Sergeant Major Edgar R. Huff, one of the first African-Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1942, and the first African-American to be promoted to the rank of sergeant major, died 2 May 1994
at Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital.
A native of Gadsden, Alabama, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, 24 September 1942, and received recruit training with the 51st Composite Defense Battalion, Montford Point Camp, New River, North
Carolina. Following graduation, he joined the 155mm gun battery of the 51st Composite Defense Battalion and served with that unit as a gun commander.
In early 1943, he was assigned duty under instruction at drill instructors school, and upon completion of his course, was assigned duty as a drill instructor in March 1943. At that time, Montford
Point Camp was the receiving point for all blacks entering the Marine Corps, and by November 1944, SgtMaj Huff had been assigned duty as field sergeant major of all recruit training at the Montford
In November 1944, he was promoted to first sergeant and assigned duty with the 5th Depot Company, departing for the Western Pacific area, serving as 1stSgt with this unit on Saipan, Okinawa, and
in North China. The 5th Depot Company furnished logistic support for Marine divisions in that area.
Following World War II, he served as Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge of Recruit Training at Montford Point Camp until May 1949. He was then assigned duty as guard and infantry chief, Marine
Barracks, Naval Ammunition Depot, Earle, New Jersey, until May 1951, at which time he assumed duty with the famed 1st Marine Division in Korea. There, he saw combat as a company gunnery sergeant with
the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, and participated in operations in the "Punch Bowl" area, eastern front, and in the spring-summer offensive on the West Central front.
Upon his return to the United States in August 1952, he was assigned to the 2d Marine Division, serving as First Sergeant, Weapons Company, 2d Battalion, 8th Marines. In March 1955, he was
assigned duty as Guard Chief, Marine Barracks, Naval Air Station, Fort Lyautey, French Morocco.
Huff was promoted to first sergeant in the new rank structure, 30 December 1955, and to the rank of sergeant major a day later on 31 December. Since that date he served as Sergeant Major
consecutively, at the following Marine Corps installations: Post Sergeant Major, Marine Barracks, Port Lyautey, French Morocco; with the 2d Force Service Regiment; Landing Force Training Unit, Little
Creek, Virginia; the 3d Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, Okinawa; the 3d Force Service Regiment; the 1st Infantry Training Regiment, Camp Geiger, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Base Sergeant
Major, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California; the 1st Military Police Battalion, Force Logistic Command and with the III Marine Amphibious Force, Republic of Vietnam (May 1967 - June 1968);
and with the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing (July 1968 - Oct 1970).
SgtMaj Huff served a second tour of duty in the Republic Vietnam, as Sergeant Major with the III Marine Amphibious Force from October 1970 until October 1971. He then served as Sergeant Major of
the Marine Corps Air Station, New River, Jacksonville, North Carolina, until his retirement on 30 September 1972.
SgtMaj Huff's personal decorations include the Purple Heart (three awards), two awards of the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V," three awards of the Navy Commendation Medal, the Navy Achievement
Medal, and the Combat Action Ribbon.
Sergeant Major Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson, one of the first African-Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps, died of a heart attack on 5 August 1972 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, while
addressing an annual meeting of the Montford Point Marine Association.
Born in rural Mount Hebron, Alabama, Johnson attended Stillman College in 1922, aspiring to become a minister. He left college the following year, however, and joined the Army. At the end of his
enlistment in October 1929, Johnson was discharged as a corporal. After four years of civilian life, he decided to try the Navy. The Navy accepted Johnson into the Steward's Branch, the only job
available to blacks at that time, and he served for nearly10 years. Johnson was aboard the USS Wyoming during the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
The following year, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the integration of the armed forces, Johnson requested transfer from the Navy to the Marine Corps. He went on to serve the last 17
of his 32-year military career in the Marine Corps. Throughout his Marine Corps career Johnson provided leadership to his younger and less experienced comrades. It was at Montford Point he was given
the name "Hashmark," because of his age and many years of service.
In 1943, he was among the first black men to be trained as Marine drill instructors. He also served as field sergeant in charge of all recruit training at Montford Point. As a member of the 52d
Defense Battalion on Guam in World War II, "Hashmark" asked that black Marines be assigned to combat patrols from which they were currently exempt. Once approved, he personally led 25 combat
Johnson later served in Korea with the 1st Shore Party Battalion, then later with 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, and finally as administrative advisor at the Headquarters of the Korean Marine Corps.
Asked if he had experienced any problems as a senior black NCO serving in predominantly white units, Johnson characteristically said "I didn't encounter any difficulty. I accepted each individual for
what he was and apparently they accepted me for what I was."
Johnson went on to become one of the first black sergeants major in the Marine Corps. Sergeant Major Johnson transferred to the Fleet Marine Force Reserve in 1957 and retired in 1959.
On 19 April 1974, the Montford Point facility at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was dedicated as Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, in honor of this outstanding Marine.
INTEGRATION OF THE ARMED FORCES 1940-1965
Integration of the Marine Corps
Even more so than in the Army, the history of
racial equality in the Marine Corps demonstrates the effect of the exigencies of war on the integration of the armed forces. The Truman order, the Fahy Committee, even the demands of civil rights
leaders and the mandates of the draft law, all exerted pressure for reform and assured the presence of some black marines. But the Marine Corps was for years able to stave off the logical outcome of
such pressures, and in the end, it was the manpower demands of the Korean War that finally brought integration.
In the first place the Korean War caused a sudden and dramatic rise in the number of black marines: from 1,525 men, almost
half of them stewards, in May 1949, to some 17,000 men, only 500 of them serving in separate stewards duty, in October 1953.1 Whereas the careful designation of a few segregated service units sufficed to handle the
token black representation in 1949, no such organization was possible in 1952, when thousands of black marines on active duty constituted more than 5 percent of the total enlistment. The decision to
integrate the new black marines throughout the corps was the natural outcome of the service's early experiences in Korea. Ordered to field a full division, the corps out of necessity turned to the
existing black service units, among others, for men to augment the peacetime strength of its combat units. These men were assigned to any unit in the Far East that needed them. As the need for more
units and replacements grew during the war, newly enlisted black marines were more and more often pressed into integrated service both in the Far East and at home.
Most significantly, the war provided a rising generation of Marine Corps officers with a first combat experience with black
marines. The competence of these Negroes and the general absence of racial tension during their integration destroyed long accepted beliefs to the contrary and opened the way for general integration.
Although the corps continued to place special restrictions on the employment of Negroes and was still wrestling with the problem of black stewards well into the next decade, its basic policy of
segregating marines by race ended with the cancellation of the last all-black unit designation in 1951. Hastily embraced by the corps as a solution to a pressing manpower problem, integration was
finally accepted as a permanent manpower policy.
Impetus for Change
This transformation seemed remote in 1949 in view of Commandant Clifton B. Cates's strong defense of segregation. At the
time Cates made a careful distinction between allocating men to the services without regard to race, which he supported, and ordering integration of the services themselves. "Changing national policy
in this respect through the Armed Forces, " he declared, "is a dangerous path to pursue as it effects [sic] the ability of the Military Establishment to fulfill its mission. Integration of
the services had to follow, not precede integration of American society.
The commandant's views were spelled out in a series decision announced by the corps in the wake of the Secretary of the
Navy's call for integration of all elements of the Navy Department in 1949. On 18 November 1949 the corps' Acting Chief of Staff announce a new racial policy: individual black marines would be
assigned in accordance with their specialties to vacancies "in any unit where their services can be effectively utilized," but segregated black units would be retained and new ones created when
appropriate in the regular and reserve components of the corps. In the case of the reserve component, the decision on the acceptance of an applicant was vested in the unit commander. On the
same day the commandant made it clear that the policy was not to be interpreted too broadly. Priority for the assignment of individual black marines, Cates informed the commander of the Pacific
Department, would be given to the support establishment and black officers would be assigned to black units only.
Further limiting the chances that black marines would be integrated, Cates approved the creation of four new black units.
The Director of Personnel and the Marine Quartermaster had opposed this move on the grounds that the new units would require technical billets, particularly in the supply specialties, which would be
nearly impossible to fill with available enlisted black marines. Either school standards would have to be lowered or white marines would have to be assigned to units. Cates met this objection by
agreeing with the Director of Plans and Policies that no prohibition existed against racial mixing in a unit during a period of on-the-job training. The Director of Personnel would decide when a unit
was sufficiently trained and properly manned to be officially designated a black organization. In keeping with this arrangement, for example, the commanding general of the 2d Marine Division
reported in February 1950 that his black marines were sufficiently trained to assume complete operation of the depot platoon within the division's service command. Cates then designated the platoon
as a unit suitable for general duty black marines, which prompted the Coordinator of Enlisted Personnel to point out that current regulations stipulated "after a unit has been so designated, all
white enlisted personnel will be withdrawn and reassigned.
Nor were there any plans for the general integration of black reservists, although some Negroes were serving in formerly
all-white units. The 9th Infantry Battalion, for instance, had a black lieutenant. As the assistant commandant, Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith, put it on 4 January 1950, black units would be formed "in
any area where there is an expressed interest" provided that the black population was large enough to support it. When the NAACP objected to the creation of another all-black reserve unit in New York
City as being contrary to Defense Department policy, the Marine Corps justified it on the grounds that the choice of integrated or segregated units must be made by the local community "in accord with
its cultural values. Notwithstanding the Secretary of the Navy's integration order and assignment policies directed toward effective utilization, it appeared that the Marine Corps in early 1950 was
determined to retain its system of racially segregated units indefinitely.
But the corps failed to reckon with the consequences of the war that broke out suddenly in Korea in June. Two factors
connected with that conflict caused an abrupt change in Marine race policy. The first was the great influx of Negroes into the corps. Although the commandant insisted that race was not considered in
recruitment, and in fact recruitment instructions since 1948; contained no reference to the race of applicants, few Negroes had joined the Marine Corps in the two years preceding the war. In its
defense the corps pointed to its exceedingly small enlistment quotas during those years and its high enlistment standards, which together allowed recruiters to accept only a few men. The
classification test average for all recruits enlisted in 1949 was 108, while the average for black enlistees during the same period was 94.7. New black recruits were almost exclusively enlisted for
A revision of Defense Department manpower
policy combined with the demands of the war to change all that. The imposition of a qualitative distribution of manpower by the Secretary of Defense in April 1950 meant that among the thousands of
recruits enlisted during the Korean War the Marine Corps would have to accept its share of the large percentage of men in lower classification test categories. Among these men were a significant
number of black enlistees who had failed to qualify under previous standards. They were joined by thousands more who were supplied through the nondiscriminatory process of the Selective Service
System when, during the war, the corps began using the draft. The result was a 100 percent jump in the number of black marines in the first year of war, a figure that would be multiplied almost six
times before war inductions ran down in 1953. (Table 11)
TABLE 11 - BLACK MARINES, 1949 - 1955
A second factor forcing a change in racial policy
was the manpower demands imposed upon the corps by the war itself. When General MacArthur called for the deployment of a Marine regimental combat team and supporting air group on 2 July 1950, the
Secretary of the Navy responded by sending the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, which included the 5th Marine Regiment, the 1st Battalion of the 11th Marines (Artillery), and Marine Air Group 33. By
13 September the 1st Marine Division and the 1st Marine Air Wing at wartime strength had been added. Fielding these forces placed an enormous strain on the corps' manpower, and one result was the
assignment of a number of black service units, often combined with white units in composite organizations, to the combat units.
The pressures of battle quickly altered this neat arrangement. Theoretically, every marine was trained as an infantryman,
and when shortages occurred in combat unit’s commanders began assigning black replacements where needed. For example, as the demand for more marines for the battlefield grew, the Marine staff began
to pull black marines from routine duties at the Marine Barracks in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii and send them to Korea to bring the fighting units up to full strength. The first-time black
servicemen were integrated as individuals in significant numbers under combat conditions was in the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade during the fighting in the Pusan Perimeter in August 1950. The
assignment of large numbers of black marines throughout the combat units of the 1st Marine Division, beginning in September, provided the clearest instance of a service abandoning a social policy in
response to the demands of the battlefield. The 7th Marines, for example, an organic element of the 1st Marine Division since August 1950, received into its rapidly expanding ranks, along with many
recalled white reservists and men from small, miscellaneous Marine units, a 54-man black service unit. The regimental commander immediately broke up the black unit, assigning the men individually
throughout his combat battalions.
That the emergency continued to influence the placement of Negroes is apparent from the distribution of black marines in
March 1951, when almost half were assigned to combat duty in integrated units. Before the war was over, the 1st Marine Division had several thousand black marines, serving in its ranks in Korea,
where they were assigned to infantry and signal units as well as to transportation and food supply organizations. One of the few black reserve officers on active duty found himself serving as an
infantry platoon commander in Company B of the division's 7th Marines.
The shift to integration in Korea proved uneventful. In the words of the 7th Marines commander: "Never once did any color
problem bother us.... It just wasn't any problem. We had one Negro sergeant in command of an all-white squad and there was another—with a graves registration unit—who was one of the finest Marines
I've ever seen.
Serving for the first time in integrated units,
Negroes proceeded to perform in a way that not only won individuals decorations for valor but also won the respect of commanders for Negroes as fighting men. Reminiscing about the performance of
black marines in his division, Lt. Gen. Oliver P. Smith remembered "they did everything, and they did a good job because they were integrated, and they were with good people.''l3 In making his point the division commander contrasted the performance of his integrated
men with the Army's segregated 24th Infantry. The observations of field commanders, particularly the growing opinion that a connection existed between good performance and integration, were bound to
affect the deliberations of the Division of Plans and Policies when it began to restudy the question of black assignments in the fall of 1951.
As a result of the division's study, the Commandant of the Marine Corps announced a general policy of racial integration on
13 December 1951, thus abolishing the system first introduced in 1942 of designating certain units in the regular forces and organized reserves as black units. He spelled out the
order in some detail on 18 December, and although
his comments were addressed to the commanders in the Fleet Marine Force, they were also forwarded to various commands in the support establishment that still retained all-black units. The order
indicated that the practices now so commonplace in Korea were about to become the rule in the United States. Some six months later the commandant informed the Chief of Naval Personnel that the
Marine Corps had no segregated units and while integration had been gradual "it was believed to be an accomplished fact at this time.
MARINES ON THE KANSAS LINE. Men of the 1st Marines await word to move out. [Photograph not
The change was almost immediately apparent in other parts of the corps, for black marines were also integrated in units
serving with the fleet. Reporting on a Mediterranean tour of the 3d Battalion, 6th Marines (Reinforced), from 17 April to 20 October 1952, Capt. Thomas L. Faix, a member of the unit, noted: "We have
about fifteen Negro marines in the unit now, out of fifty men. We have but very little trouble and they sleep, eat and go on liberty together. It would be hard for many to believe but the thought is
that here in the service all are facing a common call or summons to serve regardless of color. " Finally in August 1953, Lt. Gen. Gerald C. Thomas, who framed the postwar segregation policy,
announced that "integration of Negroes in the Corps is here to stay. Colored boys are in almost every military occupation specialty and certainly in every enlisted rank. I believe integration is
satisfactory to them, and it is satisfactory to us.
MARINE REINFORCEMENTS. A light machine gun squad of 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, arrives during the Battle for "Boulder
City. " [Photograph not included.]
The 1951 integration order ushered in a new era in the long history of the Marine Corps, but despite the abolition of segregated units, the new policy did not bring about completely unrestricted
employment of Negroes throughout the corps. The commandant had retained the option to employ black marines "where their services can be effectively utilized," and in the years after the Korean War it
became apparent that the corps recognized definite limits to the kinds of duty to which black marines could be assigned. Following standard assignment procedures, the Department of Personnel's Detail
Branch selected individual staff noncommissioned officers for specific duty billets. After screening the records of a marine and considering his race, the branch could reject the assignment of a
Negro to a billet for any reason "of overriding interest to the Marine Corps.
By the same token, the assignment of marines in the lower ranks was left to the individual commands, which filled quotas
established by headquarters. Commanders usually filled the quotas from among eligible men longest on station, but whether or not Negroes were included in a transfer quota was left entirely to the
discretion of the local commander. The Department of Personnel a. reserved the right, however, to make one racial distinction in regard to bulk quotas: it regulated the number of black marines it
took from recruit depots as replacements, as insurance against a "disproportionate" number of Negroes in combat units. Under the screening procedures of Marine headquarters and unit commanders, black
enlisted men were excluded from assignment to reserve officer training units, recruiting stations, the State Department for duty at embassies and legations, and certain special duties of the
Department of Defense and the Navy Department.
For the service to reserve the right to restrict the assignment of Negroes when it was of "overriding interest to the
Marine Corps" was perhaps understandable, but it was also susceptible to considerable misinterpretation if not outright abuse. The Personnel Department was "constantly" receiving requests from
commanders that no black noncoms be assigned to their units. While some of these requests seemed reasonable, the chief of the division's Detail Branch noted, others were not. Commanders of naval
prison retraining centers did not want black noncommissioned officers assigned because, they claimed, Negroes caused unrest among the prisoners. The Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., where the
commandant lived, did not want black marines because of the ceremonial nature of its mission. The Marine Barracks at Dahlgren, Virginia, did not want Negroes because conflicts might arise with
civilian employees in cafeterias and movies. Other commanders questioned the desirability of assigning black marines to the Naval Academy, to inspector-instructor billets in the clerical and supply
fields, and to billets for staff chauffeurs. The Detail Branch wanted a specific directive that listed commands to which black marines should not be assigned.
Restrictions on the assignment of black marines were never codified, but the justification for them changed. In place of
the "overriding interest to the Marine Corps" clause, the corps began to speak of restrictions "solely for the welfare of the individual Marine." In 1955 the Director of Personnel, Maj. Gen. Robert
O. Bare, pointed to the unusually severe hardships imposed on Negroes in some communities where the attitude toward black marines sometimes interfered with their performance of duty. Since civilian
pressures could not be officially recognized, Bare reasoned, they had to be dealt with informally on a person-to-person basis. By this statement he meant the Marine Corps would informally exclude
Negroes from certain assignments. Of course no one explained how barring Negroes from assignment to recruitment, inspector instructor, embassy, or even chauffeur duty worked for "the welfare of the
individual Marine." Such an explanation was just what Congressman Powell was demanding in January 1958 when he asked why black marines were excluded from assignments to the American Embassy in
Community attitudes toward Negroes in uniform had become a serious matter in all the services by the late 1950's, and
concern for the welfare of black marines was repeatedly voiced by Marine commanders in areas as far-flung as Nevada, Florida, and southern California. But even here there was reason to question the
motives of some local commanders, for during a lengthy discussion in the Personnel Department some officials asserted that the available evidence indicated no justification for restricting
assignments. Anxiety over assignments anywhere in the United States was unfounded, they claimed, and offered in support statistics demonstrating the existence of a substantial black community in all
the duty areas from which Negroes were unofficially excluded. The Assignment and Classification Branch also pointed out that the corps had experienced no problems in the case of the thirteen black
marines then assigned to inspector-instructor duty, including one in Mobile, Alabama. The branch went on to discuss the possibility of assigning black marines to recruiting duty. Since recruiters
were assigned to areas where they understood local attitudes and customs, some officials reasoned, Negroes should be used to promote the corps among potential black enlistees whose feelings and
attitudes were not likely to be understood by white recruiters.
These matters were never considered officially by the Marine Corps staff, and as of 1960 the Inspector General was still
keeping a list of stations to which Negroes would not be assigned. But the picture quickly changed in the next year, and by June 1962 all restrictions on the assignment of black marines had been
dropped with the exception of several installations in the United States where off-base housing was unavailable and some posts overseas where the use of black marines was limited because of the
attitudes of foreign governments.
The perennial problem of an all-black Steward's Branch
persisted into the 1960's. Stewards served a necessary though unglamorous function in the Marine Corps, and education standards for such duty were considerably lower than those for the rest of the
service. Everyone understood this, and beyond the stigma many young people felt was attached to such duties, many Negroes particularly resented the fact that while the branch was officially open to
all, somehow none of the less gifted whites ever joined. Stewards were acquired either by recruiting new marines with stewards duty-only contracts or by accepting volunteers from the general service.
The evidence suggests that there was truth in the commonly held assumption among stewards that when a need for more stewards arose "volunteers" were secured by tampering with the classification test
scores of men in the general service.
TRAINING EXERCISES on Iwo Jima, March 1954. [Photograph not included.]
The commandant seemed less concerned with methods than results when stewards were needed. In June 1950 he had reaffirmed the policy of allowing stewards to reenlist for general duty, but when he
learned that some stewards had made the jump to general duty without being qualified, he announced that men who had signed contracts for steward’s duty only were not acceptable for general duty
unless they scored at least in the 31st percentile of the qualifying tests. To make the change to general duty even less attractive, he ruled that if a steward reenlisted for general duty he would
have to revert to the rank of private, first class. Such measures did nothing to improve the morale of black stewards, many of whom, according to civil rights critics, felt confined forever to
performing menial tasks, nor did it prevent constant shortages in the Steward's Branch and problems arising from the lack of men with training in modern mess management.
The corps tried to attack these problems in the mid-1950's. At the behest of the Secretary of the Navy it eliminated the
stewards-duty-only contract in 1954; henceforth all marines were enlisted for general duty, and only after recruit training could volunteers sign up for steward’s duty. Acceptance of men scoring
below ninety in the classification tests would be limited to 40 percent of those volunteering each month for steward’s duty. The corps also instituted special training in modern mess management for
stewards. In 1953 the Quartermaster General had created an inspection and demonstration team composed of senior stewards to instruct members of the branch in the latest techniques of cooking and
baking, supervision, and management. In August 1954 the commandant established an advanced twelve-week course for stewards based on the Navy's successful system.
MARINES FROM CAMP LEJEUNE ON THE USS VALLEY FORGE for training exercises, 1958. [Photograph not
These measures, however, did nothing to cure the chronic shortage of men and the attendant problems of increased work load
and low morale that continued to plague the Steward's Branch throughout the 1950's. Consequently, the corps still found it difficult to attract enough black volunteers to the branch. In 1959, for
example, the branch was still 8 percent short of its 826-man goal. The obvious solution, to use white volunteers for messman duty, would be a radical departure from tradition. True, before World War
II white marines had been used in the Marine Corps for duties now performed by black stewards, but they had never been members of a branch organized exclusively for that purpose. In 1956 tradition
was broken when white volunteers were quietly signed up for the branch. By March 1961 the branch had eighty white men, 10 percent of its total. Reviewing the situation later that year, the commandant
decided to increase the number of white stewards by setting a racial quota on steward assignment. Henceforth, he ordered half the volunteers accepted for stewards duty would be
PETERSEN (1968 photograph).
The new policy made an immediate difference. In less than two months the Steward's Branch was 20 percent white. In marked contrast to the claims of Navy recruiters, the marines reported no difficulty
in attracting white volunteers for mess man duties. Curiously the volunteers came mostly from the southeastern states. As the racial composition of the Steward's Branch changed, the morale of its
black members seemed to improve. As one senior black warrant officer later explained, simply opening stewards duty to whites made such duty acceptable to many Negroes who had been prone to ask "if it
[stewards duty] was so good, why don't you have some of the whites in it. When transfer to general service assignments became easy to obtain in the 1960's, the Marine Corps found that only a small
percentage of the black stewards now wished to make the change.
There were still inequities in the status of black marines, especially the near absence of black officers (two on active
duty in 1950, nineteen in January 1955) it’s the relatively slow rate of promotion among black marines in general. The corps had always justified its figures on the grounds that competition in so
small a service was extremely fierce, and, as the commandant explained to Walter White In 1951, a man had to be good to compete and outstanding to be promoted. He cited the 1951 selection figures for
officer training: out of 2,025 . highly qualified men applying, only half were selected and only half of those were commissioned. Promotion to senior billets for noncommissioned officers was also
highly competitive, with time in service an important factor. It was unlikely in such circumstances that many black marines would be commissioned from the ranks or a higher percentage of black
noncommissioned officers would be promoted to the most senior positions during the 1950's. The Marine Corps had begun commissioning Negroes so recently that the development of a it group of black
officers in a system of open competition was of necessity a slow and arduous task.
The task was further complicated because most of
the nineteen black officers on active duty in 1955 were reservists serving out tours begun in the Korean War. Only a few of them had made the successful switch from reserve to regular service. The
first two were 2d Lt. Frank E. Petersen, Jr., the first black Marine pilot, and 2d Lt. Kenneth H. Berthoud, Jr., who first served as a tank officer in the 3d Marine Division. Both men would advance
to high rank in the corps, Petersen becoming the first black marine
SERGEANT MAJOR HUFF [Photograph not included.]
As for the noncommissioned officers, there were a number of senior enlisted black marines in the 1950's, many of them holdovers from the World War II era, and Negroes were being promoted to the ranks
of corporal and sergeant in appreciable numbers But the tenfold increase in the number of black marines during the Korean War caused the ratio of senior black noncommissioned officers to black
marines to drop. Here again promotion to higher rank was slow. The first black marine to make the climb to the top in the integrated corps was Edgar R. Huff. A gunnery sergeant in an integrated
infantry battalion in Korea, Huff later became battalion sergeant major in the 8th Marines and eventually senior sergeant major in the Marine Corps.
By 1962 there were 13,351 black enlisted men, 7.59 percent of the corps' strength, and 34 black officers 7 captains, 25
lieutenants, and 2 warrant officers) serving in integrated units in all military occupations. These statistics illustrate the racial progress that occurred in the Marine Corps during the 1950's, a
change that was both orderly and permanent, and, despite the complicated forces at work, in essence a gift to the naval establishment from the Korean battlefield.