and others including Walter White of the NAACP had other ideas in mind to secure employment without harassment and violence. Their plan was to march on Washington D.C. with 100,000 African Americans in protest. After extensive meetings with President Roosevelt in which Mr. Randolph specifically said, "we want something concrete, something tangible, definite, positive and affirmative," President Roosevelt after several draftsissued Executive Order 8802 in June 1941, forbidding discrimination by any defense contractors and establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to investigate charges of racial discrimination.

As a result of this very law, Mr. Thomas Mosley, who just a couple years before would not have had the option of becoming a United States Marine, had now signed his name on the dotted line. That very day as he reflected on his choice, he thought about his uncle who had done a stint in the Navy and decided maybe it might be better to enlist in the Navy. At least there was someone to relate to with that choice. After his decision he decided to inform the Recruiting Officer of his new plan. "Sir," he began, "I've changed my mind and decided I would rather be in the Navy, so I would like to switch over." In reply, what the recruiter said would leave an indelible impression upon the young, not yet twenty years old, enthusiastic man for the rest of his life. Along with a not so pleasant, bulging-eyed stare, the recruiter replied to his request in these words. "Get back over there and sit down, you are in the Marine Corps. What do you think this is, an exchange store?" Here were his first orders as a U.S. Marine.

With not much time to think about his decision or much else for that matter, it was time to move out for Basic Training at Camp Lejeune, one of the largest and most modern Marine Corps military installations on the East Coast located in New River, North Carolina. Still under construction, it boasted one of the finest golf courses in the United States. There were game of all types to be hunted and fishing could be done from a sail boat, row boat or canoe. Seven or eight movie theaters featured the latest movies available, and ball room dancing was a weekly event in Marston Pavilion, one of the finest facilities available anywhere. Even Louis Armstrong appeared there.

Thomas Mosley arrived in Jacksonville, North Carolina. However, he was not escorted tothe facilities of Camp Lejeune. Where he would end up would be Montford Point Camp, a location about five miles away from Camp Lejeune. Here he would endure segregation, hostilities, indignities and racism. The camp was full of mosquitoes, snakes and tracks of bear. And there would be no ballroom dancing. As a matter of fact he and the other African American recruits were only allowed at Camp Lejeune with special permission and only with a White Officer. From 1942 through 1949 there would be only 19,168 men of African descent to receive their training at the segregated Montford Point Camp.

For a substantial period of time after the first recruits arrived, the drill instructors were all white. They were hard-nosed white drill instructors who also did not want any blacks in the Marine Corps and were aware that the higher up officers, including the Commandant of the Marine Corps, did not want them in the Corps as well. As a matter fact, General Thomas Holcomb, the Commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, arguing his case before the Board of the Navy said that Negroes were trying to enter an entity where they were not wanted. He said, "If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather have the whites." With the Marine Corps leader taking this hardcore stance, most others fell right in line.

Almost every tactic possible that could be used was used to discourage these men from staying. Even the drill instructors told these recruits that they could leave right now and never get into trouble because no one would come looking for them. Some recruits were hit in the head with a rifle butt if they failed to answer a question quickly enough. Of course many were punched or enticed to fight when of course there was no way to win. Although these acts of brutality never occurred to Thomas Mosley, he was amongst the recipients.

When these recruits arrived at Montford Point Camp, instead of being issued new clothing as was all Marines issued elsewhere, these African American Soldiers were issued the tattered and threadbare clothing that had been used by the previous group of men that had already received their basic training and had already shipped out. As far as sleeping quarters or barracks were concerned, as they are generally called, for these men it was in a quonset hut, a semi-circle type of structure whose walls, as many of the men described, were made out of compressed cardboard. It was steaming hot in the summer and ice cold in the winter with one pot belly stove in the middle of the floor.

The hard-nosed white drill instructors over the African American platoons were being supplanted as rapidly as possible by some of the new black recruits that showed signs of being able to replace these white officers.Once a black soldier was selected and given higher rank the white drill instructor had to be detached because blacks could not hold the same rank as a white officer, and as these new black recruits began to achieve the comparable rank, the white drill instructors were moved out. This was the method used in replacing all of the white drill instructors that had been in charge of all new recruits coming into Montford Point from the very beginning. Eventually all of the white officers were replaced with black drill instructors.

Just as determined as the United States Marine Corps was in keeping them out of the Corps that is how determined most of these new recruits were in staying. Many of them had very few options however, although many of these new recruits were professional people or skilled craftsman prior to the draft. Many were the source of income for a family and the pride and the determination was extremely strong in most. They could not let their families down.

Although the drill instructors had changed over from all white to all blacks, it did not mean that boot camp became any easier. As a matter of fact, in most cases it became tougher. Most of the drill instructors felt it their duty to inflict even more challenges on these men moving into Montford Point by the thousands each month. Many such cases are recorded and many such stories are still shared today. One such story that comes to mind is that from Master Sergeant Edgar Huff. Huff, a native of Gadsden, Alabama, enlisted in the Marine Corps on September 24, 1942 as one of the first African-Americans to do so. Huff received his training with the 51st Composite Defense Battalion, the first defense battalion at Montford Point. To add a little spice to the story, Mosley described Huff as "...a baaaad man. Those guys (speaking of the drill instructors) were not guys you played with. I saw him every now and then but you didn't really want to see him either. If you ever got called to his office, you knew you were in some kind of trouble."

Huff, in an interview some years ago, described in detail how the number of men in the platoon he had taken over, had dropped so rapidly since the beginning of that particularboot camp time session. He describes how rigorous the training was and how a good number of the guys could not take the training. "Some went over the hill," he said, and "others ended up in the hospital." Sergeant Major Huff said that the training at Montford Point Camp was so rigorous "that if you completed training there, you could walk through Hell and sing a song." His remarks were not meant to be hilarious in any form.

Thomas Mosley was in the 5th Marine Division. He, after becoming a sharpshooter, began training as an Ammunition Handler Specialistin the 5thMarine Ammunition Company, 365th Platoon. The other men became members of other Ammunition and Depot Companies as well as Defense Battalions. A Marine is the land-arm of the Navy. In Mosley's case he became a member of the Fleet Marine Force PAC (Pacific).

As the battles raged or in the process of taking place in other Islands of the Pacific in such places as The Gilbert Islands, The Marianas, Kwajalein and Eniwetok, Saipan, Roi-Namur and Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the front line Marines were in many cases running out of supplies. Many times they completely ran out of ammunition and other vital supplies such as fuel or medicalnecessities while in the heat of raging battles. Thousands of lives were lost because of ammunition depletion. It wasn’t that there were no supplies available but rather not enough troops to get them from the dump sites or points of origin onto the Islands or to the front lines.

With all the negativities that had occurred to these Montford Pointers, and the vitriol, it was these "Chosen Few" that would become the specialists that would play a major role in repairing the broken chain. Many of these men were shipped out to all of these previously mentioned Islands and dozens of others, and become involved in one way or another in every major battle that took place in all of these Islands. Mr. Thomas Mosley was stationed in Camp Catlin on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii. He was not there to enjoy palm trees or to enjoy coconuts but rather to stockpile and distribute ammunition of all sorts, from the smallest sidearm ammo up to the largest anti-aircraft artillery. Day and night under intense heat, mosquitoes and exhaustion these men would work in shifts around the clock.These men would retrieve, transport onto ships and once the destination reached, unload under heavy enemy fire, and swamps, and agitating surfs with razor sharp coral and under life and death circumstances, deliver these vitalsnecessities to the men on the front lines.

It did not stop there. Once on these Islands they were also charged with removing the dead and wounded and bringing them back to the ships. On many occasions once supplies were delivered, the Commanding Officers put these men right on the front lines as well.

This is a fragment of the story of these "Chosen Few." These men were the giants of their time, only to be hidden purposely by the United States Government for over seventy years. Mr. Thomas Mosley and these 19,167 men from Montford Point served gallantly with patriotism and determination and did their duties well. On June 27th, 2012, nearly 500 of these Original Montford Pointers received a Congressional Gold Medal in a special ceremony at our Nation's Capital in Washington, D.C. A Congressional Gold Medalis the highest award that any civilian can receive. Mr. Thomas Mosley wears his proudly.He is one of the "Chosen Few".

Below are the words that were spoken by General Leonard F. Chapman Jr., Late Commandant of the Marine Corps:


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Gwenette Westbrooks
Thomas Mosley