MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT --
When Turner G. Blount was growing up in the small town of Keysville, Ga., he didn’t know a Corps of Marines existed until he received his draft letter in 1943.
“I knew nothing about the Marine Corps,” said Blount, one of the first African-Americans in the Marine Corps. “I grew up in a small town. There wasn’t much news unless it was on a radio back then.”
Blount said he and a friend had to take an entrance examination before selecting their branch of service. After they took the examination, they were given the choice between the Marine Corps and the Army.
“I had a friend who knew all about the Marine Corps,” said Blount with a slight laugh. “He said we should join the Marines because it’s the toughest thing out there. So I did.”
With a distant gaze, Blount recalled arriving at Montford Point, now named Camp Johnson after Montford Point Marine Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson.
“We came in on a bus around midnight,” said Blount. “They dropped us off at the main gate, and we walked from there to the administrative building to check-in.”
When Blount came into the Corps, African-Americans were sent to a basic training camp separate from other Marines. At first, white drill instructors trained the black Marines. However, soon after the first few groups of black recruits graduated they were sent through training as drill instructors in order to begin training the recruits at Montford Point.
“I went through training when the black drill instructors were training us,” said Blount with a glimmer in his eyes. “The training was rough being new, and I didn’t know what to expect. The drill instructors didn’t have any mercy but they made sure we could be Marines, that we proved we belonged.”
Nearly 20,000 black recruits went through basic training from 1942 through 1949 at Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C., and none of them were allowed in the city after duty hours.
“We couldn’t cross the railroad tracks,” said Blount. “If you did, the military police or the city police would get you. I remember having to get onto a barge and float down the river to go to the rifle range because the city didn’t want blacks riding in the back of trucks with weapons.”
Shortly after graduating from basic training, Blount found himself on a ship to Hawaii.
“It was a short stay. Once we got there we were told we were going further,” said Blount. “After I was on the ship for 10 days, I looked out into the ocean and saw many other ships and destroyers. It was in June of 1944, and at that time I learned we were participating in the Saipan invasion.”
Blount remembers landing on the island on June 15, 1944, and being ready to go in with the first wave of Marines.
“I had been trained to the point where I just wanted to do something,” said Blount. “I was really ready to go, but I didn’t make the first wave. We had to climb down a ladder to get on the barge that would take us the rest of the way in.”
Blount said they had to do everything they could to take over the island, while at the same time fighting the belief that the black Marines did not have what it took to accomplish the mission.
“The first thing I remember seeing once I got off the boat was a lot of dead Marines,” said Blount. “There was a chaplain going around trying to identify them, and they picked a Marine to help him pull their dog tags off … that Marine was me. That was one of the roughest times I experienced in the Marine Corps.”
Next, Blount and his company were sent to help take the island of Tinian and eventually Okinawa where he stayed until a cease fire was called in August 1945.
“I came back home to Georgia after that,” said Blount. “Once I got back, the only thing the Marine Corps had to offer was being a cook. I remember thinking I have never cooked in my life and I don’t want to, so I asked to be discharged.”
After being discharged, Blount went home to finish high school. Once he finished school he joined the Marine Corps Reserves.
“I wanted to come back in,” laughed Blount. “It didn’t feel right being a civilian. The recruiters swore me in at my home.”
Blount said he was soon called back to active duty because of the Korean War and shortly after found himself back in Jacksonville, N.C. He served in a motor transport unit, carrying supplies to Marines in the field and attended various schools.
“It was different this time,” said Blount. “We were allowed to go to Camp Lejeune.”
The next step in Blount’s Marine Corps career was serving in the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1966 with Marine Air Base Squadron 16 at Marble Mount Air Facility in Vietnam.
“I provided security for a helicopter squadron there,” said Blount. “My job was to set up machine gun positions and protect the helicopters. The Vietnamese would wait until dark every night and then try to come in to get to the helicopters.”
Blount recalled one night when the Vietnamese got through their security line.
“They got through our line and did some damage to some of the helicopters before we could stop them,” said Blount. “One of our fuel trucks caught on fire, and I remember this one Marine, while all the fighting was going on, getting in the truck to move it away from the helicopters.”
For his actions in Vietnam, Blount received a Secretary of the Navy Commendation for Achievement.
Blount retired in 1969 as a master sergeant. Afterward he spent 14 years as a councilman for the city of Jacksonville.
Blount said the town accepted him as a councilman. He said Jacksonville residents to this day tell him the city needs him back in politics.
“It makes you feel good when people come up to you and say that,” said Blount. “I’ve been treated real well. It was rough and tough, but we made it through.”