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PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW

August 11th, 2005


a thumbnail image of Corporal Paul Holtsclaw Corporal Paul HoltsclawCorporal Paul Holtsclaw, born in Statesville, North Carolina, joined the Marines in 1943 after two years at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College at Greensboro, North Carolina and a year of teaching at the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina. He served with an ammunition company in Hawaii and several of the occupied Pacific islands. Discharged in 1946, he worked with the United States Signal Corps, then taught in the Baltimore, Maryland school system, retiring in 1993. He resides in Owings Mills, Maryland.


INTERVIEWER: I would like you to state your full name and spell it for us.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Paul H. Holtsclaw, P-A-U-L H. H-O-L-T-S-C-L-A-W.

INTERVIEWER: And state today's date, the date, which is August the 11th, 2005.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Today's date is August the 11th, 2005.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, getting to the interview, sir, can you tell us a little bit about your background before you joined the Marines, where you were from, a little about your family and education.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, I, I'm from Statesville, North Carolina, and my family is the Holtsclaw family. And when I came into the Marines, I was working out of Sedella, North Carolina. That is the school where I taught. And I just thought it would be nice to come into the Marines, so I went to Salisbury, North Carolina and joined the Marines. And when I joined the Marines, they sent us back to our home place in, in December. And then I went into the service in January of '43.

INTERVIEWER: What, can you tell me a little bit about your family?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, the family Holtsclaw, my father was a Spanish-American War veteran. He fought with Teddy Roosevelt. And his name was William Green Holtsclaw. And mother's name was Emma Bessie Holtsclaw. Her original name was Allison and was from a family of Indians. And we were always taught to do the right thing and to obey God and keep his Commandments, and I just thought it would be nice that I go into the service because I've always had a feeling of loyalty to my country and duty to God, duty to country and duty to self.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (CONTINUED) I just felt obligated to, to fight for my country, you know, even though we know God says, you know, inasmuch as you've done it unto the least of these, you've done it unto me. But I just felt as if I should be loyal to my country. And God first, country second and then yourself.

INTERVIEWER: A little bit about your education.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: I had two years of A&T College, and from A&T College, I went to Palmer on a NYA Scholarship. In fact, the NYA Scholarship sent me to A&T and A&T asked NYA students to go to North Carolina, to Sedella, North Carolina to wait on tables. And I went down there to wait on the tables and I was able to meet some very influential people, Mrs. Mary McCloud Methune, and she asked me to bring her some pot liquor. And I didn't know what pot liquor was, so (LAUGH) I dodged her, so she did finally catch me and she said, why didn't you come back?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (CONTINUED) I said, well, I didn't know what pot liquor was. She said, well, anyway, I want to talk to you. She said, what are you doing now? I said, I'm on a scholarship from A&T down here. We had to come and wait on tables. NYA Scholarship. She said, well, what do you do? I say, I'm, I'm in carpentry. She say, well, why don't you do some things for Dr. Brown because she might hire you. So she said, what can you do, though? I said, I see chains missing in the, in the kitchen. I can put those chains in.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (CONTINUED) So I started installing rope in the kitchen windows and installed all of them. And when I finished, Dr. Brown was very impressed and she told, told me (STAMMERS), you know, we need an assistant (STAMMERS) down, groundkeeper down here, so if you can come down and help us. I said, I'll be glad to. So she had me from A&T when I finished my two years to be assistant building maintenance instructor here.

INTERVIEWER: Now, you probably had the option to join the Army or, or the, the Navy. Maybe even the Army Air Corps. I don't know if they were around then. But you chose the Marines. Why did you join the Marines?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Colorful. I saw the uniform and that grabbed me. (LAUGH)

INTERVIEWER: Any other reasons or...

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, they said, we are looking for a few good men, and I knew I was a good man and I wanted to fit that good man role.

INTERVIEWER: When you joined the Marine Corps, did you know that the Marines had never had blacks in there before?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: No, I didn't, but I was kind of on the edge and I didn't, I had, had never seen a black Marine uniform, I had never seen a black in a uniform, but I didn't know that, that they had been segregated to at that point. But I, I was just excited about being a Marine, so I went forward to join the Marines.

INTERVIEWER: How did you travel to Montford from Statesville? Is that, that where you came from?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. How did you make, tell me a little bit about the trip.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, it was a bus trip. There was quite a few guys who went and I was real excited, you know, because when you're going someplace you never been before, you're always looking out the window to see things that you've never seen before. It was, it was kind of an excitement, too, and I knew that I was going to be a Marine, but there's a little fear there, too, you know. I didn't know what I was going to get into, but I just knew that God would be with me and I, I knew that if he's on my side, couldn't nothing be against me. So I traveled to...

INTERVIEWER: Now, when you got to Montford, when you got off the bus and so forth and you opened your eyes and you saw the camp, tell me a little bit about how you felt, what you saw and what you were feeling.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, let me say this, one of the former Marines, a guy named Waddell (SP?), had come to A&T College. And I told him that I was going to be joining the Marines, so he said, well, if you join the Marines, when you come down there, we will be looking out for you because so many people had put the story out that once you get there, they beat you up and do things like that. So in the back of my mind was a little fear, you know. But when I got there, Sergeant Waddell had already paved the way and they knew that we were coming and were received by Sergeant Young.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (CONTINUED) And at that time, you know, a lot of young men, they went out and grabbed them by the collar and said, get rid of these civilian clothes, you know. Snap out of your civilian T-H-I-S, you know. And I, I just thought that maybe if I acted a good part, you know, humble, obedient, that maybe, you know, it wouldn't anything happen to me, and then anything didn't anything happen to me. They would slap a couple of guys here and there, but I was never bothered.

INTERVIEWER: Now, I know that in the beginning, they had white drill instructors.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And then they moved, moved them out and brought in black drills, trained and moved in some black drill instructors. And I don't know whether you had the opportunity to serve under white drill instructors or, the reason I'm asking this is because I want to know if you ever encountered any racism at the camp whatsoever.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: No, I didn't. No, I didn't. I had colored, they had changed when I come in and all of our instructors were color.

INTERVIEWER: During your, during your stay there at, at Montford Point, will you give me a little picture, just a word picture in your words of what the spirit of the troops was like? I mean, were they happy? Were they glad to be there? Were they gung-ho? Were most of them crying the blues about (STAMMERS) being there or, or just a little...

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (OVERLAPPING) Well, I was in a happy group. I was in Platoon 309, and everybody in there was happy, you know. We had fellows from Winston-Salem, From Charlotte, North Carolina, from South Carolina, and everybody was proud to be a part of the Marines. I imagine they had heard about the legacy of the Marines, what they do, and, and we were part, we were very proud to become a part of the Marines. So we were just waiting for our first assignment.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (CONTINUED) In fact, on my first assignment, I was chosen as a drill instructor and, and that came about because I was the honor man of my platoon. And the honor man on the platoon, at that time, they gave him a stripe, which was PFC. And if he's a (STAMMERS) sharp shooter on the range, you got a stripe. That was two. And if you became a drill instructor, you got a stripe. I was three and I became a drill instructor, I shot sharpshooter on the range. So I had three things going for me. So actually, I couldn't get the three stripes, but they paid me for the stripes.

INTERVIEWER: So now, you've talked a little bit about camp and so forth. What was it like on liberty?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, I hate to say this because I never was a liberty guy. I had some friends that lived up in Kinston. My wife was very familiar with them. I forget the name. And I, I didn't go on liberty that much. So as far as going to the small towns or places on liberty, I, I didn't go that much.

INTERVIEWER: Did you got out there at all? And if, if so, what kind of experiences did you have?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: I traveled back to A&T on maybe my first ventures from Boot Camp and I, I went on a 48, which is 48, from sundown on Friday to sundown on maybe a Saturday or Sunday. But I took a 72. And when I came back, I had been put on, they had asked me to, well, I was a, a, a drill instructor was supposed to be left over into the, on this side, and we weren't supposed to go overseas because we were trained to train the other students. They saw that much in us. But when I came back, I went on liberty on a 48 and stayed 72, the man said, well, since you have broken what we asked you to do, we're going to send you overseas. So I was sent overseas.

INTERVIEWER: When you went back to (STAMMERS) went back home and you were in a Marine uniform back in Statesville, what, how did people receive you? What did they say to you?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Man, I was a king. (LAUGH) The nice uniform, you know. The blue pants and the coat and all, you know. I was just as proud as a (STAMMERS), I was just, just proud, and they received me proudly, too, because, I was never a guy, bad guy, and, you know, the fact that I had joined the service and, and (STAMMERS) decided to do something for my country, they, they thought it was nice of me. And, and being a Christian, too, they said, well, Paul Henry's doing something now for his country.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, did you ever encounter any whites who said anything to you or recognized you as a Marine and wonder what you were doing wearing a uniform?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: No, not at that time.

INTERVIEWER: After you left Montford Point, what, what happened? Where did you go? What did you do? What did you see? What did you experience?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: After I was...

INTERVIEWER: After you left Montford Point.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: After I was discharged?

INTERVIEWER: (STAMMERS) After you were trained and transferred from the training base.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, really, I was never that far from the training base. As I say, I went to Greensboro, North Carolina, you know. And, and from there, I came back to the base, and that was the only time that I was really out on liberty. It was only one time.

INTERVIEWER: But did you ever go overseas? Did you ever, were you ever...

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (OVERLAPPING) Yes, I, I was transferred when I came back. They put me on a, (SOUNDS LIKE) agenda, Eighth Marine Ammunition, and I went overseas on the Eighth Marine, with the Eighth Marine Ammunition Fleet Marine Force. You know, we had to clean the ships and so forth on the way over. And I was stationed in Hawaii, and while I was there, I attended the University Of Hawaii. Had a course in Business Law and I finished that. So it was very enlightening to me to have to, to do those things, you know, to learn something that I hadn't learned before.

INTERVIEWER: What were your duties overall? What, what kinds of things did you do?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, we were Ammunition Company, and so we had to transfer ammunition that's stored up in Makaha Valley out to the ships. So they would, they would use two crews, a morning crew and an evening crew. And we would load the ammunition on the ships. And, and when we loaded the ammunition on the ships, we'd have to travel maybe, I'd say, five or six hours to the dumping ground because the ammunition that, that they put on the ship hadn't been used and they wanted to, to dispose it, of it, you know, and throw it into the seas.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (CONTINUED) You know, put it on the, (STAMMERS) you know, on a board and let it drown into the ocean and sink. And I never will forget one time we, we dumped some things out, and a couple of days later, some of them had came back to where we were. Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, did you ever see combat?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: No, I didn't. I didn't see. I wasn't in combat.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, so your only duty station outside the United States was Hawaii...

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Yes, it was.

INTERVIEWER: ...in the, in the Ammo. Okay. Did you, did you develop any white friends while you were in the Marine Corps? Did you interact with whites?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, I, I can't say that I did. I always had friends, mostly black, but I, I never had a real, real, real true white friend. In, in Statesville, they had western friends that I was friendly with because they were from the Holtsclaw family. And I've never had a prejudiced feeling towards anybody. I just love everybody.

INTERVIEWER: Now, the fact, Mr. Holtsclaw, that you were in the Marines, really, it's a piece of history. I mean, you were one of the first African-American Marines in history. All of us who came behind you, these Generals now and these Colonels, you know, these, all of these people, me, you know, I, I was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines, we're, we're, we're kind of, you know, we're kind of grandchildren, or children of grandchildren to you. So the fact that you were there is, is very, it's, it's historical. And I want to know how you feel about the fact that you are a piece of history.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: I just feel great. I feel great, you know. Great that I could be a part of something, you know, a part of something that's turned out to be so great because I'm humble, you know, and so many times, we have people who try to carry the world on their shoulders, have to try to prove a lot of things. I don't have to prove anything because I know that my God loves me and I love my God. And I'm just proud to do anything that says inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you've done it unto me. So that's how I feel, you know. Love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. This, this is my philosophy. This is, this is the life I live.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that your service in the Marine Corps has affected your, your life afterwards? And if so, how?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Oh, yes, yes, because always have that proud look and that walk. And, and people see it, you know. A Marine, you know? You know, just a chosen few, you know. Proud of a chosen few. I, I look at the commercials where the guy reaches up to grab that last thing to pull himself up and when he gets to the top, they say, you've reached the top, you know. The few Marines, you know. It's just a great feeling.

INTERVIEWER: (BACKGROUND NOISE) You're inspiring me. Okay. What (TECHNICAL)

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Yeah, well, well, well, being a Marine, it just made me feel proud because they say these are a chosen few, you know. You can pick any place, but when you're chosen, that means something, you know, because when you're chosen, that means you got to live up to it. You can't just drag around, you have to put that chest out there and let them know that you're a proud Marine, you know. Reach up and pull yourself up. Yes. Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, if you had it to do all over again...

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (OVERLAPPING) Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I'd do it all over again. All over again. And never think once. I'm just so proud of where I've come and what I am. And I think about the boys over in Iraq now and I'm just sorrow, you know. Hope that everything will be all right because they are giving their last, they're giving their lives and full devotion, and that's a wonderful thing. Alexander say, Hampton say, my heart sinks deep in, and when I think that I could lay down my life for my country, so I just feel as if I could do it over and over and over and over and over again. And I'd have no feelings about what I did wrong, but right.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything else you would like to tell us, Mr. Holtsclaw?

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Nothing that, that I haven't tried to live because with my fellow Marines, I just try to prove to them that I am real. I'm real. They said, you know, duty to God, duty to country, and duty to self, and the self would include family and all, and I feel that way. But I also feel that, you know, we have to love the Lord, our God, with all our hearts, all our hearts, and our neighbor as ourselves. That's what I am. I am the picture of that.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (CONTINUED) I love people and regardless of how they feel about me, I love them and they love God. And He says, I, I'm going to do something that you've never done before. I'm going to love you to death.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you very much.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Thank you.

INTERVIEWER: I really appreciate this.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (OVERLAPPING) Thank you. Thank you. Yes, sir. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: What, what she's, what she's saying is we want to get a picture of your training experience. We, we really don't have anybody that's really come in and said, well, we got up in the morning and we did this and we carried this. That's, that's what we want to know.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Yeah, well, well, morning usually starts early in the Marine Corps. You have to get up. You do the calisthenics. You know, at that time, you had to do about 25 exercises with the, with the rifle, you know. This and that and that over here and sideways and so forth. And it got your body ready to, you know. And after you finished the calisthenics, the next thing we went to meal. We had to drill to meal. And after we drilled to meal and drilled back, then we had to go onto the field to practice. Either to take maneuvers about what we would be doing.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: (CONTINUED) We had to crawl on the ground. We had to climb obstacles so that we'd be able to climb. We had to do a lot of things that made our body physical, you know, that we would be able to withdure (SIC) some of the hardships that we were going to come next to. And we had to crawl under wire at very, that wasn't that high from the ground. And there was never any live ammunition, you know, during the time that we were doing that. But usually, it was just routine. And when you finished that routine, you felt good about it, you know.

INTERVIEWER: That, there were two people that I remember in conversations, Tony Ghazlo and, and Judo Jones. Talk to me a little bit about what they had to do with your training.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, Ghazlo and Jones were part of the outfit that, when I was out Montford Point. And we always looked up to them. In fact, I (STAMMERS) I won't forget that one of them, I think Judo Jones, wanted to train Burt Lancaster, if I'm not mistaken. And he was so involved with things that one time, he was giving a demonstration and he almost lost a finger. But he kept doing it, you know. And just, just to see the, the vim and the vitality in them and the way that they went about doing things, you know. It just, it just inspired you, you know. In fact, if there was any red blood cells in you, they would jump up, say, I want to be like him, you know, so...

INTERVIEWER: If you would, in your own words, just say that they trained you in hand-to-hand combat.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Well, yes they did. They gave us some hand-to-hand combat training because they came to Montford Point at a time when young people were drilling, and we used to drill a lot during the day, you know, beat the weapons and so forth. And then we had a little time on the side, and, and the time that we had on the side was when they would give us instructions on how to self-defend yourself. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: Say, say, say Tony Ghazlo and Judo Jones were hand-to-hand combat instructors at Montford Point. Say that.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Tony Jones...

INTERVIEWER: No, Tony Ghazlo.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: Tony Ghazlo and Judo Jones were instructors at Montford Point during my period as a recruit...

INTERVIEWER:In hand-to-hand.

PAUL H. HOLTSCLAW: ...in hand-to-hand combat.


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