Mr. President, what of the Marines? : the politics of contested integration and the domestic legacy of the modern black leatherneck in Cold War America
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During the fall of 1944 in the bitterest battle of World War II for U.S. Marines, a platoon of African American Marines fought their way to capture an airstrip and save a company of embattled Marines, who happened to be white. After the Battle of Peleliu, no one heard about the unit’s heroic deeds. These black heroes, like so many others in wars past, received no medals; no front-page news story covered the events that occurred on the small coral island, nor were there any rumors of their actions. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of World War II, these men returned to the United States only to have the merits of their wartime achievements questioned. This project is an examination of the utilization and status of black Marines in combat during the Cold War era. It is about moments like the Battle of Peleliu and how these men endured contested military integration, multiple forms of institutional and social opposition, which called their humanity, manhood, and rights to full citizenship into question. Efforts to delegitimize their service compromised their right to be counted among the elite and sidelined their story to the fringes of Marine Corps and American history. It explores the creation of these organizational policies designed to minimize their footprint as U.S. Marines until the social experiment of military integration faded, and illustrates the discriminatory practices that further delegitimize their wartime reputation. This project describes the factors and pressures leading to the racial turbulence that surfaced in the Marine Corps from the end of World War II through Vietnam, and the measures taken by civilian and Marine officials to maintain and restore organizational integrity. It further examines the psychological effects of institutionalized racism on African American Marines during the Vietnam era and the emergence of a new generation of blacks unwilling to submit to the traditions of a Jim Crow Marine Corps. Furthermore, by exploring the realities American society created about black Marines, this project investigates the various ways in which these men coped within a strict prejudiced organization and found greater purpose as U.S. Marines despite an embattled image.