Friday, November 6, 2009


Someone who is helping me develop a magazine article reminded me that I needed to demonstrate to editors why now is the time to write an article about black World War II service members. Today I read an article about Montford Point Marines.Local event remembers the first modern black Marines | Charlottesville Daily Progress
In the article author, Melton A. McLaren is quoted as saying, “Gradually, that idea that African-Americans were not involved in the Second World War is starting to break down.” I believe this means now is the time to tell the invisible warrior's story.


What did military service during World War II mean for "Invisible Warriors", black service members? To be invisible meant they were unseen, unnoticed, imperceptible and believed to be ineffective. The narrator in author Ralph Ellison's 1952 book, Invisible Man explains that he is invisible not because of some scientific experiment but rather because of unwillingness of other people to notice him, as he is black.

This was the plight of black service men and women during World War II. And like the narrator in Ellison's book, invisible warriors had an aching need to make others recognize them. And just as Ellison's narrator often found that such attempts rarely succeeded so too was the case with black service members.

Invisible warriors rarely appear in official images from that war, but they were there – 1.2 million strong. For example, almost 900 invisible warriors, known as Montford Point Marines, took part in the battle of Iwo Jima, including my fellow North Carolinian former marine and Navy Captain, Thomas McPhatter, who I interviewed for this book. McPhatter who landed on Iwo Jima with the Eighth Ammunition Company complained loudly in 2005 when director Clint Eastwood released Flags of Our Fathers, a movie chronicling the invasion. No black marines appeared in the movie, much to McPhatter's distress. You might think McPhatter overreacted considering that 900 black Marines equaled only about ten percent of the forces. But McPhatter believed there was a consorted effort to keep blacks out of the official military footage. McPhatter remembered news photographers rushing past black marines to photograph white marines. Even today, some white Marines who landed on Iwo Jima still insist there were no black Marines involved in the invasion. Case in point: I have a white acquaintance whose father, a Marine landed on Iwo Jima. When she spoke to her father about my book, her father insisted that the only blacks involved in the invasion were either the Army or Navy. Listening to my friend repeat what her father said helped me understand McPhatter's outrage. I admit that until I began my research for my book I did not have a real appreciation of the heroics of black World War II service men and women.

In a 2006 interview McPhatter told a reporter that he provided a piece of pipe used for the first flag up on Iwo Jima, but this detail did not make it into the film. "Of all the movies that have been made of Iwo Jima, you never see a black face," McPhatter said. "This is the last straw. I feel like I have been denied. I have been insulted. I have been mistreated. But what can you do? We still have a strong underlying force in my country of rabid racism." Absent from history: the black soldiers at Iwo Jima, October 20 2006 by Dan Glaister in Los Angeles.

Perhaps the reason to write magazine articles now profiling invisible warriors is that their stories have to be told before they are all gone. Another reason could be that their is a generation of black youths who are desperately in need of positive stories about the strength and endurance of their ancestors.
Copyright © Sharon D. Powell, 2009 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

1 comment:

  1. Thank goodness, you are a storyteller for these unsung heroes.