The Marines of Marine Barracks Washington honored Gunnery Sgt. Henry L. Baul, one of the original Montford Point Marines, during a Friday Evening Parade, May 16.
The Montford Marines were the first Black Marines, who entered the Corps from 1942 to 1949 at Montford Point Camp, N.C., following President Roosevelt’s 1941 executive order giving blacks an opportunity to serve in the Marine Corps.
Black Marine recruits at this time were not sent to the traditional boot camps of Parris Island or San Diego. Instead, they were segregated, experiencing basic training at Montford Point, a facility at Camp Lejeune, N.C. More than 19,000 Black Marines received basic training at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949.
Baul, today age 85, was one of the first blacks to ever join the Marines –- he reported for training in August 1942 at Montford Point.
“From the day they hit boot camp, they were mistreated,” admits retired Sgt. Maj. Ronald Fetherson. “We would never have ever guessed that from the way Mr. Baul and the Montford Point Marines are being honored here tonight, at ‘The Oldest Post of the Corps!’”
“Gunnery Sergeant Baul was born in 1922 and enlisted in 1942,” Lt. Gen. Ron Coleman, Deputy and Commandant of Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told more than 300 guests at a pre-parade reception. “Baul joined when black folks had to fight for the right to fight. Of the thousands who joined, Mr. Baul was just the ninth black Marine to enlist in the Marine Corps, but almost as remarkable is the fact that Mr. Baul has nine children -– and they are all over the age of 50!”
Baul was welcomed to the evening parade by a host of friends and dignitaries. “It’s an absolute honor to be here tonight representing Montford Point,” said Joseph H. Geeter III, National President of MPMA, Inc., and former Master Gunnery Sgt. “Especially to be here for Mr. Baul, one of the last remaining members of 1942 Montford Marines.”
Baul was both delighted and humbled by the overflowing words of praise from his brothers in arms. “I am honored to speak to you, where it all began, where I joined,” Baul said. “When President Roosevelt passed Executive Order 8802, I was living here in Washington, and wanted to fight for my country.”
Baul was assigned to the all-Black 51st Defense Battalion (Special Weapons) during 1942-1945, and as a gunnery sergeant, his unit set several new Marine Corps anti-aircraft gunnery records.
“Celebrating Mr. Baul’s service to his country is a sign we are coming of age. Many Marines do not know that Baul wasn’t just one of the first black Marines to join, but to fight in WWII at Tarawa and Iwo Jima,” said retired Lt. Gen. Frank Petersen, who holds the distinction of the first black Marine Corps aviator and general officer. “His service was fundamental to where we stand today.”
Baul recalled his reasons for wanting to join the Marines. “I did not want to be shoveling snow somewhere or cleaning up airfields getting shot at. I wanted to fight for my country and be the person shooting!”
Baul, the guest of honor, and Coleman, the parade's hosting official, sat side-by-side as they enjoyed the pageantry, parade and tattoo that comprises an Evening Parade at 8th & I. More than 3,000 other guests joined in, and watched with patriotic enthusiasm, as the U.S. Marine Silent Drill Platoon, The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band, "The Commandant's Own" U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, and even Chesty XII, the Barracks' mascot, performed their music and drill with pride and precision.
Baul is also a nationally-renowned historian, who has made frequent appearances on various local radio stations, and he is also a life member of the Montford Point Marine Association Detroit, Chapter 19, where he serves as financial officer, and also of Montford Point Detachment 158, Marine Corps League, where he serves as the chaplain.
Baul retired his position as President/CEO of a large successful transportation company several years ago. Today, he resides with his wife Mary in Detroit, and has lost none of his patriotism or pride for the Marine Corps.
“The United States is a great country,” Baul summed up, “and the Marine Corps is truly something special. Tell your children that if they do have to serve, to do their very best and never give up!”