MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
The end of discrimination in the armed forces June 25, 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt triggered a pivotal change in the Marine Corps. Approximately 20,000 African-American Marines received basic training at Montford Point in North Carolina between 1942 and 1949, and Camp Johnson celebrated those who gave blood, sweat and tears to become United States Marines, Aug. 26.
During a time of racism and segregation, African-Americans used willpower and heart to overcome hardships and become United States Marines. These attributes were pervasive among America’s first African-American Marines.
Montford Point was renamed Camp Johnson in April 1974, in honor of Sgt. Maj. Gilbert ‘Hashmark’ Johnson, one of the first of three black men who trained at Montford Point. He was also the first black sergeant major.
Montford Point Marines Day occurred this past weekend and marked an occasion for Marines of all ages to gather and remember the hardships segregation caused in that time period.
“It’s important to know your history,” said Sgt. Maj. Rodney Robinson, Marine Corps Combat Service Support School sergeant major. “It’s part of our heritage. Everyone should know what these men have gone through.”
Montford Point Marines and family members were awarded Congressional Gold Medals, the highest civilian honor awarded by the president for their outstanding service in the Marine Corps. Col. Paul F. Bertholf, the commanding officer of Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools, and Robinson presented the awards.
“It felt good,” said Robinson. “It felt like I had the chance to personally thank the Montford Point Marines and their families for what they’ve done.”
Guests were also invited to a book signing aboard Camp Johnson and a charity motorcycle ride over the weekend.
“Our military is all about discipline,” said Robinson. “An undisciplined military is not a very good military. It was my honor to meet the Montford Point Marines and award them. Without their sacrifice I wouldn’t be standing here as a Marine sergeant major today.”
Patrons in attendance gave their time to the Montford Point Marines, to recognize their sacrifices.
Montford Point was more than just a base, said Bertholf. What we now know as Camp Johnson is a sacred training ground where our first African-American Marines trained, there’s nowhere else in the world that can say that, he added.
The Montford Point Marines broke barriers, both physically and mentally. They stand tall as the first African-Americans to serve this country.
“There are always people trying to change the world,” said Norman Preston, an original Montford Point Marine. “I’m just happy to be a part of Montford Point. I lived it. If I had to live it again, I’d be more than happy to.”
Montford Point serves as an example of perseverance. It’s written in the history books as one of the most pivotal points of the Marine Corps history.
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