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Nathaniel Boone of Manchester was one of the earliest black men to join the U.S. Marine Corps. Boone and about 200 of his peers will receive the Congressional Gold Medal from President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., on June 27.
Photo: Patrick McArdle / Staff PHOTO

Manchester man to be honored as one of the earliest black Marines

MANCHESTER — Almost 65 years ago, Nathaniel Boone left his home in Englewood, N.J., to enlist in the Marines, where he experienced some of the worst of our nation’s history.

“I knew what was going to happen because my mother and my aunt, her sister, were born and raised in Georgia. They told me what to expect and told me I would have to get in the back of the bus when I reached Washington, D.C., which was true. That’s where the segregation started: In our nation’s capital,” he said.

Boone, 84, will be returning to Washington from his current home in Manchester on June 27. This time, however, he will be among about 200 Montford Point Marines, the first African-Americans integrated into the U.S. Marine Corps, who will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Barack Obama. It is the highest honor America can bestow.

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order that allowed blacks to join the Marines. From 1942 until 1949, however, those recruits went to boot camp at Montford Point at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina instead of the camps where white recruits trained.

Boone joined the corps in June 1946.

“They were tough. It was tough. Well, the Marine Corps is tough anyway for boot camp on all individuals, but (the white Marines) didn’t really want us there, and so it made it even tougher,” he said.

For Boone, service was a way to get to college. His father had died in 1942 and his mother was sick with tuberculosis, so he needed the resources offered by the GI Bill. Boone was determined to get to law school.

“I had made up my mind that I was going to take whatever the South gave me. Whatever the Marine Corps gave me I would endure, because it meant so much to get to college,” he said.

Boone became a radar technician, helping to guide anti-aircraft guns to enemy planes. After serving two years, Boone went on to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where he met his wife, the former Harriet Howell, and attended his 60th reunion last weekend. Boone earned his law degree from Boston University and practiced law in Hackensack, N.J., until retiring to Manchester.

The Boones got married July 20, 1957, and spent their honeymoon, at a friend’s suggestion, in Manchester. The couple became annual visitors during ski and foliage season.

“One weekend, going back to New Jersey, my wife said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to go back?’ We started thinking in terms of retiring here,” he said.

Since moving to Manchester in 1989, the Boones have been very involved in the community. Nathaniel Boone worked with the Manchester Music Festival; he also leads tours of Hildene, the home built by President Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert, and served as chairman of Hildene’s board of trustees for three years. He and his wife are also very involved with the First Congregational Church in Manchester.

Boone said he was grateful for the opportunities for himself and his family that came from his service as a Marine.

Daughter Daryl Boone is a librarian at the Widener Library at Harvard University, and son Peter Boone is an orthopedic surgeon in Trumbull, Conn. Peter has three sons, one of whom graduated from Princeton University on June 5; another will be entering his third year in Princeton. The third grandson will be a senior in high school in the fall.

“Without me going into the Marine Corps, many of these things would not have happened. … It was a very important part of my life. … I don’t regret it at all, even though we had a rough time — they treated us rough and whatnot. I don’t regret any moment of it because of the fact that it allowed me to do what I wanted to do,” he said.


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