The Story of a Steelton Native and the First Black Marine Corp Unit in the United States
Story By Christina Heintzelman – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas Mosley may not be a name that many people from the Harrisburg area are familiar with, but hopefully after reading this story about him, along with the legacy of the Montford Point Marines, he will become a part of the narrative that helps define the service given by courageous individuals who protected the liberty and independence of United States during a time when they themselves were not protected with equal rights in this country.
This year, Steelton Mayor Ciera Dent proclaimed September 17th as Corporal Thomas Mosley Day in the borough of Steelton at a Heroes Appreciation Day Ceremony in the borough. A Certificate of Honor presented by Lisa Iskric, Unit 420 Auxiliary President of American Legion Post 420, was presented to Mosley’s son, Eugene Mosley. Brian Proctor, Steelton Borough Council President, and Council woman Natasha Woods were instrumental in working with Mosley’s son and the Steelton Borough Council to create this ceremony.
In November, Thomas Mosley will also receive his high school diploma posthumously through the program Operation Recognition, which allows Pennsylvania school districts to grant a high school diploma to any honorably discharged veteran who served in the United States military during WWII, the Korean Conflict or Vietnam War. The creator of this program is Joe Ulrich, a U.S. Marine veteran who served in Vietnam.
Thomas Mosley, born in 1924, was one of 13 children of Henry and Lula Mae Boone Mosley. The family lived in the area of Steelton known as ‘the bottom’ or ‘the alley’. He and his brother, Wilson had to forage for firewood before going to school to assist their family during the depression. He later worked at the Alva Restaurant, and then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, hoping to earn additional money for his family.
Thomas Mosley was the first African American from Steelton to enter the Marine Corps. He joined the Corps in 1943, the year of his nineteenth birthday. His enlistment was made possible by Executive Order 8802 prohibiting racial discrimination in the defense industry or government, signed in 1941 by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This order allowed African Americans to take their rightful places in the military and in the defense industry. The order may have recognized the need to prevent discrimination, but it did nothing to prevent continued segregation.
Recruitment of black men for the Marine Corps started on June 1, 1942, a year after EO 8802 had been signed. It should be noted that before this time there had only been 13 black men who served in the Continental Marines during the Revolutionary War.
Between 1943 and 1949, approximately 20,000 African American Marines were trained at Montford Point Camp, a segregated facility adjacent to Camp Lejeune. Although blacks were welcome to enter training for the military, servicemen were kept segregated according to race. The Montford Point Camp was overseen by white officers and was fraught with discrimination. Black soldiers from Montford Point were not allowed onto the adjacent Camp Lejeune base unless accompanied by a white officer. Montford Point was deactivated as a recruit training depot in 1949 after President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981 ended color bias in the American armed forces.
Valor and courage have nothing to do with color and these Montford Point Marines served with honor, bravery, and distinction in the World War II battles in the South Pacific, including Guam, Peleliu, Saipan, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and the Solomon Islands. Montford Point Marines handled ammunition, fuel, food, and medical supplies at the front lines; retrieved fallen and wounded comrades; fought on the front lines; and lost their lives in service to their country. They wove the chain back together every time the line was broken from supply caches to the front lines, no matter how dangerous the situation was.
It wasn’t until 2011, 63 years after Montford Point Camp closed its doors, that President Barack Obama signed into law the legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines. The Congressional Gold Medal is an award bestowed by the United States Congress and is Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions. President Obama stated, “Despite being denied many basic rights, the Montford Point Marines committed to serve our country with selfless patriotism.”
On June 27, 2012, the Montford Point Marines were presented the award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Corporal Mosley being part of this group. It is much to the credit of U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant Joseph H. Geeter, current president of the Philadelphia Chapter of Montford Point Marine Association, who lobbied faithfully and ferociously for many years before the Congressional Gold Medal was finally awarded to these brave marines of Montford Point Camp.
Corporal Mosley retired from active duty from the Warner Robins Base in Georgia. He remained active his entire life in the issue of civil rights. He was active in the NAACP and met and knew Dr. Martin Luther King and his parents as friends and hosted them when they visited the Harrisburg area. Mosley played a critical part in bringing buses to the Harrisburg area to transport people to the Civil Rights March in D.C. in 1963. He received the Earl T. Shinhoster award by the NAACP Chapter in Macon, GA, and three years later this chapter created the Thomas Mosley Veteran’s Award. In 2016, the military JROTC wing of Rutland High School in Macon, GA, was renamed The PFC Frank Johnson – Corporal Thomas Mosley Marine Corps Leadership and Education Department, dedicated to him and Frank Johnson, another Montford Point Marine.
Thomas Mosley’s son, Eugene Mosley, a Harrisburg native but now a resident of Philadelphia, PA, began writing Footprints of the Montford Point Marines in 2011. The book is the story told to him by his father, Thomas Mosley, who assisted in the book’s compilation until his death in 2016. Eugene continued interviewing Montford Point Marines, fact checking, and reviewing historical data. He credits his wife, Soonai, for her patience and understanding while he moved forward for eleven years in the writing of this book. Beverly Melasi-Haag, President of the South Florida Writer’s Association, worked with Eugene Mosley on the original editing of this book. The book was published in 2022, six years after the death of Corporal Thomas Mosley. Christopher Church was the final editor for this book, which was published by Church’s publishing company, Dagmar Miura.
Eugene Mosley follows in his father’s footsteps by being one of the first black students to integrate an all-white military ROTC high school. He furthered his studies at Temple University in the School of Civil Engineering. He is an archivist and collector for the permanent exhibition of Thomas Mosley, Frank Johnson and the Montford Point Marines at the Harriet Tubman Museum in Macon, GA. He is a member of the Montford Point Marine Association, which allowed him to reach out and speak with dozens of the original Montford Point Marines who served in WWII, some of whom he made aware for the first time of their qualifications to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, which they were subsequently awarded, some being awarded posthumously.
Commandant Leonard F. Chapman, 24th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, had this to say about the Montford Point Marines: “The footprints of the Montford Point Marines were left on the beaches of Roi-Namur, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo-Jima, and Okinawa. Tides and winds have long ago washed them out into the seas of history, but the chosen few in field shoes and canvas leggings also left their mark in the firm concrete of Marine Corps history. And as new generations of Marines learn to march in those footprints, their cadence assumes the proud stride of the men from Montford Point.”
Footprints of the Montford Point Marines can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online book distributors. The book is also available on Kindle. Eugene S. Mosley, public speaker and journalist, can be reached via email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.