MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
The grandeur of the 47th annual Montford Point Marines Association Convention banquet would humble even a fly on a wall, with guests in attendance such as Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, the Honorable Charles F. Bolden, 12th Administrator of NASA, Kay Hagan, North Carolina senator, Corrine Brown, Florida congresswoman, and a number of the original Montford Point Marines.
Bolden was the guest speaker at the black-tie dinner and awards banquet held at Marston Pavilion aboard Marine Corps Camp Lejeune, Aug. 25.
The evening’s highlighted event were the inductions into the Montford Point Hall of Fame, which honored several significant individuals who played instrumental roles in recognizing the Montford Point Marines with the Congressional Gold Medal.
Kay Hagan, senator of North Carolina, said leading the charge for the Montford Point Marine’s Congressional Gold Medal was truly one of the greatest things she has done in the senate.
“This award for these men, 19,000 individuals, the first men to integrate into the Marine Corps, is long overdue,” said Hagan, “but certainly well deserved.”
She was one of eight individuals to be inducted into the Montford Point Hall of Fame. The individuals inducted are:
- 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos (National MPMA Honorary Member)
- Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)
- Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.)
- Former State Sen. Anthony Hill (D-Fla.)
- Capt. Eddie Q. Hicks (MPM) Los Angeles Chapter # 8
- 1st Sgt. George Kidd (MPM) Washington, D.C., Chapter # 6
- 1st Sgt. Rudy Carter (MPM) Tidewater, Va., Chapter # 14
- Sgt. Paul Hagan (MPM) Camp Lejeune, N.C., Chapter # 10
Both Hicks and Hagan are original Montford Point Marines.
The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the Montford Point Marines June 27 in Washington, D.C., and in a local ceremony at Montford Point, now Camp Johnson, N.C., June 30. It is the highest civilian honor awarded by the President of the United States. The decision to award the medal to the Montford Point Marines was unanimously and overwhelmingly approved by all members of the bi-partisan legislature.
“I’m so excited that I don’t even have words to express it,” said Norman Preston. At 90 years-old, Preston, one of the original Montford Point Marines and current resident of Wallace, N.C., has waited a long time for this honor. It is an honor he never thought would come, but one that he will certainly never forget.
The history of Montford Point traces back to 1942 when President Roosevelt established a presidential directive allowing African Americans to be recruited into the Marine Corps. The African Americans who accepted the call to serve did not step on the yellow footsteps of Parris Island, S.C, or San Diego, Calif.
They were not allowed to.
Instead, these men were segregated and trained at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, a place so dismal where even barracks buildings hesitated to exist and the first recruits slept in mosquito-infested temporary hut-like structures while construction continued.
Eventually 20,000 Marines trained at Montford Point from 1942 to 1949, making them the first to integrate into the all-white body of the United States Marine Corps. It wasn’t until this year these men were finally recognized for the giant steps they took to pave the way for future generations of Marines.
“We who are the African-American community succeeded because of things they did,” explained James Carr, Montford Point Marine Association vice-president. “We stood on their shoulders and as a result, many of us achieved greatness.”
It seemed an eerie coincidence Saturday night that a man of greatness, Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, passed away. He passed just hours before the current Administrator of NASA was to speak at the banquet.
Both the Montford Point Marines and Neil Armstrong have something in common. They were giants who the broke barriers for the rest of the world to follow. “There will never be a day I can imagine the name Neil Armstrong will not be in history books. The first human to set foot on another body other than our own planet,” reflected Bolden. “He actually pulled the world together for one brief moment.”
All it takes is one brief moment to make history. Finally, with the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal and tremendous recognition at the banquet, the Montford Point Marines had their moment.
But the story of Monford Point does not end here.
“Tonight is historical,” said Dr. James T. Averhart, Jr., the president of the MPMA. “Everybody knows about the Buffalo soldiers, the Tuskegee airmen, but nobody knows about the Montford Point Marines.” It is one of the reasons the Montford Point Marine Association is actively pursuing their goal to build a monument at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
“This organization and the men of Montford Point have no monument to honor them,” explained Averhart. “We need all the help [we can get].”
After his induction into the Montford Point Hall of Fame, Amos stated, “The example you set for the young African-American Marines today is legendary, so we’re not done yet, and I intend to be an active part of your monument.”
If you are interested in donating to the Montford Point Memorial or would like more information about the Montford Point Marines please visit http://www.montfordpointmarines.org/History.html.