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THE RIGHT TO FIGHT: African-American Marines in World War II

by Bernard C. Nalty

A young white Marine, Edward Andrusko of Company I, 7th Marines, saw his first black Leathernecks as he crossed the beach at Peleliu in September 1944, returning to the fight after having his wounds treated at a hospital ship offshore. The African-Americans were transferring ammunition from landing craft onto trucks and delivering it to the front lines. Handling ammunition struck him as "a dangerous task at any time," but with enemy shells churning the coral sands, "it was a heroic, thankless job that few of us wanted." The black driver of one of the trucks offered a ride inland, and Andrusko accepted, taking his place in the cab, with a cargo of high explosives behind him. As the sound of battle drew nearer, he concluded that he had made "a stupid and dangerous choice of transportation," but he reached his unit safely.

Andrusko again saw the African-American Marines after his company, advancing through the island's rugged terrain, encountered concealed Japanese positions and came under fire that pinned the men down. With the company's first sergeant and another Marine, he set out to find riflemen to take the place of casualties and stretcher bearers to carry off the wounded and dead. The first Marines that Andrusko and the others found proved to be members of the very unit he had met on the beach, and the blacks immediately volunteered to help. Andrusko's first sergeant had no idea that African-Americans were serving in the Marine Corps, so complete was the segregation of the races, but he welcomed their aid. The black Marines moved forward to the tangled ridges where Company I was fighting, carried away the casualties during the afternoon one of the wounded compared them to "black angels sent by God" and manned empty fox-holes to help beat back a nighttime Japanese counterattack.

When Andrusko encountered the men of the ammunition company, few white Marines knew that African-Americans had been serving in the Corps for more than two years. The leadership of the Marine Corps had shown scant enthusiasm for accepting African-Americans, who had to overcome the barrier of racial prejudice as they struggled for the right to serve. But serve they did, ably and gallantly.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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