He could fight in a war but had to make his own barracks. He could carry a rifle but couldn’t go where other Marines were allowed. On this Veteran’s Day, the family of Charles Shaw came together to celebrate what he stood for.

Shaw’s family says he was the type of Marine who commanded respect. It was the 1940s, an era when the color of his skin meant he could only serve the corps alongside other Blacks.

“There was no hiding the segregation. You were Black, you go this way. You’re white, you go this way,” said Shaw’s daughter, Brenda Steel-Matthews.

Shaw’s company became known as the Montford Point Marines. They were based at Camp Lejuene in Jacksonville, North Carolina during World War II. More than 20,000 men who enlisted fought in battles but remained segregated.

In 1949, President Truman announced the military would end segregation. With that, Shaw became the first Black drill instructor to train an integrated company.

His son remembers his father challenged his men.

“They couldn’t be just as good, had to be twice as good,” said David Shaw.

His brother remembers how Shaw’s military prowess was also felt at home.

“And when I finished sweeping, mopping the floor, you had to put shades on to walk in that room,” said Joe McDade. “I knew then that when he said something, you do it.”

The story of Charles Shaw is now a piece of history and is on display at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

Shaw made Santa Ana his home in his final years of active duty. He spent even more years working at Camp Pendleton. This year, everyone of the Montford Marines was given a Congressional Medal of Honor. Shaw’s was given to his daughter at her home church.

“Obviously, I wish my father was here so he could see it, but it’s like an acceptance, a full circle of acceptance,” said Steel-Matthews.

Shaw died in 1979. His family says he had one motto — character is like a rifle…it can’t shoot higher than where it is aimed.


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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