Max W. Daniels, 103, of Lake Como, a member of the first Black military recruits known as the Montford Point Marines, died Sunday, Nov. 1, at a nursing home in Wall Township, N.J.
At the time of his death, Mr. Daniels was the eldest member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Montford Point Marine Association and among the longest-living Black Marines in America, said local chapter president Joseph H. Geeter 3rd.
Although a central New Jersey resident, Mr. Daniels made monthly trips to Philadelphia for chapter meetings until ill health at age 100 curtailed his travel.
“We were lucky to have Max as a part of our chapter, and before he was confined to a nursing home, he really enjoyed our meetings,” Geeter said. “His fellow members will miss his wisdom and his humor.”
On June 27, 2012, Mr. Daniels was among the first group of veterans to receive the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor as a Montford Point Marine. The ceremony took place in Washington.
“They came to the Capitol on crutches, with canes and walkers, and in wheelchairs,” The Inquirer reported. “But most of these Black men in their 80s and 90s, with a few over age 100, walked in Wednesday, despite the ravages of age, to be recognized with the nation’s highest civilian honor for their courage and determination.”
The Montford Point Marines were a group of more than 19,000 recruits who responded enthusiastically when President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened the Marine Corps to Black recruits in 1942. They signed up in droves, but were not expecting the harsh treatment they received.
They were taken for training to Montford Point near Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Instead of the barracks afforded white Marines at the camp, the Black Marines faced mosquitoes, snakes, no heating or cooling, and substandard food and housing.
“He had to build his own quarters,” his daughter, Anita D. Clark, said he told her. “It was in a swampy area.”
Black recruits could only appear at Camp Lejeune accompanied by a white officer. There was doubt on the part of top brass that the Black recruits would become an effective fighting force. Despite the slights, the Montford Point men endured. Very few washed out of training.
In 1948, President Harry S. Truman ordered the end of segregation in the armed forces, including the Marine Corps at Montford Point. The camp was renamed Camp Johnson after Gilbert Johnson, one of the first Black Marines to enlist.
Mr. Daniels was drafted into the Marine Corps in 1943. His platoon remained at Montford Point during World War II, never seeing combat. He was a cook. He was honorably discharged with the rank of steward assistant, first class, in 1946.
Ever after, Mr. Daniels enjoyed regaling his fellow recruits at chapter meetings with his memories of the early experiences they shared. “Seeing him there was like watching Marine Corps living history," said Geeter. "It was really awe-inspiring.”
Born in 1917 to Gratten and Bertha Daniels in Shelby, N.C., Mr. Daniels was baptized at age 6 in the Muddy Fork Creek of Cleveland County. When he was 9, the Ku Klux Klan burned down the home of his grandparents, David and Emma Oates, the Daniels family said in a statement.
The family moved to Asbury Park, N.J. where he attended Asbury Park High School. He worked as a cook at local restaurants. In his late 20s, he married Marion Dickerson. They raised their daughter in South Belmar, N.J.
In 1956, Mr. Daniels became commander of the American Legion Post #266 and was able to arrange for U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell to address the post members.
In 1981, Mr. Daniels retired from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Department after two decades. He was the first Black lieutenant in that department, his daughter said.
His wife died in 1988. Besides his daughter, he is survived by two grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and a niece and nephews.
Burial later this week will be private.