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LEROY MACK

July 24th, 2004


a thumbnail image of Gunnery Sergeant Leroy Mack Gunnery Sergeant Leroy MackGunnery Sergeant Leroy Mack of Brooklyn, New York, was a career Marine, joining the Corps in 1948. A broken back, obtained in a football game, kept him out of Korea, but he served in Vietnam. He resides in Albany, Georgia.


INTERVIEWER: Spell your last name and today's date.

LEROY MACK: My name is Leroy Augustus Mack, M-A-C-K and today's date is 7- (STAMMERS) 24, 2004.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you, sir. Mr. Mack, can you tell us a little bit about your background, um, before you joined the Marine Corps, paying, uh, attention to where your from, a little bit about your family and your education?

LEROY MACK: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Um, my mother, Margaret Mack, or Margaret Jenkins first, uh, is from Kaliyo, West Virginia (SP?) . My father, Leroy John Mack (SP?) , is from Charleston, South Carolina. He is, uh, or he was at that time, uh, meeting my (STAMMERS) mother, he was a reserve sailor. Uh, he had sailed on, uh, in the United States Navy as a cook.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) My brother was bitten on the ear in Brooklyn and my father said, it's time for us to move, so we moved to Amityville, Long Island. Uh, I had gone to school in Brooklyn, uh, uh, attended PS 14. And, uh, when we moved to, uh, Amityville, then I attended Amityville, uh, Junior High and High School. But (STAMMERS) high school wasn't for me.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) Uh, sports was the thing for me and finally my father looked at me and he said, it's, it's time, time for you to realize that schooling is not for you. So I suggest you join the Marine Corps. And true enough, I, uh, went to, uh, 90 Church Street, I believe it is, and, uh, I joined the Marine Corps there and proceeded on my way.

INTERVIEWER: When you joined the Marine Corps, did you or your father realize that, uh, African Americans, uh, had not previously been admitted, uh, to the Marine Corps?

LEROY MACK: I knew that African Americans were in the Marine Corps because we had, uh, a young man from Amityville who came home from Iwo Jima. And he was in his dress blues and that, when I saw that, I said, that's what I want to be in. And, uh, talking to my father, he told me, you want to be in general duty only, don't go for steward duty. So I said, all right, fine. And that's what I told the recruiter.

INTERVIEWER: Uh, Let me, well, in fact, uh, what MOS did you receive? (STAMMERS) Tell us a little bit about, uh, what you did.

LEROY MACK: Upon graduation, I received a, my MOS was 363, which was the fireman. My first job was to teach reading and writing. We had members, uh, who were part of the Marine Corps at that time, who couldn't read, couldn't write. And my first assignment was to teach reading and writing. Then, uh, I left Guard Company and, uh, went to, um, the fire station, Fire Station Eight there.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) Uh, Boss Lawrence (SP?) was, uh, my, uh, superior there. And there I taught ropes, how to tie knots, how to, uh, climb off buildings and, and, and things (STAMMERS) knots. Because I had been a first class scout and when Sergeant Major Johnson saw that, he said, okay, you go on down there and that's where I went and I stayed there until, um, June of 1950.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) When I, that night, Saturday night, I answered the red phone and the Sergeant Major, uh, Marine Corps base, uh, Camp Lejeune, said, get everybody and a sea bag and have them standing on the corner because tomorrow the bus will come.

INTERVIEWER: (STAMMERS) How is it you were chosen to teach reading and writing?

LEROY MACK: Uh, I had, uh, my IQ was 109 and I had never graduated from high school. I, uh, after talking with my father, he told me, uh, you join the Marine Corps and, uh, that's what, uh, I did. I took the test and the mechanical aptitude test, I think that was about 115, the IQ was 109 and everybody said, well, you're pretty smart.

INTERVIEWER: Being from the north, um, (STAMMERS) I would imagine that, uh, traveling south might have, uh, introduced some...

LEROY MACK: (OVERLAPPING) Oh yeah.

INTERVIEWER: ...some new perceptions and perspectives to you. So when you, well, first of al, before you get into the trip down, can you just paint a picture for us of the day, what the day was like on the day you left to, New York to head south, before you actually talk about the trip? How was it in the home and what was it like?

LEROY MACK: Well, it, it was kind of, uh, quiet like. My mother really didn't want me to go. My dad was, uh, he was working on the Brooklyn docks at that time. And, uh, he said, when he did come home, he said, well, the only thing I can say is I wish you the best of luck because you're going to need it. I said, all right, fine and dandy. Then I caught the Long Island Railroad and, uh, went, uh, downtown and that's when I joined up.

INTERVIEWER: So, so can you tell us a little bit, bit about your actual journey to Montford Point from New York?

LEROY MACK: Oh, that was (LAUGH) that was something. Uh, we got on the, uh, we went across on a ferryboat to Jersey and we caught the train there. Well, there was a bunch, there were only four Afro Americans going in the Marine Corps that day. (CLEARS THROAT) There was myself, Oscar Lee Flow, Jr. (SP?) , um, and I can't think of the rest of them. I still got my original orders, I still have those.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) Anyway, we got on the train and, uh, all the way down to Washington, oh, it was mixed up, we were having fun talking, what we're going to do and, uh, all the other people were talking about, they're going to Parris Island. And we said, no, we're going to Montford Point. Where the hell is that? Well, nobody knew and the furthest south I had ever been was Jersey City.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) So when we got to Washington, the, uh, Pullman porter came back and he says, I'm sorry, but you're going to have to move. And they moved us to the back and everybody got all upset and, uh, no, you can't, we're all going to the Marine Corps. No, uh, this is Washington, D.C. and you're crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, and so, everything is different here.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) So that's when I really knew what segregation was about, because in, in New York, there was segregation all right, but it was hidden. So you didn't know anything about it. Then when we, uh, uh, the train stopped at Lumberton, North Carolina, and they put us off in the middle of the night and, uh, the four of us were sitting there at this bus station and the Sheriff came.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And he said, uh, what are you boys doing? And we said, we're just waiting on the bus to take to us to Camp Lejeune. And he said, oh, you're gonna join the Serenes, huh? Oh, he said, I'll tell you what. Stay right here, don't wander around, just stay right here and the bus will come. Well, sure enough, the bus did come and there was nobody on the bus but the four of us, so we sat up front.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) We were talking to the bus driver and he was very amenable. And, but as you went down the highway, people would be standing on the highway with lamps and they'd flag the bus down. And the bus would stop and they got on. Well, when the, the White people started getting on, um, they sat on this side, on the right side of the bus, we sat on the left side, up front.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And then some people came and, uh, they said, uh, you got to go to the back. And Joe Cruze he was one of the others with us, uh, he said, uh, I'm not going to the back. You can't put me in the back, I'm on a public transportation. The man said, you see that sign back there, and they had a sign that says, Blacks will occupy the seats from back to the front.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And then some more people got on and a lady started whispering and she said, you better get back here. So, uh, we finally got the message and, uh, we moved on back. Well, that was the first time I really saw, uh, racial prejudice at its peak. (STAMMERS) That stayed with us because when we got to Camp Lejeune, there was no transportation for us, we had to walk from the bus station downtown to Montford Point.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And when we got there, um, Sergeant, or the guard that was kicking the box, he told us where Sergeant Major Johnson's office was. So we slowly went up there and, uh, Flow, who was a Lieutenant in the ROTC, he sat in Sergeant Major Johnson's desk, at his seat. And why did he do that? Sergeant Major walked in and I have never heard a voice that delivered so much venom (LAUGH) on one man in all my life. And that was our (STAMMERS) introduction to the Marine Corps.

INTERVIEWER: While you were there, uh, at Montford Point, uh, did, did you get any liberty at all while you were at Montford Point?

LEROY MACK: After boot camp, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell about, uh, a little bit about, uh, what liberty was like in Jacksonville or if you left Jacksonville, maybe Wilmington, maybe Kinston, New Bern, Raleigh?

LEROY MACK: (OVERLAPPING) Kinston, New Bern. Didn't go to Raleigh, too far away, too far away. I was in the fire department, like I said, and hours was, uh, 48 on, 48 off. So we could go into, uh, uh, Jacksonville. AT the railroad tracks, there was this big sign that said, out of bounds to all White military personnel. The street was paved, or tarp, black topped, up to the railroad track.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) But once you crossed the railroad tracks, there was nothing but sand. And that's when we had to go. And I, I don't know, I think there was two clubs there, but they may have, it may have only been one. But anyway, that was the only place that we could go. Now, uh, down by the river was the, uh, USO, that, that was for Whites. It wasn't for, for us.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And, uh, Wilmington, all of the towns were in a span of 50 miles, Wilmington was 50 miles from Jacksonville, uh, Kinston was 50 miles from Jacksonville and New Bern was 50 miles from Jacksonville. Well, Wilmington was a, a pretty good place. Um, Camp Davis during World War II, uh, had a lot of, of Black military personnel there.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) I think it was an air base and, uh, they came to Wilmington, closer to, you know, and, uh, they kind of treated us with open arms. Kinston, uh, and (STAMMERS) in Wilmington there were much to do, much to do. You had a, um, nursing school there. Uh, a friend of ours by the name Jube Thayer (SP?) , who as a, uh, Staff Sergeant, he had married the girl who was, uh, in charge of the nursing school.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And, uh, it was right behind the American Legion and so, you know, the ladies would, uh, stay out until 11:00, 11:00. They had to be back at the school, but there were so many other places, Castle Street had all kinds of clubs on it. Uh, um, the main road by the projects that came in, in front, there were Johnny White's.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) What is now a, a, um, a Muslim church was a big nightclub. All the bands would make that watermelon tour. They'd come and, and, bands like Buddy Johnson, Lucky Miller and, and Dizzy Gillespie. First time I saw him was in a tobacco bar in, in, in Kinston. And, and it was so cold, everybody were overcoats and nobody danced.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) Um, Johnny White, he had a big club at Seabreeze, a place called Seabreeze. Every Fourth Of July, people would come from busloads, there would be thousands of people and (STAMMERS) everything was there. Restaurants, hotels, bars, dance halls, they had a pier that went out into the ocean and, and at the end of the pier was a big pavilion.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And we'd go out there and dance and (STAMMERS) oh it, it was something. Wilmington was a, a good spot. Now, Kinston, Kinston was just as good. They had, uh, I think one big club that everybody went to and, uh, everybody enjoyed that. Going to New Bern, that was hazardous because they didn't want us up there because they, they, uh, guy told me.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) He said, Mack, I just don't want to see you up here because, uh, you might be trying to take our ladies and, uh, and I don't want you to get hurt. So I said, yeah, okay, fine. So I never did spend too much time in New Bern. Uh, as far as going anywhere else, no, there was nowhere else to go.

INTERVIEWER: What about the, uh, camaraderie among the, uh, Marines, uh, your fellow Marines during boot camp. Uh, were, were you all close together? Did you all share a common bond or brotherhood? Uh, did you kind of stick together or were there?

LEROY MACK: It was a bond of brotherhood because (STAMMERS) here you were into a situation that you had never experienced before. It is something to be in an organization where somebody is cussing you out, making you do things that you don't want to do. Grab that locker box, son, we're going to hold locker box drill. And you'd have to run out the door with your footlocker on your right shoulder.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And he'd say, locker box, left shoulder, and you'd have to do all of that. And, uh, all those adversities, we were living in, in, in stone age. Tinned or powdered cheese, um, vinyl records, oh, yeah, you, you had to be innovative. We'd take um, we had a, um, a boy named Toby Tillman (SP?) , this is after we got out of boot camp.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) But Toby was very bright skinned, he could pass. And we'd send him in town to the fish market and go buy a couple pounds of shrimp and then we'd build a little fire and put some water, some salt and pepper and some bay leaves and, uh, throw the shrimp in this helmet. And, uh, that'd be, uh, our Sunday snack instead of going to Butch Wing's (LAUGH) Mess Hall.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) But (STAMMERS) as far as stick-to-itiveness, camaraderie, it, it was there, it was there. I, I have some pictures of, uh, of the men that were in my section. They, at that time, there weren't enough Black Marines coming in or Blacks coming into the Marine Corps and so, uh, we didn't have platoons, we had sections.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) You, you got, uh, 20, that was a section. And I've got pictures of Joe Birthall and John Nuttingham and we were all together. It was just a, a tight thing. Harry Rhoads was in the, in the platoon in, or the section in front of me and, um, he was in that section with Lou Roundtree. So, um, these are (STAMMERS) are men who, over the years, bonded tighter and tighter and tighter. And I think this is what keeps Montford Point going, um, this is what we're striving for.

INTERVIEWER: When you, uh, when you finally did leave Montford Point (CLEARS THROAT) , uh, where did you go for duty?

LEROY MACK: First thing, uh, we went to, um, Marine Barracks. I worked in the armory there at Marine Barracks. And, uh, then we left from there and went to, uh, uh, Naval Ammunition Depot at Earl, New Jersey. And we stayed there about a year and then we came back to Camp Lejeune to 8th Ammo. And, uh, we stayed there until, uh, I went to supply school and then went to, uh, San Diego.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, did you see any combat duty?

LEROY MACK: No, no.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, uh, while you were going through the training there at Montford Point, did you think you would?

LEROY MACK: Oh, (STAMMERS) that's all we talked about and that's all that, uh, Sergeant Huff (SP?) and, uh, all of those ones, that's all their, their job was. We had, uh, a young man, Thomas Finkley (SP?) , who was a machine gun wizard. He taught us everything that you, you could about machine guns. But yet still, Finkley could never pass a test, so he never got promoted.

INTERVIEWER: One of the things, uh, that I've heard, uh, most of the Montford Pointers talk about in coming through here is that they, uh, expected to, to go to war and fight, uh, when, when their training was over. But, uh, in fact, uh, very few of you really did see active combat. (STAMMERS) I think some of the men from the Ammo and Depot Companies, uh, got an opportunity to see combat. Um, how was, how did this affect, did this, was this a disappointment? I mean, did, did the Montford Pointers talk about that?

LEROY MACK: No, because, uh, as I said, my time at Montford Point was very short and the Korean War had come on. And, uh, everybody went, everybody was gone. If I hadn't broken my back playing football at, uh, Camp Lejeune, um, I would've been on that bus or that train, uh, with everybody else. So, they were prepared, they were prepared.

INTERVIEWER: Do you believe that the experience at Montford Point, uh, infludenced your life in, in any way? And, and if so, please tell us about that.

LEROY MACK: My journey through Montford Point, uh, taught me a, a, a lot. Taught me how to get along with people. You see, I have been in organizations where I've been the only Black, I've been in organizations where I was the senior Black, I've been in organizations where there were only a few, I've been in organizations, if, if you know the Marine Corps has a, a secret way that they can get messages to wherever you are going.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) Before you get there, they know about you and I've been in organizations, like my orders read for me to go to Vietnam. When we landed at Kadena, they said, uh, Gunnery Sergeant Mack, are you here? And I said, yeah. Get off the plane. Somebody wants you here. And I said, what are you talking about? I got my orders says I'm going to Danang. No, you're not.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) Somebody wants you here. I got off the plane, next day they took me to, uh, a supply company and, uh, the Colonel there said, uh, Mack, you have got to stop this riot. And I said, what riot? I don't know nothing about no riot. He said, your job is to stop this riot. And I said, I don't know what to do. He said, you'll find something.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And then, sure enough, I got all the staff from Supply Company and, as you know, Supply Company is big as a regiment, there (STAMMERS) in Okinawa. I'd gotten them together and I talked to them and then, uh, they sent me to a Navy (STAMMERS) chaplain. And, uh, he talked to me and, uh, then we went to see, uh, some Air Force men.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) Uh, the thing was supposed to be, the fight was going to be in, uh, in, um, in the bush. (LAUGH) It was going to be in the bush and, uh, I talked to them and then we finally agreed not to. So, when I reported back, uh, to the Colonel, he said, I was told that, uh, that was what you could do. Now I got two jobs for you. One, you can accept one or you can, uh, decline, you know, you take one of these jobs.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) One was managing, uh, MR 114, which was unserviceable stock, or you can take, um, NCO in charge of, uh, of, um, recreation, and recreation was in a million dollar deficit. And I said, no, I can't (LAUGH) I don't have a million dollars and, and you're not going to hang me up with that. So I took over, uh, right down the hall from him, um, I took over MR 114.

INTERVIEWER: I want to ask you a question that I, that I really haven't asked anybody else. But it just came from my, I want to ask you this. How, how do you, how do you feel when you come back to these Montford Point gatherings? I mean, what, what kind of sensations do you have and, like, just, can you talk about that?

LEROY MACK: It is a, a great sensation because these are people I haven't seen in years. You always hear rumors that such and such has passed. Uh, I (STAMMERS) went to, uh, Raleigh, uh, this year, to my son's wedding and then I came back through Charleston, which is, uh, my father's home. And, uh, my aunt was sitting there and she says, you know, your friend Cunningham (SP?) is dead.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) Elias Cunningham was the head of transportation for Charleston and, um, I said, he's dead? And I called the home. Nobody answered, so I said, well, that was it. And I came back, you know, and I talked to, uh, other Montford Pointers or people that remembered him and told them that he was dead. I get here and first person I see, Elias.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And we talked and laughed and his wife said, I got your phone message, but I didn't have your phone number so I couldn't call you. My Drill Instructor, I run into him downstairs yesterday, hadn't seen Clarence Noudan (SP?) in years, but there he was. First Sergeant Young (SP?) I hadn't seen him since boot camp because Noudan was my Drill Instructor and he'd run me across the street and he'd say, go over there to First Sergeant Young's office and ask for a piece of shoreline.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED)You run over there and you knock on the door and they wouldn't answer. You'd kick the door and they wouldn't answer. You'd beat on the door and finally somebody'd cuss and say, come on in. And you'd tell them what you want and they say, okay, you go to the supply building, there's a Warrant Officer down there. You asked him.

LEROY MACK: (CONTINUED) And you'd double time all the way down there and all of these bring back memories and that is the big thing that, uh, holds me. Because I, uh, after last year, I said, I'm not, I'm not going anymore because we're dying off so fast. If World War II veterans are dying at 1,200 a day, there are only 19,000 of us. Those that didn't die in World War II got killed in Korea, got killed elsewhere in the years between that and Vietnam. We're just a dying breed.

INTERVIEWER: We're a bit short on time now, but I want to ask you, sir, is there anything, now, this, this is going to be preserved for, forever, this, this documentary. Uh, is there anything you'd like to, to, to say now that I haven't asked you? Uh, very, very quickly before we run out of time.

LEROY MACK: I, I really don't have anything really inspiring to say. (LAUGH) It's just that I'm, I'm so glad to have lived this long. You see, I am one of the founding fathers of Montford Point Marine Association. We started in Philadelphia and there's only three of us left. And every time I come, I, uh, look for the three of us. And, like I said, we're dying out fast.

INTERVIEWER: If you had to do this Marine Corps experience all over again, uh, would you?

LEROY MACK: I would have (LAUGH) I would've gone through it again and again. I, (STAMMERS) it made a man, that's, that's the thing. It made a man.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you, sir. Thank you.


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