Bud Aronson , who lives on Manasota Key, Fla. has always favored the underdog, even when he served in the Marine Corps during World War II. Those days in the Corps there were no black officers, he explained.
“A couple of buddies and me, from Springfield, Mass. enlisted in December 1942. We were put on inactive status until we finished our first year of college. Then we were enrolled in the Marine’s V-12 Program, designed to take young college students and make them officers,” Aronson said. “For 16 months we attended classes at Dartmouth College (in Hanover, N.H.) taking courses in physics and math, plus some electives which we received credit for. After we completed our courses at Dartmouth we were sent to Parris Island, S.C., for basic training.”
From Parris Island they went to the 9th Platoon Commander’s Class at Quantico, Va., for officer’s candidate school.
“During our first assembly at Quantico we were told that our platoon would have the first three black recruits to go through officers’ candidate school. Our platoon was made of largely of New Englanders and that may have been the reason they stuck the three with us. These were the first three black officer candidates in the Corps’ history that began in 1775,” the 85-year-old Leatherneck explained. “The Marine Corps had an officer corps that was southern based. They were the last military organization to accept blacks as officers. They did it grudgingly.
“The three African-Americans were segregated in terms of their living arrangements. The rest of us lived together in a barracks, but these three black guys were kept in a separate room and ate by themselves,” he said.
Aronson said the Marine Corps looked around and came up with three recruits they thought might be officer material.
“The best educated of the three was a guy we called Mack. He had been to Harvard Business School,” he recalled. “The second guy was named Ellis and, as an enlisted man, he had distinguished himself on the battlefield in Guam. He was being rewarded for his courage under fire. The third one I can’t remember much about.
“From the beginning there was a certain amount of muttering from some of my fellow officer candidates, particularly those from the south. A lot of guys were quiet, but they weren’t happy about having blacks in our platoon,” Aronson said. “Not that I was the most understanding guy in the world, but I never had prejudices against blacks growing up in Massachusetts.”
Through the entire officer training course the three black Marines trained right along with the rest of the platoon.
“It was 16 tough weeks at Quantico. We were never told where we stood and were never given an evaluation. The day before graduation from OCS, the three blacks were called in and told they had washed out. I washed out too, but no reason was ever given for not making it,” Aronson said.
The day before leaving Quantico for Camp Lejeune, S.C., as a corporal, he saw a detachment of five black Marine OCS recruits march by who were part of the 10th Platoon Commander’s Class, the one after his, and wondered what was going to happen to them. It wouldn’t be until the end of the war that Aronson learned their fate.
“I was talking to a black guy in a Marine service battalion on Maui and I mentioned the five black recruits back in OCS. He told me, ‘Four of them flunked out, but one of them made it. The day before graduation the one who succeeded was placed on inactive status by the corps. The Marine Corps was able to complete World War II without one single black officer,” he said.
“Several years ago I was looking at the obituaries in the paper and came across the black guy who became an officer in the Marines during World War II. I don’t remember his name, but he proceeded to tell the story of what happened to him in the Corps,” Aronson said. “Then came the Korean War and he was reactivated and became the first black officer to serve on the battlefield in the Marines during that war. The obit went on to say he felt he had been treated shabbily by the Marine Corps.”
After washing out of Marine OCS for some unexplained reason, Aronson ended up aboard a troop ship headed for war in the Pacific.
“While at sea we got word that some kind of super weapon had been dropped on Hiroshima,” he said. “A few days later the war ended and we were sent to the Hawaiian Islands.
“I started by serving on the main gate at Pearl Harbor as a Marine sentry. It was considered the best duty in Pearl Harbor,” he said. “I also served at two other bases: Puunene Naval Air Station and Kahului Naval Air Station both on Maui. I was attached to the Fleet Marine Force.”
After discharge from the Marine Corps in 1946, Aronson went back to college and graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s and master’s in English. He spent his career teaching college English and writing for newspapers in the Northeast.
But his passion is race relations. Both he and his wife marched in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Aronson was also the only white member of the NAACP in Sacramento, Calif.
His views on integration may all go back to a course taught while he was in high school in Springfield called: “The Springfield Plan.”
“The purpose of the program was to make students of all backgrounds proud of their heritage. We studied a bit of black history. As a result I learned about the Abolitionist Movement (during the Civil War) and the part Springfield played in the Underground Railroad (that helped blacks escape southern slavery),” he said.
As for the U.S. Marine Corps Aronson added, “I’m very happy to say that the corps is integrated today, like all the other services.”
Name: Bud Aronson
D.O.B: 85 at time of interview – January 2010
Hometown: Springfield, Mass.
Currently: Manasota Key, Fla.
Entered Service: 12 Dec. 1942
Unit: Fleet Marine Force, Maui, Hawaii
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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