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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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He was stationed on one of the nine atolls in the island chain in the South Pacific. The Montford Pointers' duty was to unload ships, but Lucas managed to get one of the better jobs.
"They needed someone to operate the switchboard, and being as I had worked at hotels, I raised my hand. It was a good job."
Lucas worked on that island, and occasionally, a neighboring one, for 18 months.
One night, he and some buddies heard that they might be going home, but were saying that they'd like to see some action before they left. "Then, boom, boom, boom boom," Lucas recalled.
Japanese planes were bombing the adjacent island. He ran out of his tent, collided with a vehicle, then jumped into the nearest foxhole.
"A white Marine pulled a .45 on me and made me get out ." Lucas said no one told the black Marines that they were needed.
"So the next day I got a couple buddies and we dug out a coconut tree and started digging foxholes, got sand off the beach and put bags around it."
They didn't know that cutting trees on the island was prohibited by the military, "and we almost got court-martialed." He said the island was frequently bombed, but there were no casualties in his unit.
Racial tensions were ever present. At one point, he smiled, a mess hall was built exclusively for the white Marines, "and we burned that down."
"Now, I didn't have any part in that," he added, "but some of my friends did."
He met some of the native Polynesians on one trip to the neighboring island.
"They looked at me like I was strange because of my skin. They were dark, but not as dark as I am," he said.
Lucas left the island in 1944 for Camp Catlett, Hawaii, then Hilo, where he drove a truck, unloading ships.
In Hawaii, he got a message that a captain wanted to see him. "I was thinking, 'What did I do?'"
It was Lemuel Houston, a postmaster from Fredericksburg. Houston wanted him to join his unit, offering to help Lucas secure a promotion.
"I thought about it, but told him I couldn't leave my buddies" from Montford Point.
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.