KSLA Salutes: Montford Point Marine recounts service during World War II

93-year-old Cleauthor Sanders was one of over 20,000 African Americans that were finally allowed to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

KSLA Salutes: The Montford Point Marine

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - In 1942, African Americans were allowed to finally enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

Over the next eight years, African Americans were sent to Montford Point in North Carolina to train until the armed forces finally integrated in 1949. Over 20,000 African Americans served during that time and were nicknamed the Montford Point Marines.

One of those Marines currently lives in Shreveport.

Cleauthor Sanders was just 17-years-old when he left his home in Mansfield, Louisiana to join the United States Marine Corps.

Cleauthor Sanders in Saipan during World War II. Sanders was a Corporal in the Marine Corps and was only 17 in this picture.
Cleauthor Sanders in Saipan during World War II. Sanders was a Corporal in the Marine Corps and was only 17 in this picture. (Source: Cleauthor Sanders)

“When they got to me.. (they said) ‘you going to the Army, and I said no I want to go to the Navy cause I wanted to go to Chicago,’” he said. “(They said) ‘nah you going to the Marine Corps.’”

In 1942 African Americans were finally able to enlist in the Marine Corps. They were segregated and trained at Montford Point in North Carolina until 1949.

Sanders was a part of that group, and in 1944 he was sent out to Saipan to serve during World War II.

“The airplanes and everything was shooting them guys and dropping everything," Sanders said. "When I got out there I was like ‘ooh this ocean, this ocean here’ and I fell down in the ocean, and the guy right behind me got shot and if I hadn’t fell I’d gotten shot.”

He spent the next three years traveling between Saipan, and Guam.

“We would sleep in these foxholes and the man would say ‘don’t get out of these foxholes,’" he said. "Every time somebody get out you’d see somebody drop.”

He worked guard duty during his time in the war.

“I had to stay up there and when the guys need some ammunition, we’d have a truck to haul it," said Sanders. “I had to sit back there in the back and them Japs (Japanese) would be shooting at us.”

After the atomic bomb dropped in Japan, Sanders soon was able to return home to the United States. He traveled to Indiana, Chicago, California, Texas and Washington before settling in Shreveport with his wife and working for the Ralston Purina Company.

Decades later he traveled to Washington D.C. to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in World War II as a Montford Point Marine.

His 94th birthday is March 12 — and all he wants is one thing.

“That telephone," Sanders said. "I know I want that. I need one baby. I really need one.”

But even if he doesn't get his cell phone, he says he's grateful God's allowed him to live to see another day.

“I enjoyed this life... a good life," he said. "I thank the good Lord for letting me live this long. I thank the good Lord for letting me get from overseas and I wasn’t killed.”

Sanders says these days he spends most of his time exercising and going to church. In January he along with two other service members received quilts from the organization called Quilts of Valor.

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