USMC hero

Frederick Branch, USMC
Still a hero, the great Marine and African American doing the Corps proud in World War II

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Frederick Branch, USMC

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September 1997

Standing Alone

Fifty years ago, the U.S. armed forces stood racially divided. A recent dedication recognized the man who helped break that barrier by becoming the first black commissioned officer in the Marine Corps.

By Cpl. Gregory S. Gilliam, MCB Quantico, Va.

The year was 1943 when a young man from Hamlet, N.C., answered the call to serve his country. Four years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball, and 20 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1963, Frederick C. Branch, along with men like "Hashmark" Johnson and Edgar Huff, earned the title "Marine."

It is his propensity to overcome challenges that drew Branch back to Officer Candidates School after more than 50 years. He returned to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., July 9, as the guest of honor for the dedication of the remodeled Academics Building. The building was named in his honor because of his life's work in the field of education.

Branch began looking into the Army's officer program while he was attending Temple University in Philadelphia in 1943. He took a test to become an Army officer but was drafted into the Marine Corps before he received the results. He served at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, N.C., until January 1944. After graduating boot camp, Branch learned that he had successfully passed the Army officer's test Ebut it was too late.

Still, Branch's yearning to become an officer grew more and more with each passing day, and his time would soon come.

"When I was at Montford Point (an all black training site) white officers and noncommissioned officers were in charge and I felt it wasn't right," he said.

Upon his departure from Montford Point, Branch, then a corporal, volunteered for duty with the 51st Defense Battalion and deployed to Ellis Island in the Pacific Ocean during World War II.

He was then selected to attend the Navy's V-12 program (a college-level preparatory program for future military officers) at Purdue University, where he made the dean's list. Branch was then sent to Quantico to attend the Commander's Class, Officer Candidates School.

In a class of 250 students, Branch stood by himself as the only black officer candidate, and he succeeded in earning a commission.

"I was treated just like one of the class Elike everyone else Ewe trained together and stayed together," said Branch who became the commanding officer of a black volunteer training unit in Philadelphia after completing officer training.

As a first lieutenant, Branch was assigned to Quantico and later moved to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he was a platoon commander, battery executive officer and battery commander in the First Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion.

"I was the CO of an all-white platoon. I went by the book and trained and led them; they responded like Marines do to their superiors," said Branch, who served there until his release from active duty in May 1952.

Remaining in the reserves, he was promoted to the rank of captain in February 1954, and resigned his commission in 1955.

After leaving the Marine Corps, Branch was overtaken by the desire to teach. He received a degree in physics from Temple University and completed graduate courses in physics, math, chemistry, and science education.

Branch became deeply involved in education. He taught science in Philadelphia for 35 years and set his sights on improving scholastic studies, eventually creating a chapter of the National Honor Society.

More than 50 years have passed since Branch first pinned on his lieutenant's bars. His desire to achieve and break the color barrier in the Marine Corps, as Jackie Robinson did in baseball, made a difference and helped set the standard for today's Marine Corps.

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Semper Fi

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