MajGen Charles F. Bolden, Jr.

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Aerospace engineer and Major General (ret.) Charles F. Bolden, Jr. was born on August 19, 1946 in Columbia, South Carolina. He graduated from C.A. Johnson High School in 1964. Both of his parents, Charles and Ethel Bolden, were teachers and stressed the importance of education. Bolden received his B.S. degree in electrical science from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, and earned his M.S. degree in systems management from the University of Southern California in 1977. He then accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps following graduation from the Naval Academy and underwent flight training at Pensacola, Florida, Meridian, Mississippi, and Kingsville, Texas.

Between June 1972 and June 1973, Bolden flew more than 100 combat missions into North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the A-6A Intruder while stationed in Nam Phong, Thailand. After returning to the United States, Bolden served in a variety of positions in the Marine Corps. He was then assigned to the Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, where he completed his training in 1979. While working at the Naval Air Test Center’s Systems Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates, he tested a variety of ground attack aircraft until his selection as an astronaut candidate in 1980. Bolden’s NASA astronautical career included technical assignments. He served as pilot on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. In the wake of the Challenger disaster, he was assigned as the chief of the Safety Division. In 1990, he piloted the Space Shuttle Discovery during its mission to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. Bolden served as the Mission Commander for Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1992 and the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1994. He logged more than 680 hours during these four flights. Bolden left NASA and returned to the U.S. Marine Corps in 1997, and was assigned as the Deputy Commandment of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. During Operation Desert Thunder-Kuwait in 1998, he was assigned as the Commanding General of the Marine Expeditionary Force. He was promoted to Major General in 1998. In 2003, Bolden retired from the Marine Corps and served as president of the American PureTex Water Corporation. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Bolden as the top NASA administrator, making him the second astronaut and the first African American to serve in this position.

Bolden’s military decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. NASA awarded him the Exceptional Service Award in 1988, 1989, and 1991. In May of 2006, he was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

We honor you, Charles Bolden Jr.

(#Repost @History Makers)

Donald Nathan “Don” Aldrich

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Born 24 October 1917 in Moline Illinois. His father taught him to fly before he was 12 years old. When he tried to enlist for pilot training in the American military before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was rejected because he was married.

He joined the RCAF in February 1941, earning his Wings in November 1941. He served initially as an instructor in Canada but he transferred to the Marines after the US entered the war and the RCAF would let him go (date unclear). He was wounded in action twice.

Captain Donald Aldrich, Marine Pilot who shot down a Tojo, newest Jap fighter plane, over Rabaul, Feb. 9, to become the fifth Marine flyer to kill 20 enemy planes, was congratulated by his Commanding Officer, Major James J. Neefus, of Belle Harbor, N.J. after he was awarded the Purple Heart Medal at a South Pacific Base.

He was KiFA on 3 May 1947 while attempting a forced landing at Glenview Naval Air Station. His Corsair ran into soft dirt and he flipped over.

We honor you, Don Aldrich.

(#Repost @Aces of WWII)


BGen Carol A. Mutter

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Lieutenant General Carol A. Mutter was the first woman to receive the rank of Lieutenant General in the United States Marine Corps.  Lieutenant General Mutter served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Headquarters Marine Corps.

The road to this important position began when she received her second lieutenant bars in 1967 after graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with a B.A. degree in Mathematics Education. Since then General Mutter has received her M.A. degree in National Security and Strategic Services from the Naval War College and has both an M.S. degree and an honorary doctorate. She also attended the Amphibious Warfare School and the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.

Capitalizing on her knowledge and expertise in both data processing and financial management, General Mutter was assigned as program manager for the development of new Marine Corps automated pay and personnel systems for active duty, retired and reserve Marines.

She then joined the U.S. Space Command becoming Division Chief responsible for the operation of Commander in Chief’s Command Center.

In 1990, General Mutter was assigned to the III Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa, Japan as the assistant Chief of Staff, Comptroller. In 1991, she assumed duties as Deputy Commanding General, Marine Corps Systems Command and the Program Manager for Marine Air Ground Task Force Command and Control, Quantico, Virginia. She returned to Okinawa to command 3rd Force Service Support Group, U.S. Marine Forces, Pacific. Upon advancement to Lieutenant General on September 1, 1996, she resumed her [last] position.

Her medals and decorations include: the Defense Superior Service Medal, National Defense service Medal with bronze star, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with four bronze stars.

Obviously, education, leadership, vision, and daring epitomize the life and career of this remarkable individual. Women’s International Center proudly salutes the woman and the Maine, Lieutenant General Carol A. Mutter and all the exceptional women of the United States Marine Corps with the 1998 Living Legacy Patriot Award. OUTSTANDING !

We honor you, Carol Mutter.

(#Repost @WIC)

Clayton Pitre

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“This is not just black history or Marine Corps history. This is American history. The world needs to understand the history of the Montford Point Marines.”  –Dr. James T. Averhart Jr., president, National Montford Point Marine Association

Clayton Pitre, a Creole person of color from Bayou Country, is hung up on justice, not race. The longtime Seattleite fought two wars in the spring of 1945—prejudice on the home front and tyranny abroad. He acquired the grit of a U.S. Marine in a country that labeled him inferior, and then dodged enemy fire on an island subjected to suicide warfare. Pitre’s love of country isn’t overshadowed by America’s dark history—even the mind-bending truths that surround his ancestors and his own life. Pitre has long refused to let racism get under his skin, and he’s lived discrimination like any African American from the segregated Deep South. Pitre has been ordered to the back of the bus. He’s been intellectually underestimated. And he’s been called a Negro, a term he abhors. A descendant of enslaved ancestors and slave owners, the wrongs against Pire’s family run centuries deep. Still, he’s over the mistreatment. It’s the historical record that matters to him now.

Pitre and 20,000 African Americans broke the color barrier in World War II when they trained at a segregated base in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and joined one of the most elite military organizations in the world. No black man had enlisted in the United States Marines Corps since a known slave from Delaware fought in the Revolutionary War with a handful of other African American Continental Marines. The World War II milestone generated little recognition for decades. In 2012, the Montford Point Marines were finally awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Pitre has outlived most of the men now. At 92, he is charming and sharp. Pitre emerges from downstairs in his Seattle home with a book on the men who made history. A picture of them, the Montford Point Marines, appears in a frame on the hearth of his fireplace. Over the years, Pitre has flown off to gatherings of the Montford Point Marines, hoping to connect and do his part to preserve their legacy. The goal is becoming more difficult to achieve. Pitre is among a dwindling number of WWII Montford Point Marines who can tell their story. There are approximately 400 still living in the country. Pitre is believed to be one of the only survivors in the Pacific Northwest.

It was President Roosevelt who helped the Montford Point Marines break the color barrier. His Executive Order 8802 opened the ranks of the U.S. Marine Corps in the spring of 1941, as Hitler conspired to invade the Soviet Union. Racial tension mounted with the competition for home front war-industry jobs. Construction soon began at Montford Point, a segregated depot known for its infestation of poisonous snakes as much as its rigorous instruction.

Total acceptance of African Americans remained elusive on and off the military base. “There would be a definite loss of efficiency in the Marine Corps if we have to take Negroes,” warned Major General Thomas Holcomb, the Commandant. During a boxing match at the segregated boot camp, a one-star general declared to hundreds of black recruits: “They’ve made many changes since I was stateside. They’ve added the woman … And when I came into this camp and saw you people wearing our globe and anchor, I knew there was a war on.”

Authorities who’d never seen a black Marine reputedly arrested Montford Pointers on liberty in their distinctive dress blues. One was R.J. Wood in Cleveland. They took him into custody and accused him of impersonating a Marine.

It took more than 160 years to break the color barrier, but acceptance would require still more time. “They had to fight for the right to fight,” says James Averhart Jr., president of the Montford Point Marine Association. “They wanted to serve.  They wanted to prove that they were brave.”

Despite their sacrifices at various battles—they killed the enemy in Guam, risked their lives in the vicious fighting at Iwo Jima and suffered injury at Peleliu—thumb through most World War II chronologies and the Montford Point Marines are nowhere to be found. “Your history was not credited to you,” Pitre explains. “Therefore, it was easy to show him [an African American] as lesser than the other because he hadn’t done anything. Some people say, ‘You ain’t got no history.’ ”

“If you bring up the history, you have to bring up the bad part,” suggests Joe Geeter, a past national president of the Montford Point Marine Association. “People don’t want to hear it. But African Americans today need to understand where their legacy started.”

The deep roots of Clayton Pitre unfold against a backdrop of lush green pastures and low-lying swamps. His hometown of Opelousas, Louisiana—the state’s third oldest city—became the temporary Confederate capital during the Civil War and the scene of a deadly race riot in the Reconstruction Era that followed. Pitre’s ancestors—black, white, mulatto, slaves and slave owners—began a legacy in farming that afforded them more dignity than enslaved blacks of the 18th century. Nearly 100 years before America abolished slavery, his white ancestor, Francois Lemelle, professed the value of justice and equality.

Pitre’s great-great-great maternal grandmother, Marie-Jeanne Davion, was an African American slave who bore the children of Francois Lemelle, a prominent grower in Southwest Louisiana. Marie won her freedom on December 5, 1772, nearly a century before the country abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment. Marie eventually took Francois’ last name.

Francois Lemelle died in 1789. In his will, he recognized his relationship with his onetime black slave and the children they shared. Lemelle left part of his estate to Marie and his household goods—beds, mattresses, pillows and blankets— because “of the care and pain which the said Marie-Jeanne took of him for many years and for which he had not given her any salary.” Francois’ children and his Caucasian wife, Charlotte Labbe, agreed with his wishes.

“They renounce all claims to her servitude, even if the law would have been in their favor. They do so because of the intentions of their deceased mother, Dame Lemelle, whom they remember stating many times that she desired that Marie-Jeanne enjoy freedom. They also do so because of the act of freedom passed by the said Francois Lemelle stating that he wanted and intended that Marie-Jeanne and all her children, without distinction, enjoy the rights, privileges and prerogatives held by free people.”

Marie Lemelle settled near Opelousas in St. Landry Parish after Francois’ death. There she acquired more than 800 acres along the Bayou Courtableau, in South Central Louisiana. Marie, her sons and 15 slaves made something of the land, and so began the family’s long history in farming. The land and home gave the family a sense of pride and respect. “In southwest Louisiana, there were all of these small farms—60 acres, 40 acres, 20 acres, 80 acres,” Pitre says. “There is a difference of that ownership of a small section of land and the type of citizen you have who can profess ownership of something. He has a certain kind of dignity for himself. In the south, a man’s home is his castle.”

Clayton’s paternal ancestors, Acadians, were banished from Nova Scotia for refusing loyalty to the Protestant King of England. Many of the French Catholics made their way to the bayous of Louisiana.

Pitre came along on June 30, 1924—the fourth child of seven and a Creole of color in Jim Crow America. Slavery had long been abolished, but discrimination became the life he knew. “You go downtown to the courthouse to pay the taxes. There are two water fountains—one is white and one way down the way is black. There is one restroom for white and one for colored. When you go in there most of the time it hadn’t been cleaned, you know? As a child you grow up with that. Sometimes you ask your folks, ‘Why?’ And they say, ‘Shut up.’

“We always got the short end of the stick. Our parents had used logic with us knowing that you weren’t going to win. If you’re not going to win, why would you alone take up that battle?” Clayton never let it get to him.

Pitre has fond memories of a childhood filled with influential role models. His maternal grandmother Victoria, who was slow afoot and knew little English, taught him French. His father Gilbert, a stern taskmaster, taught him how to work— the great lesson of his earliest years. “He just insisted. You have to do it. And it came from the survival of the family first. That’s what it was. You work as a unit in your home. You had to do your task. If you didn’t, something went wrong.” His mother Eugenie, wise and educated by a Belgian tutor, demonstrated the power of prayer—a ritual he carried with him to the Pacific. “I did come from a Roman Catholic family and my mom was a praying woman. She said her Rosary in French in the morning and at night.” The Pitres had seven children—Gilda, Emmett, John, Willie, Clayton, Wilfred and Edgar. Their sons served their country. Their daughter became a nun.

Clayton was the son of a yam and cotton farmer, and he worked long, hard days in the country. At first light, he’d quiet the animals—chickens, cows, hogs and horses. He remembers his father ginning the cotton. “And they would factor it, and grade it and things like that. And he would go from one person to another and whoever would give him a better deal, that’s where he sold it. Oh, they had a marketing strategy.” When the droughts came, Pitre watched the corn dry up like sunbaked cigars on a stalk.

Even in tough times, the Pitres proudly never depended on welfare. They learned to reap the most of the farming life. “You put some tomato plants in, some cucumbers, string beans, okra and you’re on your way. My mom always knew how to can. Rather than having all this dry stuff, you can open up a jar and have almost fresh tomatoes.”

Pitre was a self-described odd-ball kid who read voraciously to escape to places he could only imagine. “Reading did make a difference for me—like if I got something on New York and they would talk about the subway. Opelousas still doesn’t have a public transportation system, mind you, but here I was reading about people using a subway or train, or an elevated train in Chicago. So, it was telling me about a world that existed in my time, but I’m nowhere around to use it.”

He was around Opelousas when the Depression hit and still remembers the looting and empty wallets. But World War II spurred a recovery: “They started building at Camp Polk, Louisiana, and in Alexandria, Camp Beauregard. They began to build those places up. And they started an airfield down in Lake Charles, Louisiana. In Texas, they started running a pipeline across the country to the east coast.”

Pitre was 17 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and 19 when he was drafted into the U.S. Navy. He chose to enlist in the U.S. Marines instead. His papers were stamped “Colored.” Then he boarded a bus bearing a sign that ordered him to the back row. He was bound for a segregated base in North Carolina. Like his five brothers and his father, who escorted POWs during World War I, he would serve his country.

Clayton Pitre arrived at Jacksonville in August 1943, amid stifling humidity, swarms of mosquitoes and terrain crawling with poisonous snakes. Like the other African American Marines, he slept in a pre-fabricated hut made of pressed cardboard, not the barracks the white recruits lived in at nearby Camp Lejeune. He was banned from crossing the railroad tracks or from entering Camp Lejeune without a white escort. He could wear the globe and anchor, but he couldn’t advance up the ranks like his white counterparts and wear the gold bars of a second lieutenant. “What happened in the Marine Corps that was strange for a whole period of time was they limited the black servicemen to not becoming officers. They could become master sergeants, any kind of non-commissioned rank you could get it, but when it comes to wearing a gold bar, no. You find that person with the same education— he’s the officer. We protested in various ways and let them know we didn’t like it.”

Pitre was assigned to Platoon 126 and he began proving himself on day one. “When I was drafted into the Marine Corps, those guys from Chicago and New York, they expected me to be a dummy. They really did. But it wasn’t so,” Pitre says.

The attitudes were familiar to Clayton, who’d grown up in the segregated Deep South. “As far as I was concerned, it was old hat for me. I came from Louisiana—out there in the tulies you might say—and this was a way of life, you know?”

Black Marines who’d grown up north of the Mason-Dixon Line found themselves in another world. According to the Montford Point Marine Association, the men were treated as an experiment initially, doubted for their intellect and performance. Many Montford Pointers reported weeks of discrimination—name-calling and other verbal abuse, extra physical activity and physical abuse. Says Joe Geeter, a past president of the Montford Point Marine Association, “What they did was make them better Marines.”

Soon, Montford Point Marines broke gunnery and anti-artillery records and prepared for some of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific Theater.

Pitre’s uncompromising training began as early as 5:00 a.m. “You couldn’t hardly see the guy and he’s calling off—telling you what’s going to happen that day. And then you would march back to your tent and you would fix your bunk and you would clean the floor and everything else.” His schedule matched the whites’: weapons and field training, physical conditioning, marksmanship training and a week of live firing at a rifle range. To this day, Pitre holds the utmost respect for the U.S. Marine Corps for the discipline he learned at Montford Point. All things considered, Pitre believes he was treated fairly.

The Montford Point Marine was assigned to the First Marine Ammunition Company with eight officers, 251 enlisted men and a fleet of trucks, jeeps and trailers for carting ammunition. There were 12 ammunition companies established in the war in total, and they were crucial in accommodating hundreds of thousands of fighting Marines in the Pacific. The Corps depended on a better system to load and offload ships and trucks, and to haul supplies to men on the frontlines. The laborers who would support those in hand-to-hand combat would learn all there is to know about handling ammunition, fuses and detonators. Then they’d haul the explosives to the heart of battle.

Like 13,000 Montford Pointers, Pitre was assigned to the Pacific Theater. After 21 days zigzagging through the Panama Canal, he arrived at the ruins of Pearl Harbor on New Year’s Day 1944. “When we pulled in and I saw those ships on that side in the harbor—they hadn’t cleared them out—then I really knew what the Japanese had done to us. There was no question about the fact that we were into something.”

Pitre left Hawaii. He was sent to Kwajalein, Saipan and back to Hawaii before making his way toward Okinawa.

Kamikaze suicide bombers swarmed like bees over the Ryukyus Islands. It was Easter Sunday, 1945. Clayton Pitre watched from aboard the USS Bladen as his ship neared the rugged mountains and deep ravines of Okinawa—the chain’s largest island. This was the scene of the last major battle of the Pacific War. The massive amphibious assault demanded control of Okinawan air bases that would allow the Allies to launch pivotal bombing raids against Japan, more than 300 miles away. The Allies were dominating Imperial Japan, but the savage fighting on Okinawa would make history as the bloodiest battle of the Pacific.

Pitre prepared for his role as a decoy. “Oh my God. We went into the bay on the north part of the island, in Nago. There were these kamikazes that wanted to dive into those ships and the sky was just messed up with antiaircraft.”

He climbed down the nets and into landing craft in a feint attack at the northern part of the island. “We got into those barges and we went within so many yards of the island and then turned around. A whole fleet of us went back to the ship to pull the Japanese north. Meanwhile, our Spitfires were just shelling the beach. They were just firing along the beach. They landed in the south end of the island, a whole bunch of fighters.”

Pitre, one of 2,000 black Marines who fought on Okinawa, lived the working conditions of the Pacific War for nearly three months. He slept in a pup tent, dodged enemy fire and shook off the constant hum of Japanese warplanes flying overhead.

Pitre and the men in his company carried heavy explosives in driving rains and through deep mud. There was no cover. “You think that you may lose it but you’ve gone this far. You just hope that it won’t happen. I can’t describe it. What happens with people is there is something in you. I prayed. I prayed to myself. I prayed that I’d make it. But I saw others who broke. I saw others who broke and they just had to send them back.”

Some of the Montford Point Marines carried the wounded on stretchers. Others found themselves in hand-tohand combat. “Okinawa was a long, hard run, really. And it was the last one because President Truman—after he found out we had the atomic bomb— he wasn’t for landing on Japan. We had radios by then on Okinawa, and if you heard what those Japanese were saying. They told us, ‘You don’t know us! We will fight you to the last man!’ And they didn’t stop after one bomb was dropped. So that tells you the effort we were up against.”

The Japanese, ferocious defenders of the island, used the setting to their advantage—surfacing from tombs, caves and tunnels to lob explosives at the enemy. Suicide warriors plunged from the skies and targeted warships. Psychological warfare occurred day in and day out. The constant threat of a Japanese pilot became unbearable. “He would come by just about the time you were trying to get yourself together, about 6:00 in the morning. He would fly over you and the guys would be shooting at him. But they wouldn’t get him. You would have to take cover while he’s flying all over your head. And then come 12 o’clock, by the time you’re getting ready to eat, he’d come back. The psychological thing—it broke some people.”

Pitre witnessed the breakdown of Floyd Hayes, a fellow Marine, en route to San Diego after the war. “Floyd started walking through the chow hall and he started preaching— something about being saved. He was not coherent to me. Someone came and got him and gave him a shot. I didn’t see him anymore. They kept him sedated.

“Well, I was down at Third and Union in Seattle to take a bus one day and here’s Floyd. And he said, ‘Man, they’ve got some good doctors in San Diego.’ He said what happened to him. After a while he got a vision that his father had died while he was on the ship. But he said really, he couldn’t sleep. His insomnia kicked in until finally he broke.”

Beyond the psychological warfare and arduous labor, monsoons swept across the island. “One of them came through and we were in this tent,” Pitre remembers. “We were in each corner holding down this pole. I’d never seen anything like it. I didn’t know what they meant when they said monsoon season. That wind is something else! And it comes from the southwest. I said to someone, ‘Why do you always have hedges on the southwest part of your yard?’ They said, ‘When the evil spirit comes, he comes straight. He does not know how to come around.’ ”

Pitre avoided disaster another day, when he climbed into a foxhole in the middle of a vegetable farm during heavy rains. He dug trenches to drain the water away from the foxhole where he’d take cover from the kamikazes. He found two old doors and rested them on top of gallon cans nearby. Then he spread his canvas out. He’d sleep there on his dry makeshift bed.

“Why don’t you come on?” a buddy asked. “We’re going to stay in that old building tonight.”

“I’m not going over there.” Pitre could make out the old farmhouse with the coral tile roof—beaten and battered by monsoon winds and a mortar shell. The men were huddled south of Yontan Airfield on the Okinawan coast.

Pitre’s fears were realized when the building collapsed overnight, breaking one man’s hips. “If we had gone in there, that would have been a bad deal,” Pitre says. All told, the very worst of the Pacific War was not the fierce winds or backbreaking labor, but the loss of life everywhere. It’s the image he’s never forgotten. “I saw men stacked up like cordwood–dead, moving bodies like five high. That was about the saddest thing I saw. That makes you cognizant of what you’re into when you see a lot of dead bodies that way. That’s the price of war.

“It appears to me we’ve still got people who don’t really realize what the heck war is all about. As a president tries to bring these guys back home and somebody gets mad. There’s a limit to how many lives you’re going to sacrifice over there.”

In the throes of battle, a non-commissioned black officer once openly challenged the positioning of black Marines during Pitre’s service on Okinawa. “We were in a lower part of a valley,” Pitre remembers. “If you interfere with coral, when the water comes that coral is going to shift. One time something like that happened. Water that had been draining lost its course. It just came down upon us in the valley. I grabbed my shoes, both of them, and it just washed stuff away. Then, we’re all out in the water. We blacks are down here and the whites were in high ground. Not that they intended that, but this guy protested.”

The 82-day campaign to seize Okinawa ended in favor of the Allies, but the price was steep all around. Across the landscape, you could see bombed-out buildings, bloodstained caves and farm fields in ruins. The death toll was staggering—14,000 Allies, 77,000 Japanese soldiers and 100,000 civilians or more. Japanese commanders and soldiers killed themselves rather than surrender. Civilians jumped from rocky cliffs to take their own lives. “It was a scene straight out of hell,” remembers Higa Tomiko, then 7. “There is no other way to describe it.”

The gruesome battle for Okinawa set the stage for the atomic bombs dropped in August on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ushered in the end of World War II.

Pitre’s First Marine Ammunition Company was soon assigned to North China. The men would repatriate the Japanese and stand guard on trains vulnerable to attack. Black Marines who traveled there remembered the Chinese touching their faces as if to determine “if the color would run off on the fingers.” But eventually the reception was warm.

Pitre has never forgotten standing guard himself on a freight train bound for Tientsin: “We were going to deliver to some Marines there who would see that it would get to where it should be. But until I delivered it to them, I had to stay with it. So the train would stop different places. Attendants to the train—they could talk the language of the people around. And people would come toward this train. The trainman had no business to get into a fight with another civilian there. But anyway, it happened. This man from the community—he picked up an instrument and hit the trainman on the side of the head.

And it was a bad, bad hit. So here I have this guy come crying to me and bleeding. And I just looked all around to see where I was. And then I saw a building with the American flag on it. It looked like it could be military. I scribbled in longhand that this man was traveling with us as we were moving this food. Please give him some medical aid. And I wrote my name and rank and serial number. And he went over to that building and we moved. The CIA got involved.”

It remains Pitre’s fondest memory of World War II.

Except to visit, Clayton never returned to Bayou Country after the war. He considered the family farm there a dead-end and followed his brother to Washington instead, chasing a possible job with the U.S. Navy. Pitre started working for Todd Shipyard when he overheard recent high school graduates talking about their prom. The conversation led to his enrollment at Broadway-Edison Tech, a school for GIs, which awarded Pitre his high school diploma. A college degree at Seattle University followed. He met his wife Gloria. They married and had three sons. Pitre eventually became Chief Housing Developer for the Central Area Motivation Program, a group that provides housing to families earning low or moderate incomes.

Looking back, Pitre is grateful for the GI bill that afforded him his education and the clear objective of his service in World War II. “We had a true mission. You knew what Hitler was doing and what he had done. You knew what the Japanese were doing and what they had done. But we find ourselves sometimes getting into skirmishes. This mission is not as clear for these youngsters today.”

He’s proud to be called an African American and considers America “halfway there” on its long road to equality. “The fact is that when all is equal you have gained. The military no longer has to worry about that problem. They have fine people from all races who’ve done well for their country.”

Over the last dozen years or so, Pitre has belonged to a Northwest support group for U.S. Marines. Every year around November 10th, the birthday of the United States Marine Corps, members get together. The first slice of cake is presented to the oldest veteran who, in turn, passes the slice on to the youngest. Clayton Pitre, at 92, is always the oldest Marine in the room. Sizing up the new generation in an integrated Corps, Pitre smiles. “I know we’ll be in good shape. We’ve got what we need.”  Trova Heffernan

We honor you, Clayton Pitre.

(#Repost @

Stan Gale Jones

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“This is no ordinary time,” Eleanor Roosevelt said as Europe was being engulfed by war. Stanley Gale Jones, a true survivor, has lived no ordinary life. In 1943, when he was a 17-year-old drifter in his own village, Jones resolved to fight for his country and himself. He had wandered across the Tulalip Reservation for years, sleeping in one impoverished household after the other. Family had come and gone with each new roof; poverty had followed him like a faithful companion. Wearing government-surplus clothing and second-hand shoes lined with cardboard, he’d sifted worms from flour at the government commissary and gone hungry staring into barren cupboards. The Indian village still lacked running water and electricity, so he’d caught rainwater off the roof and used kerosene lamps. The reservation was only 30 miles north of Seattle, yet it seemed suspended in the 19th century.

When the surprise assault on Pearl Harbor propelled waves of new recruits into the military, the Indian teenager eventually felt a blend of hope and patriotism. Maybe he’d escape poverty and defend his country as a U.S. Marine.

Seventy years have passed since Jones and 44,000 other Native Americans risked their lives for democracy. The passage of time is etched in Jones’ face. But he remains full of spirit—as proud of his military tour of duty as he is of his Indian blood. The veteran of the South Pacific can recite more Japanese than Lushootseed, the original language of the Salish tribes. His thick black hair is often tucked inside his Marine cap.

The war left emotional and physical scars. Frightening noises that pierced the humid darkness of the South Pacific stirred nightmares for years. Jones still sleeps with a knife and pistol. Occasionally, the memories rouse him from a deep slumber. “Everything comes back to me at night,” Jones says. “I hear something and listen for the jungle noises. Then I wake up and realize I am at home.”

Nagasaki, a city one eyewitness recounted frizzling like a baked apple after the atomic blast in 1945, rarely leaves Jones’ mind. He saw something familiar in the dazed expressions of those orphans—the children mourning the abrupt loss of their parents and scavenging trash for scraps. The Japanese word for the A-bomb survivors is Hibakusha. For Jones, the kids’ faces are indelible.

Jones couldn’t believe what he found when he and 27,000 American troops occupied the devastated industrial city. They were there to defuse what was left of the Japanese war machine. A secret super bomb with unforgiving might had produced a massive fireball and black rain. In some cases, only the soot-like shadows of the victims remained. “We’d be walking around doing guard duty all through the area where the bomb was dropped,” Jones remembers. “Then finally we heard, ‘Get off the area! Get off the area!’ We didn’t understand why.” Later he did. “The radiation from the atomic bomb eats your legs up. It’s eaten my leg up.” Jones lifts a pant leg to reveal an old battle scar. The skin is red, rippled with grafts, perpetually swollen. “It’s still active,” he says, referring to only one injury among a myriad of health problems he attributes to radiation exposure.

Jones first noticed the sore on his left leg after the war. While doctors diagnosed the wound as an amyloid tumor— hard masses or nodules beneath the skin—they never identified its cause. Jones filed a claim with the Department of Veteran Affairs.  “I have had one large tumor removed and replaced with a muscle off my back,” he wrote in his letter to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. “I am now three-quarters blind in one eye, hearing loss in both ears, and have tumors on my legs that will not heal. I do believe the tumors are attributed to the atomic radiation exposure.” The board rejected Jones’ claim in 2005. “I was pretty angry right off the bat,” Jones concedes. “Why don’t I get something for that? I was angry for a while. I might have broken some windows.” His voice trails off. Jones remains disappointed, but at peace with the decision.

The Tulalip Indian moves his lean frame back in his easy chair in his home on the reservation, which has undergone something of a renaissance, thanks to a first-rate casino and discount shopping mall. He tosses a bone for his golden lab, Champ. All around are photos documenting a rare life remade by war.

Stanley Gale Jones, “Scho-Hallem,” was born on July 10, 1926, a descendant of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Squaxin, Skykomish, Clallam and Stoc-welee-jub tribes. He grew up as a timid child of the Depression. There was poverty, bullying and worse. His mother, Juanita Giddings Jones, a Klamath Indian from Monroe, died from a gall bladder infection in 1930. Stan was only 3. His father moved the children from Monroe to the Tulalip Indian Reservation to be near family. Jones spent the rest of his childhood missing the mother he barely knew.

His father remarried and fathered 14 additional children. Jones felt like a kind of misfit. He traveled from relative to relative on the reservation, constantly in fear of wearing out his welcome. “It was rough losing his mother at a young age like that,” says JoAnn, Jones’ longtime wife. “Then not knowing where he belonged afterward— [and moving] from pillar to post. Every time we’d go to a funeral, he’d get up and say, ‘Well, I used to live with them.”

Too proud to accept welfare, the senior Jones—a hardworking logger, fisherman and carpenter—took whatever jobs came his way. Efforts to assimilate Native Americans into white culture threatened Jones’ Indian identity. The Tulalip Indian School closed down in the 1930s, and Jones’ presence in the Marysville public schools was unsettling to whites who didn’t know what to make of a Native American.

When Jones was 9, he was taken to Cushman Indian Hospital in Tacoma. The tuberculosis sanitarium treated Native Americans in the West. “When the invaders came from the north, they gave us the gift of TB, tuberculosis,” Jones says sardonically. “So many Indian people had TB and they were dying.” After all he’d been through, Jones was lucky to be healthy. But his older brother, Norman, was gravely ill with TB, a disease that wreaks havoc on the body when bacteria are inhaled into the lungs.

The compound at Cushman doubled as a school because so many children were in the hospital’s care. Jones says assimilation into white culture carried on there too. For speaking Lushootseed, he once had his mouth washed out with lye soap. His tongue cracked and bled. The punishments came often. During another episode, Stan was confined to a closet and overheard two nurses praying for a boy who’d just died. It was Norman, who was only 14. Stan wailed, but the nurses never heard. Norman’s funeral brought Jones’ only departure from Cushman Indian Hospital in three years.

A couple of years later, Bill Steve, a night watchman, returned the 12-year-old to the Tulalip Reservation. He’d been sent home for splashing water on another student. After several stops at households, Jones was finally heartily welcomed by an aunt and uncle. He spent his time hunting, fishing, swimming and playing sports. After the eighth grade, however, Jones quit school to work in the logging camps.

The attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the date “which will live in infamy,” persuaded Jones to fight for his country. At 17, he lied about his age and joined the United States Marine Corps. He went active duty a year later.

He’d hoped to become a paratrooper, but the Marine Corps assigned him to a tank battalion because of his experience driving a caterpillar tractor at logging camps. In 1944, the recruit was at boot camp in San Diego, running until he couldn’t take another step and tossing hand grenades until his arms went numb. “Your arms would be so sore,” Jones remembers. “There was lots of hand-to-hand bayonet training— full packs and rifles—jumping 40 feet off a ship into the water. We trained day after day. It was really kind of a beating. It was good teaching, though.”

Driving a Sherman tank was like driving a bulldozer for Jones. “I remember to this day how it works—setting the box, turning the dial until the gun quivers, then down a little while you’re running over big bumps, the gun will hold the target and you shoot. We were in twin Chrysler Sherman tanks with smoke launchers and Thompson machine guns with a gyrostabilizer.”

Jones soon found himself aboard a troop ship with 2,000 Marines, zigzagging across the sea.

Dubbed “Japan’s Pearl Harbor,” D-Day in the Pacific fell on June 15, 1944, among valleys of head-high sugarcane, deep swamps and jagged peaks. Saipan, one of 15 islands in the 400- mile Marianas chain, promised strategic airfields that would place B-29 bombers within striking distance of mainland Japan. Thousands of men stormed the beaches; guns fired from armored amphibian tractors and rockets launched from gunboats. The shells rained down with pinpoint accuracy, one Marine coming ashore recalled. “All around us was the chaotic debris of bitter combat: Jap and Marine bodies lying in mangled and grotesque positions; blasted and burnt-out pillboxes; the burning wrecks of LVTs that had been knocked out by Jap high-velocity fire; the acrid smell of high explosives; the shattered trees, and the churned-up sand littered with discarded equipment. Then the shells really began to pour down on us: ahead, behind, on both sides, and right in our midst. They would come rocketing down with a freight-train roar and then explode with a deafening cataclysm that is beyond description.”

Troops established a beachhead and moved inland. In the jungles, Jones drove Aloha, his Sherman tank, and hunted for Japanese stragglers. “It reminded me of hunting deer back home,” he says. “We had to walk silently—tiptoeing through the jungle and trying to catch them. Usually we would go in three-man patrols, but sometimes it was just the two of us.”

“Every day was scary. A lot of the time, we were in tanks. But some of the time we were on foot searching for Japanese soldiers in caves. We got to be an expert in searching the caves and the jungle at Saipan. We never thought we were coming back. We were willing to give up our lives.”

When the afternoon light faded, Jones patrolled the jungle to guard the ammunition tent or attempted sleep with a knife and pistol under his pillow. “Was I scared? Yes. [The jungle was literally alive] with noises, such as birds and other animals moving, and you never knew who or what was out there. The enemy is all through the area. You’d hear a noise and it would get you alert. Sometimes, you’d have to shoot around the area to find out what it was. Then you’ll see somebody else there. They’d come out. But if it was the enemy they’d take off. “I was the only one that had to do guard duty alone. I know they were prejudiced against me because I’m Native American, and my papers said ‘Indian.’ So, I had my own big tent. There were bunks in that tent, but you wouldn’t sleep in the bunk. You’d put something in the bunk that looks like somebody was there, then you’d sleep back on the ground and have your submachine gun and listen for the noise.”

Savage fighting erupted around Mount Tapotchau. Eventually, the Japanese were trapped in the northern part of the island. In a final suicidal “banzai” charge, the largest of the war, 3,000 Japanese troops perished. The battle also killed more than 3,000 American troops, but the Japanese fared worse. Of 30,000 troops, only 1,000 survived when the island was secured on July 9. Japanese civilian deaths, the result of mass suicides, were deemed heroic by the Japanese government. General Saito, who died after the battle by ritual suicide, had labeled the Japanese civilians martyrs: “There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops. It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than be captured.”

In the summer of 1945, as Jones was preparing to invade Japan, he heard the big news: an atomic bomb had detonated over a tennis court in Nagasaki—the second blow to the country in three days. “When they told us Japan had surrendered, and two atomic bombs leveled two cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we felt relief. We were going to make it back home. I felt elated.”

Some of the Japanese were unaware that the war had ended and hid in caves. “When another Marine and I were doing guard duty at night, we were by a river and my partner lit a match for his cigarette,” Jones remembers. “Shots rang out across the water, bouncing next to us. We learned our lesson. I never smoked and if he lit up I stood far away from him.”

The B-29 Superfortress Bockscar flew over Nagasaki, its second target, on August 9, 1945. At 11:02 a.m., it let loose a massive hurricane of melted glass, fire and debris. The nuclear blast pulverized buildings, incinerated people and reduced nearly three square miles to ashes. An estimated 76,000 people were killed or injured.

More powerful than Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Fat Man was filled with plutonium-239. The topography of Nagasaki lessened its impact, but the horrors were unimaginable just the same.

When the 2nd Marine Division arrived at the industrial center in September, the port city was in rubble. Roughly 70 percent of Nagasaki had been destroyed. Streets were filled with remains of the dead; the dazed wounded walked the rubble in shredded clothing. City hospitals, a skeleton of what they once were, offered no place to die with dignity. Thirty-two first aid stations and 18 of the city hospitals were destroyed in the nuclear blast. Ninety percent of the doctors in Nagasaki were injured or killed. In one of the few remaining hospitals, eight physicians and eight nurses treated more than 10,000 patients. “The people there were no longer the enemy, they were people in need of help, desperate, starving, suffering and dying,” Jones says. “It was like a living hell. We could see the Mitsubishi factory, which was one of the targets. All the steel frames were bent in one direction, with all metal coverings blown away. I saw older people and children with scarred faces and pieces of hair hanging on their heads. Many of the people that I talked to probably died within a year or two.”

Fearful Japanese fled to the hills amid rumors they would be brutalized or killed. “The men were mainly hiding out in the woods. They were really afraid. So, we more or less came in and took over the area. I always said, [speaking in Japanese] ‘I’m Mr. Jones. I’m from the 2nd Marine Division. Don’t be afraid. You will not be hurt. Surrender.”

The atomic bomb orphans—their lives forever changed—wandered the rubble in uncounted numbers. Burned and disfigured, they scavenged trash cans for food and slept in the open.

Jones was so haunted by the young survivors that he began delivering his rations to them with any leftovers he could smuggle from the officers’ quarters as a military cook. “We’d see a lot of food, dump it into our big sack and go visit the areas. We would give them food like that because they didn’t have any. And they were happy. We made a lot of friends.”

Yet hostility remained in postwar Nagasaki. One day as Jones returned to the barracks, Japanese civilians clubbed him. The assault left the young Marine with a broken upper jawbone and partial hearing loss in one ear.

After nine months, Jones’ tour of duty came to an end. It was the summer of 1946. Jones boarded the troop ship holding a bouquet of flowers, a gift from the Japanese people.

Stanley Jones returned from the war wiser and matured. He’d lost part of his youth, but developed a work ethic that would serve him well the rest of his life. Jones wore his Marine dress blues when he arrived in Marysville by train. He was unsure where to go. Eventually, Jones settled on his father’s house and knocked on the front door. “Stanley!” his stepmother cried.

In 1948, JoAnn Barrie, 15, a student at Seattle’s Cleveland High School, “handpicked” Stan after admiring his picture in a friend’s wallet. Their 65-year union has produced four children, and a bevy of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. Humor is always present in the household.

Jones is perhaps best known for his indelible mark on Indian Country. Prompted by Harriette Shelton Dover, the second woman to serve on the Tulalip board of directors, Jones ran for a position in 1966. Over the course of 44 years, he made history as the longest-serving board member. He spent 26 of those years as a chairman known for his disarming and persuasive leadership style. He became a global ambassador for the Tulalip Tribes, a visionary behind the lucrative Quil Ceda Village retail center in Marysville, a preservationist of Native culture, a crucial activist in the fight for Indian fishing rights and a friend of some of the most notable leaders of our time. He’s met Bill Gates, Donald Trump and U.S. presidents.  Framed photos of Jones with Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton hang on the walls of his Tulalip home.

And in the summer of 2015, the proud U.S. Marine prepares to pose for another photograph. He flashes a smile and slips on one of his most treasured possessions—a black leather vest with the words Atomic Veteran stitched in yellow.  Trova Heffernan

We honor you, Stan Jones.

(#Repost @

RP Moon

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I Joined the US Marine Corps Sept ’65. I was assigned to 5th MarDiv in the Spring of ’66 and went to Vietnam in July of that year. In Sept ’66 I was wounded and transferred to Great Lakes Naval Hospital until May ’67.

On discharge from the hospital I went to Schools Bn Quantico and returned to Vietnam in ’69 and was assigned to 1st Force Reconnaissance Company. My second Vietnam tour ended in Sept ’70 and I returned to the U.S. My next assignment was Embassy duty in Prague. I was medically discharged in Jan ’73 from H&S Co. H&S Bn. 1st MarDiv.

We honor you, RP Moon.

(#Repost @

BG Joseph V. Medina

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Since the days of the American Revolution, the Armed Forces have served as a place in which conflicts of race could be put aside for the protection of the nation and its people. Through a career that spanned 31 years, Brigadier General Joseph V. Medina served his country with both dignity and honor.

General Medina is one of four Hispanic officers to ever obtain a rank of Brigadier General or higher in the United States Marine Corps, and was the first Marine to take command of a naval flotilla. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal for his command skills, as well as for the tremendous responsibilities Medina took on throughout his career.

During his service, General Medina was a vocal proponent of the recruitment of Hispanics into the Marine Corps. As of 2013,  approximately 157,000 armed servicemen – 11.4 percent of active duty members and 18 percent of the total Marine population – were of Latin-American descent. While debate rages on about immigration reform and national languages, it’s important to remember the role proud Hispanic Americans take in the defense of their home, be it adopted or not. General Medina is testament to that much.

We honor you, Joseph Medina.

(#Repost @Chambers Primary School Hispanic Month Appreciation wall)