Pride and Prejudice: The Montford Point Marines on Saipan

As the U.S. Marine Corps fought Japanese troops for Saipan, one group of Marines there was battling on a different level. With pride and a touch of defiance, they called themselves the Montford Point Marines.

If you were a Marine during World War II and you were African American, you trained at Montford Point, the segregated boot camp for men of color. Located alongside Marine Barracks at New River, North Carolina, Montford Point Camp opened in August 1942. Occupying barely five-and-a-half acres of swamp and flooded forest, the facility was the product of Marine Commandant Thomas Holcomb’s reluctant agreement to accept “colored male citizens of the United States between the ages of 17 and 29.” Acting under
direct orders from the president and the secretary of the navy, the Marine Corps was the last of the armed services to accept black recruits.

Of nearly 20,000 African Americans in the Marines who trained at Montford Point and served in the war, 75 percent had been to college or were in college when they enlisted, and more than 12,000 went overseas, but none saw combat—until Saipan. There, as elsewhere, black Marines staffed depot and ammunition companies. They transported weapons and munitions, medical supplies, and food and water from ship to shore, 6,000 tons per day—the equivalent of the contents of one liberty ship every 24 hours. Loaders toiled in punishing heat among falling shells and the hammering of Nambu machine guns, but didn’t see action until casualties cut deeply into Lieutenant General Holland Smith’s fighting force. With no reserves left and nowhere else to turn, Smith sent armed Montford Point Marines to the front. The move stunned white Marines until they saw that a man’s color didn’t matter when he stood his ground and fought.

One of those men was Kenneth Tibbs, an orderly to the 20th Depot Battalion commander. Tibbs was killed by an artillery round soon after landing on Saipan, the first African American Marine to die in the war. Kenneth Rollock, from Harlem, New York, joined despite what he knew of Marine culture. “In the navy, all the blacks were either cooks, busboys, or servants, or something of that nature,” he said. “If I was going to fight for this country, I wasn’t going to fight by cooking.” Rollock got his chance to fight when the 3rd Ammunition Company filled a gap in the lines. “We got caught in the early part of Saipan in the Japanese counterattack,” he said. “About a quarter mile from the beach, they came out screaming, and we just opened up. Anything moving we shot at.” Rollock said later he would never forget the sound and sight of the enemy force closing on him and his comrades.

After the battle, Marine commanders praised Rollock and the other African American Marines on Saipan for their heroism and hard work. In June 2012, the Montford Pointers were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their World War II service.


7 Responses

  1. Cynthia Bowen

    Being a veteran myself I think it is a real shame that a person has to either die or be put in a position to fight only when there isn’t any one else because of the color of their skin. What happened to the FREE AND THE BRAVE. Can you imagine having to carry that kind of hurt not only from the racist state where you live but even in a uniform fighting for a country where unspeakable things happened because of the color of your skin? Yet those same people will sit in church and praise God. So tell me how many Montford Point Marines are still alive and are there any living in New York?

  2. Susan Fishman-Tudor

    I live on Saipan and work for the National Park Service I tell the story of the invasion every day I would like to chat with those who have this kind of information

    • Robert Middleton

      December 30, 2012

      From: Robert Middleton, President
      Montford Point Marine Association
      Michigan Headquarters

      Approximately 564 living WWII Montford Point Marines attended the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony in Washington D.C. June 27-28th, 2012. Many more have surfaced since this time to be recognized for
      their outstanding accheivements and accomplishments, but no one can definitvely say how many more remain alive until they come forward.

    • Roger Thomas

      When did the Park service spread to Saipan? I was a NAS Agana C-12 pilot 1983 to 1985 liked the museum in Guam. Frequently flew between Guam Rota Siapan and Tinian.
      I probably could get contact info for a few Monford Marines they show up for most veterans events. Will take some weeks though, I have some major commitments pending

      • Susan Fishman-Tudor

        I would appreciate any contact you can manage… We are about a year out from the 70th.
        If this is a repeat sorry I don’t see it in the comments but thought I sent an answer. The park exists as an article in the CNMI constitution…monuments erected in 1994 and a visitor center 2004. We have wetlands,ballfields and picnicking we are designated a Living Memorial dedicated to military and civilian population that lost their lives in the battle for the Marianas.

  3. ronald van Orden

    iI’m reading “The Color of War” by James Campbell and the book mentions Tibbs. I looked him up hoping to get a picture of him. It must have been tough just being a black marine, forget about being shot at.

    • Susan Fishman-Tudor

      Go to Google Kenneth Jewell Tibbs –images
      the young boy in uniform is Kenneth. Remember he died at 19…first saw thi photo in an obit…can’t seem to find original..still looking.


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