African-American Marine pioneer honored at 2004 NAACP convention
By Staff Sgt. Marc Ayalin
| Marine Corps Recruiting Command | July 13, 2004
An African-American Marine pioneer who helped pave the way for generations of black military service members was honored July 13, at an NAACP Youth Advisor’s luncheon held during the 95th Annual NAACP Convention.
More than 500 NAACP Youth Advisors, high school and college students and a handful of Marines from across the country celebrated the achievements of former Marine Captain and pioneer Frederick C. Branch, by presenting him with a citation from the mayor of the city of Philadelphia for his accomplishments in leadership. Branch, who was commissioned as the first black Marine officer in 1945, could not attend the luncheon due to ill health. Members of the Montford Point Marine Association accepted the award on his behalf.
“At first, Fred Branch did not set out to be a leader and pioneer, he just set out to excel and better himself,” said Joe Geeter, national vice president of the Montford Point Marine Association. “But by doing so, most Marines have looked up to him – most Marines consider his success their success.”
Captain Branch began his military career at Montford Point, S.C. and served with the 51st Defense Battalion in the South Pacific. As a Private First Class, he was selected to attend the Navy’s V-12 program at Purdue University where he made the dean’s list. Subsequently, he attended the 16th Platoon Commander’s Class in Quantico, Va. Branch was the only African-American in a class of 250 officer candidates.
After the awards presentation, several NAACP members commented on how Marines like Branch and Sergeant Major “Hashmark” Johnson, one of the first African-American Marine drill instructors, have made an impact in the African American community.
“This just reaffirms what we already know – they led the way for us,” said Robert Howard, president and director of the Southeast Section of the NAACP North County San Diego branch #1086. “The example set by the Montford Point Marines gives me something that I can say to my children under trying circumstances – you can do it and there are no excuses.”
In addition to honoring Branch and recognizing African-American Marine achievements, BGen. Cornell A. Wilson Jr., commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force Augmentation Command Element (II MACE), Camp Lejeune, N.C., was the keynote speaker for the luncheon. During his speech, Wilson stressed the importance of being passionate about education and opportunity, preparing for the future and maintaining individual perseverance.
“You need to prepare yourselves by doing all the right things that are required for you to do the job you are passionate about,” Wilson said.
For more information regarding Capt. Branch and other Montford Point Marines, visit www.montfordpointmarines.com and www.mpma28.com.