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Congress. House Committee on Armed Forces. Inquiry into the Disturbances at Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C., on July 20, 1969. Washington, D. C. GPO, 1969.

SuDoc No.: Y4.Ar5/2a:969-70/32
Date(s) of Hearings: December 15, 1969
Congress and Session: 91st - 1st



During the late evening of July 20, 1969, a series of racially motivated assaults took place at Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C., in which 15 Caucasian marines were injured at the hands of a group variously estimated to be 30 to 50 black members of the 2d Marine Division. One victim, Cpl. Edward E. Bankston, a thrice-wounded veteran of Vietnam, died 7 days later of massive head injuries sustained in an unprovoked assault as he and a marine companion, also injured, were returning to barracks from the area movie.

This event, coming on the heels of some reports of other disturbances on military bases, prompted Hon. L. Mendel Rivers, chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, to appoint this Special Subcommittee To Probe Disturbance on Military Bases. In his letter of instruction dated August 1, 1969, Mr. Rivers directed the subcommittee to "determine the root causes of such conduct, the extent to which such acts have occurred on military installations, and what measures are being taken to stop such behavior."

This report is confined to Camp Lejeune, and is based upon extensive hearings at Camp Lejeune and in Washington, D.C., covering some 1,250 pages of verbatim testimony and attendant documents.


1. The racial problem existing at Camp Lejeune is a reflection of the Nation's racial problem.

2. The average young black marine has racial pride, drive for identity, and sensitivity to discrimination that is characteristic of the young black in the United States.

3. The Marine Corps and the other services have led the way and made substantial progress in integration of the races since 1948.

4. Racial differences and misunderstandings at Camp Lejeune can be attributed in large measure to a lack of effective communication at the junior levels of command as well as vertically between the young marine and his commander.

5. A shortage of mature leadership attributed in large measure to rapid buildup and turnover at the NCO and junior officer levels at Camp Lejeune has aggravated the racial problem.

6. There was a deterioration in discipline at Camp Lejeune.

7. The instances of permissiveness appearing at the junior levels of command are damaging to discipline but unfortunately mirror the society in which these young men live.

8. The security procedures at Camp Lejeune on the evening of July 20 were insufficient, despite some warning of impending trouble.

9. Improved security measures are necessary at the ammunition storage areas and armories, as well as improved lighting in populated areas throughout the Camp Lejeune complex.

10. The fatality which occurred did not result from any misconduct on the part of the victim.


The serious racial disturbance at Camp Lejeune on July 20 did not result from any specific provocation, but was generated by a few militant blacks who fanned the flames of racism, misconception, suspicions, and frustrations.


1. Institute a program of education on race relations at all levels of command, with particular emphasis on the platoon and company levels.

2. Institute a broad program fostering communications to include roundtable discussions, panels, and other means of dialog to make for meaningful understanding between the races.

3. Insure that request mast procedures are functioning in such a manner as to engender confidence in the young marine that he can effectively reach his commander without fear of recrimination.

4. Commanders should insure that promotion procedures, the administration of military justice, and duty assignments are carefully and continually explained to avoid the many misconceptions and misunderstandings that seemed to have developed concerning these matters.

5. A strong and continuing program of junior officer and NCO leadership training should be instituted at Camp Lejeune and throughout the corps.

6. The security forces at Camp Lejeune should be carefully monitored to insure instant deployment for the proper protection of persons and property at Camp Lejeune.

7. The program of the present commanding general Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, for the improvement in overall base security should be supported and fulfilled.


There is no question that the military services have long been in the vanguard of integration of the races. In an earlier day, the black sailor, soldier, or marine was characteristically assigned to a service-type duty and normally had little opportunity to attend schools or otherwise qualify for a skilled specialty. By Presidential Executive order in 1948, the President directed that this come to a halt. There was to be equal opportunity for all military members regardless of race, color, or creed. Over the years, that order has met with singular if hard-earned success, particularly in the occupational skills. However, other aspects of segregation proved to be more difficult. With greater emphasis on civil rights in the civilian community, President Kennedy in 1963 took note of the lot and the military members and dependents and, after a special study, found that morale in the services was being damaged by discrimination on and off base. The Secretary of Defense reaffirmed departmental opposition to discrimination and issued instructions covering equal opportunity for servicemen and their families on and off base.

The Department of Defense then promulgated a series of follow-on orders covering all facets of the matter and instituted a program of onsite inspections commencing in 1967. Substantial progress was shown in the area of eliminating discrimination in public accommodations and facilities. The same was said for public transportation, and the successful integration of schools attended by dependent children and of offbase housing, but a serious note was reported concerning communications. In August 1968, an inspection report cited poor communications a "major deficiency." It was stated that DOD directives on equal opportunity received wide dissemination in the early 1960's, but that situation was no longer true. Military members entering service and after 1965 were less informed about the equal opportunity policies and programs in the military departments, despite the fact these directives required periodic republication. In several instances, command was inadequately informed about racial conditions and tensions on base. But there were a few posts where the commitment, concern, and resourcefulness of the base commanders in this area were outstanding. Camp Lejeune was one of six such commands of 18 visited which rated that praise.

In a racial incident in November 1968, a white marine was killed by three black marines at Camp Lejeune; and in 1969, we witnessed increased assaults, muggings, and robbery on base, some 160 of which were recorded at Camp Lejeune between January and August 1969. In this apparently deteriorating milieu, the commanding general, 2d Marine Division, issued an order on April 9, 1969, forming an ad hoc committee of seven officers to develop a paper on "the division's basic philosophy in addressing any minority group or discrimination problem *** within the division." It is evident the members were chosen not because of any unique professional qualifications in the area of sociology or race relations, but rather as representative of the regimental structure of the 2d Marine Division. The committee worked informally, interviewing about 35 witnesses, the majority of whom were black members of the 2d Division. In addition, the membership had individual conversations with other marines and brought the results to daily committee discussions.

The testimony and conversations were not under oath but no transcript was prepared. Statements were apparently accepted at face value as evidence of what the witnesses were thinking rather than as established fact. There was no attempt to substantiate any allegation made before the committee.

Based upon its informal and limited exploration as detailed above, the ad hoc committee submitted a report on April 23, 1969, which alleged that bigotry and prejudice are practiced in the corps and by white businessmen in the adjacent community; that seniors placed obstructions in the way of young marines seeking to grapple with the race problem; that there was a failure to comply with the spirit and letter of the law; and that effective leadership was lacking. There was no attempt to define the magnitudes of these findings with the unfortunate result that when a working copy of the report reached the press, contrary to standing orders, all of the components at Camp Lejeune indeed, the entire corps, were pictured as being in a chaotic state of racial disarray. Rather, what evolved was an intent to present to the commanding general, for his personal and official use only, a paper covering the racial problems and warning signs, real or imagined, that could be used as the basis for command action in attacking the race problem. To that end, the report contained a list of 27 "manifestations of the problems" which were to be a basis for briefings and discussions with the general on allegations made during the course of the committee's work. With command guidance, a commendable pamphlet was prepared for use at the platoon leader's level.

The subcommittee seeks in no way to minimize the problem at hand. Indeed, we recognize that a serious race problem exists at Camp Lejeune and in the Marine Corps for, in fact, it exists in every corner of the United States. It exists in all the services, and certainly the tragic events of July 20, 1969, at Camp Lejeune present strong and real evidence of its presence.

The Disorder on July 20

Camp Lejeune, N.C. is a large military installation with a perimeter of 68 miles comprising 109,047 acres of which 26,000 acres are water.

The base houses four commands: Marine Base, Camp Lejeune; 2d Marine Division; Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic; and the Marine Corps Air Station.

As of July 31, 1969, Camp Lejeune had a base population totaling 67,969 as follows: 42,812 military personnel, 24,865 dependents, and 292 civilians who are present aboard the base. Of this number, 38,633 personnel reside on the post -- 26,987 military and 11,646 dependents.

Of the total troop strength at Camp Lejeune, approximately 14 percent are black. But in certain infantry battalions, the ratio of black troops ranges from 21.2 to 25.6 percent.

The 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, was assigned to the Hadnot Point Area which houses units of the 2d Marine Division. The area is self-contained with barracks, messhalls, a movie, and service clubs. The 1st Battalion was quartered close by the area I service club, in barracks in a fairly heavily wooded compound. On the evening of July 20, the troops were celebrating at a party prior to deployment the next day to join the 6th Fleet in Rota, Spain. A band had been hired, and by 8 p.m., there were approximately 100 black and 75 white marines present. The majority of blacks were sitting in a group near the band while the Caucasian marines were scattered throughout the club. The night manager estimated that at 9 p.m. the gathering peaked with about 150 blacks and 100 white marines in the hall. Minor incidents had created uneasy feeling that trouble might develop. One incident involved a black marine deliberately baiting a Caucasian. Another occurred on the dance floor when a black marine attempted to cut in on a white dancing with a black woman marine. One black was heard to threaten "turning the place out" if the wrong thing was said to him. The manager at one point called the regiment commander due to increased tensions at the club, but no inside difficulties arose, although rumors commenced the previous evening that "there was going to be some sort of trouble" at the battalion party. This had prompted stationing a special reaction force at the club that evening.

At 10:30, most of the people began to leave the club. Then, about 10 minutes later, the first of the victims, a white marine, burst into the club "extremely bloody" and intensely excited, explaining that he had been attacked by a group of black marines. From that time until approximately 11 p.m., 15 white marines were assaulted at six different locations by groups of black marines and a few Puerto Ricans along a line about one-half mile from the club through the adjacent barracks area. The blacks were obviously in a high state of excitement, yelling, "white beasts," "call us niggers now," "I'm the beast, look what I caught," "we're going to mess up some beasts tonight," etc., and were armed with broken broom handles and tree branches. One such weapon was used in a crushing blow on the head of Corporal Bankston. When the victim fell, he was allegedly kicked about the head and body until the group of 30 to 40 was dispersed. Seven days later, Corporal Bankston died of massive head injuries as a direct result of this beating. At least two of the victims were stabbed, and another transferred to Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Va., in an extremely serious condition from head injuries. Many marines were unaware of trouble in the area and were taken by surprise. For example, one white marine was in a phone booth outside the messhall when 35 to 40 blacks approached the booth and began yelling obscenities, while one kicked in the door and forced the occupant to come out. The white marine received scratches and bruises from the incident. Another Caucasian marine, while waiting to make a call outside the same booth, was struck over the head with a broom handle.

At the present time, four marines are being held in the death of Corporal Bankston, and disciplinary action has been taken or is pending in the case of 15 other marines.


There is no doubt that this tragic event had racial overtones. It has been suggested that it was an isolated, one-time event fashioned out of a mixture of beer and a celebration. Such a simple solution cannot be accepted. The obvious irritations present in the club, the senseless marauding, the assaults on members of the same battalion, the uttering of provocative language, the polarization of those attacking marines and the Caucasian identity of all victims, bespeak without question a racially motivated disturbance.

The race problem

Camp Lejeune and the Marine Corps have a race problem because the Nation has a race problem. The same can be said of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The troubles that erupted in Watts and Detroit are conditions all young blacks have been aware of and sensitive to. These emotions don't go away with enlistment in the corps. The fact is, this new breed of black marine needs to be identified to determine his attitudes and motivations.

First, it should be said that today's marines are not "all green." There are white marines and black marines, and each has his identity. In a day gone by, the reaction of the black to discrimination problems was to work hard and persevere. Today, that enlistee has more racial pride, probably more bitterness, more sensitivity to real or fancied oppression, and, as one black witness state, "often with a chip on his shoulder." He can be bothered by black militants and teased by white racists, and frequently finds himself confused. Often he is troubled because his new-found racial pride is sometimes interpreted as black militancy. And one factor seems clear: Because of this black self-awareness and self-determination, the new black marine has absolutely no desire to lose his identity. This, the, seems to be the young marine who enters the corps fresh from scars of all the racial trauma that is prevalent in our society. We understand this new marine better as he emerges from civilian society to join the corps and trust that he will never allow his racial pride and independence to create a gap in his loyalty to his country.

As stated in the outset, our armed services carried the original torch of integration in the United States, and must now face an even greater challenge in the battle with black militants for the minds of these young marines who may well have been exposed to an overdose of militancy prior to enlistment, and enter the corps with a mistrust of the "white establishment." This brotherhood, pride, and togetherness have, alarmingly, led some from integration to polarization.

With that backdrop, possibly the reaction of black marines to racial slurs, criticism of civilian dress, discrimination in local communities, differences of opinion or misunderstanding over the administration of military justice, over promotions, over uniform regulations, and duty assignments can be reevaluated and a fresh approach taken. The investigation of this subcommittee has found evidence of isolated instances where both blacks and whites used racial slurs. Likewise, there have been variations in the observance of regulations relating to mustaches and haircuts. There may be isolated allegations of racial prejudice in promotions or duty assignments, but these allegations were not substantiated. With respect to the administration of military justice under article 15, the complaints appear to be prompted by incomplete information rather than the facts. Whether the complaint be real or fancied, the basic problem really lies in a failure of communications. This glaring deficiency cuts across the entire spectrum of our white-black problem. If the word "communications" be repeated here a hundred times, it would not approach its constant use during the subcommittee investigation. Regardless of the varied opinions as to what the problem is and how to attack it, not a single witness saw effective communications as less than the most critical need in improving race relations at Camp Lejeune and throughout the military.


There can be no quarrel with the sentiment that the vast majority of whites and blacks in the services are good members of the military. The militants compose only a small minority of this group and such organizations as the Black Panthers have no foothold on our military bases although the danger of their influence is very real and must be carefully watched. Thus, there is a sound nucleus with which to work. Convincing witnesses have agreed that a favorable atmosphere for a frank exchange of views at the platoon and company levels with NCO and junior officer interest and concern, plus direct and reliable channels to the higher echelons, is the root matter upon which a communications program must be built. This demands a request mast system in which all troops feel a confidence and which has the support of all echelons of command. The white of black marine must feel secure in his ability to reach the commander without fear of reprisal or recrimination. There is clear indication that the request mast procedure had not been functioning as it should at Camp Lejeune and other Marine commands. The Commandant of the Marine Corps testified that steps had been taken to re-establish request mast in its proper setting throughout the corps.

The marine should be able to establish a reliable dialog between himself, his officers, and his NCO's. Open and free discussion of all problems, racial and otherwise, is the sine qua non to a successful communications program. Junior officers and NCO's must sponsor and encourage panel discussions and roundtable groups to thrash out together the areas of misunderstanding. As the young marine says, "The platoon and company level is where it's at." Generally, this type program had not been clearly evident at Camp Lejeune, but we are convinced that measurable progress is currently being made. One last principal facet of communications is the commander's overall ability to sense the mood of all his troops at all levels. It can no longer be accepted that any commander was not aware of the strong tensions on his base. No communications program can be implemented without strong leadership.

Leadership and discipline

The state of leadership and discipline at Camp Lejeune and in the Marine Corps was the subject of careful consideration by this subcommittee. There is no disagreement that effective leadership joins this communications as a top priority factor in attacking social problems. This is particularly true at the lower level of command. The Commandant, the division commander, and the battalion commander can issue the orders, promulgate directives, and set examples, but it must be at the junior officer and NCO level where continuing and often difficult implementation is required. It was variously stated during the course of our hearings that either leadership had broken down at Camp Lejeune, or there was a lack of adequate leadership at the junior levels, or the young lieutenants and NCO's were well trained but not garrison trained, or the type of leadership demonstrated only reflected the permissiveness which typifies the younger generation. The basic difficulties stem from the growing pains of a wartime fighting Marine Corps in a permissive generation. In looking at the overall personnel situation at Camp Lejeune, the subcommittee found that the base is in a constant state of turnover. For example, in the 2d Marine Division, there were 16,000 Marines on January 1, 1969. Of that 16,000, only 2,300 were present in early August. There was a gain of 11,255 during that period, which means that it took 27,000-plus men to gain an August strength of about 14,000. Further, there are over 9,000 students aboard for periods of 2 to 7 weeks. This represents a tremendous annual turnover. Finally, many returning Vietnam veterans are sent to Camp Lejeune to serve their remaining time and are then discharged. Thus, there is a built-in leadership problem because of the essential transient marine population.

Typically, during wartime, our ground forces turn out fine fighting troops and platoon leaders who perform tremendously in the fire zone. But with rapid promotions and little or no garrison experience, they lack the practical tools to exercise leadership in the training and transient atmosphere of a Camp Lejeune. Add the permissiveness problem, and there emerges what we found to be a lack of mature leadership in the junior ranks at Camp Lejeune. There was some tendency to shy away from leadership and disciplinary problems where race was a consideration. On occasion, it was overreaction to a fear of being labeled a racist or being charged with discrimination. The white NCO or junior officer would refer a matter involving a black marine to a black NCO or officer. Of course, this reaction is unfortunate and does dilute discipline and shows inexperience in leadership. But this subcommittee has concluded that the problem is now well recognized and is being addressed with vigor. In retrospect, it is unfortunate that these factors were not uncovered and addressed by higher levels of command at Camp Lejeune at a much earlier date. Regardless, it is imperative that discipline not defer to race and that leadership be understanding but also strong.


One of the more serious and regrettable byproducts of black pride and self-determination is a tendency of blacks to polarize. This has been characterized as "a drive toward total togetherness." This "togetherness" typically manifests itself during off-duty hours, and causes the white marine to see this new black attitude as a threat to his security and thus he seeks security in numbers. The result is dual polarization. This is an unfortunate trend, and calls for a rapid closing of the communications gap. Only through a strong, continuing, and effective education program, in which all troops have confidence, can this trend towards polarization -- actually segregation -- be reversed. Indeed, this subcommittee heard testimony that at one Army post, two voluntarily segregated NCO clubs were functioning in harmony without damaging race relations. This is a direct reversal in the flow of all efforts since 1948 to integrate the military and stamp out separatism. It is an ominous warning that must be recognized and addressed by all the services.


On the evening of July 20, the marauding marines operated for some 40 minutes at Camp Lejeune despite a functioning military police organization and other security forces. Although it is probably true that the presence of military police prevented a more serious disturbance, the fact remains that security measures were insufficient to cope with the events in area I on July 20. Despite warnings 48 hours old, the provost marshal was not called until 11 p.m., after the serious damage was done.

Prompt steps have been taken to vastly improve security measures and the new program is in effect with visible affirmative results. As is most evident in a civilian community, an increase in a police force is often necessary to provide an effective deterrent, but this must be accompanied by programs that seek out the root causes of social disturbances and treat the disease from within.

During his testimony, the base commander expressed understandable concern over the security of his ammunition storage locations, armories, and other base areas. Improvements have been made through encouragement of this subcommittee. Additional measures are necessary, particularly perimeter security and lighting of populated areas throughout the base. It is encouraging to note that this work is now underway.

Final Statement

The subcommittee is of the opinion that this investigation has identified root causes of the race problems at Camp Lejeune which are also typical of those at any military base. The shortcomings and differences have been earmarked and with the basic leadership guidance which the Commandant of the Marine Corps assured us is most adequate, we expect that the problems will be attacked as a matter of urgency and that the possibility of a repetition of the tragic events of July 20 will be materially lessened.

A note of caution is appropriate. The subcommittee recognized that it was not the purpose of this investigation to fix any punitive responsibility that may result from the activities on July 20. The Uniform Code of Military Justice contains adequate procedures for any such determination. For that reason, no part of this report should be construed as a finding or opinion as to the guilt of any person or persons associated with the matter under investigation, nor should this report be used as a basis for any official censure or reprimand.
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