This week’s America250 salute is Marine Veteran Edgar R. Huff, the first African American sergeant major in the history of the Marine Corps.

This week’s America250 salute is Marine Veteran Edgar R. Huff.

Edgar R. Huff was born in Gadsden, Alabama, in 1919. During his youth, he worked in the Alabama steel mills, a tough job that helped to prepare him for his future in the military. Huff enlisted in the Marine Corps on Sept. 24, 1942, during World War II as one of the first African Americans to join the Corps.

“I wanted to be a Marine because I had always heard that the Marine Corps was the toughest outfit going,” Huff said, “and I felt I was the toughest going, so I wanted to be a member of the best organization.”

Huff underwent basic training at Montford Point Camp in New River, North Carolina. Like many Black servicemen of the era, Huff faced mistreatment from his fellow recruits. President Harry S. Truman did not issue Executive Order 9981, which formally abolished racial discrimination in the armed forces, until 1948. White service members told Huff that he was not cut out for the Marine Corps, that he should go home and that no one would miss him when he was gone.

“They said, ‘Leave,’” Huff recalled in an interview. “I said, ‘Hell no.’ I was going to hold on like a bulldog to a bowl.”

After finishing basic training, Huff served as a gun commander and trained to become a drill instructor. Huff started drill instructor duty in March 1943, and by 1944, he was in charge of all the drill instructors at Montford Point. In November of that year, Huff promoted to first sergeant and moved to the 5th Depot Company, which provided logistics support to other Marine units. While serving in this role, Huff deployed to Saipan, Okinawa and North China.

Huff discharged from the Marines when World War II ended, but after a few months of civilian life, he rejoined. He saw combat in the Korean War and served two tours in Vietnam. He also had duty postings in French Morocco, Japan and several American states. In his later years, Huff began walking with a cane decorated with 20 copper rings, each one engraved with the name of a battle or operation he had taken part in. He retired in 1972 after 30 years of service with the rank of sergeant major, becoming the first African American to reach that rank in the Marine Corps.

“The Marine Corps has been good to me,” Huff said, “and I feel I have been good to the Marine Corps.”

Throughout his career, Huff received two Bronze Stars with Combat “V,” three Purple Hearts, three Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medals, a Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal and a Combat Action Ribbon.

Huff passed away on May 2, 1994, at the age of 74.

We honor his service.


America250

VA is highlighting 250 Veterans leading up to July 4, 2026, which marks 250 years of independence. Learn more about the count down to 250 years of the American spirit at https://america250.org/.


Contributors

Writer: Stephen Hill

Editors: Merrit Pope and Annabelle Colton

Fact Checker: Frank Grabarz

Graphic Designer: Kiki Kelley

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