CHARLES L. BRYANT
Many Americans had no idea where Pearl Harbor was when news of the attack reached the mainland. Charles L. Bryant, however, was one of those rare Americans who not only knew where Pearl Harbor was, but had been there. Bryant served 30 years in the Marine Corps , including stints during wars in Korea and Vietnam , and retired as a master gunnery sergeant. He now works at the Naval Supply Service in downtown San Diego. He has 10 children, 31 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. Divorced from his second wife, he lives in Encanto.
"I got married there when I was in the Army," said Bryant, who turns 73 today. "I had just left Pearl the year before. I spent my two years in the Army there."
On Dec. 7, 1941, he was a 23-year-old veteran, working at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. in Virginia. Bryant and his family had just docked after an all-day harbor excursion when he heard about the Japanese attack.
"I heard (radio newsman) John Daly report the attack. I couldn't believe it. . . . I tried to re-enlist in the Army the following day, but they said my job at the shipyard was more important."
"When I told the kids that I was going to re-enlist, they thought I was leaving the next day. I had to reassure them that it would be a while before I would go. Everyone was scared then, mainly because of the uncertainty. Times were scary, but the country was united."
"I kept trying to re-enlist, but the shipyard kept getting me deferred . . . until April 14, 1943, when the Marine Corps finally took me. I went to the Army recruiter and he said the Marines needed me. I was 6-foot-3-inches tall then and weighed 250 pounds."
Bryant was surprised that he was able to enlist in the Marines, because the service had no black troops at the time. As it turned out, Bryant was among the first 1,000 African-Americans to enlist in the Corps.
The men trained in a segregated area at Montford Point, on the edge of Camp Lejune, N. C. They formed the nucleus for the Montford Point Marine Assn., which now numbers 18,000 former black Marines who served in the segregated Corps.
"I knew we had to go to war. It was as simple as that to me. The U.S. had never been beaten and I didn't think we were going to get beat. We went in and took care of business."
Bryant served in Guam, Saipan and Iwo Jima in a supply unit. When he was in Guam, his first wife and a twin died in childbirth.
"I couldn't come home for the funerals. The President, commandant and secretary of the Navy all rejected my request for emergency leave. But the Navy did take color pictures of the funerals and sent them to me. . . . That's the way it was then. Marines didn't go AWOL then."