Marine Corps Stories: Pointed
A Marine officer must contend with injustice.
Their Newark, Delaware house stood tall. Green shutters and white siding bespoke a home of not humility, but quiet pride. They had no children. They had married a year before. In the twilight of the February evening, they stood behind chairs and leaned into each other.
“You signed up for the Army already. So, you’ve got transferred. You know good and well that the Marines don’t take Colored men,” Flora Oxton asserted. She was petite and had bone structure that accentuated her cheeks the color of acorns. She was five foot seven inches in height.
Second Lieutenant Mallory "Delaware" Oxton fired back saying, “Not yet. I’ll be the first,” He was blue black. His muscles bulged from his shirt as he stood just a few inches over his wife.
“Oh, so you’re going to be a champion of rights. You’re a regular crusader for the Negro race I see. You’ve got a degree from New Sweden University. You can fight in that white man’s Army, sure. But you can also stay here and have your own accounting firm or insurance office, baby,” her voice cracked a bit and some moisture appeared in her eyes.
“I’m going to be a Marine. And not just that, a Marine officer. I’m going to North Carolina, woman, and that’s all it’s going to be.”
“You don’t have to do this. You’re far too smart to just waste your intelligence on shelling and getting stuck in the mud.”
“You don’t have to worry about that, Flora. I’m going to train men how to be fighters. They can push us off into some far away place separate from the other men but I will make sure that we will prevail as warriors.”
Flora folded her arms. She looked down at her navy blue dress. The pleated skirt was stained by a teardrop. Oxton came from around his chair and took hold of his wife. “I’m not going to die for no reason. These days are supposed to be filled with joy and happiness. They’re not. There’s death and destruction thousands of miles away. I want to be a part of ending all of that suffering. I want to institute long-lasting peace throughout the world.”
“You and your highfalutin ideals….Can’t we just stay here and raise a family and be normal? All you have to do is be part of the Colored recruiting station in Newark. This is your home. Delaware is your home. With you going over there I….”
Oxton’s arms stiffened as he continued to hold his wife. “Listen to me now, Flora. There’s no way that I’m not going to be without you. They’ll be postcards, letters, telegrams….We just have to stay tied to reason and know that whatever may happen it happened in the service of our own self-interest.”
Flora brushed away a tear. She whirled from around the chair, the knocking of her heels striking against the wooden floor. She found their bedroom and wept silently.
SIX MONTHS LATER
Sand fleas bit into Oxton’s flesh. The humidity of Montford Point kicked into high gear this time of the season. Mid-August brought the mugginess that felt like dozens of people just breathing on him. He stopped at the first hooch and everyone there was Colored. Master Sergeant Glover Kingsbury had the skin of an oak tree. His grin showed a gold tooth and tobacco stained teeth. He saw the officer approach. He shot to the position of attention.
“Attention on deck!” Everyone under his voice paused and looked towards Oxton.
“Montford Point Commanding Officer Mallory Oxton on deck. Good morning, sir!”
“Carry on.” Oxton walked over to Kingsbury.
“I can show you around now, sir,” the master sergeant mentioned. He had a bit of overeagerness and a hint of mockery in his voice.
“That would be swell, Master Sergeant.”
The two men walked by the hooches with no running water or electricity. It seemed like a foreign country compared to the accomodations in Delaware. Even the Army offered better living conditions than this, Oxton thought. He kept his gait and observed the faces, toiling in the hot sun. Nobody saluted him as they engaged in the maintenance of weapons, switched out slop buckets, and cleared paths.
“Sir, your living space is right over here,” Kingsbury said.
“Thank you,” Oxton replied.
It was a room with a bed and a dresser and a desk. A closet for his uniforms wedged between his rack and the wall. Some areas for exercising and washing up with the water from the well remained. Still, it even lacked electricity and a fan powered by the wind was his only saving grace against the oppressive heat.
“You’ll be needing something, so I’ll be right down the way,” Kingsbury suggested. He walked out of the slightly larger hooch and saw Oxton step to the doorway. Kingsbury rendered a salute and went on about his business.
Oxton removed his cover and threw down his pea green sea bag. He also had a ditty bag and a “body bag” for his garments. Additionally, there was a dossier that contained his orders and what he would be doing on the North Carolina island. He rubbed his forehead going over how ridiculous all of this seemed. His impetus had subsided and he wished to take a nap. After about a three hour day of sleep, he recovered. He felt like a bulldozer powering through the paperwork. He had to know the amount of rifles, the amount of canteens, the pairs of socks that had to be facilitated by the supply personnel. In charge of all these issues, he felt a need to better understand his troops. He headed out with his slightly sweat-stained, perfectly creased, Service Charlie shirt.
He walked over to where two young recruits, one the color of a raisin the other the color of walnut shot to their feet when they saw the shiny stuff on Oxton’s collar and cover.
“Carry on. Hey, what are you two working on, there?”
“We’re trying to get this howitzer to fire, sir,” the raisin one’s name was Ronson Bristol.
“If we get this done, it’ll be on its way into battle in the Pacific, sir,” the walnut-colored man, Mathers Mopp, answered.
“It seems like you two are going to be among the brightest out there,” Oxton remarked.
“We’re going to be,” Bristol replied.
“We will be, sir,” Mopp announced.
“Keep it going,” Oxton turned and left. Mopp and Bristol remained in the position of attention until Oxton was out of view.
The officer continued down the line and observed the palmetto trees providing little shade to the sun bearing down on his recruits. He ensured that each of them got enough water to sustain them throughout the day. Oxton brought with him his dossier of his duties and they of course, included sections on how to keep unit cohesion and to definitely keep his men alive and well. If there was toe jam, he had to know about it. If a man had a case of cellulitis, he needed to know about it and act on these issues. Though not Marines yet, he had to know that the drill instructors assigned to these young men had to be of the highest order. So, he kept walking. The sound of yelling, like an alarm sounding off in the hooch, quickened his heart rate and he leapt into the small housing unit.
“Carry on!”Oxton saw the spittle on the face of one of the recruits. It was brownish gray.
“Master Sergeant, step outside, now!” Oxton commanded. The Marine non-commissioned officer heeded the order.
“What the hell is this?”
The master sergeant rolled his eyes and stood at attention.
“What is this?” Oxton reiterated. A deepening crease formed in his forehead.
“Sir I merely told the recruit that he was performing an incorrect exercise and a bit of my tobacco juice––”
“I don’t want to hear it. You are on watch, master sergeant. Let me find out that you are abusing these recruits and you won’t have to worry about getting spittle on another man. And we’re clear, right?”
“Yes, sir.” The master sergeant had gray eyes and they narrowed when Oxton walked past his hooch. Kingsbury straightened out his uniform and returned to yelling. Oxton looked back and then kept pressing forward.
He found the chow hall and looked at a sea of black faces. The staff and patrons were all Colored. He couldn’t go to the Negro officer’s quarters like he could in the Army. Instead, he just watched as eyes glistened with the yellow bar on Oxton’s shirt. No salutes or positions of attention. Just a sense of quiet arose as he passed to get a hamburger and potato chips and some soda all for a dollar and a quarter.
His pay was definitely covered so it came out of his allowance like the rest of the warriors and would-be warriors. He sat down by himself and tried to regain some sense of how to better conduct himself when it came to wayward drill instructors. He bit into his sandwich and thought. He thought about Flora. He wanted her to know that he moved on from just coming down here to see what was going on and how the world would be safer with Colored men fighting. He wanted her to know that he was just focusing on the men themselves, as individuals, not chunks of flesh to be tossed about in the flotsam and jetsam of the military.
He finished and returned to his quarters. He reviewed some of the documents in the dossier. There was a bill on decommissioning Montford Point.
“Jesus, they just got here and they’re already talking about demolishing the place,” he said to himself.
Nevertheless, he signed off on provisions and hygiene care kits. He slashed through budgets that would only hamper the progress of the recruits and Marines alike. He yawned. He looked at his bed and thought, as the evening came again, that he could sleep a thousand years. He grinned to himself and continued working. He wondered how the generals and the Commandant himself would be handling business like this. He kept in his mind that this was a special time for him to learn and grow within the system. If he wanted to be on the fastrack for picking up rank, he knew he had to be a model Marine. That consisted of, in his mind, the kind of discipline and ability that would shine on others. But he had to be the generator, the operator, and the driving force himself before he could be the example for anyone else.
He stepped out again and noticed the same recruits who handled the howitzer were in the night humidity.
“How long have you been out here?”
Mopp and Bristol were mud-caked but the howitzer looked like it could stand in a showroom.
“At least six hours, sir,” Mopp said.
Oxton fumed. He walked to Master Sergeant Kingsbury.
“Master Sergeant! Master Sergeant!” Oxton barked.
The enlisted Marine had some shaving cream on his face and a white A-shirt. His eyes looked yellowish in the meager light of the setting sun. He came out from the hooch and noticed Oxton standing there.
“Why are these men still working on this armament? Have they eaten? Are they drinking water?” What master sergeant?”
“Let me get cleaned up, sir,” Kingsbury said. He responded in a low, almost nonchalant voice. Oxton stood outside with his hands on his waist with both feet together at a forty-five degree angle. Oxton walked into the hooch just as Kingsbury put on his utility uniform. They met outside.
“What the hell is going on?” Oxton asked, fire rising in his voice.
“Those recruits need to know disci––”
“I don’t want to hear it. You don’t put these men out here in this heat without food and water. That’s like working them like dogs.”
Master Sergeant Kingsbury looked around. It was just the two recruits standing at attention.
“I know you think you’re better than everybody. You’ve got your fancy degree, Delaware. But you’re going to be a menace to these men who will be fighting and dying over there. Just a few hours in the relative safety of barracks. How the hell are they going to know what it’s like to be in combat? How the hell are they going to know what it feels like to see that everything you do here is in preparation for the horrors of the Pacific?”
Oxton stepped closer to Kingsbury. “You can train them without lowering them to the level of an animal. They’re supposed to be raised up, not cast down in all of this.”
“You’ve got your stick of butter on your collar and you think you can just boss around anyone. I am the boss of this outfit. Without me, things wouldn’t get done. You’re only here to smooth out the rough edges. I’m already smooth. But I’ve gotta be rough. I’ve gotta be sure what I’m sending out is a quality product.”
“These aren’t things, Marine, they’re men!” Oxton yelled loud enough with a deep inflection to wake some of the other recruits. “This will not stand. I don’t care if I have to bust you down to staff sergeant, you’re not going to sit here and disregard these recruits. You’re too accomplished and knowing to not have the decency to instruct them in a professional way.”
Kingsbury unrolled some snuff and snorted into his nose. “You know for an officer, you’ve got grit, kid. I’ve only been a master sergeant because of my age. Before this, I did time and my only option out was this experiment in Montford Point. Here is my only chance to do right by myself. Okay, so you don’t particularly like my style of drill and instruction. We can work that out simply.” He began unbuttoning his camouflage blouse.
“You’re not serious,” Oxton said.
“I’m as serious as the Spanish Flu. Come on. Let’s put our fists where the words can’t go,” Kingsbury taunted.
Oxton squared up and knocked Kingsbury off his feet with a left hook. The master sergeant was out cold. Mopp and Bristol saw every action. They stood frozen except for their chests which heaved like accordions.
Oxton marched to his hooch and filled out a report. He included each detail right down to his knockout punch. The other recruits, eleven in total including Bristol and Mopp were told to go to their racks. Oxton walked to the barracks across the railroad tracks and explained it all.
SIX MONTHS LATER
In the frigid weather of Delaware in February once again, it was hard to trudge through the snow and get to warmth. After a short hearing, First Lieutenant Mallory “Delaware” Oxton relaxed by his fireplace. He puffed a pipe.
“It could’ve been,” Flora replied.
“Yes it could’ve been but it wasn’t. Master Sergeant Kingsbury is going to have to remember that cold cock from my fist. And he should be wearing corporal stripes. I settled for staff sergeant.”
“And you still picked up rank,” Flora reminded her husband.
“It’ll be like that once I ship over. I’m at the recruiter’s station but I’m focused on the fight not just to get warm bodies but to safeguard my own life on foreign soil,” he mentioned.
Flora looked up. It was like she had heard the words but didn’t want to hear them. Still, she sensed something in her soul that allowed her to stay on topic but shift the narrative a bit.
“Have you seen a lot of ‘warm bodies’?”
Oxton had heard what she said and was actually glad that she asked it.
“More Negroes from this state have stepped up to be Marines than I would have expected. Maybe it’s the money, the adventure, the opportunity to possibly kill, whatever the reason, we’re filling positions. And it’s not just that. We’re prepared to bring men into the ranks that will be able to defend themselves. They will look at each other as guardians of a great nation.” He heard his own words and liked how they tasted with the tobacco on his breath.
Flora looked at her husband. It was like she had not seen him in years instead of a few months. She kept to herself her reservations about the fact he was going to go back to the frontlines in a few weeks. She let a teardrop fall on her white wool dress as she stoked the coals. Oxton noticed this.
“Flora, I’m not going to be away too long. Consider the letters, postcards––”
“...And telegrams. We’ve been over this, Mallory.”
We won’t be cheek-to-cheek but you’ll benefit from the checks.”
She sniffled and found a tissue. “I….I know. I just want you to be on the side of safety.” Her words stirred in Oxton’s soul as well. He felt that it was such a journey from his position as an officer in the United States Marine Corps and how that position was threatened. He kept puffing his pipe as he allowed the words to roll around in his mind.
He put down the pipe. Smoke lifted like fog.
“I’m going to fight for the ability to walk down any street in this country and command respect, not because of my color, but because I am a man of substance. I want you and our future children to be able to use government facilities without wondering if they’re welcome or not. That’s where we’re headed. I am going to literally fight for that the way that any of the other soldiers and sailors did.”
Flora laughed but she had clearly been crying a bit while he spoke.
“I want to see that day, too. I want to know that America will be better than what it has been, that it will be the best.”
Oxton listened again and enjoyed his wife’s words. He took the time to analyze each syllable like lightning. Some snow fell off one of the shutters. His eye caught it. In what would’ve been just another case of precipitation locking them down, this situation seemed to bring them closer. The heavy snow provided a blanket and the fire offered a spark for them to relate to each other.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Heartfelt and relatable
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