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July 23rd, 2004

a thumbnail image of Corporal Harry Hamilton, Jr.Corporal Harry Hamilton, Jr. from Tutwiler, Mississippi, joined the Corps in 1943 and served until 1950. As a member of the 52nd Defense Battalion he did occupation duty on both Saipan and Guam. He moved to Chicago after leaving the Marines, where he worked with the Post Office for thirty-seven years. Retired, he resides in Chicago.

INTERVIEWER: If you would, please, give me your full name, spell your name and give me today's date.

HARRY HAMILTON: Harry Hamilton, Jr. H-A-R-R-Y H-A-M-I-L-T-O-N, Jr.

INTERVIEWER: Today's date?


INTERVIEWER: Okay. I'd like you to tell me just a little bit, Mr. Hamilton, about your background. Uh, where you grew up, uh, roughly the size of your family, um, did you move much and, and your educational levels when you went into the Marine Corps. Just a brief background, say.

HARRY HAMILTON: I grew up in, uh, Mississippi, in a little town called (SOUNDS LIKE) Tutwiler, I was born there in 1925, September. Uh, I went to a grade school in Shelby and I went to high school in Clarksdale. It was a very good school, my father sent me there. And then from there, I went into the Marine Corps, uh, my last year of high school. And from '43 'til '46, I was Marine Corps, yeah. Discharged in June of '46.

INTERVIEWER: Where did you enter the Marine Corps from?

HARRY HAMILTON: I entered at Jacksonville at a Camp called Montford Point.

INTERVIEWER: And, but before you came to Montford Point, where you were coming from?

HARRY HAMILTON: From Mississippi. From...


HARRY HAMILTON: ...I came down to Jackson and, uh, from there we went to, uh, North Carolina.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, I'd like you, if you would, to tell me what you remember about the men you were with at Montford Point and what you did when you weren't being intimidated by your DI's, what did you, you know, really, seriously, when you weren't in training at boot camp, uh, when you had a little free time? And I know you must have had a little free time. What did you do with the guys there?

HARRY HAMILTON: With free time that we had, we, uh, went to the movies and then from that we went to, we went on, uh, leave, uh, a few times. And, uh, then YMCA there we would, uh, socialize with the (STAMMERS) young ladies that would come to the Y. And then, then especially coming back was where we would have to wait for buses and they would let all the White servicemen on first.

HARRY HAMILTON: And then, many times that we were late getting back to camp because they were, we, we would be last that would load up to go back to camp. And, uh, wasn't too long after that, we sailed to, uh, California for, after our training on (SOUNDS LIKE) Onslow Beach, we went to, uh, California, to Camp Pendleton and we had advanced training there.

HARRY HAMILTON: From there, we went to Pacific by the way of Hawaii, we spent, uh, a couple of weeks there and then it took us 31 days to get to the island they was dodging, the Japanese, during that period. (COUGH)

INTERVIEWER: Now tell me what unit you were with and.

HARRY HAMILTON: I was with the 52nd Defense Battalion. That was (STAMMERS) second fighting unit that they formed in the Marine Corps at that time. Before that, they were forming the Steward Branches and Ammo Companies, working details, more or less. And (COUGH) excuse me, I became, uh, Highlander Chief of my Unit and, uh, we won Majuro, from Majuro, we set up, uh, our camp (STAMMERS) our base there.

HARRY HAMILTON: At that time, the Japanese wasn't coming back, uh, and we didn't have to worry too much about that. From there, we went to, uh, Guam and we relieved the, uh, I believe it was the 14th. It was an all, uh, White Unit that we relieved and we stayed on Guam, uh, until (STAMMERS) latter part of '45 and then we went to Saipan.

HARRY HAMILTON: And that's when our group was broken up. We had to, uh, the guys that had points, more point than I did, had, uh, was married (CLEARS THROAT) . I came home and the, they wanted me to reenlist, but at the time I didn't want to. I wanted to get out and continue my education. And I eventually got out in June of '46.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me a little about, about what you did on Guam.

HARRY HAMILTON: On Guam, we, we did a lot of, uh, reconnaissance. We was on detail, we were sent out looking for the Japs that were still on the island. And, uh, we did a lot of, uh, guarding of the, uh, prisoners of war, the Japanese and they would do, take them on work details and we did a lot of guarding of them. And also, they, some of us had to help unload the ships when they came in. (STAMMERS) Before we were sent back to the States.

INTERVIEWER: Um, now, when you were in the States, you mentioned (STAMMERS) guarding Japanese prisoners of war. Had you seen other prisoners of war when you were in the States?

HARRY HAMILTON: Well, when I was in the (STAMMERS) in the States, uh, we seldom, when I came home on leave, just the, we wasn't, I was just observing the, uh, prisoners of war that were (STAMMERS) sent to America and then we used them as, as, as working the, the farms and different areas. And that's what, uh, I couldn't understand too much, whereas they had the freedom to use the washrooms and the restaurants, whereas I, being a serviceman, I, we couldn't go out to those space, places at that time. It was still, uh, segregated South as far as Black men were.

INTERVIEWER: And what sort of prisoners were these?

HARRY HAMILTON: Well, it was from Germany and from Italy, the ones that was captured during the second war in, in, in the European theater. (CLEARS THROAT)

INTERVIEWER: And where did you see them, then?

HARRY HAMILTON: In Mississippi when I came to visit my family on leave from the Marine Corps.

INTERVIEWER: Um, and were they allowed to go into the towns in Mississippi, or what? (COUGH) Do you know anything about their situation there?

HARRY HAMILTON: Only thing that I, I saw. (TECHNICAL)

HARRY HAMILTON: (STAMMERS) I observed the, uh, whereas they could go into the restaurant and to the, uh, washrooms, it was for White only. But we could not use those facilities at that time, the Black servicemen.

INTERVIEWER: You mustered out originally in'46.

HARRY HAMILTON: (OVERLAPPING) 1946. And, uh, I came to Chicago, settled in Chicago. And then later in '46, I got married and October of '46, I was called back into the Corps. And at that time they needed men that was, had knowledge of fire control, that's reigns suddenly, guns reigns, and, uh, I tried to get permission from the Commandant to (STAMMERS) 'cause I had just got married and I felt that I was getting a raw deal because they had so many guys that had never been in service.

HARRY HAMILTON: And, uh, when I, I never could get, uh, where I had to go back and from there, I went back to Camp Lejeune, which was, uh, integrated with the servicemen at that time.

INTERVIEWER: And what year was this? Tell me.

HARRY HAMILTON: That was in 1950. And when I went back, it was no segregation as far as servicemen being called in, it was integrated then. And I went to Lejeune and then from, uh, different countries and I was in, uh, there was three Black and the rest was all White. I think there was about 90 of us, all tolled. And we had started training and at that time, they were sending them, you would either go into a career, into, or Panama.

HARRY HAMILTON: At that time, it was a, a prize and then Panama and it so happened, during that advanced treatment, I had a fractured elbow that I had hurt when I was playing football in service. But they wanted to operate on elbow at that time and then they held me around for a while. And then finally I got (STAMMERS) released. And that was, like, in, uh, uh, December, I believe of, uh, '50.

INTERVIEWER: Wow. (CLEARS THROAT) The, when you back to Camp Lejeune in 1950, the base was integrated. But the community of Jacksonville was not integrated. Can you talk with me about any experiences you might have had as a Black Marine on an integrated base, if you went off the base and went into the town of Jacksonville, can you just, or Wilmington or any other town. Can you just tell me some of what you remember about that? Just, just remember and whatever you want to tell me.

HARRY HAMILTON: Yes, when we went on (STAMMERS) uh, liberty in Jacksonville, I remember the first time on liberty, it was myself and three other White Marines that went in and we went in this lounge and they, the bartender told me that I couldn't come in and, uh, the, uh, servicemen that I was with that was, which was White, they, uh, ask him why and he told them it was (STAMMERS) segregation as far as I was concerned (WORD?) .

HARRY HAMILTON: And, uh, they became angry about it and they grabbed this stool and broke out the mirror on the wall and then they called the, uh, police and the MP came and they explained to us that it was underrated as far as the service was concerned, but as far as the, uh, state itself, they had, still had the segregation in the state.

INTERVIEWER: Did you run into that elsewhere in, in, uh, the state?

HARRY HAMILTON: Not in, uh, because it wasn't too long after that that I was, uh, discharged. We ran into a, in '44, we were going to, out in Wilmington, as far as getting back, coming back camp, they would always, uh, let the White servicemen load before we, uh, could, uh, get a bus to come back to camp. And many times we were late, uh, for, you were supposed to get for reveille that morning and, and we would get punished for that.

INTERVIEWER: Um, after you left the Corps in 1950, tell me a little bit about what you did after you left the Corps.

HARRY HAMILTON: After I left the Corps? I, uh, went back to work for, uh, Harry Shawl, the guy had a tailor shop, was a Jewish gentleman that, uh, that taught me a lot, when I used to come during the summer, about sewing and pressing clothes and all that, so I.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) And where was this?

HARRY HAMILTON: In Chicago. And from then, uh, I worked until, I guess it was, uh, '48. And we got hired, one of my buddies was working for a Cutlow Can, and Cutlow Can was hiring Blacks for the first time as body makers. And my buddy told me that we probably could get on in there without, and we got hired there. And it was more or less the suburb thing where they make cans for beer and full of can and fruit and vegetables.

HARRY HAMILTON: And they have a period you, you, you know, was laid off. And, uh, when I was called back, I didn't go back because, uh, that period of time, and I knew you had to have seniority to (STAMMERS) to, uh, uh, be able to stay during the summer months when they was. And from there (CLEARS THROAT) I end up going into the Postal Service, uh, and I ended up doing 37 years at the Postal Service.

INTERVIEWER: And you retired from the Postal Service?

HARRY HAMILTON: (OVERLAPPING) Yes. (STAMMERS) Also retired from the cit, I worked for the city part time, so I retired from the (STAMMERS) park district of the city.

INTERVIEWER: Um, could you tell me how you feel about having been a Montford Point Marine? What do you think is, uh...


INTERVIEWER: ...is the significance of your experience?

HARRY HAMILTON: My experience with the men that I served with was very, very, very fine to me because I think that being at that camp, being segregated like we were and all the challenges that we came through, it made me a much stronger person. I, uh, cherish the memory now that I had and, with all the fellas that I served and, with while I, we in service. Uh, some memories that I'll never forget.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me a little bit about, just about, you know, your time at Montford Point, when you were in the service originally. Um, did you note any of the White officers? To what, uh, let me rephrase it a little bit, tell me to what extent you had any (STAMMERS) any interaction with Whites in the period from 1943 through 1946, when you were in segregated Units.

HARRY HAMILTON: Well, the officers that we had on the base was White and the also, some of the DI's were still White. Eventually that changed, but my experience with the.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Tell, tell me what changed.

HARRY HAMILTON: Well, when they, most of the, uh, officers, I mean, the servicemen that we, when they were training, some of the them was very, uh, they were hard care and some of them was very prejudice towards us. I guess a lot of come, came back from, uh, Guadalcanal, that was our instructors, and other parts of the, uh, Pacific. And, uh, they were very prejudice.

INTERVIEWER: Now you're talking about White (STAMMERS) policemen?


INTERVIEWER: Tell me that.

HARRY HAMILTON: The White, (STAMMERS) DI's, what we call DI's at that time. And, uh, but, uh, after we, uh, train, uh, in North Carolina, after we has to go to the Onslow Beach and that was another experience where we was on Onslow Beach. Uh, whereas it segregated, here was a beach where the Blacks didn't go. Uh, you couldn't go out and swim, you know, and like the, uh, others did at that time, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Did you ever come in contact with, with White officers? Was there any interaction at all that you saw between the White officers at Montford Point and, uh, well, let me put it in another way, tell me anything you can remember (STAMMERS) that you personally experienced or witnessed that relates to, uh, any kind of relationship, and I'm not necessarily looking for bad relationships, any kind of relationship between White officers and, uh, the, the Black enlisted men at, at Montford Point?

HARRY HAMILTON: At Montford, at, uh, Montford Point, uh, my, uh, officer that, uh, I, was a very decent person, I thought he was. And, uh, we served, from Montford Point we went to, uh, the Pacific and, and he became, uh, the coach of a basketball team during that time and, uh.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember his name?

HARRY HAMILTON: (STAMMERS) His name was Starling (SP?) . And, uh, I became, uh, the manager of the team that one the Central Pacific Ocean Championship at that time. That was in 1945. But, uh, I thought he was a, a very nice person.

INTERVIEWER: Um, is there anything else you want to tell me that you can remember about your service that stands out? Either in the '43 through '46 period or in that short period that you were called back. Is there anything that, that you think that people (STAMMERS) might like to know, anything, any statements you would want to make, any, anything that sticks in your mind that was really a highlight in your experience that we haven't talked about?

HARRY HAMILTON: Well, the most that I really, when we were coming back to camp, that's what stands out mostly to me, 'cause getting back to camp when you go on leave and you come back and to, just to think that we had to wait so long in line to get the bus to come back to camp, that (STAMMERS) experience that I had, I would like (STAMMERS), you know, to go through that again.

HARRY HAMILTON: Uh, it was, uh, to me it was the races at its worst at that, during that time. Knowing that you were in service fighting for your country and then this was still going on in, in the States. And, uh, I think that was about the worst experience that could have happened to you.

INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you another, another question. (CLEARS THROAT) With your, um, colleagues, the guys that you were going (SOUNDS LIKE) walk boots with and the guys that you, what, what was your Unit, again?

HARRY HAMILTON: 52nd Defense Battalion.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Yeah, you were in the 52nd Defense. (CLEARS THROAT) And the guys the 52nd Defense, when you were overseas, did you talk much about how you were perceived by White Marines? Was that something that was, (STAMMERS) I really have no answer for that question from anybody.


INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) And I haven't thought about that. But (STAMMERS) but just tell me what you can remember about that. Was that something that you just didn't think about or was it something that you took for granted or was it something (CLEARS THROAT) that was discussed or was it something that you thought about in terms of making changes in the future?

INTERVIEWER: (CONTINUED) Did you, dare I, did you guys ever talk about this? Just, you know, when you're sitting around shooting the bull. Tell me what, what went on.

HARRY HAMILTON: What, on, on the, uh, islands, you were, you was, was in groups of like, it would compete in games, uh, they'd play, Black and White teams would play. (STAMMERS) It wasn't so much problems on the islands when you was in the Pacific, uh, you got along pretty good, pretty good, you know. I got no problems, I didn't have any problems.

HARRY HAMILTON: Uh, the biggest problem that I experienced was in the States. Uh, on the islands in Majuro, there was some fighter groups there, pilots, and, uh, we used to play basketball and softball, you know, in the evenings. But, uh, I didn't have any (STAMMERS) bad experiences on the islands. All of my problem was in the States.

INTERVIEWER: But I'm, I'm talking about among yourselves, is that (WORD?) Black troops and White segregated troops, did you talk with one another about how...


INTERVIEWER: ...you were treated by Whites?


INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) That's what I want you to talk about.

HARRY HAMILTON: ...yeah, we did. We did, we had a, it was a lot of conversations about problems that we was having in the States and a lot of them, like, they would say they would never go back south anymore and all that during that time. And that was my feeling also when I got out, to, to, not to go back. And, uh, when I, I told my parents, my father that we was, that I wasn't gonna never live there anymore.

HARRY HAMILTON: And, uh, that's why I, I ended up settling in Chicago, because of the condition at the time and, uh, there, my grandparents and they would say about, saying things that, uh, be careful, they didn't want anything to happen to us and all that, you know. And I grew up with them talking that all the time. But, uh, and I decided that I wasn't going to stay there anymore when I got out.

INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you another question I, I really haven't asked that much and, uh, you, were you stationed in, in (STAMMERS) outside the South before you went overseas?

HARRY HAMILTON: No, in California. We went to, from, uh, Montford Point in, uh, North Carolina, we went, uh, Camp Pendleton. And, uh, we was there for, I guess we was there about two months.

INTERVIEWER: Did you notice any difference if you went outside the base, you were there as a segregated Unit, of course?

HARRY HAMILTON: Oh yeah, right.

INTERVIEWER: Did you notice any difference in treatment if you were outside the base in California from what you received in North Carolina?

HARRY HAMILTON: Yeah, well, in, in, in, in (STAMMERS) in, uh, North Carolina, it was quite different because when you go on leave you, you (STAMMERS) incidents would happen that you, you were just, one of the things that you hated to do and you had to do in order to get back, if you wanted to go on leave. And that's one of the reasons I didn't go on liberty too much, because of incidents that we had, was having.

HARRY HAMILTON: And then in California, you could get 72s, I remember you had, and I was always happy to go. But it was still (COUGH) excuse me, in that area of, uh, entertainment, uh, Central Street was the highlight of entertainment for Blacks at that time. And that's where we would go on liberty. And, uh, we didn't have problem, you'd have, uh, during that time, they had the, uh, prostitutes used to come through in their cars when, at night there's there was someone driving their cars.

HARRY HAMILTON: And they were White and Black, you know, like that all the time. But, you know, the, the, I didn't, but, uh, you could see that all the time. It wasn't any problems, you know.

INTERVIEWER: So there was one a big difference?

HARRY HAMILTON: Oh yeah, quite a difference, yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Um, let me see, I want you to, I want you to wrap this up the way you want to wrap it up. So, what I'm gonna say is, you've got the floor, you're talking to the audience, you've been a Montford Point Marine, why do you think, how do you feel about having been a Montford Point Marine? Let me just leave you with that. Tell that audience how you feel about the fact that you, that you served as a Montford Point Marine.

HARRY HAMILTON: Well, I think as I look back over the, one of the, I think one of best things that could have happened to me at that time in my life, uh, to train with the first Blacks that was called into the Corps, that got into the Corps, and what we accomplished, uh, I'll, I'll cherish the rest of my life. I don't think anything that, that I accomplish in my life that I will ever, never forget those guys that I served with during that time. It was quite an experience and I'll cherish it all the rest of my life.

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