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Portraits of Valor: Some of the Last Living Black WWII Veterans

Photographer chronicles surviving members of the 6888th, Montford Point Marines

spinner image romay davis world war two veteran aged one hundred three in a wheelchair being welcomed by buffalo soldiers in alabama
Members of the Buffalo Soldiers welcome Romay Davis during a ceremony to honor her service in the 6888th.
Michael A. McCoy

Seventy-five years since the historic Executive Order 9981 desegregated the U.S. military, photographer Michael A. McCoy captured portraits of some of the few surviving Black veterans of World War II who served the country in the face of racial injustice and discrimination. ​ ​

Two groups were the focus of McCoy’s portraits: the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion and the Montford Point Marines.​ ​The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, a unit within the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), had 855 women in its ranks, primarily of African American descent. The unit was tasked with clearing a backlog of 17 million pieces of mail destined for troops in Europe, providing a boost in morale for the soldiers who eagerly awaited letters from their loved ones. ​ ​

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The Montford Point Marines, active from 1942 to 1949, were the first African American men admitted to the Marine Corps. Their training took place at Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina, under less favorable conditions than their white counterparts faced. By the war’s conclusion, approximately 13,000 Montford Point Marines were deployed to locations including Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. ​ 

​Read on to learn more about these unsung heroes.​

spinner image romay davis at one hundred and three is the most senior living member of the six triple eight central postal directory battalion womens army corps unit
Romay Davis, 104, is the most senior living member of the 6888th.
Michael A. McCoy

Now 104, Romay Davis made history with her service in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, affectionately known as the Six Triple Eight. The women’s living quarters, mess halls, recreational facilities and water fountains in basic military training were segregated.  ​

spinner image private first class anna mae robertson of the six triple eight aged ninety nine
Anna Mae Robertson, 99, was a member of the Six Triple Eight.
Michael A. McCoy

Pfc. Anna Mae Robertson, 99, is the most junior of the living members of the Six Triple Eight. During the battalion’s deployment, the women sorted through 7,500 undelivered letters addressed to “Robert Smith” alone, requiring them to look for clues within the mail’s contents to determine the intended recipient.  ​

spinner image major fannie griffin mc clendon of the world war two six triple eight at home aged one hundred three
Fannie Griffin McClendon, 103, a veteran of the 6888th, became an Army major.
Michael A. McCoy

Maj. Fannie Griffin McClendon, 103, is the only surviving officer from among the 855 members of the Central Postal Directory Battalion.  ​

Members of the 6888th worked in eight-hour shifts around the clock, seven days a week. Their motto wasn’t ambiguous: “No mail, low morale.” ​​

spinner image marine sergeant henry wilcox aged ninety five
Henry Wilcox, 95, poses outside his home in Philadelphia.
Michael A. McCoy

Marine Sgt. Henry Wilcox, 95, is one of approximately 20,000 African American men who received training at Camp Montford Point. Their dedication and contributions during World War II were recognized in 2011 when they received the the Congressional Gold Medal for their role in the Allied victory.  ​

spinner image sergeant ivor griffin a ninety six year old marine veteran
Ivor Griffin, 96, stands by the Montford Point Marines memorial.
Michael A. McCoy

Sgt. Ivor Griffin, 96, was one of the first Black recruits to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He returned to the Montford Point Marines memorial over 70 years after training at the same location.  ​​

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spinner image marine corporal george mc ivory age ninety seven
George McIvory, 97, returned to the former Montford Point Marines Training Camp.
Michael A. McCoy

After hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor, George McIvory, now 97, wanted to help his country fight back. He enlisted on reaching age 18 in 1944 and rose to the rank of corporal. ​​

spinner image marine master sergeant carroll william braxton aged ninety nine
Carroll William Braxton, 99, was one of the early recruits at Montford Point.
Michael A. McCoy

Retired Master Sgt. Carroll William Braxton, 99, was an early Black recruit in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Montford Point Marines. Approximately 2,000 Montford Marines served in the assault on Okinawa. ​​

spinner image world war two army veteran eugene bishop aged one hundred
Eugene Bishop marked his 100th birthday in 2022 with a portrait at his home in Temple Hills, Maryland.
Michael A. McCoy

Born in 1922, Eugene Bishop enlisted in the U.S. Army on Aug. 2, 1942, a few weeks before the Montford Point Marines began their training. Although he wasn’t a Montford Marine, his service is a reminder that over 1 million African Americans contributed to the war effort across the military branches and theaters during the war.​​

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Arthur Gregg poses with a photo of himself during his time in the service.
Michael A. McCoy

Lt. Gen. Arthur Gregg, a trailblazing figure in the U.S. Army, achieved a historic milestone on July 1, 1977, by becoming the first African American to attain his rank. He previously made history as the first African American to reach the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in October 1972. Gregg was honored when the Fort Lee Army base was renamed Fort Gregg-Adams, honoring Gregg and Lt. Gen. Charity Adams (of the 6888th) for their service.

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