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“Race didn’t have a [darn] thing to do with it.” (Video interview, 1:07:32)

   William McDowell
Image of William McDowell
William McDowell wearing his Marine Corps uniform [2002]
War: Korean War, 1950-1953; World War, 1939-1945; Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Marine Corps; Marine Corps; Marine Corps
Unit: 5th Marine Regiment; 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment; 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment; Marine Security Guard Detachment Command, US Embassy New Delhi; 6th Marine Division; 1st Combat Service Group; Marine Security Detachment, Fort Mifflin Naval Ammunition Storage Depot; Marine Security Guard Detachment Command, US Embassy Kathmandu; 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; Company G, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division
Service Location: Inchon, Korea; Seoul, Korea; Chosin Reservoir, Korea; Pennsylvania; Colorado; Camp Pendleton, California; San Diego, California; Southeast Asia; Washington, DC; New Delhi, India; also: Montford Point Camp, North Carolina; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Okinawa Island (Ryukyu Islands); Pacific Theater; Japan; China; Camp Pendleton, California; Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania; also: Kathmandu, Nepal; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Caribbean Sea; Central America; South America; Firebase Gio Linh, Vietnam; Da Nang, Vietnam
Rank: Sergeant; First Sergeant
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The son of a baker who had served with the famed “Harlem Hellfighters” regiment during World War I, William McDowell volunteered to join the Marine Corps at the age of seventeen. Like many African Americans who had grown up in the north, basic training in the south meant indoctrination into life under Jim Crow as well as the military. After training at Montford Point, North Carolina--the segregated Marine training facility adjacent to Camp Lejeune--he served three weeks on Okinawa before the end of the war was declared. In 1948, McDowell was handpicked to be part of a small group of Marines to integrate Camp Pendleton, California--though he was transferred back to an all-black unit shortly after. He saw intense combat during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and emphasizes in his oral history interview that within integrated units that he served in and commanded, dedication to the unit overcame differences in race.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (144 min.)
  Photos
»Photo Album  (1 photo)
 Official Documents
»Citation for service and award of the Bronze Star
 Other Materials
»Biographical information
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»Executive Order 9981
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Taking the train down to Union Station in Washington, DC; being denied service at a restaurant because of his race; on the train to Richmond, being made to move into the colored car; first experience with segregation. (02:47) Transferred to Camp Pendleton; guessed that he was sent because he could handle trouble; bar fight in bar in town; no problems between races after that. (03:56) Service during the invasion of Inchon with the First Marine Division in the Korean War; partial integration; eating in the same mess halls as whites; his unit was not integrated at that point. (00:35)
Reassigned to a different division; first time serving with white Marines; commanding white Marines. (00:54) Battle of Chosin reservoir; experiencing hand to hand combat; cold weather related deaths; chaos and mass confusion of battle. (02:45) Fear of appearing cowardly; everyone wanted to support one another; as a leader, wanted to take care of his men; stress of combat; not sleeping at night. (02:12)
Ordered to go to State Department training; taking over a detachment at American embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal; role played by Marines there; incident at a bar with a drunk Marine. (08:14) Service in Vietnam; search and destroy mission; wounded during attack by a large group of the enemy; retreating; seeing an old friend from Montford Point during the retreat. (05:31) Huge firefight; getting shot in the leg; passed out in the bush; waking up alone; found by fellow Marines and evacuated to a hospital ship. (07:38)
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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