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August 17th, 2005

Staff Sergeant Henry McNair, born in Dillon, South Carolina, completed the seventh grade before joining the Marine Corps in 1945. He served with the 52nd Defense Battalion in occupied Saipan and Guam. A career Marine, he saw combat during the Korean War in both the Inchon and Chosin Reservoir campaigns and in Vietnam. Upon retirement he resided in Jacksonville, North Carolina, until his death in 2006.

INTERVIEWER: Alright. Sir, uh, as you know, these are basic questions that we've asked of every Montford Point vet. You're our 61st interview so a lot of guys have gone before you. So what I'd like you to do is just state your full name for me and spell it.


INTERVIEWER: And how would you prefer to be referenced so, this, this, they need something for the tape. Would you rather be called by your, your highest rank while you were in the service, like when we put a title up there, we're just gonna superimpose it and it's gonna say Henry McNair. Would you rather it read, what was your highest rank?

HENRY MCNAIR: Staff Sergeant.

INTERVIEWER: Would you rather it read Staff Sergeant Henry McNair, or would you rather it read Mr. Henry McNair, or would you rather it read just Henry McNair?

HENRY MCNAIR: Staff Sergeant, sir. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: And if you would, Mr. Mcnair, give me today's date. Today is August the 17th.

HENRY MCNAIR: August 17, 2005.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Thank you. Now, we're gonna start the process, and what I'd like you to do is tell me a little bit about your, your background before joining the Marines, that is where you grew up, what your educational level was before you joined the Marines, uh, what your family did for a living, did you live with your mother and father, just sort of basic things. And I know you're gonna say Dillon, but I want you to say Dillon, South Carolina, because that audience is not gonna know Dillon. So, so tell me a little bit about that.

HENRY MCNAIR: Yes. Well, I was born in Dillon, South Carolina. There was eight in my family, and I was the seventh child, five boys and three girls. My mother died when I was 16, and when I was turning 18, I had come into the Marine Corps.

INTERVIEWER: All right. Tell me a little bit about what your family, what your father, your mother did for a living.

HENRY MCNAIR: My mother was a housewife, and my father was a gardenist (SIC) .

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Uh, how about your education level?

HENRY MCNAIR: I went to the seventh, promoted to the eighth grade.

INTERVIEWER: And that was the end of your formal education?

HENRY MCNAIR: When I retired. I went to Coastal Carolina College.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Okay. Um, tell me a little bit about why you decided to join the Marines, and tell me what year you joined.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, I've always liked the Marine Corps, and I always wanted to be a Marine. And I joined the Marine Corps in 1945 as soon as I turned 18.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, when you joined the Marine Corps, were you aware that prior to 1942 the Marine Corps had never admitted African-Americans?


INTERVIEWER: You can't tell me yes. Now, remember you can't say yes or no, because the audience is not gonna know. You're gonna have to say when I joined the Marine Corps, I, I knew that, okay. So let's, let me ask that question again. Do you understand how you have to phrase the question? So when you joined the Marine Corps in 1945, were you aware that the Marine Corps had not admitted African-Americans until 1942?


HENRY MCNAIR: Yes, I knew that.

INTERVIEWER: You knew, and what was it that you knew? Yes, I knew that...

HENRY MCNAIR: Yes, I knew that, that the Marine Corps... (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, how did you travel to Montford Point?


INTERVIEWER: Okay. And can you tell me anything about that trip? Do you remember anything about that trip? Where did you leave from? How long it took? Just tell me a little bit about it.

HENRY MCNAIR: I, uh, went to, from Brooklyn, New York I traveled by bus into Jacksonville, North Carolina and then by city bus to Montford Point. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: What I want you to do, Mr. Mcnair, is tell me where you joined the Marine Corps, and how you came to be there before you joined the Marine Corps.

HENRY MCNAIR: My mother passed away when I was 16, and I was turning 17. I went to stay with them, and I stayed there one year. And when I was turning 18, I come join the Marine Corps at 303 Madison Avenue, New York City.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, and then you traveled to Montford Point by bus. Tell me a little bit about that trip.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, we come on the bus down to Warsaw, North Carolina by train and then we caught a bus from Warsaw to Jacksonville, Seashore Bus, and then they had a civilian bus to bring us on base at Montford Point.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, I want you to tell me what were your first impressions of Montford Point. What do, when you got off the bus and you, you, you walked to wherever you walked, just tell me what you thought about, what your impressions were, just try to put yourself back that day or that night and remember and tell me whatever you want to tell me.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, when I got off the bus, and they started screaming and yelling, I asked myself, what have I gotten myself into and...

INTERVIEWER: Is there more? Go on, go on.

HENRY MCNAIR: (LAUGH) So that's, that was the beginning and then they hurdled us up, formed platoons and started training us.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, I want you to remember as much as you can about what kind of training did you get, and I want you to be as specific as you can. Uh, did they train you in close order drill? Did they train you in the use of a rifle? And if so, what kind of rifle? How did they train you? Did they (STAMMERS) train you in hand-to-hand combat? Did they train you in, um, uh, other skills, uh, tearing down rifles or whatever? I want you to tell me, sort of walk me through your boot camp experience. Tell me what you did during boot camp, and also tell me the color of your drill instructors. You know, tell me who you were dealing with, what, what color were you dealing with and, and if you saw any Whites during this process. So just walk me through that. Let the, tell these people out there what you did when they trained you. I mean what you can tell them. So start that, okay?

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, my drill instructor was Colored. All drill instructors was Colored. The only officers we had were White, and they issued us rifles and started training us, bayonet training, machine gun training, all other types of infantry training. My bayonet instructor taught us, was named Sergeant Artwell, and then we started grenade training, other types of, uh, weapon training.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, tell me a little bit about how you moved around on the base. Just tell, tell the audience how you went from place to place on the base.

HENRY MCNAIR: Anywhere you move you had to double-time. You had to run wherever you went. If there was more than three, then you had to drill to move.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, what, I'm gonna ask you another question. I want you to think about now. Uh, this was back in the days. Um, tell me what you, what, either what happened to you or what you saw happen, uh, let me, let me put it another way. This was in an era when there was no prohibition on physical contact between drill instructors and recruits. Uh, were, did you, guys were hit. Did you see guys (STAMMERS) any D.I.'s hit guys (STAMMERS) all right. Then I want you to tell me some stories. You know, what was it like to be there? I mean, how did guys get in trouble, and what happened when they get in trouble? Can you remember anything like that, just, just, just, and just tell the audience some of the things you saw and heard and what happened.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, the drill instructors would hit you, kick you, do everything to you. That's how I learned to use the name Private, because I would just tell them my name was Henry McNair, and he'd punch me in the stomach. That platoon sergeant was named Art Wells from Detroit, and he looked at the other guy and said, what's your name, and he says, Private Leo Jackson and then he looked back at me and says, what's your name. I said, my name is Private Henry McNair, sir. I remembered.

INTERVIEWER: And did that happen frequently to other guys?

HENRY MCNAIR: Oh, yes, sir, it happened to quite a few of them, sir.

INTERVIEWER: All right. That's a good story. Um, now, what was the spirit of the men in the camp like, uh, particularly in basic (STAMMERS) in boot, in boot camp? Tell me what the spirit of the guys was.

HENRY MCNAIR: They (STAMMERS) most of them...

INTERVIEWER: Now, tell me the spirit of the guys, while during camp the, the, the spirit of the guys was, tell the audience. You gotta tell the audience. You can't just say, yes, sir, okay, you understand?

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, the spirit of them, the majority of them was glad to come into the service, and they liked it. And a lot of them didn't, because at that time we were not regular Marines. We were Selective Service Reserves, although we had volunteered, but they did not take us into the regular Marine Corps until 1946, in which a lot of people don't know. But after '46, then we become regular Marines.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, let me ask you this. Uh, did you, when you had any leisure time in, in boot or in your first assignment if you were on Montford Point, what did you and the guys do? Just tell me what you would do when you had a little down time, things that you remember doing, uh, here at Montford Point.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, we would, uh...

INTERVIEWER: And tell me when we had leisure time, say when we had leisure time we would...

HENRY MCNAIR: When we had leisure time, we would wash our clothes, hang them up with tie-ties. A tie-tie is a string that you tied them on the line with. And we shined our boots, our shoes and make sure that they were shined. At that time you wasn't supposed to shine them. We had boondocks, and we wore leggings, but we would have to scrub those up and keep them clean. It's like that, sir.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any conversations with the other guys when you were doing this, or did you ever go anywhere? I mean, did you have time to do anything other than, than get your gear in shape?

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, we would, you had a chance to go to the movie, go to the slop shoot...

INTERVIEWER: Now, explain what the slop shoot was.

HENRY MCNAIR: The slop shoot you could go, and if you was 21 you could drink beer, you could shoot pool and you can drink sodas.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have a jukebox in it?

HENRY MCNAIR: Uh, I don't remember. (LAUGH)

INTERVIEWER: Okay. That's okay. Fine. That's fine. All right. Um, anything else that you can remember about leisure time? Did you ever play any sports in leisure time?

HENRY MCNAIR: Uh, we used to play baseball, baseball. We played sports during leisure time, and on Sundays, we would go to church. They would march us to church, the whole platoon, and we'd go to church, fall in and march back to the barracks.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, let's leave the camp a little bit. Now, we're gonna take you off camp. Um, for example, when you, when you went off base, usually this would've been after boot, and you probably got liberty. And I don't know how long you were assigned here to Montford Point, but tell me if you went off base on liberty to Jacksonville or Wilmington or any of those towns around here. And if you did, what it was like, and if you did, did you run into any, uh, racism on the part of the White population in those outlying towns.

HENRY MCNAIR: All right. While during boot camp at Montford Point, you couldn't go on liberty. And far as we got was going to the rifle range. And when we went to the rifle range, we went aboard a mite boat. They would not take us through the town on buses or trucks. We took a mite boat to the rifle range up New River and when we come back, we come back by boat after firing the rifle range for a week.

INTERVIEWER: Um, what about once you were through boot? Did you ever go into any of these towns? And tell me a little bit about what it was like? What was Jacksonville like? What was Wilmington like? Kind of describe it for me, describe the (STAMMERS) you know, what it, what it felt like...


INTERVIEWER: ...how people treated you, where you went, where you were allowed to go, just tell me what you can remember.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, Jacksonville, once I finished boot camp, I would go to Jacksonville and go to a few places. They had a colored U.S.O., and we used to go the colored U.S.O. We used to go down across the tracks a couple of restaurants and, uh, to leave Jacksonville, we'd have to go to the bus station. The bus station was segregated. Whites went in one side. We went into the other side.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me a little bit about what you did at U.S.O. And tell me what it looked like, what was the (STAMMERS) what did the U.S.O. look like, who was there, what did you do there.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, it was just a little (STAMMERS) ...

INTERVIEWER: Tell me the U.S.O. was just a little.

HENRY MCNAIR: The U.S.O. was just a little, small building and, uh, there was a, a Ms. Grice there that ran it, Ms. Beulah Grice and, uh, we would go there and, uh, read books, uh, play records, uh, things of that sort. It wasn't too much that we could do.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Do you recall any incidents, uh, in, in which you encountered direct racism from Whites while you were in Jacksonville or on liberty and so forth, anything you'd wanna tell me about?

HENRY MCNAIR: There was a lot of racism, but, uh, I never, I never got tangled in with any of it so...

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, so you pretty much knew where to go. For example, when you said across the tracks, what do you mean by across the tracks?


INTERVIEWER: You said you went to these stores and so forth across the tracks.


INTERVIEWER: Tell me what you meant by that.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, there was a railroad track there. Now, they got an old, uh, caboose there (STAMMERS) end of the, on the track, but the railroad come through Jacksonville at that time. And, uh, it only come through once a week, and it would go across the trestle through (STAMMERS) Jacksonville, through Georgetown and, um, through Wilmington. It's been a long time ago. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, where did you serve immediately after you left Montford Point?

HENRY MCNAIR: I went to the 52nd Defense Battalion on Saipan in 1946. I was with the battery on Saipan, Sergeant Major Hashmark Johnson was the Battalion Sergeant Major. We headquartered on Guam in (STAMMERS) this was 1946, and I would come back to the states in (STAMMERS) after '46 and '47 and reported into Montford Point in 1947 and that's where I met First Sergeant Edgar R. Huff.

INTERVIEWER: Now, what I want you to tell me now is, I'm gonna jump a little bit. I want you to tell me when and under what circumstances, tell the audience, not me, when and under what circumstances you went into an integrated unit. When did you first go into a unit with predominantly White personnel? Just tell the audience how that happened. You were telling me earlier how that happened. Just tell the audience that same story.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, they says that you were, the President of the United States said that the Marine Corps would integrate just like other branches of the service. So I got transferred to the second battalion of the sixth Marines which had just been formed. And at that time the whole battalion just about was gone on a (WORD?) cruise. Then the war started in (STAMMERS) ...

INTERVIEWER: Wait, wait, wait just a minute. I want you to tell me, you told me why you did, but I want you to tell me what unit you were transferred out of, what unit you were transferred into and the difference between those two units and what, in terms of racial composition, and what year was this. Tell me what you just told me but add those things in, okay? Tell, and be sure to tell me what year, okay? Let's go and do it again.

HENRY MCNAIR: The year was 1949, and I was transferred from medium depot company, an all-colored company at tent camp, which is now Camp Geiger. And they transferred me to the second bat. sixth Marines which had just been formed by Colonel Whaling (SP?) 1949. And they sent me back to another unit because (SOUNDS LIKE) two-six was on the Mediterranean cruise, and I went back to my other unit until they come back and the war started in '50, November of '50.

INTERVIEWER: And by the war you mean?

HENRY MCNAIR: No, not November. September '50.

INTERVIEWER: And by the war, what war?


INTERVIEWER: Okay. So, um, you told me earlier that there were only two guys that they transferred to this unit. The, there were two, two...

HENRY MCNAIR: Two colored.


HENRY MCNAIR: There was two colored, myself and a Sergeant Gold. He played with the foot division football team, and I went to the flamethrower units, flamethrowers and rockets, 3.5 rockets.

INTERVIEWER: Now, you were in Korea. I want you to tell me a little bit about soldier experiences in Korea. So what I want you to tell me first is I know that you were at Inchon, and I want you to start out, and I want you to start this story by telling the audience, I went into Korea as a part of the Inchon landing, and then you, after you say that, tell me how you went, what happened, what you remember.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, I went in at the Inchon landing in 1950. The first and the fifth Marine regiment landed on the 15th. The seventh Marines landed on the 21st, and we landed and moved out and supported the fifth and the first Marines (STAMMERS) securing and taking of Seoul, surrounding Seoul and all the way up to the 38th Parallel.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, during that time, I want you to tell the audience what your job was. What, what were you doing?

HENRY MCNAIR: My job at that time was 3.5 rockets and flamethrowers in which we didn't use the flamethrowers too much but rockets we used, 3.5, and we had some of the 02.36 rockets.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. And, and what was your job in (STAMMERS) in using those rockets?

HENRY MCNAIR: I was a rocket launcher, rocket man.

INTERVIEWER: And, um, after Seoul, where did you go?

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, we went, uh, aboard ship. We went to the 38th parallel and then they pulled us back, put us aboard L.S.T.'s and landed us at (SOUNDS LIKE) Wansan Harbor in North Korea, and we advanced up to (SOUNDS LIKE) Hagaruree, Udamnee, Choisan reservoir area.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, you were in the Choisan campaign? Were you in the Choisan reservoir camp? Don't say anything yet. You, you were in it, right?


INTERVIEWER: Did you get overrun?

HENRY MCNAIR: We got overran twice.

INTERVIEWER: Wait a minute. All right. Now, I want you to start, and I want you to give as much detail as you can. I mean, tell, tell the audience what it was like, what it sounded like, what it looked like. You were overrun twice. I want you to, uh, what, what kind of temperature you were in. Make the audience feel what it was like to be there, and you may not want to do that, but as much as you can, I want you to do that. So I want you to start out and say, I was in the Choisan reservoir campaign and then start telling the, the, the story of the Choisan reservoir campaign as you experienced it.

HENRY MCNAIR: Yeah, I was in the Chosen Reservoir Campaign, 7th Marines, we spearheaded all the way up to Hagaruree, Chosen reservoir, Udamnee, fighting Chinese, 124th Black Diamond Division. They overran my unit twice. We followed them with bayonets, and the most of them would just keep running past us. (LAUGH) You know, it's hard for me to remember. This thing was 55 years ago.



INTERVIEWER: Um, now, after they overran you, um, what did you do? Tell us what you do once (STAMMERS) how, what did you do. They, they came in. They overran you. You were fighting them with bayonets and then, then what did you do? How did you try to get back with the rest of the, the American forces and, or, or the United Nations forces?

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, we, at that time we had word to go ahead and pull back. At that time I was at Udamnee. That was about six to 12 miles from Hagaruree and about 12 from the Chosen Reservoir, because we had shifted across from the Chosen, and we were trying to help Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. And all of us had to pull back what was left. My unit come out. We had 42 of us. Dog Company had seven men. Fox Company had 30-some men. All of us wasn't in fighting conditions. Most of us was wounded, but we had no choice. They couldn't evacuate us out or anything.

INTERVIEWER: And how did you get out? Tell us about how you got out.

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, we walked out holding the railhead. The railhead is a big old road along mountains where the vehicles would fall, troops would fall. In the meantime we was fighting Chinese, mortar fire, artillery fire, all the way back down the hills, all the way back down the mountain.

INTERVIEWER: And tell us about what the temperature was like. What was the weather like while you're doing all this?

HENRY MCNAIR: It was about, the weather was real cold. It was about, uh, 40 to (STAMMERS) 50 degrees below zero, real cold, half of us was (STAMMERS) froze with (STAMMERS) frostbite. Some of us couldn't hardly move, but we continued to move.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, after you got out of the Choisan reservoir, where did you go then?

HENRY MCNAIR: We went down, we pulled out of the Choisan, and we made it back to (STAMMERS) Hamnung, North Korea, and we pulled out, my battalion 2, 7, when there were 1300 men. We got reinforcements while we were there and when we come out there was 283 of us left in fighting conditions. The most of us were still wounded.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, um, after your Korean experience, um, where were you assigned after you came out of Korea?

HENRY MCNAIR: Uh, I come out of Korea in March, and I come back to Camp Lejeune to the rifle range attachment. They had to become a pistol (STAMMERS) security guard first and then I went to the pistol range and become a pistol instructor.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, at this time the Corps was totally integrated; is that correct?

HENRY MCNAIR: Not totally. They wasn't totally integrated then, because when I went to the rifle range, they had an all-colored guard unit, and I went to that all-colored guard unit. And when I left there I went to the pistol range and taught marksmanship with a pistol.

INTERVIEWER: To integrated troops?

HENRY MCNAIR: To integrated troops.

INTERVIEWER: All right. I wanna go back to this all-colored unit. Uh, why don't you tell me a little bit more about that? Uh, you said this would, this would've been in like '50?


INTERVIEWER: '51? They still had all-colored units in '51?

HENRY MCNAIR: I reported back they...

INTERVIEWER: I want you to, I want you to, I want you to run that by me again. I, I didn't realize they still had all the colored units that late. I thought most of them were done away with...

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, the...

INTERVIEWER: ...'cause the war broke out.

HENRY MCNAIR: Yes, the, the, they, they still had the security guards at the rifle range was all-colored units, but then they started shifting us. Some of us become rifle instructors and some of us become pistol instructors, various, various things that, uh, they started distributing us out on different jobs and this was in 1951.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. All right. Um, now, tell me a little bit about, uh, how you went to Vietnam and when you went to Vietnam.

HENRY MCNAIR: I, uh, went to Vietnam in November of 1966. I went up to the supply unit at Fubai (SP?) which later become a helicopter base. And I left Vietnam 16 September, 1967.

INTERVIEWER: And tell me what, what your job was when you were in Vietnam.

HENRY MCNAIR: In Vietnam I was the gunnery sergeant of (STAMMERS) L.S.G. Alpha.

INTERVIEWER: Now, you have to tell people what that is.

HENRY MCNAIR: That is a supply unit that supplied the whole third mass of Vietnam.

INTERVIEWER: And what was your job there?

HENRY MCNAIR: My job there was the Gunnery Sergeant of Headquarters, Headquarters Unit.

INTERVIEWER: And what did you do?

HENRY MCNAIR: A number of things. I did a number of things, supplied all the way down to Denang all the way back up to Hue and back up. And then they started making it a helicopter base. At that time I had my orders to come back to the states. That was 16 September, 19 (STAMMERS) 67.

INTERVIEWER: And when you came back to the states what did you do?

HENRY MCNAIR: The eight days later when I come back to the states they hand me my retirement orders.


HENRY MCNAIR: 1 October, 1967. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: Um, let me ask you, what do you think is the historical significance of the Montford Point Marines? Why, why do you think, for example, we'd be doing this film? What do you think it is that the Montford Point Marines represent to you? Have you ever thought about that? Does it have any historical significance for you?

HENRY MCNAIR: It sure do, because that was the beginning of my life as a teenager and turning 18 so it's been everything to me, everything to my life.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Um, and I want you to go a little further with that. How did the Marine Corps experience, your experience in the Marine Corps, how did that (STAMMERS) impact and influence your life? Give me some examples. What do you think it did for you?

HENRY MCNAIR: Well, the Marine Corps...

INTERVIEWER: And say it again (STAMMERS) say, the Marine Corps did whatever.

HENRY MCNAIR: The Marine Corps gave me all kinds of hopes. It really lifted my morale. Every time I turned, they had me in a school, and I learned so much. Even after I retired, same, same thing.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. I got one final question for you and then we'll let you go. Um, what are your feelings now about having been a Montford Point Marine? How do, how do you feel about it? How do you feel about having served as a Montford Point Marine?

HENRY MCNAIR: I feel very good of serving as a Montford Point Marine, because it was part of the history of the Marine Corps and of the country. I feel real good about being one.

INTERVIEWER: Uh, oh, and final question, everybody gets a final question. You heard me, uh, ask Ms. Goldwin (SP?) the final question. What do you wanna tell the people out there that I haven't asked you? Anything you wanna say. The camera is yours. If you don't wanna say anything, that's fine too, so but whatever you wanna say.

HENRY MCNAIR: It's been a great life and still is, a long time ago.

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