U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidates School (OCS) hosted the Branch Hall rededication ceremony, May 1, in remembrance of Capt. Fredrick C. Branch, the first African American Marine Corps officer.
Branch graduated Marine Corps bootcamp in 1943 at Camp Montford, North Carolina, which served as a segregated training facility for African American recruits. During his service in WWII with a supply unit in the Pacific, Branch was recommended by his commanding officer to attend the Navy V-12 program at Purdue University. From there, he went on to graduate on the deans’ list and became the first African American Marine officer on November 1945.
Forest E. Spencer, Jr., the national president of the National Montford Point Marine
Association and retired gunnery sergeant, attended the ceremony along with many members of the organization to honor the contributions of Branch.
“It is a humbling experience for me, and I am honored to represent the organization as a whole,” said Spencer. “That’s why I dedicated my time after retirement as the national president, to preserve the legacy of the #MontfordPoint Marines.”
In speaking about Capt. Branch, Spencer explained that “to get through bootcamp during times of segregation and to become a commissioned officer in the Marine Corps was a great feat. We wanted to rededicate Branch Hall as a reminder to those who may not fully understand the important history of Frederick C. Branch.”
Branch Hall is the oldest building still standing at OCS, where female Marine officers of the first gender-integrated Officer Candidates Class were billeted in 1977.
“I’m glad that the command was instrumental in saving this building,” said Rhonda Amtower, the national president of the Women Marines Association(WMA) and retired lieutenant colonel. “We have to preserve our history and this building is part of it.”
Like her predecessors, Amtower also lived in Branch Hall. Along with paying her respects to the birth place of her career, Amtower also came to honor the legacy of those who’ve gone before her.
“This part of history is not just for WMA but for the Montford Point Marines and the Marine Corps in general,” said Amtower with pride. “I wish everybody were here to see this.”
Several years ago, leadership realized Branch Hall had fallen into a serious state of disrepair. Col. Ahmed Williamson, commanding officer, OCS, explained that it would be unhealthy and unsafe for Marine and Sailor staff members to continue to work in the building. It was ultimately decided to renovate the building rather than demolish it.
The renovations were completed before this summer’s surge of candidates, when the largest number of men and women enter OCS hoping to become Marines. A month after the renovation, the rededication occurred just in time to start the new season with a reflection of WMA, Montford Point Marines and Marine Corps history.
Williams noted, “Now the condition of the building offers a fresh and healthy work environment, befitting of the Marines serving there as well as representing its namesake – Fredrick. C. Branch.”
Story by Lance Cpl. AaRron Smith