July 21st, 2005
Master Sergeant Frederick Drake, an Alabama native, completed high school and briefly attended Payne University, an African Methodist Episcopal school in Birmingham. He joined the Corps in 1948. He served for thirty years, primarily as a cook or chef, with overseas tours in Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. He lives in Port Royal, South Carolina.
INTERVIEWER: Sir, if you would state your full name and spell it for us please.
FREDERICK DRAKE: My name is Frederick J. Drake. F-R-E-D-E-R-I-C-K, J like in James, D-R-A-K-E.
INTERVIEWER: And today's date.
FREDERICK DRAKE: Today's date is 20th.
FREDERICK DRAKE: Today is the 21st of July.
INTERVIEWER: Two thousand...
FREDERICK DRAKE: Two thousand five. (TECHNICAL)
INTERVIEWER: Now, can you tell us a little bit about your background before joining the Marines, to include where you were from, a little bit about your family, and a little bit about your education?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Uh, I was born in South Alabama, uh, Morango County. And, uh, I was from a long line of long livers. My mother, I buried her about two years ago. And, uh, she was 102. Her mother didn't live quite as long. She lived to be 99. But her two grandmothers lived to be, uh, one, one 116 and one 127. They lived a long time and it was a strong family of guild slaves in Morango County. I don't know if you ever heard of the county or not.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) But anyway, that's where I was born and my mother was a schoolteacher, and my father was a businessman of a sort in that day. Uh, we moved from, uh, Morango County into Jefferson County, which is Birmingham, Bessemer, Alabama. And, um, my uncles all were coal miners. Well, my dad said, none of my boys, he had four boys, he said, none of my boys will be, be down there digging no coal.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) And, uh, I went on, I finished high school, uh, and enrolled in college, Paynes, a church school there in Birmingham, Paynes University. Uh, Dad wasn't, his business was hauling coal. We lived in a coal mining community there. And, uh, the, uh, uh, he wasn't able to send a major college. But I went on and enrolled in a way at Paynes. And, uh, 'cause he had made a bow, said none of my boys will ever work in the coal mine. All my uncles did.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) And, but his oldest son went on and got a job in the coal mine. This was in, I think I went to work in the coal mine about '48. Yeah, about '48. And the, uh, we, we, I went to work in there. And I was going to get enough money where I could go to college. I worked down there. But the war came along. And after Pearl Harbor, we had to serve. But fortunately, I was working into, working in the coal mine was a job that, uh, supported the military. And so, what kind of job you call that, when you was working and you were exempted from draft?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Yeah. But anyway, I, uh, stayed in the mine for about four years, I think. 'Cause I came in the coal in '43. And, um, came on into the Marine Corps, and, well, that's a different question possibly you're going to ask.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you join the Marine Corps?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Well, I joined the Marine Corps, I was the oldest grandchild. And I had several cousins, three brothers, and all. And I had a cousin that was drafted into the Marine Corps. He came back home, and I said, man, I want to go in the Marine Corps. He said, Fred, said, don't you come in here, said it will kill you. Said, it will kill you if you come in here. I said, Jack, don't you know everything that you've done that wasn't nice sometime, and sometime was nice that I led you into it?
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) I'm about three years older than my cousin. But anyway, he, he, he fought against it. I said, well, I'm going in the Marine Corps. And, that's how I wound up in the Marine Corps, against a dare.
INTERVIEWER: When you, when you joined, did you have any idea that the Marines had never admitted Blacks? African-Americans?
FREDERICK DRAKE: I was aware of that. And possibly that's part of what helped me to come into the Marine Corps, assisted by Jack's telling me not to come. But I, I did come on in. And I'm glad that I came in. We came in in, uh, Montford Point, was somebody when I got there.
INTERVIEWER: Please say that again, sir.
FREDERICK DRAKE: Montford Point was the place for a young Black to be in the Marine Corps. And I thought it well.
INTERVIEWER: How did you travel from South Alabama to Montford Point?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Well, I was in Birmingham at this time.
FREDERICK DRAKE: Uh, on a Greyhound Bus. And I was the only Black passenger that got on the bus in Birmingham. And we was going on down through, going on into Parris Island. Going on into, yes, to Parris Island. And, uh, we got down to some little country place. And, uh, the bus started filling up. And while I was sitting there, the, uh, it filled up with White folk. And I was still the only Black one on there.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) So, uh, it filled up, and I was on the seat by myself. Well, a White soldier came in and sat by me. And that bus driver stopped that bus and told me I'd have to get up and go to the back of the bus. Of course I didn't differ with him. But I went on, and that was one of my abruptions en route to Parris Island as such. But I traveled there on a Greyhound Bus.
INTERVIEWER: So did you go to Parris Island or did you go...
FREDERICK DRAKE: I'm sorry. I use the wrong place all the time.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, no problem.
FREDERICK DRAKE: I was en route to... (TECHNICAL)
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) Uh, I was en route to Montford Point.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Thank you Sir. Okay. When you got there, can you tell us little bit about what you saw, what your feelings were, and, just, just those things.
FREDERICK DRAKE: Well, when I got there, uh, well, you know, when you go through that gate, you lose all super (SOUNDS LIKE) flores get. That is, friends and all, whatnot. So I went, went on in. And, uh, we got to sign and whatnot. Well, Jack, my cousin that I was telling you that he wasn't going to, uh, I shouldn't come in, he came by daily, I didn't smoke. So he would bring me a piece of candy, and I would go to the fence there and he would give me a piece of candy and then, and, uh, there were about eight other fellows in my neighborhood that was in the Marine Corps that had, that had gone into the Marine Corps.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) And they came by. So I had a jolly, jolly good time in boot camp. I was acting Jack. You know the acting Jack? That's the fellow that helped fellows that can't read and write and let you help them writing the letters and, uh, that kind of thing. So. I, uh, drill, the drill instructor noticed me getting a whole lot of attention I guess. And he carried me off to the side and asked me, would I help this fellow with this mail, as acting Jack.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) But, uh, well, I can't say I had a ball, but going, I was used to hard work. And being in the Marine Corps, that is, the drilling and all that, I, I had learned most of that from my friends. 'Cause I had my mind set on the Marine Corps.
INTERVIEWER: Well, when you got off the bus there and went through the Gates there at Montford Point, can you tell us little bit about what the camp looked like to you?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Well, uh, it was another military installation. And a little drill instructor came and got us. He was about five foot. (LAUGH) But in he, I forget his name. But he met, he met us. I think it was three of us that came through together, that got off the bus down in Jacksonville and came on in. But, uh, going into it, I had kind of visited some of the Army bases. And the purest of the air was just about the same. It was another military camp as such.
INTERVIEWER: How did the buildings look? I mean, were they...
FREDERICK DRAKE: The buildings were kind of, uh, fragile. We, we went into a Quonset hut. That's one that's builds out of the, uh, sheet rock. I don't know what it is. But it's very (STAMMERS) not much of a house to live in. But, uh, we got in there, and, uh, well, I had been told the worst things about it I guess. And I was kind of expecting it. So it wasn't nothing new to me.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, did you experience any racism whatsoever at, at Montford Point?
FREDERICK DRAKE: At Montford Point? No. (TECHNICAL)
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) The segregation there, they had just moved the White drill instructors out. And we had all-Black drill instructors. And, uh, Hashmark Johnson. Uh, it was three or four lords that we thought these Marines were. Johnson. Was the other one's name? Huff. Huff. And, uh, it's a little short one was there. He's the one that met us at the gate and brought us around. But, uh, boot camp for me was not bad. I was used to hard work, and when I got there, I think that I got a little extra attention when the guys would come out.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) The drill instructor knew what was going on. He knew what was going on. When my friends would combine in the evening, and stick me a piece of candy under the, uh, fence and all. And I went through, and have to boot camp, I think I mentioned I was a acting Jack in the platoon. But, uh, after we graduated, uh, I was, I had been told, if you want to get wreck, you go to foodservice.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) And I took him out of the foodservice (WORD?) . (LAUGH) That's all right with me. And I had spent some time with a aunt of mine that ran a café, so I had some kind of experience in that. But any, any, anyway, um, when I, uh, when I finished boot, they sent me to cooks and baker school. And can you guess who was my instructor? Sergeant Masea Ara Vons (SP?) . That was my instructor.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) He took me in. I don't know why, but he took me in (STAMMERS) , and he had a little, well, lot of baking went on at night and that kind of stuff. So we had a bunk in the, in the, uh, bakery shop. He carried me in and gave me, uh, his upper bunk. He said, well, you can sleep up there, private. And I'll sleep down here. And I stayed within there, and, uh, until we got ready to leave Montford Point.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) Montford Point wasn't bad at all to me because I was used to kind of getting down. And from there, I along with 24, total of 25 Black Marines went to Parris Island. And Sergeant Vons kept me under his arm, and we went on to Parris Island.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think of your service at Parris Island?
FREDERICK DRAKE: The beginning was, we were something new there. The Black Marines. And, uh, when we got there, we couldn't go to the Exchange, we couldn't go to the, uh, sick bay. Uh, they didn't even put us in jail. They built a jail house for us down on Batter Creek. As you're coming in the gate, there's a bridge you go over. Have you ever been to Parris Island? Uh, but, uh, when you go over, go through the main gate, there's a bridge up there.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) Well, they built us a bridge, right there on that creek. And we went on in and we went to work. And, um, they gave us a little Quonset hut, a little, put us to the side there, and we stayed in there for about six month. And they eventually, now we couldn't go to the, uh, exchange, sick bay, and for a while we couldn't go to the movie. But, uh, eventually, they built us, uh, barracks. Up going toward Page Field. If you, if you ever the two Parris Island, they, uh, you leave offices country and you're going up the hill there, and you go across the river there.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) And they built us a barracks up there. 'Cause now, at that, we had our doctor to come certain days. Uh, we could have parties, because we was taking care of offices, and we knew what partying was. So we was able to have parties and had our little, uh, px in there, and oh, right there in our barracks. So it wasn't so bad. Uh, and I didn't stay up there very long either. I soon went to work for generals.
INTERVIEWER: The, uh, when you were at, uh, at Montford Point, and trying to hone in on that experience, did you get a chance to go out in town on Liberty?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Yes, I went out to Liberty. I didn't say they're very long after my platoon graduated. But, I went up to, I went into Jacksonville a little bit. But I went on up further up there to this two or three, uh, colleges up there. And I was looking for some college material. And I went up there and I met up there. But I didn't, I didn't Liberty much in Jacksonville.
INTERVIEWER: Well, when you went on, when you did go out, I assume you wore your uniform.
FREDERICK DRAKE: Mm hmm.
INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) How did people, uh, accept you as an, as a Black Marine? Or did, did they pay any attention?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Oh. I don't know if they paid any attention to that or not, me being a Black Marine. One thing, I didn't frequent Jacksonville too much. And when I, when I went on Liberty, I'd go on up to one of the big cities, where it was a college. I thought I was a college man too.
INTERVIEWER: But when you went to these (STAMMERS) these college towns, probably like Wilmington Place, Kinston, places like that, did, did they recognize you as a Marine?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Accepted. This is a Marine. He's a Marine, from Jacksonville. And, uh, I met one young lady. And, uh, after I was transferred to Parris Island, she found out where I was, I think this now. And she came on down there. I had been going up there to see her. Uh, and she got down, but a barber beat me to her.
INTERVIEWER: Now, did you, in these places, did you encounter any Whites? And if you did, were you accepted by them?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Uh, I don't know if I had any particular trouble with Whites, uh, as such. My biggest, uh, drawback was when I got to Parris Island, in the condition as I fore stated, how that was there. But that all soon straightened out. And after I went to work for the generals...
INTERVIEWER: Did you, the spirit of the men, the attitude of the men at Camp Lejeune, can you describe that for us?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Uh, no more than I could hear, I, I really, well, I was as their long enough because after I was out of boot camp, I, I didn't get a chance to get around the Marines at, uh, Montford Point as such. I had a ball at Montford Point with my friends and family coming in to see about Fred.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever see any combat?
FREDERICK DRAKE: I was in combat area, but when I travel, I travel with generals. And I was there to take care of the, um, make sure they had coffee and fed them as best we could under conditions. But, uh, I was in combat areas, but not to the extent of having the, 03 was gone about this time, and it was M1. I've never had a lot of experience with the M1, other than the rifle range.
INTERVIEWER: Where are some places, some of the combat areas you visited?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Uh, Okinawa, uh, I don't know who was fighting in the Philippines or not. But we went down there and stayed for about six months in the Philippines. And, uh, while I was stationed in Hawaii a while. And, well, there actually wasn't any combat there, but this was just after some big things, big balls fell.
INTERVIEWER: Well, when you, while serving as a Marine, did you develop any special relationships with Whites, White Marines, other White...
FREDERICK DRAKE: Uh, I've always tried to be broad with everybody, you're a man, you're a man. And if I'm accepted, I am, and if I'm not, well, nothing, nothing big. But so far as, uh, any personal, uh, problems with Whites, I don't remember any.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Uh...
FREDERICK DRAKE: Other than not being able to go to, uh, the exchange, the barbershop, the jailhouse, and all that kind of stuff. We had a special cubbyhole.
INTERVIEWER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) . You, you've heard of the Tuskegee Airmen and all of the Buffalo soldiers.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (OVERLAPPING) Yes sir. Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Probably seen the movie Glory that talked about the Civil War, uh, the contribution of African-Americans during the Civil War. Uh, what do you think, uh, is the historical significance of the Montford Point Marines? That group of people of which you were a part? How do you think that that has impacted history?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Well, it has impacted history just like the Tuskegee Airmen and those fellows that fought with the Army in France. What was that, what was that group's name? The, uh...
INTERVIEWER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) .
FREDERICK DRAKE: (OVERLAPPING) But any, but anyway, uh, it, life went on, and, uh, in fact, the, how I, the house that Sergeant, I, we built me a house, after I got there. And he, we got, or I purchased, uh, barracks from Worleboro (SP?) , South Carolina. They had a camp there. And I was able to get me a barracks for $75 and built me a, my father and brothers came down and built me a house.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Do you, do you know, uh, do you ever think about the fact that you're a part of history. I mean, just, you know, because you were there at Montford Point? And you were a pioneer? It's not, you know, Walt Gaston, me, we never, ever would have had the, had, had the opportunity to go as far as we did in the Marines, had it not been for, for your service and all the service of those people at Montford Point? Uh, what, what do you think about that?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Well, before I get into that, I think both of you, where you are now, pushing, or no pushing, your kind of people would be where you are. And that's why, for all men, you, what you put out, you'll get it back. And, uh, but Montford Point is a part of history. Everybody didn't have a good time through boot camp and so forth, like I did. I enjoyed, I enjoyed it. Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think your service in the Marine Corps has affected your life positively? And if so, how?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Well, it gave me a chance to get out of the coalmine. I might have been dead. You work in the coal mine, you, you wind up, a rock falling on you, or an explosion or something down there, and I had a uncle to be killed in an explosion in Jefferson County. That's Birmingham general area. But, um, you, uh, you go along. And whatever is a new, my mommy was a schoolteacher, and I guess that had a little bit to help make 01 as I did. The only thing that I regret, that I didn't get a chance to go on and finish college. And be somebody.
INTERVIEWER: Did you retire from the Marine Corps?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Thirty years.
INTERVIEWER: You, you know, as I sit here and talk to you, you know, and look at you, you know, I see, I see what I consider to be a true gentleman. I really do.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (OVERLAPPING) Thank you. Thank you.
INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Uh, you're a polished, polished individual. And, and my question is, do you think that the Marine Corps had a part in making you that kind of man?
FREDERICK DRAKE: I think so. As you travel through life, and the road that you travel, that's the road you will be a part of. And 30 years in the Marine Corps, it didn't just happen. It was predestined, I think for me to be in. And I definitely think that it helped me to be the kind of dude (LAUGH) I am now.
INTERVIEWER: Well, is there anything else you want to tell us that we didn't ask you? Any, any other recollections?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Uh...
INTERVIEWER: Interesting facts?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Well, uh, I'd like to say something about our first duty station after leaving boot. We went to Parris Island. And as I fore stated, it was poor, poor, poor. Uh, we just wasn't, uh, we wasn't a part of the outfit at all. But eventually, we gained our right places. But it, that, that really never affected me. Because I was in the big house. And my friends were the big boys. And the big girls. And, uh, I, the Marine Corps was something good for me, I think. Well, I, I want to say it extended my wanting to be.
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) Uh, 'cause as soon as I got to Buford and got kind of stationed, as far as I pledged, I went to church. And after going to church, I was there for about less than a year. AME Church. And the pastor walked up to me and said, Brother Drake, I want to make you the pastor steward. That's the equivalent of the head deacon in the Baptist Church. And I said, really? And you know what you're doing?
FREDERICK DRAKE: (CONTINUED) He said, I might here tonight, and tomorrow I might be in anywhere. That's all right, Brother Drake, I want you to be my pastor steward. And I think, uh, that was something good for me right along in that time. But, uh, you help mold your own futures by your actions, I think.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, Sir.
FREDERICK DRAKE: All right.
INTERVIEWER: Anything else?
FREDERICK DRAKE: No, that's about it. I don't want to keep you all here all night.
INTERVIEWER: No, no, no. This is what we're doing.
INTERVIEWER: Did you know Al Banker?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Baker?
FREDERICK DRAKE: Banker. No, I didn't. I knew a Baker.