The Marine Corps was established in 1775, however, it was not until 1942 that blacks were permitted to serve in the Corps.
Montford Point, N.C., was the first recruit training camp for black Marines and operated from 1942-1949. Though approximately 20,000 blacks earned the title Marine during this time, they were not allowed to attend the same recruit training as Caucasians.
For one Beaufort resident, becoming a Marine meant facing the challenges of Montford Point as well as the racial turmoil the country was going through at that time.
LaSalle Rogers Vaughn enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942, during arduous times of growth in the black community.
Training at Montford Point was different from training at Marine Corps Recruit Depots Parris Island or San Diego. The camp had no mess hall, theater, rifle range or much of anything else commonly found on a Marine Corps installation. There were only tents, and everyone at the camp was a private, except for the Caucasian drill instructors or officers.
“Dating back to when the first black Marine, Howard Perry, came to the camp on Aug. 26, 1942, nobody wanted [blacks] there,” said Joseph Geeter, the national president of the Montford Point Association. “The camps were not completed. The woods had to be torn down in order for the camps to be operational.”
Montford Point is historical because of the significance it played in the lives of many black Marines. Blacks only trained for jobs that were either not wanted by Caucasians or given to blacks because Caucasians felt that blacks were not qualified for normal jobs.
After leaving Montford Point, Vaughn was stationed at Parris Island as a cook. Even while he was there, everything was segregated: blacks couldn’t drill on the same parade deck as Caucasians and were prohibited from entering the Post Exchange.
Vaughn said at the time, the only job that was available for him was to be a cook working at either the bachelor officers’ quarters or the Officers’ Club. He worked on Parris Island for most of his Marine Corps career.
“If it hadn’t been for the Marines who went through Montford Point, no one would understand what we endured to earn the title of Marine,” said Vaughn, a Baton Rouge, La., native. “If it wasn’t for Montford Point, I would have probably ended up in jail or something because of my gang involvement. The Marine Corps made a man out of me.”
Upon his retirement in 1965, Vaughn had been assigned to seven different duty stations throughout his career, and has held the billets of chief cook and assistant mess chief.
“Vaughn was one of the eight black Marines inducted into our hall of fame in 2007,” Geeter said. “He wrote our theme song here, ‘I’ll Take the Marines,’ which was made into a march in 1998.
“We consider him to be a national treasure,” Geeter added. “The Marine Corps didn’t want him, and his career was hard, but he was able to persevere and have a successful life because of the sacrifices he made. He is a walking, talking piece of history.”
During Black History Month, service members and civilians have the opportunity to gain an appreciation for the trials and tribulations blacks went through and how things have changed in the Corps.
“Seeing as how Vaughn is a part of Montford Point, and Montford Point played a factor in the history of black Marines, it is only fitting that Montford Point is celebrated as a significant part of Black History Month,” Geeter explained.
The core values of the Marine Corps are established because of veterans like Vaughn. Marines pride themselves on working through adversity to make a difference and accomplish the mission, and the Marines from Montford Point have shown that.