• Have a question? Want to talk to someone involved in the Montford Point Marines project?

    Contact Us
  • Our online collection contains photographs, interview transcripts and other artifacts from the Montford Point Marines.

    See the Collection

This web site was supported by the Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research, through a grant with South Carolina State University and developed by the University of North Carolina Wilmington, working in close cooperation with the Montford Point Marines Museum at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C.

JONNIE THOMPKINS

May 17th, 2004


a thumbnail image of Master Sergeant Jonnie Tompkins Master Sergeant Jonnie TompkinsMaster Sergeant Jonnie Tompkins grew up in McCormick, South Carolina, completed high school and attended Winston Salem State Teachers College before joining the Marines in 1945. A career Marine, Tompkins served in occupied Japan, Guam, and in Vietnam. Retiring from the corps, he worked as a butcher in a St. Louis, Missouri, packing house. After retiring, he moved to New Bern, North Carolina, where he resides.


JONNIE THOMPKINS: ...P-K-I-N-S, and today's date is 17 May, 2004.

INTERVIEWER: Mr. Thompkins, we really appreciate your being here for this interview, as with the others who have participated in this project, and, um, I'd like to lead you through a series of questions about your experience as a Montford Point Marine, if I may. First, I'd like you to tell us a little bit about your background before you joined the Marines, that is, where you were born and raised, what your family was like, what levels of education you obtained before you went into the Marine Corps.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Okay, uh, I was born in McCormick, South Carolina, and the story behind that, uh, my mother and father was married in McCormick and we moved up here to North Carolina, to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And, uh, I was, they made their home there in Winston-Salem, but what happened, my mother was a real young woman, had never, I guess, been out of McCormick, (COUGH) and when she became pregnant, you know, some of them, you know, they get sort of evil or upset, and she (COUGH) missed her aunt, her aunt raised her.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And, uh, she in turn, bugged my daddy until he took her back to McCormick to have me, and, uh, after she had me they brought me back to Winston-Salem, and that's where I've been all of my life. I have spent very little time, I went through McCormick a few years back and it was very interesting, but all the people down there was just about gone, passed.

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me what year you were born?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Okay, I was born, uh, December the 12, 1927.

INTERVIEWER: And did you have brothers and sisters?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: I have, uh, one brother and one sister, Mary and David, and I'm the oldest of the three.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, and did you go to school there in Winston-Salem?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes, I attended the, uh, Kimberly Park Elementary School, and then I went on to high school, Atkins High School and, uh, I, then I attended Winston-Salem Teacher's College, that's what it was back in the day of the '40s. But now they have changed since the, they had the integration of, uh, colleges, and it's now, uh, Winston, uh, Winston-Salem State University, so.

INTERVIEWER: And, uh, did you graduate there, or...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: No, I, I...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Did you, did you join the, you, you attended, you went...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) I attended...

INTERVIEWER: ...to Winston-Salem, right?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: I attended two years, I attended two years, from '44 to '46.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) And then after that, '44 to '46 and after that did you join the Marines?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: I joined the Marine Corps.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, why don't you tell us a little bit about why you decided to leave college and go to the Marine Corps, and, and why the Marine Corps rather than The Air Force or The Army or, or whatever, since you, you did join rather than being drafted?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes, yes, well, it, it was quite an accident that I got in to the Marine Corps. Uh, I had, uh, spent the, usually, uh, and from '44 to '46 I usually went to Detroit to work during the summer months. And for some reason in '46 I decided I wasn't gonna do anything but party. And, uh, I didn't have any money to go back my second year, but I always, I, I thought about it that I was gonna join the Coast Guard.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) That's where I wanted to go and, uh, it ended up that, uh, I went up to the post office, I talked with the guy, I guess in May about joining. See, I told him, I went up there and the, the guy said, uh, I was in (WORD?) at the door, I say, where is the Coast Guard, the Marine standing there, you know? He said, oh, oh, they moved to Norfolk, their headquarters in Norfolk now, say if you want to join, you have to go all the way to Norfolk.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) I didn't have any money to go to Norfolk. But he said, let me talk with you, and he took me in this room and he showed me, he had all the uniforms up there, and he says, uh, this is a great outfit, you know? And I say, yeah, I know, I said, but I've talked with a few Marines around here, and these guys are 6'3" and weighing about 180 pounds and nothing but solid muscles, I, look at me, I'm a 115 pounds, you know, 5'5", and, uh, I grew some in the Marine Corps, I guess from them packs and all.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) But, anyway, uh, the recruiter, uh, asked me, say, now, how old are you, and I said, I'm 18. He said, oh, no, no, now come on now, you can't waste my time. I cannot send you down there, you know, and, uh, say you got any proof, how about a birth certificate? I don't have no birth certificate. So, uh, he says, uh, uh, can I talk with your mother? Yeah. He put me in the car and took me over to talk with my mother.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) My mother said yeah, that's, that's his birthday, December the 12, 1927. He said, yeah, but he look like he's about 13 or 14 years old, said I'm not gonna, uh, take that, uh, do you have any, do you have a birth certificate? She said, no sir, he was born in South Carolina, and I've never gotten one. So, uh, he said, well, what about college, the records in the, uh, public schools? Said, yeah.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) So, he went down to public school and checked, and sure, when I, uh, first went into first grade and all that in it, my birthday was still December the 12, 1927. He still didn't believe me, and he took me over to the college, and he checked my records over there, same date. So, he said, well, I, I don't know, he said, but I'm gonna have to take a chance, said, but, you know, uh, you'll get in trouble if you're not, if you're not 18. So it ended up that, uh, they, uh, my mother was crying and all and didn't want to sign them.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And every time I talked about it, my mother passed and I just, I don't know, I've just been upset ever since, you know. And, uh, as it all ended up, though, she signed the papers and, uh, they took me off that day to Charlotte, North Carolina. But, I found out after I came back home that my father came home and said, where is June, she said, well, he joined the Marine Corps today. He joined who? The Marine Corps, and so he says, you know that boy, you know, he's not gonna do anything, he's not gonna make out like that. Well, she said, well, I signed it, he wanted to go.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And it all ended up, I went down to Charlotte, and lo and behold, I took a physical there, and then they took me over into South Carolina, and got another physical there, and I think he went down to the, uh, it's someplace there that you can go and check on births. So he must have found out that I was born in McCormick, and on 12 December '27. So, they brought me back and, uh, I stayed at the Y at, in Charlotte, they had a Black Y there. So, uh, that night, I don't know, people there, it's a, there was a rough street there, people were yelling and screaming, ambulance running. I said, my God, what have I gotten into here?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And then, uh, they put me on a bus the next morning from Charlotte and sent me to, and the guy had told, he kept telling me I was going to Jacksonville, and I was under the impression I was going to Jacksonville, Florida. And I said, boy, it's gonna warm down there, and all the beaches and all that, you know. So, it ends up that I get to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and, uh, it's about, it's about 11:30, and, uh, this Marine, uh...

INTERVIEWER: Night, 11:30?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, 11:30 at night, and I'm, I was sitting there just in the bus station, and, uh, I look at the notice there and it said, uh, uh, next, uh, uh, transportation to Montford Point would be something like, I think they had 1:30. I said, my God, arrive here at, around 11:30 and got to wait for 1:30 for this? So, this Marine came up to me, a Black Marine, say, hey, say, uh, skinhead, and I'm looking at this guy, scared me a, (STAMMERS) that ain't my name, you know.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) He says, uh, you going to Montford Point? I say, yeah. He said, okay, and he say, come on and get in this taxi with me, he said, I got to go back to the barracks and change clothes, he says. So, uh, I, uh, got in the taxi with him, I said, I ain't got no money. He say, I didn't ask you if had any money. Got me to the main gate and he say, hey, this skinhead here, called over the recruiting depot and tell them to come over here and get this man, and they came over, got me in a Jeep.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And I walked in the office. And there sat a corporal and it was two privates, because they didn't have any stripes, and this guy had two stripes. And I'm looking, they're smiling and carrying on, and I said, these guys are up to something. So, this, uh, corporal says, so you want to be a Marine? I say, yeah. Wait a minute, wait a minute, he says, you starting off on the wrong foot now. He says, uh, yeah? Said, you see anybody wearing this emblem, globe and anchor, you say yes sir, and no sir to them.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And I said, yeah, yes sir. He said, now, to be in the Marine you have to really be able to follow orders, and he says that, uh, you do what you're told, and he said you'll get along fine in this Marine Corps, he said, but first of all you have to learn how to take an order. Do you think you can take an order? And I said, yeah, yes sir, he said, okay, he, I'm gonna start off simple, I'm gonna give you a simple order.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And he looks at these others, he say, now, do you think he can pass this, uh, test of taking orders? They said we don't know, we don't know, and it was a little game. I said they playing a game on me. So, he said, I'm gonna give you a simple order. Now listen closely, and I said, yes, sir. He said, jump up, and I jumped up, then I had a smile on my face, you know, and I said, now this is too easy, there's something more to this. And he grabbed me under the collar, pulled me up to him, eyeball to eyeball and says, who in the hell told you to come down? (INTERVIEWER LAUGHS)

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) (LAUGH) And I say, I say, this guy is too much for me, you know? But, uh, in all, uh, I had a, a great time there. Uh, it was rough training and all that, never done, uh, training like that, but I said that, uh, the training really helped, uh, in cases because, uh, when the Korean War broke out, you know, we had a lot of people to surrender, and that was before they brought the, uh, this order on, um, you know, you give your name, rank and serial number if you are captured and all that. But, a lot of guys surrendered unnecessarily, I believe. I didn't believe they, they fought hard enough, but it was just one of those things.

INTERVIEWER: Let me stop you on that, that's an interesting story about your introduction into, in, in to the Marine Corps. But let me go back just a little bit. Um, when you went into the, to the Marine Corps, of course, at the time you went into the Marine Corps '46.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: There had been four years of, of African Americans going into the service, but were you aware of any of the racial history of the Marine Corps?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) No, I was not because I had seen, you know, Army, Navy, Air Force, a lot of my friends that lived on the street with me, they all really was in the Army Air Corps, you know, then there was an Army Air Corps, and the Army and the Navy. And I didn't think, (STAMMERS) because I never saw any, uh, uh, Marines. I saw all White because I shine shoes uptown, and they would come in on, on leave and all, and, uh, but I didn't think nothing about it.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) I thought they did have, uh, Blacks, and I just, I said, maybe no one here was tough enough, because all the, uh, information that you saw in the, in the, uh, paper was Marine this and Marine that.

INTERVIEWER: Well, after you got down, (LAUGH) what was your first impressions of maybe the first couple of weeks or so of, of the camp?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Okay, uh, everything was on the double. You ran everywhere, and, uh, you (STAMMERS) have too many, uh, uh, I'd say, uh, (STAMMERS) I, I heard someone say they had some leisure time, I didn't have no leisure time in boot camp. Every time I look up, they were doing something new every day of the week. Seven days a week we were out there doing something, and then on Sundays, uh, we would march us over to church and then bring us back. And, uh, I remember one day to, uh, break the monotony because we were cleaning up our, our rifles and all we had to be doing, so I'm shining shoes, and sometimes they fall us and drill us on Sunday.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And, uh, the, uh, DI came in one day and said, hey, one Sunday, say, I'll never forget, he said, we're going hunting today. I said, boy, good, that sound like a winner, you know, get a rifle go out there, shoot some squirrels and rabbits and all like that. He said, yeah, I think I want rabbit today, and, uh, we went out there. And I think it had half of the camp. And what we would do, he'd say, break you off a good strong stick, and, uh, we broke off these sticks, and, uh, he marched us out there, and we just took and surrounded the area, the platoon that's around there.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And then beat on it, like they hunt in Africa for wild animals, you know? And these rabbits would come out, and we had to hit them with a stick, and guys were scared. And we had one guy, the DI decided, I want squirrel, I got a taste for squirrel, and we went to the, and we saw the squirrel up there. He told the boy, he said, go up there and get it, he said, now if you don't, if, when you come down if you don't have it I'm gonna kick your ass.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And you know, that squirrel leaped to another limb, this boy leaped at the same time and had the squirrel and brought him down. And says, I got him, I got him. I said, now that DI guy, then I said to myself, that DI didn't think that boy was gonna get that squirrel, but he got him up there. (INTERVIEWER LAUGHS) But, uh, that was, that was the only leisure that we had.

INTERVIEWER: What about the spirit in the camp, the camaraderie in the camp? What do you remember about that in the...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) It was great among the, uh, boot camp because all, everybody in, in my platoon, we all helped each other. And there was some, you're gonna meet some people that are slow, you know, to catch on and, uh, we would try to get them in the barracks there, and some guy, we had one guy, he (STAMMERS) definitely when he said, right face, he would go to the left. And they'd say, your other right, you know, (LAUGH) your other left, and it end up like that.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) But, uh, it was great because we had, uh, we had about three guys in our platoon that, uh, flunked out, didn't make it. And, uh, and I think some of them did it intentionally, even wetting the bed. This one boy would wet in the bed (LAUGH) every night, and, uh, I think he knew that he, they probably was gonna let him go.

INTERVIEWER: Mm hmm.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: But, uh, I think most of them was scared. But, uh, after we come out and they, they swore, and that they would, when they got (STAMMERS) boot camp, that when they went on liberty they was gonna kill the DI. (INTERVIEWER LAUGHS) Ends up that, uh, that, uh, when, when we broke boot camp and went down on liberty, our first night of liberty, there I found the boys sitting around a table with the DI in the middle, and he had had, we had beer all over the place. They were all feeding him beer and buying him sandwiches. I said, you all supposed to kill that man there.

INTERVIEWER: Um, did you, now when you went in, all your DIs were African American?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) All was Black, yes.

INTERVIEWER: And there were still White officers, huh?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: We had one White officer there.

INTERVIEWER: One White officer?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, he was, he was there in recruit, and, uh, his claim, his claim to fame was that, uh, his was married to a Miss America 1945.

INTERVIEWER: Well, were the other officers African American?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: I didn't see any, I didn't see any...

INTERVIEWER: You just didn't see any officers?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) I didn't see any, any officers than that one White officer. He was, uh, he was, uh, and he was just as rough on the recruits as, as the DIs were, and if you went up there complaining about the DI hit you, and one boy went up there, and, boy, he beat the boy down, told him so everybody know not to run to the officer and complain about what, how the DI was treating you.

INTERVIEWER: So, you didn't perceive any racism as, while you were on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) other than the fact that the, the camp itself...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) The camp was separate that's all, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: ...was very separate, segregated. Um, what about when you had liberty in...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Okay.

INTERVIEWER: ...in Jacksonville, now you talked about the sergeant and stuff, but this, this was clearly in the African American part of town?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Uh, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Can you remember in any details or instances or just what it looked like visually or what your experiences were there?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Well, you got off the, off the, the, uh, bus at the bus station and you walked straight down the street and you crossed the railroad.

INTERVIEWER: Now when you say you got off the bus at the bus station, was that a Marine bus, was it...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: No, no, it was, it was, it was, uh, a city bus or something that they bring.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) So, you had to maintain racial etiquette, the, the traditional segregated etiquette on that bus from the camp into downtown?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) Well, most time they sent buses from, from, some buses came right to Montford Point, and it would take you downtown.

INTERVIEWER: But you still had to, uh, to sit in separate areas on the bus and so forth?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) Yes, yeah, yeah you're still in the rear.

INTERVIEWER: So, the racial etiquette was the same as it was had you been home in Winston-Salem?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, being a, being a Southern boy it didn't bother me.

INTERVIEWER: Okay.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: I knew what the rule was.

INTERVIEWER: So, you understood the racial etiquette, and you...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) Yes, sure.

INTERVIEWER: So, what about downtown Jacksonville?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) Okay, downtown Jacksonville, I don't know, it was, it was just a little joints, I called them, and, uh, we had a nice place on the corner there where you'd get a, a nice meal there. But, uh, we didn't stay too long. I broke boot camp in, uh, December and, uh, left on the eight draft in January for Guam. So, I didn't have much to do there until I came back in 1953, I came down, back to Lejeune.

INTERVIEWER: So, in '46 you get out of boot camp?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And after, uh, a very brief period you go to Guam?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And that was your first duty...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) First duty station.

INTERVIEWER: ...after, uh, boot camp?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: So, tell me a little bit about Guam.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Okay, Guam is known as the Gem Of The Pacific, and, uh, we had about, I guess about three to 400 men on the base there. But we...

INTERVIEWER: Mr. Thompkins, what was your unit?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: My unit was the, uh, what we did, uh, we was the Eighth Draft, and we, uh, boarded the SS Breckenridge in Norfolk, went through the Panama Canal and up the coast and then out to Hawaii and then to, uh, Guam. And we went to Guam we went to Eighth Marine Ammo Company. We were to, uh, take, they had the, uh, ammo that was, was, uh, staked out there for the invasion of Japan. So, since the invasion didn't come off we had to, uh, deplete that, uh, ammo, and that (WORD?). And a lot of it we sent back to the States and a lot of we took it out ten miles out to sea and dumped. Brand new stuff, I couldn't figure out why they was dumping.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) We had, uh, machineguns and all, and Cosmoline, and all you had to do was clean with Cosmoline and it'd be brand-new. And I wanted to know why we was taking them ten miles out to sea and dumping this, you know? Because I say, hey, uh, you know, we can use this stuff, you know? But, the guy, uh, really enlightened me and told me, hey, the American economy works like a circle. He said, now, if we kept all this ammo, the ammo company wouldn't make no money, we wouldn't ask them for no orders, you know.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) Then he says that it's just like anything else, you know. Is money is that's the name of the game, you know. And I laughed and we, uh, took it ten miles out to sea and we dumped it. Uh, we had an incident there which shook the guys (LAUGH) up, was that, uh, we had, we when landed there in March, uh, they had just had, uh, a fire in the dump, killed about eight or ten men. And what they did, we was talking shells and taking, uh, loosen the heads and, uh, spreading the, uh, powder, the black powder out.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And sometime you'd be standing in powder up to your knees, black powder. And they say what happened was that some guy must have hit a stone and caused a spark, it just (MAKES NOISE) went up, they didn't have a chance. And, and everyone was scared. And, uh, but, uh, we hadn't been there about a week and this, this truck came through with a load of Marines on it with rifles and they went up in the dump and, uh, heard firing. Come back, and, and I say, what's going on?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) He said, oh, they, they ran into some Japs. I said, wait a minute. This is 1947, the war was over in '45. He said yeah but these here people don't know the war is over, the Japs don't know. I said, isn't this a shame, you know, they didn't tell us nothing about that. But on Sunday's we used to take our weapons and go out through the jungle looking for Japs, and I think back, I say how stupid we could be, we could of gotten our head shot off out there. And we never did find anything, but we found skeletons and bayonets and weapons that had been thrown away.

INTERVIEWER: Now, you were in Guam how long?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Three years, '47, '48, and '49, came back to the States in '50.

INTERVIEWER: Now, did you, could you give me any comparison or did you notice any different in the racial etiquette or mores or, or behavior in Guam? You were still in a segregated unit, right?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, in a segregated unit.

INTERVIEWER: In Guam, compared with where you were in Jacksonville at, at Camp (STAMMERS) at Camp Lejeune in, in Montford Point.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) Well, well, I think, uh, after looking back on my career, Guam was the only place that I really visited that there wasn't any segregation, that, that the Blacks didn't hang out at one place. Any other place I've been, to, uh, Panama, you got a certain area that, that they hung out in. They can go to these other places, but, uh, uh, it wasn't real healthy, you know? Uh, I went to, uh, Japan and, uh, Okinawa, it's all, uh, it's all very segregated. That is that they, uh, they have, uh, places where the boys hung out, where Blacks hung out at, and where Whites hung out at.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) But, they, they did on themselves, and the story I read on it was that, uh, when they, uh, invaded Okinawa, uh, there was guy there, a major took over, he was from Georgia, and he wanted to split the races. And he gave the Blacks what we call Four Corners there, in all that they would go there and all like that. He was...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Were, were you at Okinawa?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, I was in Okinawa.

INTERVIEWER: What was Four Corners?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Uh, Four Corners was a four-intersection road there, and, uh, they, uh, that's where the Blacks hung out at.

INTERVIEWER: And, of course, these, these would have been all-Black units (STAMMERS) that, the, the Marine Corp was still...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) No, it was integrated, no.

INTERVIEWER: In '47?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: No, (STAMMERS) we are in '47, but this is, uh, when I went over there in 1958.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, so, that's, that's another story.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Alright.

INTERVIEWER: So, in, you were, let's stay with the '40-'46 period. Now we've got a little bit of it, you're in Guam, and Guam in '46, what you're saying is that, and (STAMMERS) I'd like you to say this back to me if this is correct. What, what you're saying is that when you were off base, when you were off duty, it was an integrated society?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me that, can you talk about that a little bit?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Uh, yes, uh, uh, we went to a, I hadn't been to a bar in, they had very few bars to start off with, in fact they didn't any when we first got there in '47. And then...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) And we're talking about Guam?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, and, uh, we had our own, uh, USO, uh, right at, at the Eighth Ammo camp, and, uh, then, uh, like I said, there was about 400 of us on there, and then they came out with an ALMAR, an all-Marine bulletin came out in 19, uh, see, '40, '47? '47, and, uh, said that anyone who wanted to get out of the Marine Corps could get out. And, uh, only one they was holding was medical holds, and ended up a court martial, he was up for a court martial.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And, uh, after that camp, after they, uh, everyone took their, uh, leave, a lot of them took that, and there was only, uh, there was only about, I'd say about a hundred of us left after that ALMAR came out and let everybody go. But, the stipulation in that was that you couldn't come back into the Marine Corps until a year afterward. And a year afterward, most guys left us there, and they was laughing and all about they was going to go in for the good times. A year later I went down to the docks and picked those same guys up that had gotten out, they had come back in the Marine Corps.

INTERVIEWER: But on, but on the island, though, right, because they wanted to get back home?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, on the island, uh, everything there, just, they had very few bars to start off with, and, uh, we had a, a beach and, uh, we had a, what they call, uh, uh, (STAMMERS) we had beer parties every week, out...

INTERVIEWER: Now, were they segregated parties or were they not?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Uh, well, well, the, the whole unit was Black...

INTERVIEWER: In Guam?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: ...so we had our own little part, we'd get a part out there, and all. But, it, as far as out in town, uh, no, I, I did, never did run into anything like that. (MUMBLES)

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Well, that's what I want you to talk a little bit about, in town. What about in town?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) In town they, uh, they just mixed, uh, easily and, and didn't have much trouble. See, out there, uh, like I was saying, even in the States here, every place you went there was MPs. Down in Jacksonville it was loaded, from the bus station all the way around. Those people would come in those bars every once in while and check just where you were hanging with. You know, how guys start drinking they want to take their tie off and all that. But, uh, over there on Guam, uh, it wasn't very much to do. You could only go to the village if you was invited by one of the Guamanians, (SIC) that was off-limits, period.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And the women were scarce, so, uh, you didn't, uh, have anything else to do but around the camp there, uh, beer, uh, ten cents a bottle. And, uh, like the guards, you couldn't drink the day that you were on guard duty, if you were assigned to guard duty. And you couldn't drink until afterwards.

INTERVIEWER: So, you were on Guam for three years?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Uh huh, on Guam for three years.

INTERVIEWER: After Guam what did you do?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Well, I want to tell you about what happened on me on Guam, one of the, those things that you always remember.

INTERVIEWER: All right. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) And, like I said, that, uh, on the base, uh, we had, we lived the, the, uh, we were in charge. They gave us, uh, guards and MP and security of the buildings, and we had to, uh, we were in charge of the gates and all like that. And, uh, one day, uh, this captain came out through a gate, and, uh...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) This was clearly a White captain?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, and he had a, he had a, he, he, uh, told me, uh, I, I'd stopped him, where, what happened was I reached for my gun, because they told me to check all these people going out, must see they driver's license and all, like that. So, uh, he backed up, he stopped and backed out. He was going home, he had his wife there, dependent. And, uh, you run out to the, uh, highway, you come around and it was a circle, and you, a one-way circle and, and you, uh, come out onto the main highway, it's a highway going past the base.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) So, uh, he says, why did you stop me? I said, because my orders here says that, uh, that I'm supposed to stop you, sir, and check your drivers license, you know, and find out if you got anything in here. You know, if you, if you need a pass to get anything out of here. He says, Thompkins, who in the hell signed that order? I said, you did, sir. He said, yes, now remember that. He said, now I don't want you to ever stop me again, and said that, I make the rules, I break the rules. I said, yes, sir.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And it wasn't about two months, and he would come in, every time he would come in, when he'd go out he'd, he'd spin, we had a, a rock, the, the street was rock, and he would raise his, spin his rear tires so it would throw, uh, rocks on me. And, and he came in one day from lunch, and behind me it was blind, he couldn't see, want you to stop, you know, before me, and he would come in and he'd make it his business, he'd just speed through me and, uh, you know, kick rocks up on me. And one day, I spied this six-by, it was out the corner of my eye when he came in, I saw it coming, and he got there, and he smiled...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) A six-by, explain what a six by is?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) A six-by is a, is a heavy duty four, about, about six or eight-wheel wheeler, and, uh, he, uh, he got up there and, uh, he was smiling 'cause he got his kicks of throwing that on me. And just as him slammed out of the, went past my gate, this six by hit him in his side. Knocked him, I guess, about, look like about 25 or 30 feet. He jumped out of that, crawled out of there and got blood running down and his uniform is all dirty, and he come, he said, Thompkins, Thompkins why didn't you stop me? And I gave him a snappy salute and said, sir, you make the rule and you break the rule. (INTERVIEWER LAUGHS) Didn't have no more trouble out of that man stopping and going.

INTERVIEWER: After you, (LAUGH) after you left Guam, where did you, where did you stay after that?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) I, I, I returned to, uh, Quantico, Virginia...

INTERVIEWER: Yeah.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: And that was another place there that, uh, there was only three Blacks there counting myself that was on general duty. The rest of the Blacks that was there was sewage. And, uh, we, uh, had a, well, it was, I think...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) What year was that?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: This is 1950.

INTERVIEWER: So, you were in an integrated unit by that time?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Uh, yes, they had integrated.

INTERVIEWER: Right.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: And, uh, but we were only, uh, only, uh, uh, me and a guy called Gator Red, he was in H And S Battalion. He was in water supply and I was in supply. And, uh, we had another Session, uh, he was Sergeant Session, he was the, uh, uh, movie operator, he'd operate the movies, used to be that the Marine Corps, uh, they train you and you had to MOS for that. And he ran the movie there in Quantico.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And, uh, I didn't, uh, uh, go out too much so they, in turn they would, uh, I went downtown a couple of times, and I, I would go to movies, but the guys, and the rest of the guys in my office, there was about ten of us, and, uh, I was the only Black in the office, and they brought me up from the storeroom. I wanted to stay in the storeroom 'cause I could wear dungarees. Up there, I knew we had to wear these uniform every day, tie and all, and (MUMBLES) that, you know.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) So, the first sergeant, my supply chief, told me, say, Thompkins, say, uh, I hear you don't, you don't go out too often. He says, uh, how about, uh, coming down to the office? I said, I can't type. He said, I got a book here, Ten Easy Lessons On How To Type. He said, I want you to take that and go in there at night, I'll tell the duty and so he'll let you in the office and let you work.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And I said, okay. So I went in and I messed around there two or three days. And, uh, I went through it, and, uh, he asked me, uh, Thompkins, how you coming along on that typing? I said I'm not doing too, can't catch it, you know? So, one Saturday night, I'm in there, and I wasn't going out, and I was in there just typing, and the door opened. It was my supply chief. He said, a-ha, he said, I been standing there for five minutes, he said, (LAUGH) you type good enough to work up here.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And I want you in a uniform come Monday morning and, and come up there. And I, I, I ruined there, and, uh, so I, uh, and my deal was I would go downtown there and, uh, go to the bar there. Now that was segregated down there...

INTERVIEWER: Right.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: So it ended up that, uh, I, uh, would go to the theatre. And I noticed in the theatre when I walked in the theatre that, uh, I would sit in the section that said Corporal, I was a corporal. So, uh, I sat in the Corporal section, and, uh, they had three aisles, a middle aisle and two outside aisles.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And I noticed that, uh, the, uh, Whites all sat in the middle aisle of this side aisle, and the Blacks would come in and they would sit over there on the, uh, left hand side of the theatre.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Now this was a service theatre?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Now this was, this was a service theatre. And, uh, I, uh, I couldn't get it, you know, I said, wow, you know? So I said well, maybe they do it in (WORD?) because they want to. And, uh, so one night I made the mistake and brought in, uh, my girlfriend, picked up a little girl downtown there, brought her in, and I sat her in the Corporal section, you know? The next thing I know, the guard is tapping me on the shoulder. I say, yeah? Lights still on, waiting on the, we're waiting on the movie to start. He says, you're gonna have to move.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) I said, move where? You have to move over there. Why have I got to move over there, I said I'm a corporal in the United States Marine Corps. It says corporal. I'm sitting in the right area. He said, no, you have to move. I said, well, tell me why? He went, I don't know, I, I go get my sergeant. I said, well, you better go get your sergeant. And, uh, he went and got the sergeant. Sergeant came around there, I said, and he says, uh, you giving my guard a problem? I say, no, he told me I got to sit over there, so tell me why I got to sit over there?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) I'm a (STAMMERS), I'm a corporal sitting in the Corporal section, I said I been coming here for about two months now. And, uh, he ended up, uh, he said, well, I said, I'm not gonna move, he said well, I'm gonna get the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Go get him. Come down there, some captain, and he says, uh, you are giving my guards a hard time here, and the movie, you're holding up the movie? I said, no, I'm not holding up the movie, I says, they're holding up the movie. He says, well, you're gonna have to move. And I said, why have I got to move, captain? 'Cause I said so.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) I said, that's not good enough for me. I said, I want to know why I got to move. He said, well, I'll tell you what, he says, uh, maybe I have to lock you up. I said, well, maybe you have to, I said, but I'm gonna tell you one thing. I said, I'm gonna call Adam Clayton in the morning. I say, he say, you know Adam Clay Powell? I said, yeah, I know the Congressman. I said, I've, I've been to parties with him, and he told me, asked me how I was doing here in Quantico and I told him I was doing fine, and I am, I have been doing fine until now.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) I said, so, uh, I say, uh, you ready for me to go? No, no, he say, you just sit right there, you know. I said, okay. Next morning, my captain called me in about 9:00, said, Thompkins, I hear, hear you had a problem at the theatre last night? I said, no, I didn't have no problem, they had a problem. I says, uh, I was sitting in the Corporal section like I'd been sitting, and I say, I haven't had no problems. But I brought in this young lady, now maybe 'cause, uh, they thought I was other than Black. And, uh, when I brought in the, uh, the young lady, she was dark-skinned, you know?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) So, uh, he says, uh, I hear that, uh, you know Adam Clay Powell? Sure do, and I said, he told me that anytime I had a problem to give him a call. And I said, I'm gonna give him a call 'cause I think I got a problem here. He said, well, hold off on this, said, don't, don't, don't, don't don't call him. He said (STAMMERS) the general is meeting, (LAUGH) he's gonna hold a meeting this morning, says, uh, maybe we can, we can, uh, square this away. I said okay.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) So, uh, mm, about, I guess about 11:00 he came, and, Thompkins he says, uh, uh, you can go into the theatre, sit where your, where your rank is, and, uh, I don't think you'll have any more problems. And I broke that up, and the guys told me, they said, Thompkins, say, let me tell you, say, they got a red mark beside your name on, on the record books. I say, why is that, what is that? He said, political influence. So, uh, I, I got by up there and I left there, uh, I left Quantico and then I'm headed for Lejeune.

INTERVIEWER: So, how long did you serve?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: I (STAMMERS), I served, uh, in, at, uh, Quantico I stayed, uh, three years, and then I moved on to Lejeune.

INTERVIEWER: And you were there for?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: And I was there from '53 to '58, and, uh, had a problem there. (LAUGH) I don't think they had gotten the word, I don't know. Uh, I finished, I went to advanced supply school for staffing COs, and, uh, I finished that, and, uh, while I was in school, uh, there was three of us in, uh, that school. There was, uh, another guy that I knew, I can't call his name, he's Black. And then there was, we had a Black WM, and, uh, ended up that, uh, we three, uh, she had her a room, she had a, an apartment out there.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And the guy, he was, he was married and he was living in the, uh, married quarters. And, uh, I would go out and see them from time to time. And it ended up that, uh, me and a bunch of the White guys, uh, we got together one weekend, they said, let's go out to the beach. I said okay. (LAUGH) We went out to the beach.

INTERVIEWER: Now, the beach being...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: The beach, Onslow Beach, which is a base beach, it's a beach on the base. And we went out there, and we went to the first building there, and it said Enlisted Club. And we went up there, and we had beers, but I noticed, I'm looking around and, says, goodness, I didn't see a Black person in the, in the place other than myself. And I says, now, I know all those guys, somebody supposed to here. So it ended up we had good time, but I heard James Brown, and I looked up the beach and there was a little beach house way up from this enlisted beach, and, oh, they having a gay old time up there.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And, uh, so, I went back, I had, I had finished my course, and they assigned me to special services. And, uh, I, uh, went back to my colonel there, special services (MUMBLES) he was a, a lieutenant colonel, and I told him, I said colonel, I said, what's going on here? He said, what are you talking about? I said I was out to the beach and, and you got a, there was a enlisted beach, I said it wasn't no Blacks out there, they were all up at one end, and I come to find out that all of them up there were all kind of ranks, from private to, uh, sergeant, top sergeant.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And, uh, he said, uh, uh, uh, I don't know. I said, well, uh, I'm looking in the, in the paper here, and it says, it has, uh, down here, dancing at the (SOUNDS LIKE) master pavilion, you know, and it says, Thursday night, Colored night. I said, don't you know that Blacks don't party on Thursday night, they party on Saturday night. And he looked at me and laughed, you know. And I said, this isn't supposed to be. I said, this supposed to be integrated now, and that means, your, your, your dance, anything on this building here, Blacks are supposed to go to it if his rank let him.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And he said, you know what he said? He said, are you sure? (LAUGH) I said, you better talk to somebody. So, uh, he went over and they had, the, uh, generals had a meeting, and, uh, he told them (LAUGH) what I had told him. And, uh, about a week later, they had integrated that place. They took the, uh, beach where the Blacks were and made it staff and CO beach, and let them come on down to, uh, to the, uh, enlisted beach. So, I had people on my case then.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And I said, why, I don't know why you people sit around here and let these people do this to you. I said, I tell them all, if I got the right to go there, I'm going. They don't tell me nothing on the base. I said I might take stuff out there in Jacksonville, but I ain't taking nothing here.

INTERVIEWER: What about Jacksonville at that time, what, did you go off base much during the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Not really that much, because I was married when I came back to Lejeune. And I stayed mostly on the base and I lived on the base. And most time, uh, I took the base paper, I didn't know what was happening in civilian life. Uh, I very seldom went outside, but I visited the staff clubs on the base. (MUMBLES)

INTERVIEWER: And what about, uh, relationships with, uh, White, uh, members of the corps who were roughly your rank, and so forth? With...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) Didn't have no problems, we meld like that, mm hmm. 'Cause a lot of them believed I was White. (LAUGH)

INTERVIEWER: And, was one of the reasons for not going off base, the fact it was a, a much more (STAMMERS) accepting atmosphere on base, and, and avoiding the, the, the continued segregation that existed outside of the base?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) Yeah, that's right, I, I didn't want to get trouble like that, 'cause I figure I might do something wrong.

INTERVIEWER: So, you just didn't want to deal with it?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: I spent, I spent most of my time on the base.

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever go overseas?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And where, where did you go overseas?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Went to Okinawa in '58.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, and how long were you in Okinawa?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Uh, I was in Okinawa for, uh, uh, 14 months, and, uh, what I did, uh, I was, uh, in charge of, I was the operation chief for Third FSR.

INTERVIEWER: You want to explain that to, uh, non-Marines?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Okay. A Four-Service Regiment, which was the supply. We supplied, uh, everyone, uh, all over the island there, and those that was on operations like, like the mid crews and all that, that, those in the, in the rest of the departments on. So...

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Okay.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: ...this was before, this was before ''Nam came up. And, uh, we, uh, we just went on operations in the, uh, Pacific. And, uh, as it all ended up, uh, I told all of the guys that, uh, that, uh, we, I took the first M16s into 'Nam.

INTERVIEWER: What year was that?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: That was, that was in, uh, '67 and, uh, dropped them off.

INTERVIEWER: '67?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: And a M16 being...

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, it was, we usually had, uh, the, uh, M1s.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. I see.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: And, uh, and the, uh, carbine and all in, uh, we first got hold of M16s, the Army had M16s when they went into 'Nam, but we didn't.

INTERVIEWER: That's, that's why I was asking.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, because, uh, that, that was my, that was my second tour. My first tour there, we had the whole division there, and that was a real wild place then.

INTERVIEWER: So, when you say there, you mean in?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Okinawa.

INTERVIEWER: In Okinawa?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, that was in '58.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Were you ever, were you ever in Vietnam?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, I went there, that's where I say I took the, uh, rifles in, uh, when I went on my second tour. That was in '66-'67. I was on Okinawa again, but I was a chief there.

INTERVIEWER: And you would take the supplies into Vietnam?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) Yeah, in, into Vietnam, and, uh, I took the first M16s in there. And the funniest thing there was that, uh, I would, uh, I asked for some water, I needed water. And they had a free night, there, there was free day, it was all day and all night they had. And, uh, the guy said, I got all the whiskey and all the beer you want, but I don't have any water.

INTERVIEWER: Where was this?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: This is on, uh, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in, uh, Danang.

INTERVIEWER: Danang.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: And, uh, I always drink Scotch water back, and I said no, I cannot, (STAMMERS) you don't have any water? He said, no, don't have any water. But, uh, I just told him that, uh, it was something that, the Lord have always looked out for me, it look like. I volunteered to go to Korea, and my captain stopped me, and said, no, take his name off the list because I need him here. And from there, uh, when I went, uh, to, uh, Okinawa, I was going to 'Nam, that's where I was scheduled to, and the guy got on the plane and said, I want Master Sergeant Thompkins to get off here.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) Uh, he's gonna be, uh, in charge of Third FSR, operation chief. And all my boys I had brought through Pendleton and all, you know, we have our advanced training in Pendleton before going to, uh, 'Nam.

INTERVIEWER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes, and they stopped at (STAMMERS) Okinawa there for refueling and all, dropped off some packages and they called me, and I tried to go after that but, uh, they said, no...

INTERVIEWER: Hmm.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: We didn't do that. But, they, they gave me two trips to 'Nam, and I took the M16s in the one time, and, uh, I volunteered to take the, take in the first load and then about two weeks, a couple months later, uh, they asked me if I wanted to go back again. I went back again, and, uh, this time, uh, I wanted to, I went up to one of the outfits and, uh, dropped off my weapons and the guy says, uh, they didn't fire on your airplane? I said, no.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) He said, well, here, he said the, uh, they're (STAMMERS) right down at the end of the field there and usually airplanes get fired on. And I met some of my boys that I knew, and they said, hey, say, uh, you gonna stick around, you can go back, but I can go back, you know, I can go back. I said, I said, well, I'll stick around a few days, maybe I'll get to pop some fire around here, you know? And they said they been, get hit every night, so I'm gonna see me some action.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) The first night, nothing. Second night, nothing. Third night, nothing. I said well, it's, sir, it's Friday night, we're getting ready for Saturday night, I said I'm going back to Okinawa. Told him I wanted to go to Okinawa. The guys came over to see me about three months later, they got R and R and came to Okinawa. They said, Thompkins, he said, you know, that night, that day you left, that night they hit us with everything but the kitchen sink. I said, you know, that shows you that the women here won't let them harm me when I'm in the area, you know? And he said, oh, we know better than that. (LAUGH)

INTERVIEWER: When did you leave the Marine Corps, when did you?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: In '69.

INTERVIEWER: '69?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yeah, October 31st.

INTERVIEWER: So, you, you spent a career in the military?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Yes, uh huh, 23 years.

INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you, to sort of wrap this up for us, how do you think the corps affected your life, you know, looking back on it, what, what were the sort of influences on your life that came from the your service in the military?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: Well, I'll tell you that, uh, I think the, uh, Marine Corps saved my life. If I had gone back to Winston-Salem where I lived at, it was, it was about 14 of us grew up together, and, uh, we were all born in '26, '27, '28. We all were around the same age. And, uh, out of that group of 14 boys, uh, I was the only one that, uh, finished high school and the only one that went to college. And they all have passed, and they either went to prison or they got on drugs or just got in fights and got killed, we had some of them killed, you know, in, uh, gunfights and all like that.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And that was the group that I, I grew up with. And, uh, I was home about three years ago, and this, uh, guy, the last there, he said, you know that we're the last of the Mohicans? I said, what do you mean? He said, you know, all the boys is dead but you and I. And he said, but I'll tell you one thing, Thompkins, he said you just go ahead on anytime, I think I'm gonna stick around a while. (INTERVIEWER LAUGHS) And I said, thanks a lot, you know. So, uh, he died about a year and a half ago, so I told my wife, I said he mist got tired of waiting on me, so he decided to go ahead on.

INTERVIEWER: Well, what are, what are your feelings now about having been in Montford Point? I mean, how do you, how do you feel about it?

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (OVERLAPPING) Well, really, I didn't realize I was a hero, a, a forerunner until, uh, I didn't think anything about Montford Point, you know, until, uh, this, uh, Marine organization was telling me about Montford Point, you know. And I just thought it was just a, just a meeting where they had parties and all like that. But then, uh, as things go on, uh, and develop, uh, yeah, he said, you one of them.

JONNIE THOMPKINS: (CONTINUED) And, uh, we had our, we had our little banquet this year, and there was one guy that came down, uh, he's putting out this Marine Corps book, he's putting out a book on the Montford Point Marines, we're supposed to get a copy of it in June. And, uh, he had in there that it was twenty thousand of us that came through, and only 200 left. So, I, every time I hear one die, check him off, you know. It, my number is down there, should be the last, uh, something down there, I believe.


Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the web site developers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Naval Research.