Willie Rushton was born July 14, 1920 in Nadawah, Alabama, a town so small it is not on most maps. His grandfather, who had been reared in Montgomery, was born a slave. Rushton grew up on a saw mill farm in Atmore, where his father worked as a block setter. He graduated from high school in 1941 and moved to Mobile where he got a job at the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant.
He got married in 1942 and was drafted in the spring of 1943. He signed on with the Marines, and was sent to Montford Point, at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina for basic training.
He shipped out for the Pacific in July 1943, and his son was born one month later. (Rushton would not see him for more than two years.) He served in the South Pacific from July 1943 to October 25, 1944, assigned to the 11th Depot Company. He and a number of his fellow Marines asked repeatedly to be permitted to go into combat, and eventually the Marine Corps agreed to train them to evacuate the wounded from the front lines. In September of 1944, Rushton and his unit invaded Peleliu along with the 1st Marine Division.
For the first few days of the battle, Rushton’s and the other depot companies helped unload supplies but soon they were in combat, bringing supplies and ammunition to the front lines, evacuating the wounded, constantly under fire.
On Peleliu, Rushton’s company suffered the highest casualty rate of any black Marine unit in the war. He was wounded in the leg by shrapnel from a mortar and sent to a hospital ship offshore for treatment.
Rushton was discharged from the Marines in November of 1945. He returned to Mobile but was unable to reclaim his old job at the bottling plant. He eventually found work at Sears, Brookley Field, and finally at the the US Postal Service, where he stayed for 43 years.