HOWARD L. WILLIAMS
August 30th, 2005
Sergeant Howard L. Williams was born on a Virginia farm, but obtained a job at the Norfolk Navy Yard after graduating from high school. Drafted into the Corps in 1943 and placed in the First Ammunition Company, he served at Saipan and during the invasion of Okinawa. After the war he obtained a college degree, then a master's degree from Towson State University in Maryland, and began a teaching career. Retired, he resides in Randallstown, Maryland.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, sir, we've asked all these questions of every Montford Marine, Montford Point Marine that we've, we've interviewed. We want to just kind of keep a pattern here, so when we start to put a script together...
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Okay. (TECHNICAL)
INTERVIEWER: So, uh, so all these questions we've asked have, uh, the Montford Point Marines we've interviewed, what I'd like you to do initially is just state your full name and spell it for us, please.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Uh, that's Howard L. Williams, H-O-W-A-R-D, W-I-L-L-I-A-M-S.
INTERVIEWER: And, today's date, which is August the 11th, 2005.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: August 11th, 2005.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you joined the Marines, sir?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, uh, I grew up in Virginia, in (WORD?) Virginia, um, born on a farm. Uh, finished high school and had various jobs in the community with relatives and different areas of trades.
INTERVIEWER: Um, your family, brothers, sisters?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, I have one sister, she's still living, my mother and father both passed, uh, she was a housewife and, uh, my father worked in the ice plant, he was very lucky to have a job during the Depression.
INTERVIEWER: And, a little bit about your education.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, I finished high school as I said, and of course, after the Marine Corps I did enter college on a GI Bill, and, uh, graduated with a degree. And, then I pursued, uh, teaching there, and I've got a Master's from Tarson State University in Maryland.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Tell me, sir, why did you join the Marines, now, I know the Army was taking African-Americans and, and the Navy and so forth, and other routes you could have gone, but why did you join the Marines?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, actually, when I went to the induction station, uh, I was working in the Navy Yard, Norfolk Navy Yard at that point, and we were more or less set aside, there were six people from my home town that were set aside and earmarked for the Marine Corps, it was not my choice, but I really enjoyed the selection that was made for me.
INTERVIEWER: When, when you came into the Marines, were you aware that the Marine Corps, uh, had never, uh, admitted African-Americans, and if so, did that have any kind of an impact on you?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: I was aware that it was, at that time, there were no Blacks in, and of course, it had little or no impact until after boot camp when we had no, uh, Black officers and the rank of our enlisted was very, uh, limited.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, now, when you, uh, when you were selected to join the Marines I imagine you were sent down to, to Montford Point on a bus or, uh, you know, maybe with a lot of other guys and, and so forth, what, can you talk a little bit about that trip, uh, how, what, what did you go by bus, train or?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, we were given tickets in Richmond, Virginia to catch a, you know, the train in Emporia and we went down by train, of course, and transferred from, uh, Rocky Mount or some place by bus to, uh, Camp Lejeune or Jacksonville. It was kind of exciting being a country boy and first time being away from home, you know, alone, and, uh, I really didn't know what to expect, of course, uh, but I was not surprised with, uh, the kind of treatment that, you know, I, I was given or incidents that I encountered.
INTERVIEWER: Can you talk to us a little bit about that treatment and some of those incidents?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, um, I remember once, um, in my hometown, uh, as we were boarding, getting ready to go to the Corps, a person indicated, said, oh, this is the first time I've ever seen a Black Marine, and a fight pursued because the other boy that was with me, uh, he challenged the person who made that statement. And, of course, we had unusual experiences trying to get out of town, especially a small town, so.
INTERVIEWER: I understand. Uh, now, when you got to Montford Point and you got off the, the bus, uh, or whatever mode of transportation that took you there, you got off and you looked around can, can you tell us through your own eyes what you saw and your impressions of the camp?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, when I got there, I, I think it must have been eight or nine at night and, of course, uh, dark, the little recruit depot was a little, a bunch of little shanty huts as I recall, and, uh, of course, uh, we were given the royal treatment of, of recruits and dummies and that type of thing.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, and the next morning when you woke up and saw daylight, what did you see? I mean...
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, you know of course, uh, you had a chance to meet other fellows who were coming in from different areas and different parts of the country. And, everybody was in civilian clothes and, and I remember during that time shoes were rationing, and I had a brand new pair of shoes and some drill instructor wanted to take my shoes. And, I refused to give them to him, because we were told that we could ship our clothes back home, which I did. (LAUGH)
INTERVIEWER: That's funny!
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: I'll never forget that.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Well, um, tell me, tell me what a training day was like for you?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, a training day I guess was almost like sunrise up until seven or eight o'clock at night, you know, drilling, close order drill, uh, various classes in health and, uh, more drills, and that type of thing.
INTERVIEWER: Two of the most colorful instructors to come out of that experience were Tony Gasmo and Judo Jones, I don't know if you ever knew those, did, did you know those gentlemen? And, if so...
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: No, I didn't know them, I knew Sergeant Huff, he was our, the big guy, of course, and of course, uh, we had, we had one guy we called Dick Tracy, but my drill instructors was Sergeant Tyree as I, I remember. I remember because he reminded me of Harry Belafonte at a, they almost look alike. And, uh, Sergeant Ingram was our, I guess, Sergeant Major at that time. Those are the, Sergeant Wilson, I think was one of our drill instructors, as I recall.
INTERVIEWER: What, what were your impression of those drill instructors?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, I never had that type of, uh, experience of someone driving and, uh, driving you constantly and never light, you know, they didn't ever want to lighten up, uh, uh, but you had a love/hate type relationship I guess you would say. You just felt that you, once you get out of it, you, what you're going to do, but I can say now that after we got out of it, uh, it was a love relationship, uh, uh, they were human beings, they were nice guys, and they did that job well. I thought. (TECHNICAL)
INTERVIEWER: Okay, just, if you would, well, I'm going to ask you to actually say something for me, when did you, when did you?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Where?
INTERVIEWER: When, when did you go to, to training at Montford?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Uh, it was in 1943...
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: ...and July the 26th.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Say, say I reported to Montford Point and give the, the, the year, just, just say that right now.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: I reported to, uh, Montford Point, uh, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on 26 of July in 1943.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. All right, sir. (TECHNICAL)
INTERVIEWER: (CONTINUED) Okay, um, now, what, what was your impression of the attitude and spirit of the men when you were there, as you, as you recall, you know, activities around the camp? I can tell you when I was at Quantico, I can tell you, uh, you know, it was gung ho attitude, everybody was going and coming and running, and, you know, oh, ah, and all this kind of stuff. Can you talk about the, the kind of spirit you noticed among the Marines there?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, as I said, we had, um, recruits from all different parts of the country and everybody wanted to, uh, I guess buck for a position that would give them advantages. Uh, some was more aggressive than others and those, uh, from larger towns, as you say, was more aggressive and those, uh, those of us from smaller towns we were just, uh, peons more or less.
INTERVIEWER: I'm not sure if I asked you this or not, but did I ask you to describe a training day?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: A training day, uh, yes, it was, I would say from sunup to sundown. And, it was all types of training, rifle training, first aid, that was in boot camp, of course, and close order drill.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever go on liberty in Jacksonville?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: I never did.
INTERVIEWER: No. Did you ever go on liberty at all while you were...
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: I never did, I did go, have two furloughs while I was there, but I went to my hometown in Emporia, Virginia.
INTERVIEWER: How did the people in Emporia receive you as a, a Marine?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, they were happy, you know, those of, that knew me and I grew up with, they were happy to see me as a Marine and my little, uh, uniform that was different from the Army and the Navy which they were accustomed to, and of course, they knew that the Marine Corps had not really accepted, uh, Blacks, and, of course, they wanted to know, uh, if we were superman, uh, that type of thing.
INTERVIEWER: Did you encounter any, any Whites who recognized you as a, as a Marine, a Black man, you know, wearing a Marine uniform, and if so, what kind of encounter did you have with these?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: I never did run into any situation of that sort.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, great. Okay. now, uh, tell us, uh, the year, uh, that you left Montford Point and where you went to right after training?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: I think we, um, we left in December after we finished our boot camp, uh, boot camp and our advance training and I was in Ammo Company, First Marine Ammo, uh, we left Montford Point in...
INTERVIEWER: Give the year, year and month.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: ...in '43, December of '43. And, we went, left from Norfolk and went through the Panama Canal, and of course we ended up in Honolulu, Hawaii.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, continue at, at, did you stay on Hawaii or did you...
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Oh, we stayed in Hawaii for (CLEARS THROAT) I guess two or three months, and we set up an Ammo Munitions, um, depot up on the, one end of Oahu, I don't know whether it was the north or Lululei (WORD?) or, uh, but anyway, then after that, part of our company, uh, went to the Marshall Islands in support of, uh, one of the Marine divisions there. And, then after Marshall Island we came back to Pearl Harbor and did more, um, ammunition, uh, storage and shipping.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: (CONTINUED) And, then from there we shipped out to Saipan, and we stayed at Saipan, this must have been, uh, I don't recall the year or month, uh, but after Saipan we boarded ship, of course, and we were in the floating reserve for Iwo Jima. But we did not go into Iwo Jima, we instead went into D-Day at Okinawa on April the 1st, which was Easter Sunday morning, the most day I've ever seen and, uh, we stayed at Okinawa until it was secured.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: (CONTINUED) And, from there we thought we were coming home, but we ended up going to China. So, we went up through, uh, China and stayed there until, this was in August when we went to China or maybe the first of September, and we stayed in China until '40, 1946, and January, then we came back to San Diego and troop trained us back to Camp Lejeune and I was discharged.
INTERVIEWER: When you were in Saipan and Okinawa, did you see combat and if you did, can you describe what you experienced?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, we didn't, I saw combat at Okinawa, but I did not see it at Saipan, we were in a, I guess a holding area, we were in a logistical type of support and that's, you know, it's an upper ammunition dump and working with, uh, incoming supplies that way. And, that was basically the same at Okinawa as well, but, uh, we did, uh, encounter fire from the enemy, I would say.
INTERVIEWER: Can you, can you describe a day, can you pick out a day and tell us what you saw, what you felt, what you heard?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, on one occasion, um, I guess when the enemy, uh, and I had, decided for counterattack. We were alerted that the would be coming in our area, I think, off the beaches, and we would all have to set up perimeters for that kind of, uh, you know, defense. And, on a couple of occasions while we were around the airfield at Okinawa several Japanese transports, of course, landed and troops, of course, were reported to have been, uh, you know, infiltrating our liens and we were, and a night defense for about three or four days on that occasion. And, those are some of the other experiences I had.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, did you, while you were in the Marines did you develop any, uh, friendly relationships with Whites?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, we had some pretty good sergeants, I remember Sergeant Orr and another Sergeant Swinky (SP?) , uh, but...
INTERVIEWER: Okay, let, let me ask you, um, could you start that out by saying, because see the audience is not going to know what I asked you.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Oh, okay.
INTERVIEWER: I want you to kind of help me, help tell them, you could, you could say I had some, uh, some relationships with some, some, some White Marines such as and then you can go on and tell the names and so forth.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, I did, we did, I did have some relationship with one of my sergeants, uh, and of course, uh, he encouraged us...
INTERVIEWER: I need you to say White, though, because the, the point of the...
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Okay.
INTERVIEWER: ...question the relationship to White friends.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Okay. (LAUGH) Well, I did have some, uh, relationships and interaction with some of our White sergeants. And, of course, they, they were very encouraging in that they would say after you get out of the service, go back to college, and, of course, they seemed to have been, uh, kind of saddened because they had to be our sergeants, and we didn't have Black sergeants, and they was, but, uh, but we made out okay and of course, there was no real incident.
INTERVIEWER: You, the fact that you went to Montford Point, uh, when you did was really historically significant, um, I'm not sure that a lot of the Montford Pointers who went there, uh, knew that. But they were making history and, and sir, you were part of history. And, and I, I'd like to ask you what you personally think is the historical significance of the Montford, of the establishment of that camp and the service of those Montford Point Marines.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: To be honest with you, I, I have no idea. (LAUGH)
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: I don't have any historical background, we were never really informed, I said being young we were, our thoughts and attention was directed in something, you know, another area.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. They're going to edit what I'm about to say out, now, I know, but in our mind, one of the, and, and that maybe this, just to kind of let you know what I was thinking, in my mind, uh, the fact that, uh, you all went in to an organization that had been all White forever, okay, was significant in that doors are opening for African, African-Americans. Doors are opening for Blacks and, and if you don't have any thoughts on that, that's fine, I, but I just wonder if you ever thought that, you know, you were a pioneer, you know, in, in, in opening doors for others like me.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Okay. (LAUGH)
INTERVIEWER: You know, that kind of thing.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think that really entered my mind, of course, I did recognize that while we were in the combat zone and areas, the relationship between the White Marines and Black Marines was real cordial, but after the war it began to diminish that kind of, uh, relation, especially when we got to China, uh, it didn't seem to have that closeness, um, that we enjoyed, I say at Okinawa or Saipan where you could go by an Amtrak and somebody would give you some bacon or a pack of cigarettes or a chocolate bar, and, or some exchange, but after the war the friendliness began to dwindle away.
INTERVIEWER: I understand. Do you think the Marine Corps experience, uh, affected your life after you left the Marines Corps (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Well, I would say that, that may have been the crowning moment for me because, you know, being 18 years old, uh, leaving home, going in the Marine Corps, many places, um, I saw a lot of things and I gained a lot of experiences, and of course, the GI Bill was the thing that really helped me, because I never could have gone to college had it not been for the GI Bill, so I chalked it all up as a plus. And, uh, and just kind of, you know, continue in that, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Um, do you have any special feelings at all about having been a Montford Point Marine, I mean, any other special feelings?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: You know, I feel, you know, after I, I, I just became a member of this group and my cousin, of course, was in the Marine Corps with me as well. And, he has always been interested in the Montford Point Marines, and of course my interests went into the Army, but I found that, uh, the Marine Corps experience to me meant more to me than my Army experience, and so that's why I joined up with, uh, you know, the Montford Point Marines here in Baltimore.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: (CONTINUED) Plus there was a couple of guys that served with me in the Army as well, I was in a, a transportation company with a, battalion with one of the officers that you will interview later.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. Good. Is there anything else you want to tell us?
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: No, that's about it, I, I, I can say that, uh, I enjoyed being a Marine in spite of all of the difficulties, I, I don't look back with any regrets and, you know, um, I believe that, um, we have made a difference by being in the Marine Corps and I think, uh, the conduct of the men that I've met certainly have, uh, uh, been one that is wholesome, encouraging for youngsters or that taught school, I used to encourage guys to get in the Corps and some of the guys I'm sorry got killed in, of course, in Vietnam and that saddened me, but that's life, but other than that I, that's all. (LAUGH)
INTERVIEWER: Well appreciate it.
HOWARD L. WILLIAMS: Okay.