Nashville man helped pave way for African-American marines

Mark McCann attended TSU before working at the university. (Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A man who helped pave the way for African-American marines in the United States military lives in Nashville.

Ninety-five-year-old Mark McCann was a Montford Point Marine.

It was not until 1942 that African-Americans were allowed to serve in the Marine Corps and it was only after President Franklin Roosevelt issued the ‘Fair Employment Practices Commission,’ banning worker discrimination in government and defense industries.

McCann said he had just finished high school when he enlisted.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” he recalled. “It seemed like to me, that was what should be done to get this over with so we can get things back the way they’re supposed to be.”

African-Americans trained in segregated facilities at Montford Point, North Carolina, which is why they’re known as the “Montford Point Marines.”

McCann spent 13 weeks in basic training and was one of 20,000 who trained at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949.

“When you first get there into training, you go through a battery of tests, and then based on your scores and that, then they will place you in different outfits like telephone, radio, searchlight,” he said.

At first, McCann said he was optimistic about being appointed radio operator.

McCann said, “I thought I had made it, oh, pretty good. Then I got curious and I went and started checking on the mortality rate of the different MOS’s and I found out the radio operator was 97 percent.”

There are several stories McCann remembers from his time at Montford Point that he laughs about now.

He said, “One time a guy had goofed off in marching and the drill sergeant said, ‘I want you to stand on this barrel,’ the barrel was full of water. ‘Stand on that barrel, put your foot on each side.’ He said, ‘Alright, now stand up straight,’ and the guy stood up straight and what have you. He said, ‘Attention!’ and boom, into the water!”

But there are things that happened during World War II that still haunt him.

“I was out at Tennessee State walking down towards the field house and we had ROTC out there, and the colonel dived in there and he was like, ‘Ye e oh,’ and the next thing I knew, I was getting up out of the ditch, my pants all messed up, my elbows bleeding,” McCann remembered.

McCann spent 33 months in the Marine Corps before he was honorably discharged in 1946.

The war was over, so thousands of veterans were trying to enroll in colleges across the country.

McCann was accepted to Tennessee State University, where he graduated with a business degree three years later, before getting his masters degree.

After that, he was offered a job at TSU, where he moved up the ranks from instructor, to assistant professor, until he retired as an administrator.

Since then, he’s been spending time with his family while watching his garden and Nashville grow.

While helping pave the way for African-Americans in the military, McCann is still a shining example of bravery and perseverance in our community.

The Montford Point Marines were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012, one of McCann’s most cherished possessions because as the saying goes, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”

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