The Few, the Proud, the Montford Point Marines

February is Black History Month.  It is an important time to celebrate African-American history.  It is equally to acknowledge the contributions of our friends of color. The successes of the present arise out of sacrifices from the past.  While they are too many to list, this is a great time to thank the Montford Point Marines who volunteered and served in World War II, after President Roosevelt entered a Presidential Directive integrating the Marine Corps.

We are all familiar with the Buffalo Soldiers formed at Fort Leavenworth in 1866 to fight in the Indian Wars.  We have also heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American aviators in the Army Air Corps, who trained at Tuskegee, Oklahoma, beginning in 1941.  However, I had never heard of the Montfort Point Marines. They were activated in August 1942.  Between 1942 and 1949, 20,000 men volunteered to serve in the Marines. They trained in a segregated facility in Montford Marine Camp[1] in Montford Point, N.C.  Point, North Carolina.   Initially, they were trained by white officers.  Quickly African-Americans took over their own training when, by 1943, American Americans finally became noncommissioned officers.  Like the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen, they chose to fight, despite segregation, in order to show their national commitment.  Cassandra L. Paschal has written about them that they believed “that if they could show their homeland their valor they would return to a country that in its gratitude would give them all of the freedoms provided in our Constitution.”

Montford Point Marines were assigned to support white troops.  However, they often found themselves in the thick of battle. They served, fought and died in the Pacific Theater in places with names like Saipan, Okinawa, Guam and the Mariana Islands.    Shortly after World War II, in September 1949, President Truman ordered the end of segregation in the armed forces.  Thereafter all armed forces were integrated.

On November 23, 2012, House Resolution 2447 was signed into law by President Obama.  The resolution granted the Congressional Medal or Honor to the Montford Point Marines.  While 11 members abstained from voting, not a single “no” vote was entered.

Equality under the law did not come quickly.  But the service of these brave men has finally been acknowledged and honored. To those who served, “Thank you for your service”.

[1] Renamed Camp Johnson on April 19, 1974, in honor of Sergeant Major, Gilbert H. “Hashmark” Johnson, a Distinguished Montford Point Drill Instructor