During Black History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Marine Veteran William McDowell, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
William McDowell was raised in New York City during the Great Depression. His father was a Harlem Hellfighter, serving in the nation’s first Black Army regiment in World War I. On the eve of World War II, President Roosevelt banned racial discrimination in military enlistment. The Marines soon started enlisting Black soldiers, and McDowell’s brother joined as World War II started. This inspired McDowell himself to enlist in the Marines at 17. He went to Montford Point, North Carolina, where the nation’s first Black Marines trained.
McDowell’s first deployment was to Okinawa, Japan, just before the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. He provided security for trucks delivering water to Nagasaki. Afterward he served a similar role where he protected supplies delivered to the U.S.-backed Nationalist Party in the Chinese Civil War.
The next year, McDowell returned to the U.S. In 1948, he spent six months at Camp Pendleton in California, where the Marine Corps was trying to integrate soldiers.
Then McDowell went to Korea in 1950. While in Korea, McDowell first retrieved fallen soldiers from the battlefield. He then became a section leader as the U.S. military pushed north toward the Chinese border. Later, McDowell was wounded in the leg and returned home in 1951.
Over the next decade, McDowell performed various instructor roles at bases across the U.S. In 1964, he started working for the State Department, where he oversaw security for the American embassy in Nepal. Two years later, he joined other Marines to provide hurricane relief in Haiti.
In March 1967, McDowell went to Vietnam to join the war effort. In July, on a search and destroy mission, the enemy shot him in the leg. Despite being heavily injured, he helped direct the subsequent evacuation from the area. He received a Bronze Star Medal for his actions.
In March 1968, McDowell retired from the military with the rank of first sergeant. After his military service, McDowell worked for railway companies across the United States and Canada before settling down in Long Beach, California, as a railway consultant in 1992. In addition to his Bronze Star Medal, he received three Purple Heart medals.
In 2012, McDowell along with other members of the Montford Point Marines received a Congressional Gold Medal.
Thank you for your service!
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Nolan Lounsbery
Editors: Annabelle Colton and Wilson S. Sainvil
Fact checker: Giacomo Ferrari
Graphic artist: Brittany Gorski