• 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.

WILLIAM VANN

August 11th, 2005


Sergeant Major William Vann, a native of Wilmington, North Carolina, joined the Corps in 1949. He served for more than thirty years, seeing duty in both Korea and Vietnam. Retired, he resides in San Diego, California.


INTERVIEWER: Okay, Sergeant Major Vann, we ask these same questions of every Montford Point Marine that we've interviewed, so, um, the first question is that or the first thing I'd like you to do is state your full name and spell it for me please, and today's date, which is the 11th of August, 2005.

WILLIAM VANN: My name is William Vann, W-I-L-L-I-A-M, V-A-N-N, last name.

INTERVIEWER: Today's date?

WILLIAM VANN: Today is the 11th...

INTERVIEWER: August.

WILLIAM VANN: ...11th of August.

INTERVIEWER: 2005.

WILLIAM VANN: 2005.

INTERVIEWER: Sir. Okay, Sergeant Major, can you tell us a little bit about your background before you joined the Marine Corps, things like where you were from, a little bit about your family, and then your education.

WILLIAM VANN: Yes, I'm from Wilmington, North Carolina, and, uh, I was reared by my, uh, mother and elder sister, my father died at age, when I was at the age of two. And, I attended high school in Wilmington and I was, attended grammar grade and high school in Wilmington, North Carolina.

INTERVIEWER: The name of the schools and tell me a little bit about your family.

WILLIAM VANN: Uh, the name of the, the school was Williston where I attended high school and the elementary school, that I do not recall, other than it was in East Wilmington.

INTERVIEWER: Your, your family, brothers, sisters?

WILLIAM VANN: Uh, my, my, my mother and my sister, I was reared by them, and I never saw my father because he died when I was two years old.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Sergeant Major, why did you join the Marines?

WILLIAM VANN: I joined the Marine Corps for several reasons. I wanted to, uh, travel around the world and I wanted to, uh, the, work for my country. And, also to make my mother's situation better with the money that I earned in the Marine Corps.

INTERVIEWER: Why did you choose the Marine Corps specifically, there was the Army, the Navy, why did you choose the Marines?

WILLIAM VANN: The Army, the other branches of the service, I checked with all branches, they, they did, they had their quota, was what the recruiter informed me, the only branch that was left was the Marine Corp, and they needed, uh, Marines real badly. And, that's why I ended up in the Marine Corps.

INTERVIEWER: When you joined the Marines, uh, did you know that the Marine Corps had never admitted African-Americans, and if you did, did that knowledge, uh, influence your decision at all?

WILLIAM VANN: No, I, um, I did not know that they had never, uh, enlisted African-Americans, but I know during 1943 through '45 I saw people who I, friends and neighbors who had served in the Marine Corps so I, I wasn't totally surprised, but, but how, but their limitations did not affect me, my decision any whatsoever. I just wanted to serve my country and go into the military service.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, you were, uh, closer than most of the Marines that went to, uh, Montford Point closer to the camp itself, uh, but can you tell me a little bit about the day, if you can remember, the day you left home and the day, and then the trip down to Montford Point, it was only about 60 miles, I think, but tell, tell us a little bit about that day, the trip down?

WILLIAM VANN: The day I left home I went and walked with my mother to Princess Street and I told her I decided to go in the service, the paperwork had already been taken care of. And, she told me that she would pray for me and she wished me well. And, then I reported to the Post Office and, uh, then I had to Raleigh, North Carolina to be examined. So, I went there and I passed all the tests at Raleigh, and then from there I was sent to Camp Lejeune by bus, either, either Greyhound Bus or Trailway Bus Line with a few other personnel. And, then we waited at the pickup station in Jacksonville until the Marine Corps sent a truck to pick us up and take us to Montford Point.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any recollections of, uh, the other people on the bus, were they, were they all Marines and did you all talk about what was about to happen?

WILLIAM VANN: No, we did not discuss it too much because, and it was more on the individual basis how are you doing and why are you going, and most everybody said we're, I'm, I volunteered to serve. And, there wasn't too much intimidation about, uh, you know, the, the, the fact that we were going into the Marine Corps, it just was a place that we were going to, to, to be trained, and serve our country.

INTERVIEWER: When, when you arrived at, uh, Montford Point, uh, uh, and you got off the bus as you were traveling through Jacksonville down what is now Highway 17 I guess, and you, you got there, tell us about your feelings about what you saw and, and what you were in for, just, can you talk about that a little bit?

WILLIAM VANN: Yes, I can. It was a very wooded area that we ended up in and I had never seen anything like that before. But, uh, and I noticed how the camp was laid out, everything was in land, and everything was spit and polish, so I knew I was in for some regimentation. So I didn't, uh, really bother me that much, because I had volunteered to serve. And, then after, after they, we got off of the truck I had to report in to an office, we would report in individually.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, this, you went in, uh, uh, this individual that was there, I think he was a private or PFC, he started talking real nice to me (LAUGH) at first, so I said, boy, this is not going to be too rough after all. So, then all of a sudden he changed, and he said, you see that rafter up there? I said, yes, I see it. He said, I want you to grab it, jump up and grab it, and hang up there until I tell you to come down. I only weighed 100 pounds so hanging up there was not too bad, and plus the extra motivation.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) So, I just hung up there kind of indefinitely. And, then he said, you know, I can't, my arms couldn't take it anymore and he said, and then I, I, I dropped down, he said, you'll make a good Marine, you were up there a long time.

INTERVIEWER: What, what about, what about the buildings, uh, what were your impression of the buildings, the activity, the regimentation, the troops marching around, were they being drilled, what...

WILLIAM VANN: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: ...did you see...

WILLIAM VANN: The build, the building was just a typical constructed building like you see sometime for hurricanes and things like that, and it, um, it, the buildings were neat, they were neat and clean, and, uh, when, when, when they first arrived, uh, you had to keep them that way by being on working parties, making sure everything was spit and polish. But, um, the buildings were not, that, that did not present any problem to me and I didn't hear anyone else complain about the buildings.

INTERVIEWER: What about the activity, uh...

WILLIAM VANN: The activity, they were taking, they were putting people's names on rosters, setting you up for training and assigning you to platoons, and, uh, then as soon as possible, I guess after orientation, the do's and the don'ts, and the, the orientation after a period, then they started getting into training, uh, issuing you uniforms, I guess I was there about a couple of, about a week or so before I got my uniform.

INTERVIEWER: I know that after, after, after the camp was established, uh, that they, when they first started out with, uh, White drill instructors and they transitioned to, uh, uh, Black drill instructors, uh, did, did you encounter anything that you could say was racist while you were there, uh, and, and if so, can you give us some instances?

WILLIAM VANN: Now, in the camp, in, in Montford Point I did not, uh, encounter anything that I would classify as racism. I only saw one Caucasian and I only saw him when I went to chow, he was the Officer Of The Day checking out, checking the food out and making sure everything was okay, and I never had any dealings with that, with him, other than that I only saw all African-Americans there, they were running the show.

INTERVIEWER: Now, um, I, I remember when I went through OCS that the, uh, uh, when I can recall what I, what was going on, on, on the camp there, up there at Quantico, uh, there were troops marching, there were people drilling, barking out cadence and, and, uh, you know, there was Judo classes, you know, there were all kinds of things going on, and spiritual high, you know, uh, the troops were gung ho and did you know, did you have that same kind of, uh, feeling about what was happening at Montford Point, and if so, tell me a little bit about it?

WILLIAM VANN: Yes, uh, there were lots of activity, lots of drilling, and, uh, lots of cadence calling, and there were lots of running, everywhere you went you went on the double, there's no walking. Uh, you, and, uh, we would march three times a day to the chow hall of, uh, the, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, uh, and the, all of that was part of, the marching was a great part of the training, so I never had any trouble with that. Uh, if some of the people were, were bouncing the DI would bring it to their attention that you weren't bouncing and you better get, uh, get, get with the program.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, sometimes the people who were bouncing they'd take, they would have them to fall out and run around the platoon and the platoon will continue to go to, to the chow hall.

INTERVIEWER: But did, uh, tell me, uh, tell me a little bit, uh, if you will about the, the, the spirit of the, of the troops, I mean, were they into it, were they gung ho...

WILLIAM VANN: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: ...were they happy when, when they got together, you know, did they talk about the...

WILLIAM VANN: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: ...being the best of the best?

WILLIAM VANN: Yes, they were very gung ho and very enthusiastic, they were all the guys, we had, uh, some veterans in there from other branches of the service, too. But everybody, no one seemed to oppose what was being told, what they were being told to do and to, to carry out instructions. I never saw anyone disobey a single order the entire while I was in boot camp, and I, I was there every day, I wasn't sick a single day.

INTERVIEWER: And, let's move off base a little bit, what, what... (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: (CONTINUED) Can you tell us a little bit about the kind of training you received, what did you do, what kind of training did you go through at Montford Point? And, you, you talked about the drill, the marching, but tell us other things that they, they trained you in and, and sort of walk us through that a little bit.

WILLIAM VANN: Okay.

INTERVIEWER: Because you said that during the orientation that they assigned you training, if you could elaborate on those trainings.

WILLIAM VANN: Okay. They gave us training... (TECHNICAL)

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) They gave, gave us training in, uh, how, cleaning of the rifle, uh, uh, cleaning of the machine guns, in fact, we used to have competition with the rifle, they would, some, some Di say to you, disassemble it and reassemble that rifle blindfold you, blindfolded, and most of the Marines could do that. And, cleaning of the rifle, uh, there's no such thing as a rusty rifle in boot camp. And, uh, same with the machine guns and we were taught first aid, and we were taught, taught how, uh, how to, uh, assemble your pack together, what to put in your pack, what not to put in your pack.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) There were four our five different packs, different kinds of packs that, there's the light pack, the heavy pack, which you could carry more, more gear in it, and, uh, uh, that, that was, that had a lot to do with, with, with the training. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: Let's, let's move off base a little bit then, uh, what, what was the off, off camp liberty, uh, like, I mean, did you experience racism out there, can you talk about the specific, uh, experiences if you did?

WILLIAM VANN: Well, since I was, since I'm from Wilmington, North Carolina, I went to, uh, after I graduated from boot camp I went to Wilmington, North Carolina, and I had lots of friends there who I attended school with and whatnot. So, I, I, I did not, uh, have any socializing for, problem, well, I knew, as I said I knew so many people. But they, the town of Wilmington is, was a segregated town at that, uh, I, uh, Caucasians would be with Caucasians. Blacks would be with Blacks as far as socializing. I didn't see any of that going on.

INTERVIEWER: If you wore your uniform, um, up and down the streets of Wilmington, did, uh, did people take notice of that, the Blacks or Whites and if so...

WILLIAM VANN: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: ...what kind of reactions did you get from them?

WILLIAM VANN: They, they took notice of it and they responded respectfully to it, say you look, well, you look nice in your uniform, say quite sure you must be doing well, you look better since you went in the Marine Corps. So, I, I could tell that, you know, they were complimenting me. And, um, I had a, I had another friend named (WORD?) Wallace, and him and I were going back to the base one night and, uh, a police car came up and stopped us and they said, where are you boys going?

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, uh, so I got quiet and started thinking, and Wallace say, we're going to the Base. And, he say, he say, when you, when you talk to me you say sir. You say, you say sir. And, Wallace said in a very, in a very low voice that you could barely hear him, yes, sir. And, then he, he got, the policeman got frustrated and drove off, and we didn't hear anything more about it. We were on Market Street, which led to, uh, camp, to Jacksonville and then on to camp, on to Camp, uh, Camp Lejeune, Montford Point.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, uh, did you ever go out to the USO or, and, uh, in Jacksonville, any, any, anywhere in Jacksonville?

WILLIAM VANN: Um, I did not go liberty hardly at all in Jacksonville being so close to Wilmington. But they, uh, lots of the Blacks they used to, there was an area that I used to go to, I went to on very few occasions, it was across the tracks, mostly Blacks, uh, did this, this, they had stores, a few stores there, and, uh, we would go to those stores, I think they had a barbershop in that area. But, uh, most of the, most of the Blacks, uh, who are in the platoon I was in, I didn't hear them compliment about, comment about trying to go into a particular place and was told not, don't come in here.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) I'm not saying it didn't happen, but none, none of them told me anything about it. It was, it was, as I say, it was understood on this side of the tracks is where the Caucasians were at, and, uh, across the tracks was where most of the, the Blacks were at.

INTERVIEWER: And, let's talk about, uh, what you did, Sergeant Major, uh, after you left Montford Point, talk about, you know, graduating from boot camp and, and being shipped out, and, and briefly a little bit about your experiences after, after you left the Marines. And, I know that you, uh, you were there when the camp closed and then you was...

WILLIAM VANN: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: ...integrated along with others into the regular Marine Corps. So, can you just, just give us a brief little clip on your service after Montford Point?

WILLIAM VANN: Okay, after, okay, I, uh, was, they had orders us to go overseas in December of 1946, so lots of it was a replacement (WORD?) that went overseas, and, uh, we rode in the train, I'm quite sure from Jacksonville to Wilmington, and then from Wilmington we went, uh, ended up in Del Mar. But as, when, when I was going overseas I remained, uh, I ate in this particular car that I was in, and I remained in the car, I wasn't checking the cars to see what was going on. I don't know, I think it was mostly a Black replacement draft though.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) I, I was concerned about keeping myself squared away and not be somewhere where I shouldn't be and get, miss the train. And, then I went to Del Mar, then after we got to Del Mar we, about a week or so later we ended up going aboard ship and, uh, we, as, as a, as, uh, hundreds of Black Marines were on this ship, and then we went to Hawaii, we were there for a short period of time, and then two weeks after we left Hawaii we landed at Guam. And, uh, then we reported to the 8th Ammunition Company.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, uh, what we did there, it was an all Black unit, the only Caucasians were the Commanding Officer and, uh, I think it was just, just one, and he was the only Caucasian that I saw. And, what we did, uh, Guam was a, was one of the main supply routes in the Pacific, so there was lots of ammunition and this ammunition was deteriorating, so what we had to do, we had to load this ammunition aboard ships, I mean, aboard trucks, so it could be disposed of.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) So, that went on for about more than two years. The, uh, the, uh, facilities we had, you had medical attention, uh, we had a movie every night, and, uh, everything went real, real, went, went quite well.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, uh, did you see combat in the Pacific or...

WILLIAM VANN: Oh, I...

INTERVIEWER: ...did you see, did you see the remnants of combat?

WILLIAM VANN: Oh, no, not too, no, I, I didn't see the remnants of World. World War II combat, although I'm a World War II veteran, at that point, on Guam I did not see, but some of, some of the, uh, Marines reported that they think there were some Japanese who hadn't gotten the word that the war was over, and they were still in caves. But, uh, they didn't, there wasn't any fighting between the ones who happened to see, the ones that, some of them came out and gave up.

INTERVIEWER: Could you briefly tell us about, uh, the rest of your 30-year career, just, just briefly, the services, the combat that you, you were involved in?

WILLIAM VANN: Okay. Um, in 1950 I participated in the invasion of Inchon, I was with the 1st Combat Service Group, and what we did, we provided security, uh, as we went in on the beach, and we also handled supplies when that was necessary. Because it was people from the shore party who had to move supplies also. But, uh, we were kind of broken down then into sections, the, the, the Marines were disseminated amongst the 1st Marine Division reinforced, which is a pretty large outfit. And, uh, then we were shot at and we shot back.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, then we were on the, the route to Seoul and then after we, after certain, after a certain period of tie, Seoul fell, I think, I think Seoul fell on the 28th or 29th of September. And, then we were pulled out of, uh, we were pulled out of there, loaded aboard ships, and then we went around the, the Sea of Japan, and then we went in at Dwanson, Hungnam, uh, and, uh, hung, hung there, area.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, then we, we were providing mostly security, I was a corporal then. And, uh, we, we are now talking about where were you at, at North Korea. I did ask the first sergeant one day, I said, where are we? And, he said, you're deep in North Korea. See, that's all I can say. So, from that, uh, we, we, we went, the historic move was going on because lots of Chinese have came, came into the, Chinese Communist, had came, had come into the war. And, uh, so we had to fight in another direction to go back to the, the Sea of Japan the end of, the end of, uh, North Korea.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) But it was very fortunate situation in the sense of the Marine leaders were calm and they said nothing to get us upset, because there were maybe seven or eight Chinese divisions that were, that were attempting to, uh, circle us.

INTERVIEWER: I'd like to get a little bit about your service in Vietnam, too, just a very brief, uh, (WORD?). (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: (CONTINUED) Could I, could I ask him to talk about the very first time you went into an integrated unit before you went in to Korea?

WILLIAM VANN: Oh, I'm working down towards that right now.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, all right, all right.

WILLIAM VANN: Working down towards that.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, all right, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WILLIAM VANN: Right.

INTERVIEWER: That's fine, that's fine, you go right ahead. Go ahead.

WILLIAM VANN: Um, okay, well, what did you say?

INTERVIEWER: I'd like for you to address his question about...

WILLIAM VANN: Okay.

INTERVIEWER: ...about the first integrated...

WILLIAM VANN: I distinctly remember this, as though it was yesterday, and the first integrated unit, it was in Korea that I served in, that I, because see that was integrated and...

INTERVIEWER: Could you...

WILLIAM VANN: ...the Caucasians, a Caucasian was transferred to, uh, the security element that I was in, and nobody thought nothing of it, it was a big deal, a war was going on, so after that period of time, we had, we, we were staging also in Kobe Japan, and, uh, as we staged in Kobe Japan there were lots of Caucasians and still about a Section of Blacks, proportionately. So, I didn't even know, it wasn't even discussed because we did not consider that as integration, we just considered a Section of Blacks working together, doing their job, and, uh, Caucasians, uh, they were working in the office keeping, keeping the records and things of that nature, and everybody got along fine together.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) In fact, I don't think there was one self simple fight that happened between the security people, that we were, we were living on the Army base in Kobe, Japan. And, that worked out okay. Uh, and at that particular time, I had got promoted to sergeant in Korea, and, uh, I was treated real fine in fact, I find out lately that my conduct and performance, my conduct and proficiency marks were outstanding straight across the board, and I was not even aware of it, because when you went in to check your record book, you would look at it, but, you wouldn't try to memorize unless you had something derogatory. But I had such an outstanding record from private to, to staff sergeant.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, talk a little, just...

WILLIAM VANN: And, you, you asked me about combat, I landed in, uh, Vietnam on the 27th of July, on the 27th of November, on my wife's birthday, 1965, and I was there for a short period of time, and I had a preference to go to be, to be stationed further in North Korea or either in South, in, in North, North, North Vietnam or South Vietnam. Or either at Da-Nang, so I, I, uh, said I'd like to be stationed, I told the personnel I'd like to be stationed in Chu Lai, so I was there for a year in Chu Lai, and except for the operations that I was involved with I was involved with 24 operations, in, uh, Chu Lai, Kamke, and, uh, and such a long list of names it's hard to, to and fro operations.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, uh, I volunteered to, to go to, to get, make closer contact with the enemy, and, uh, that, that item went on for a period of time, and, uh, I end up getting the Vietnamese Cross of (WORD?) with the Bronze Star, for, for...

INTERVIEWER: Can, can I interrupt on two things? On, on, on Vietnam, tell us a little bit about, you said 24 operations, but tell us a little bit about what, what those operations was like? I mean, I, I don't want really gory details, but what kinds of things were you doing, how would you have engaged the enemy? We're talking about small arms fire, so...

WILLIAM VANN: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: ... (WORD?), tell me a little bit about that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and state your rank, tell us what your rank was while you were in Vietnam.

WILLIAM VANN: Uh, I was, uh, at that particular time I was a Gunnery Sergeant, and what we would have to do, we would have to have ammunition loaded up aboard trucks and go to the infantry, take it to the infantry, so they would have, uh, sufficient ammunition to do their job. We were supplying, for the best of my knowledge, the entire 1st Marine Division or, or quite a bit of it. And, sometime while we would be delivering the ammunition we would be shot out and we would shoot back.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, then we'd transfer the ammunition to the infantry, then they would take care of the more infantry type work and say you guys go back and take care of the bullets, keep the bullets coming. But, uh, and, we, we were, we were at the camp a camp set up not too far from our ammunition supply point. And, we received incoming commonly, but we just continued to do our job and if the infantry was doing their job, so it was our job to, uh, just make sure that they get the kind of bullets they wanted and when they wanted them.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, go back a little bit to, to when you, uh, served in the first integrated unit, unit, did, did you, did you, uh, develop any White friends, uh, in the Marine Corps, and if so, give us, give us a couple of examples, uh, I mean, on what kind of circumstances...

WILLIAM VANN: Okay, when I first, uh, the first, I, first what I consider a truly integrated unit I, I served in was 1952, I served in, in, in Charlie Company, 3rd, 3rd Regimen, that was a 10 Camp, they called it 10 Camp three-and-a-half under Camp Pendleton, and from 3rd Marine Divisions were, was from it. And, you want to know about the incident?

INTERVIEWER: Sure.

WILLIAM VANN: Uh, what happened I was a combat veteran and I was pretty sure of myself, and, um, another gentleman who was Reserve, happened to be Caucasian and he knew the Commanding Officer. I think they were in the same unit. So, each, when we'd go off for training we would do night training in the infantry, and they would, uh, this sergeant said that he was going to be the platoon sergeant. I said, how can you be the platoon sergeant, I'm senior to you, plus I'm a combat veteran.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) So, he said, well, I think I'll get the job. So when, uh, later on after I heard about it, I wouldn't tolerate that, I said, here I am with a clean record and sergeant in the Marine Corps, combat, survived North Korea, I said, I'm going to talk, request a mast Commanding Officer, so I would request a mast Commanding Officer, he said, you do the job, we don't have no complaint with what you're dong, uh, he said, but if, uh, if we want to make a change, I think you should consider it.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) I said, but, I said, but I said, but in any part of the United States the, the senior man get the job, and I'm the senior man and I, and plus, I'm a combat veteran, this gentleman never been overseas. So, he said, okay, I'll, I said, I want to talk with the Battalion Commander. He said, okay, we'll arrange it, so you can talk, take him, and I talked with the Battalion Commander and I explained to him what was going on.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) I said, I have a clean record so this should not be, they want to put a Reserve in charge of the platoon, I should get that platoon. And, he said, uh, he just listened to me. I said, I'm a combat veteran. He said, "So am I Sergeant." I said, I, "I'm ready to go right to Korea to fight for my country!" Because the Korea War was still going strong. He said, I'd rather go back, too, sergeant. He say, uh, I'll take care of this situation. So, he called the office and, uh, I never heard no more about it, it was taken care of.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) So, I put in for a transfer to C Company, so then when I, when I, I got transferred to C company because I felt resentment was still being held, so the Company Commander said I heard about some of the things that happened, my new Company Commander in C Company. I was, I mean, I get my companies mixed up sometimes. (LAUGH) Uh, uh, C, my, my new Company Commander, he said that in this company you will be in charge of not only the platoon, you will have the Company.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) So, we have a parade coming off and you will drill the company at the parade where we're going to be taking pictures. And, he say, other than that, you are our Platoon Sergeant, that's what you will be, I take my test and I, I passed the test, and I got promoted to Staff Sergeant shortly thereafter. And, I went back to Korea. And, I was so confident that everything was going to work out okay, I had just went home a year earlier to visit my mother.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) So, I went back to, uh, I went overseas without going back home to see my mother, but I knew everything was going to work out fine and it did. And, uh, still on Korea, uh, I, and after that situation, '50, '53, I volunteered to go back to Korea, and, uh, I was a Staff Sergeant, so, uh, I went to ammunition, uh, Supply Battalion, Ammunition Company, and then integration was going full, in full swing then. They, I was, I was the only, uh, African-American in the Ammunition Section, we went and set up another ammunition supply point.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) So, then I was there, everything worked real smooth, nothing, no problem whatsoever, I was, and from that point they had to transfer a nnon-staff, non-commissioned officer to the Korean Marine Corps, and, uh, the First Sergeant, uh, jokingly he said, "Can you speak Korean?" And I said, no, I cannot speak Korean, he said, you better learn fast, you're going to the Korean Marine Corps for advisor. So, I was a, I took care of them, as far as making sure they got the ammunition that they were supposed to get.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) Making sure that any weapons they did not have, uh, uh, uh, an ordinance officer, so they had me working in the capacity of an officer. So, I made sure that the weapons were delivered properly, I made sure the ammunition that was, they were supposed to get that Chon Ki Su I had an interpreter, that was his name, I distinctly remember it, Chon Ki Su. And, he, we, we had a Jeep, him and I, we went to visit the Koreans and make sure they were doing okay.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, what made this so interested when I left, uh, Korea the Commanding General of the Korean Marine Corps calling me in and he say, I'm going to congratulate you and give you an award. He gave me a letter of commendation and he spoke it all in Korea, I didn't understand what he was saying, but I know it was good. And, also, I worked so well with the Koreans until the Korean, the, uh, the, the, my, my, my, my, the captain in charge of the Supply Section recommended that I be accelerated, promoted to Technical Sergeant.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) That was in 1953. In 1954 when I was going to take my test for Technical Sergeant, this, uh, Sergeant Major told me, he said, you don't have to take no test, he said, you just got promoted by speed letter from Headquarters of the Marine Corps for your work in Korea. I said, thank you Sergeant Major, I won't argue with you. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: Okay, what, what do you think, why do you think that this happening is important in history...

WILLIAM VANN: Okay.

INTERVIEWER: ...rather that the, that Blacks came into the Marine Corps, okay?

WILLIAM VANN: Right.

INTERVIEWER: All right. And, and the next one is how did it affect your life...

WILLIAM VANN: Okay.

INTERVIEWER: ...your life, you know...

WILLIAM VANN: Right.

INTERVIEWER: ...Mr. Vann, okay.

WILLIAM VANN: Okay.

INTERVIEWER: Um, and then, uh, what are your feelings about having been a part of that history, of been, of having been a Montford Point Marine.

WILLIAM VANN: Mm-hm.

INTERVIEWER: So, I'll ask them again, but those...

WILLIAM VANN: Mm-hm.

INTERVIEWER: ...I just wanted to give you a second.

WILLIAM VANN: Okay. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: Um, Sergeant Major, what do you think is the historical significance of the Montford Point Marines, in other words, that it happened that the Marine Corps was integrated and, and African-Americans were allowed to serve.

WILLIAM VANN: I, I think it's one of the best things that could happen to the Marine Corps, it brought, brought color to the Marine Corps. And, uh, the, the importance is self-explanatory, we have had, uh, a Lieutenant General Peterson who got promoted, he was not a Montford Point Marine. We have John, Major John Boland who got promoted, and, uh, also, uh, Major John Stanley, so actually, I'm, I'm, I'm proud to be a part of that, that movement, that helped to integrate the, the Corps, uh, integrate the Armed Forces. I, I, I can never, I can't thank, uh, President Roosevelt and President Truman enough for the, the steps that they'd taken for the African-American citizens.

INTERVIEWER: Okay.

WILLIAM VANN: Now, if I missed something, run it by me again.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. How, how, how do you think that that experience affected your life, do, do you think that you're a better person for it?

WILLIAM VANN: Oh...

INTERVIEWER: Uh, did, did it instill in you...

WILLIAM VANN: ...I...

INTERVIEWER: ...in you, instill in you, uh, feelings and a sense of discipline that you, you might not have gotten had you not been (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

WILLIAM VANN: Well, I know it made a better person out of me. The longer I stayed in the Marine Corps, the better I did my job, and the better I could do my job. And, I think it's, uh, I think the, that, uh, by bringing about integration is one of the smartest moves that ever, ever been made in, in the American Armed Forces. And, and my, my promotions came regularly. One thing I would like to say there's one time because I was, the ammunition field is a small field, it took me eight years to, to get a stripe.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) But I'm such a persevering person I never gave up, and then I, I, I was a Gunnery Sergeant, pay rate E, E6, and then, and in the '60s I made pay grade E7, but with all of that, with a clean record, but that was happening to everybody in the small fields. It had nothing to do with my color.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, Sergeant Major, you are a part of history having, having been one who went through that training up there, uh, what are your feelings about that?

WILLIAM VANN: I'm so glad that it happened and I'm so glad the other branches of the service did not need any Blacks at that particular time. Uh, they didn't need any, I don't know if it was just Blacks or needed any soldiers, sailors there, whatever branch, all the branches of the service. And, I'm glad that what happened last by going in the Corps is the best thing that ever happened to me. It taught me how to set the example for others, it taught me how, how to develop my body.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) The, I reached a point where I was able to set an example for the Marine Corps by running 40 miles non-stop and then doing the 100-yard dash in 12 seconds. And what made it really so good, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1977, he validated the fact that I am (WORD?) Sergeant Major William Mervin Vann, his name is Gerald Jistaka (SP?) and he's still alive.

INTERVIEWER: If you had it to do all over again, would you join?

WILLIAM VANN: If I had to do it all over again I'd do it twice or three times, because the Montford Point Marines have helped the nation, over 20,000 or some say 20,000, some say 23,000, we have helped the nation. Whether I was wanted in or didn't want in, I did over 30 consecutive years of honorable service, getting an Honorable Discharge, every time, never (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for office hours. Except when (UNINTELLIGIBLE) someone trying to get my job from me.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you Sergeant Major, any questions? No, we'll just let him have, have the final say. If you have anything else to say, sir?

WILLIAM VANN: Uh, can I use my cards?

INTERVIEWER: Sure, sure you can use your cards, you got the floor.

WILLIAM VANN: Because there might be some things that I missed. (TECHNICAL)

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) Uh, one thing I'd like to say, the Marine Corps uniform, as far as I'm concerned is one of the greatest military uniforms in the world. That's why I recently I got myself a new set of, uh, dress blues. I was a Reviewing Officer at MCRD. We did not know, most of us did not know that we were making history while we were making history. Because that wasn't talked about, we were more concerned about doing a, a professional job. One thing I would like to say, when I was reporting in drawing my equipment, uh, there's a, a Marine that was returning from overseas, he saw me and I, I was only weighing approximately 100 pound at that particular time.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) He said, they will kill you in boot camp, I did not respond to that because I know that they were not going to kill me. So, I ignored his comment. One thing that, the things that were, the items that were taking place during the days when the, when the services were segregated, that was, that was mirroring certain parts of the South. But we took, make sure that's not misunderstood. There was segregation going on other places, too. Uh, we were a little scared when we were in boot camp, but we used that fear for motivation.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, we were excited about making it through the platoon. We, we were, uh, the DI's were really strict, but what they were trying to do is prepare us for the long haul. Our workday started at 5:30 and ended about 5:30. (TECHNICAL)

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) Our, our work, our, our day started at 0530 in the AM and it ended about 5:30 in the PM, that included eating, training, and all of the different, uh, instructions received from the, uh, DI's, from the medical personnel, and they really trained us well, so we could take care of our self in boot camp. I, I went on, as I earlier, I went on liberty in Wilmington quite a bit, and one, one place I used to go to, they had to, I used to go visit the nurses, uh, because, uh, and when I went to visit the nurses, they would say that they would have dances on the weekends.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) But they didn't have any music, so what I did, I purchased, uh a record player and I purchased some records, so I was pretty popular there for awhile, because I furnished the music for the dances. Off base everything was segregated except, as I said, when you walk through Jacksonville... (TECHNICAL)

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) As, as you go through Jacksonville, that's where most of the Blacks that, that part of the time that I was at Montford Point, they would go across the tracks and, for the barbershops, where they could be shopping and, uh, anything, any kind of, if they wanted to buy any type of materials, uh, the stores had that for them. But the Blacks were the ones that had the stores. On, on Guam, , oh, boy. On Guam, I was in the 8th Ammunition Company, I was stationed at the Montford Point Rifle Range, and I was stationed in Fort Mifflen, Philadelphia.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) I was stationed in, in Korea, of course, Camp, Camp Pendleton, uh, Quantico, Virginia, Vietnam, and, uh, the thing, the work that was being done, uh, taking care of the ammunition, uh, making sure that the ammunition was properly cared for, and we never had an accidental explosion in over two decades that I worked with the explosives. And, I do not take all the credit, my men were well trained and they, they knew that I would take, look out for their welfare.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) For example, when we were board, boarded, aboard the old type ships, and they used to stow lots, and tons and tons of ammunition in those holds, and the ladders were of a such a distance, that I had to send the troops down there to load that ammunition properly and make sure that nothing would happen that would create an explosion. And, they did it and, and what I would do, I did not like to, the holds were so deep that the ammunition was put in part of, what I would do, I would look straight ahead at the, at the wall of the ship, that way I wouldn't have to worry about if I fell. (LAUGH)

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) So, uh, it worked out real well, in fact, I was made an, an honorary member of the Chilton because, uh, uh, uh, Captain Wood, my Commanding Officer was so pleased, and the Navy officer, Navy Captain of the ship was so pleased how hard the ammunition technicians worked. (TECHNICAL)

WILLIAM VANN: I was, I was stationed in Yuma, Arizona, with the Air Way, I was the first Sergeant, as a Sergeant Major in, in the Air Way. I served in all Marines Division except the 4th Division and, and the 6th Division, all the others I served in. Let's see, I'm quite sure I covered that already. Oh, when I look back at some of the dates of things that happened, still, uh, uh, Seoul was liberated on my birthday, I, either, approximately my birthday.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) But I wasn't thinking about my birthday then, I was thinking about surviving out of, out of Korea, it was on the 28th or the 29th of September. And, one thing that I'm (UNINTELLIGIBLE) very much proud of, once a Marine always a Marine. General McArthur who requested the 1st Marine Division Reinforced to make the invasion at Inchon, he was the Senior Officer in the, in the Pacific at that particular time. And, all the Marines are so proud of that, that General McArthur requested us.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) Uh, I also while in Korea, I, I helped the, uh, my Commanding Officer and I, and when I was in Maintenance Company, we helped the Korean refugees, they invite us over to eat with them, and we chipped in and bought them a refrigerator so they could keep their food refrigerated. I'm sorry, that was in Vietnam. Sometime I get my wars mixed up. (LAUGH) As I said before the, the significance of, uh, the Blacks coming, going in the Marine Corps, the color barrier was broken by that, and I'm, I'm so, I will be proud for the rest of my life that I was a part of that great movement.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) Because it doesn't matter what, what kind of problem a person might have, as long as you don't let that problem become your problem. And, I'm so proud, I'm, I'm... (TECHNICAL)

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) I'm so proud of the progress that is being made now in the Marine Corps. I'm so proud that I, I traveled from San Diego, when, when Sergeant Major, Sergeant Major, uh, the First Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, I, I'm having trouble with his name.

INTERVIEWER: That's okay. It's okay, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that's, remember (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it's really important to use (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WILLIAM VANN: And, and the progress that is still going on, progress that is still going on, another, uh, African-American is now the present Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. That progress is needed, it is important that it takes place, and there's lots of Sergeant Majors that are in senior billets now throughout the Marine Corps, that is needed. That's why I'm so proud that I participated in the integration of the Armed Forces. It's overdue because we are American citizens, and we love our country.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) We love the Marine Corps. The DI used to tell us say how much, how much do you, how much do you like the Marine Corps, how much do you love the Marine Corps? And, the reply was better than I do myself, sir, that, that actually took place. As I said before, I'm very glad that I'm a Montford Point Marine, I'm glad I was a part of bringing change in the Corps, the Corps history, the Corps have great history and tradition, very great tradition.

WILLIAM VANN: (CONTINUED) And, the Montford Point Marines have added to that great traditions, and they're doing it right now in combat. And, I would say because I helped to train some of the, the recruits as a volunteer, for combat who are over in Iraq, and all throughout the Marine Corps, I'm, I say to them and they will remember me, yeah, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...

WILLIAM VANN: They will...

INTERVIEWER: ...Sergeant Major.


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.