First African-American Marine Officer – Frederick C. Branch

As we come to the close of Black History month, it is fitting to recognize a pioneer in the integration of our U.S. military with the story of the first African-American Marine Corps Officer, Frederick C. Branch. Branch’s story is an important part of our nation’s history and the history of the U.S. Marine Corps.  Written by Collin Hoeferlin, Communications Specialist for MarineParents.com and recently published in their newsletter, this article caught my eye because my Dad was a rifle range instructor at Parris Island during this time and mentioned training the Montford Marines while he was there, perhaps he even trained Recruit Branch!

If you are a Marine, part of the Marine Corps family, a history buff or currently have a ‘Poolie’ (new recruit) in boot camp at either Parris Island MRD or at San Diego MRD , you will want to read and share this inspirational story.

Remember to join other Marine Parents at http://www.marineparents.com and their site for those at boot camp at http://www.recruitparents.com. MarineParents.com is a support organization for parents of Marines and Marine Recruits (Poolies) and is a 501 (c) 3 public charity.

Frederick C. Branch

The Marine Corps, more so than any other branch of America’s military, values and embraces its history. Beginning in boot camp, every Marine is educated on the Corps’ proud and storied past as they learn what it means to be part of such a prestigious organization. In the spirit of the value the Marine Corps places on its history, we wanted to give you, Marine families and supporters, an opportunity to embrace and learn about this part of Marine Corps legacy as well. In this piece, we take a further look at the first African-American officer in the United States Marine Corps – Frederick C. Branch.

Background

Frederick Clinton Branch was born in Hamlet, North Carolina, in 1922, the son of an African Methodist Episcopal Zion minister. After graduating high school in New York, Branch enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC, before transferring to Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While enrolled at Temple, Branch received his draft notice from the US Army in 1943 and reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for basic training.

Frederick C. Branch

Frederick C. Branch being pinned with his 2nd Lt. bars by his wife, Camilla “Peggy” Branch. (USMC photo)

Marine Corps Career

After reporting to Fort Bragg for induction into the Army, Branch was chosen to become a Marine and was sent to the nearby Camp Montford Point for Recruit Training, becoming one of the more than 20,000 Montford Point Marines (African-American Marines who underwent separate, segregated Recruit Training at Camp Montford Point between 1942 and 1949.) After Recruit Training, Branch applied for Officer Candidate School (OCS), but was denied due to his race and was sent to serve with a supply unit supporting operations against the Japanese in the Pacific instead.

While serving in the Pacific, Branch’s performance earned him a recommendation for OCS from his commanding officer. He was then sent to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, to receive his officer’s training in the Navy’s V-12 program, the only African-American candidate in a class of 250. At Purdue, Branch made the dean’s list and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on November 10, 1945. As World War II had already concluded, 2nd Lt. Branch went into the Marine Corps Reserve.

During the Korean War, Branch was re-activated, commanding an antiaircraft training platoon at Camp Pendleton, California. Branch was discharged from active duty in 1952 and returned to the Reserve. Three years later, in 1955, having reached the rank of Captain, Branch retired from the Corps due to ongoing discrimination and promises for advanced training were not kept.

Post-Marine Corps Life

In 1947, Branch had received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Temple University. After retiring from the Marine Corps, he taught at Dobbins High School in Philadelphia for more than three decades, retiring in 1988. In 1999, Branch’s wife of 55 years passed away. Six years later, in 2005, Captain Frederick C. Branch passed away after a short illness and was buried at Quantico National Cemetery in Quantico, Virginia. He was 82 years old.

Legacy

Frederick C. Branch’s legacy is not to be understated. While the eventual integration of the Corps was inevitable, brave, determined, pioneering men such as Frederick Branch were crucial in speeding that process along. In the years since Branch became the first African-American Officer in the Marine Corps in 1945, a number of other African-American milestones have been reached in the Corps. In 1948, John E. Rudder became the first African-American officer in the regular Marine Corps (Branch was an officer in the Reserve. In 1968, 1st Lt. Vernice Armour became the first African-American female combat pilot in any branch of the American armed forces. And, perhaps most visibly, three of the last four Sergeant Majors of the Marine Corps (14th Sgt. Maj. Alford L. McMichael, 15th Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada, and 16th Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, respectively), as well as current Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Green, have all been African-American Marines.

Thank you, Collin for this insight into Marine Corps history and the impact of Frederick C. Branch on the Corps today.

Semper Fi!

About Helen Simmons

I am founder and Executive Director of Write2Them, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving communication between family members and loved ones in military service by turning email into letters from home. You send email and your loved one receives a letter. I am a proud mother of a Airman, a wonderful daughter, son-in-law and grandbabies and wife to my wonderful supportive husband of 34 years.
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