Calvin Jones didn’t ask for the distinction of serving in World War II as one of the first blacks allowed to join the Marine Corps.
When he was lined up with the other draftees at Fort Benning in 1943, he requested to join the Army. A gruff Marine overheard the request and promised Jones, then of North Augusta, that he would regret those words as soon as they made it to basic training.
“They made me regret it, too, every chance they got,” the Augusta resident said, laughing at the memory 69 years later.
Jones became a part of history with his induction into the Marine Corps, and for that Jones and about 300 other black Marines will receive the Congressional Gold Medal on June 27. They are known as the Montford Point Marines for the segregated location outside Camp Lejeune, N.C., where 20,000 black Marines were trained from 1942 to 1949.
Congress unanimously approved awarding the former Marines the medal last year, which was first awarded to Gen. George Washington and has been given to the Tuskegee Airmen, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison and the Navajo code talkers.
The black Marines initially represented less than 10 percent of the Corps’ fighting force, and only a handful were assigned to defense battalions. Jones went from basic training to a cooks and bakers camp and eventually back to Montford Point, where he shipped out to San Diego.
A troop carrier took them deep into the Pacific, but they missed the historic battles at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Peleliu. It wasn’t until they reached Okinawa that Jones got his first taste of combat. He was assigned to the mess hall, but he said the Japanese made no distinction in where they shelled the camp.
He recalled one movie took more than a month to watch because it was interrupted every night by mortar rounds. Huddled in their foxholes, Jones and his buddies would wait for one man in their unit to start telling the same colorful joke every time the mortars starting falling. The joke wasn’t even that funny, Jones said, but it was a reason to laugh in spite of the danger.
Jones was on Okinawa when the atomic bombs were dropped and forced the surrender of the Japanese. Someone hollered “I’m going home tomorrow,” and the camp lost any form of discipline as the Marines took to “scrapping and shooting,” Jones said. A general ordered someone to go into the camp and return it to order, but “there wasn’t anyone who was going to do that,” he said.
Jones was discharged in 1946 but remained in the Marine Corps reserves. He was placed back on active duty in 1950 and served stateside during the Korean War. By that time, the Marine Corps was fully integrated and Jones slept in the same quarters and ate in the same chow halls as white Marines. It was a welcome change for Jones.
“I felt like I was part of everybody else, and that made a difference,” he said.