Like many young men during World War II, Calvin Curtis and his fraternal twin brother, Clarence, were drafted in 1943. They were juniors in high school in San Antonio, Texas, from a farm family. Calvin believed they would be going into the army, but at the end of the day he and Clarence were the only men left at the recruitment center and found themselves slated for the marines. This meant a train and bus ride to boot camp on land at the Northern tip of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, known as Montford Point.
Photo of Calvin taken at boot camp. Courtesy of Todd Curtis
Montford Point was the U.S. Marine Corps’ reluctant answer to Executive Order 8802, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 25, 1941. In EO8802, the president declared that all branches of the military, without exception, must admit African Americans to their ranks. Since 1778 the marine corps had limited service in their ranks to “whites only,” a category which included Asians, Native Americans, and Latinos. However, an order was an order; the marines complied, and the first recruits entered the gates of Camp Montford Point on August 26, 1942.
Basic training at Montford Point mirrored training at Camp Lejeune, but the accommodations were substandard at best, primitive at worst. The camp offered shoddily-built barracks and inferior equipment and it completely lacked recreation facilities. All the training officers and drill instructors were white. White drill instructors were eventually replaced by Black instructors due to the need for white Marines in the Pacific. The lack of Black officers ensured the leadership remained all white.
The Curtis brothers’ journey to Montford Point consisted of two parts: a train ride from San Antonio to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and then a bus ride from Jacksonville to Camp Lejeune. According to Calvin, the trip was uneventful; nonetheless, the Curtis brothers likely encountered the Jim Crow South’s endemic racism. There were no sleeper cars, and Black passengers had no access to the dining car. Segregated stations offered white passengers access to food and other services, but African Americans—even men in uniform—could not find a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
Calvin Curtis’s Montford Point yearbook (2021.0065.14)
Once at Montford Point, Calvin was assigned to the 264th Platoon, and Clarence was assigned to the 265th. Boot camp concluded in November of 1943, and for their two weeks of leave the brothers went home to San Antonio. This time, on the train trip back, they were wearing the uniforms of United States Marines.
Calvin Curtis, second row, second from right, unit photo, Montford Point (2021.0065.13)
When their leave ended, the brothers returned to Montford Point. There, Calvin learned he would ship off to Hawai`i, to be part of the Fifth Marine Ammunition Company, which was responsible for guarding the ammunition dump on the island of Maui. Newly formed Black marine companies did not go to combat. They, like almost all Black troops,