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Montford Point Marines Celebrate 75th Anniversary of First Service
On, August 24, 2017, the Montford Point Marine Association marked the 75th year since the first African-American Marines in the United States arrived at Montford Point, North Carolina to train during World War II. The anniversary was remembered at the Montford Point Marine Day Ceremony at the Montford Point Memorial. The memorial is one of five at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens, on the same road to Camp Johnson where the men trained. Four men were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal recognizing their membership in the Montford Point Marines by the officers of the Montford Point Marine Association.
Fighting for the Right to Fight
From 1942 to 1949, approximately 20,000 African American men were admitted to the Marine Corps. With segregation in place, these men trained at a separate base at Montford Point, a part of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. During World War II, just months after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D Roosevelt issued the order to admit African Americans into the Corps. The Marines were the last branch of the service to include African Americans.
Aware that they had to “fight for the right to fight,” these individuals trained harder than their Caucasian counterparts to assume roles as ammunition carriers and later, frontline fighters. This compounded the segregation they endured at their base camp where they were forbidden to enter Camp Lejeune without a white Marine accompanying them; they could not cross the railroad tracks into Jacksonville. They were not afforded doctors or other support personnel assigned to their white counterparts. Their African-American drill sergeants pushed them physically and mentally to withstand tests that surpassed the high standards used for white Marines.
During the Pacific Campaign, the Montford Point Marines were called into service, first as defense units holding land far behind the front or as ammunitions carriers; they saw little action. Later, about 8,000 black Marine stevedores and ammunition handlers served under enemy fire during offensive operations in the Pacific. After the June 1944 Battle of Saipan, USMC General Alexander Vandegrift praised the performance and heroism of the 3rd Marine Ammunition Company. “The Negro Marines are no longer on trial. They are Marines, period,” he said.
After a Presidential order from Harry S Truman in 1948 to desegregate the military, Montford Point was deactivated as a black training facility. In 1974, it was renamed Camp Gilbert H Johnson in honor of the man who served as one of the first blacks who was promoted to drill instructor while the camp was segregated. He continued to serve in the Marine Corps after desegregation including service in the Korean War retiring with the rank of Sergeant Major.
The Montford Point Marines significant service to the Marine Corps and the nation was recognized in 2012 when all men known to have served were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. With no official record of those who served from 1942 to 1949, the Montford Point Marine Association has sought to recognize and continue awarding the medal to the families of the men who served but were not recognized.
Four Previously Unidentified Awarded Congressional Gold Medal
Four persons previously unrecognized for inclusion in the Gold Medal honor have been identified. The families of those men received the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously at the Montford Point Marine Day Ceremony on August 24. Those men include:
- Dr. Joseph Orthello Johnson of Leesburg, Virginia
- Virgil W Johnson of Woodbridge, Virginia
- John Thomas Robinson of Ypsilanti, Michigan
- Leroy Lee, Sr of Augusta, Georgia
The Search Continues for “Montford Pointers”
Do you have a family member or friend who was a Montford Point Marine? Some “Montford Pointers,” as they are often called, left the service and rarely discussed this chapter of their lives. If you know a Montford Point Marine that has not been recognized, contact:
Carman Cole, National Secretary, Montford Point Marine Association, Inc
(706) 840-1789 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: To be documented and receive the medal, individuals or their families must show their discharge documents. The medal can be awarded posthumously to family members.
The photo above was taken July 29, 2016 at the dedication of the Montford Point Memorial of Montford Point Marines who gathered for the memorial dedication.
About the Montford Point Marine Association: The Montford Point Marine Association is made up of original Montford Point Marines, family members and interested citizens. A nonprofit military veterans organization, it was founded to memorialize the legacy of the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps. The group continues to identify those who served. Visit: http://www.montfordpointmarines.com/
About the Montford Point Marine Memorial: http://visitjacksonvillenc.com/165/Montford-Point-Marine-Memorial
Susan Dosier (on behalf of Jacksonville NC Tourism Development Authority)