James H Ferguson
By Christine Baldwin
James “Fergie” Ferguson was born in Washington, D.C. and was a senior in high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He felt patriotic and went to the Army Recruiting office to enlist with the Paratroops. James was surprised to learn that Colored men could join the Army, but not the Paratroops. So he returned home and finished his last year of high school.
In May 1943, James was drafted and asked which branch of service he wanted. He chose the Marine Corps; one of only four selected. He received his basic training at the segregated Montford Point Boot Camp at Camp Lejeune, NC.
James participated in operations against enemy forces in Okinawa from May 21 - June 21, 1945. During one air raid, a gasoline dump next to the camp was bombed by a low flying plane. James started shooting at it with his M-1. He was blazing away, when a sergeant ran to him and told him to stop firing because no one had given any orders to shoot! The island was officially declared secured by the U.S. Forces, but there was still plenty of enemy activity after the battle was over. On July 26, James was guarding cargo on board the John S. Rawlings when it was torpedoed by a Japanese plane. The ship was seriously damaged; five men were wounded and James suffered a slight concussion (which he never reported). Later, the ship sank.
His medals include the Pacific Theater, The American Theater, the Japan Occupation Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and the Marine Combat Medal.
James was a boxer in the Marines and was the Featherweight Champion of New Caledonia and the South Pacific. Following his discharge from the service in 1946, James boxed professionally for two years and was undefeated. He worked with the Federal Power Commission and also became a letter carrier with the U.S. Post Office. He retired in 1979 at the position of station manager and became a Masters swimmer, competing in swim meets in many cities, including Ft. Lauderdale, FL for the National Championships. He placed sixth in the 200-yard backstroke. James was married to Lena Santos and had two beautiful daughters. He also has one grandson. You can read more of his story from his book The Story of the Ninth Marine Depot Company.