PHILADELPHIA — Shane Fordham got the idea of making a documentary film about his grandfather, Carroll W. Braxton, for an art class assignment because he grew up hearing stories about his days in the Marine Corps, where Braxton was one of the first African Americans to desegregate that branch of the armed forces.

The resulting film

that Fordham, 18, a 2019 graduate of The Haverford School, made was chosen to be shown at the All American Film Festival in Times Square in October. It was also added to the permanent collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va.

“It was really fun to make,” said Fordham about the film, titled “The Montford Point Marines: Carroll W. Braxton.”

“All I had to do is talk to him,” he said.

Braxton, 95, of Manassas, Va., said, “I thought it was fine. I thought he did a fine job.”

When he was growing up in Manassas, Braxton used to see Marines on leave from Quantico and liked their uniforms, he said. He learned in high school that the Marines, which was the only branch of the service not then integrated, was going to accept black recruits. So in March 1943, during World War II, Braxton and two of his friends volunteered.

He and his friends were sent to join other black recruits for training to Montford Point, a separate section of Camp Le Jeune, N.C. At the main gate they were met with some “harsh words,” he said. Braxton was wearing a hat.

“I guess it was the M.P. reached up and grabbed my hat,” he said. “And threw it on the ground and stomped on it and said, ‘You so-and-so, you won’t need this hat anymore.’ I never saw that hat again. Boot camp was 11 weeks. And it was hard, hard, hard treatment that they gave to us.” For example, the recruits were made to stand in the swamp for mosquitoes to bite without being allowed to swat the insects, he said.

Braxton persevered and was chosen to be a drill instructor. Off base, the black Marines encountered segregation and Jim Crow laws.

Then one day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to the base, he said. Roosevelt told the African American Marines that they had broken every record that other Marines had previously set.

“‘As far as I’m concerned, you’re just as good as any Marine that put the uniform on,’” Roosevelt told them.

“A lot of it was shocking,” said Fordham, about his interview with Braxton for the 8 ½ minute film. “Some of it, I never heard before, like how he talked about meeting the president of the United States and how they had to go through boot camp training discipline, standing at attention and let mosquitoes bite them. That was really shocking to me.”

Braxton was stationed in Camp Pendleton and then sent to the Pacific, he said. He fought the Japanese as Americans took islands that the Japanese soldiers held, landing on Saipan, Okinawa and Benika.

“That was one of the last islands before the invasion of Japan,” said Braxton. “Thank you Lord, they dropped those bombs so we didn’t have to invade Japan.”

Braxton returned to the states in 1946 and left the Marine Corps. However, Braxton, a gunnery sergeant, was called up in 1950 during the Korean War and trained Marine recruits because of his experience in combat. He was then sent to Korea, he said.

After leaving the service, Braxton struggled to find work but eventually was hired by the Defense Logistics Agency, where he was employed until he retired in 1980.

In 2011, Braxton and other Montfort Point Marines received a collective Congressional Gold Medal for their service.

“It was wonderful,” he said. “It was a shock. We didn’t know what was going on. It was a surprise after all those years.”

Braxton’s wife of 60 years, Celestine, passed away five years ago, he said. A son, Robert, has also died. His daughter, Fordham’s mother Monique Braxton, is a Philadelphia newscaster.

Fordham, of Philadelphia, praised his art teacher, Zoe Blatt, for helping him with the techniques that he used to make the documentary film. He attends Hampton University, where he is already practicing with the football team, and plans to study communications, journalism and sports broadcasting. Fordham also plans to continue making films.

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