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Spotsylvania man, others who were part of Marine Corps' first black unit, to be honored by Congress
New recruits drill at Montford Point, the first training camp established for black U.S. Marines. The first 1,200 volunteers enlisted in 1942.
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Meanwhile, some of his friends were talking about going into the military. Lucas was 18 in December 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
He remembers that day not only for the attack and but also for its implications on his life.
"Yes sir; I made a lot of money selling [The Free Lance-Star] down by the train station that day."
In May 1943, he joined the Marines.
"I had seen so many Marines from Quantico, and thought it would be good."
He said he felt it was not only a patriotic duty, but a chance to get out of Fredericksburg.
"I didn't want to go in the Army, and I couldn't swim, so I didn't want to go in the Navy."
Lucas didn't know at the time that the Marine Corps in 1942 had established its first training site for blacks at Montford Point Camp, at Camp Lejeune, N.C. White recruits were sent to boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and San Diego.
"I had no idea, well, maybe I did, because everything was segregated back then. I guess I took it as it was going to be segregated," Lucas said.
Basic training, under white officers, he said, "was mostly physical training. We had to run and fight each other. We didn't have much equipment training."
He laughed, "They work on your mind, make you mean. It was more of a mind thing."
He was assigned to the 66th Platoon, about 50 men. They spent two months at Montford Point, then headed for a Navy base in Davisville, R.I. From there, they shipped out for what is now Tuvalu in the South Pacific.
"We spent 35 days on the ship," he recalled.
A private, he was assigned to sleep on deck. He found a couple of boards to lie on, covering himself with a poncho to stay dry.
On a stop in American Samoa, he met a white friend from Fredericksburg. They were about the same age, "and he was very nice to me. He wanted to know if I needed money or anything."
Lucas said he was hungry, and the friend, a baker in the military, "loaded me down with doughnuts."
'BOOM, BOOM, BOOM'
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order beginning the integration of the armed forces. Between 1942 and 1949, some 20,000 black Marines trained at Montford Point Camp, at Camp Lejeune, N.C. According to the Montford Point Marine Association, of that number, about 400 are still living.For more on the unit, visit montford pointmarines.com.
The Marine Corps will host the Montford Point Marines with a reception and parade June 27 at the Marine Barracks in Washington. They will receive bronze replicas of a specially designed Congressional Gold Medal in an invitation-only ceremony at the Capitol Visitor Center at 3 p.m.