I went from Philadelphia back to Baltimore where I was living and reported to the draft board. In the space of a week I went from wearing a Kansas City Monarchs uniform to one that said "United States Navy." At least in my new uniform there was no color line. I went through basic training in Virginia and advanced training in Gulfport, Mississippi, and from Gulfport went to San Jose, California. My next stop would be some island out in the middle of the Pacific. I had no idea what to expect.
I remember going to see Andy Kirk's band with Mary Lou Williams the last night I was in the States. They were playing in Los Angeles at a night club called the Club Alabam near the Broadway Hotel, right across from Bill Robinson's theater. Kirk had a singer with him, and they played our song from the Monarchs, "I Know That You and I Will Never Meet Again." I was sitting there by myself, having a drink, thinking about my family and friends, and that song really hit me. I just tried to not let it get to me because what's got to be is got to be.
We shipped out on the USS Blumfontaine, a Dutch transport that had about 2,700 men on it. And we went from San Jose to Guadalcanal, and then they had us go to Banika in the South Pacific. That's where we unloaded, Banika Island. We stayed there about six months.
I was a bolsonmate first class on a personnel attack boat, PA-199, and was attached to the 1st Marine Division, 5th Regiment. Those were the Marines that invaded, the first ones to hit the island. We were trained to