Black or white, Marines are one
Monday, November 12, 2007
Staff Reporter

To Vietnam veteran Joe Fell of Mobile, "There are no black Marines and there are no white Marines."

He said in a recent interview, "We're all green."

Emphasizing unity, Fell has undertaken a campaign this year to draw more local black Marine veterans into the predominantly white P.L. Wilson Detachment of the Marine Corps League.

Fell, 57, the Wilson Detachment commandant since January, feels like he's had some success, but it's "just the first step," he said.

When Fell took over as commandant, he knew that two concerns needed to be addressed quickly, he said: Only about 20 percent of the 160 Wilson Detachment members were black, and few of those black members were attending monthly meetings.

So Fell began going to meetings of the relatively new local chapter of the black-oriented Montford Point Marine Association, hoping to spark interest in Wilson Detachment membership and activities.

One of the first to accept Fell's invitation to sign on was Rodney A. Lee Sr., the president of the local Montford Point chapter.

"We look forward to joining forces to make things happen in the community," said Lee, who is assistant vice president of Commonwealth National Bank.

Fell said of the Montford Point chapter, "They're a wonderful group," and he cited the importance of the Montford Point Marines in the Corps' 232-year history.

"Montford Point Marines" became a term for Marines who went through a black-only boot camp at Montford Point in North Carolina between 1942 and 1949 at a time that the corps was strictly segregated.

The boot camp produced about 20,000 Marines during those seven years, many of whom served with distinction in World War II, according to historical information.

In 1965, more than 400 former and active duty Marines met in Philadelphia and established the national Montford Point Marine Association to preserve and advance the proud Montford Point legacy.

In Mobile, a group of Marine veterans formed the local Montford Point Chapter 33 two years ago. Said Lee, "We wanted to get the information out there about the Montford Point Marines and what those guys did and we wanted to support programs in the community in the name of the Montford Point Marines."

Lee said that Chapter 33 continues to grow, and is open to veterans of all branches of military service. Among its 26 members are retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. J. Gary Cooper, a member of the board of directors of Commonwealth National Bank, and retired Marine Lt. Col. Janice Mitchell, an officer with the Mobile Police Department.

Cooper and Mitchell have also been involved with the Wilson Detachment.

Fell said that the Wilson Detachment has welcomed 28 newcomers to its ranks this year, including three Montford Point members. He emphasized that all Marine Corps veterans, as well as active duty Marines and reservists, are welcome.

Said Lee, "I'm encouraged about the future of the two groups. ... Mobile and Baldwin counties have the largest concentration of former Marines in the state of Alabama. Because of these two organizations, both former and active duty Marines will always have a place to call home."


The P.L. Wilson Detachment of the Marine Corps League meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at American Legion Post 88 at 2667 Halls Mill Road, according to its commandant, Joe Fell. To learn more, call Fell at 391-6001.

Chapter 33 of the Montford Point Marine Association meets at Saucy Q Bar B Que at 1111 Government St., the second Saturday of each month at 6 p.m. For more information, call Elbert Wingfield at 433-7427.