When one thinks of the training received by United States Marines, one thinks of Parris Island, S.C., San Diego, Calif., or Quantico, Va.
Male recruits, depending on where they reside at the time of enlistment, go to either San Diego or Parris Island. All women recruits are trained at Parris Island. Officer candidates prove their mettle at Quantico. And then there is Montford Point.
On June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a presidential directive giving African-Americans the opportunity to be recruited into the Marine Corps. Black patriots who wanted to serve their country during World War II, however, were not permitted to train with white recruits. A separate boot camp was established in North Carolina at Montford Point. Black Americans could be U.S. Marines. But they were still segregated.
Even though some 20,000 men trained at Montford Point from 1942 to 1949, and earned the coveted Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, they were, for the most part, not welcomed by the Marine Corps.
They faced, during their tenure as Marines, the same kind of bigotry, prejudice, segregation, and mistreatment as they had endured in civilian life. They fought, bled, and died as Marines but were often marginalized and shamefully treated.
However, the men of Montford Point proved their point on the nation’s battlefields and, because of their valor and courage, change began to occur.
When the conflict in Korea broke out, African-American Marines were fully integrated into the Marine Corps. The transition was uneventful. In December 1951 the Marine Corps announced an intention to fully integrate the Corps. Six months later, the Marine Corps had no segregated units.
On June 28, 2012, the Montford Point Marines were, as a group, presented the Congressional Gold Medal for their service and contributions to the nation. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the nation. It came some 70 years after the first Montford Point Marines broke the United States military’s last color barrier.
Approximately 400 Montford Point Marines were on hand to receive their own personal bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal at a special ceremony held at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. Stanley Porter, a 1942 Montford Point graduate, said, “There are not words in my vocabulary or anyone else’s, to tell you the joys I feel with this medal.”
The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos, was on hand and personally spoke to many of the Montford Point Marines. Lt. General Willie J. Wilson and Sergeant Major Eric Stockton, both African-Americans who were able to achieve high rank and understood the sacrifice and legacy of the Montford Point men, also were present to express admiration and appreciation.
Today, Marines are Marines. There are no white, black, brown, yellow, or red Marines. Today there are only Marines — thanks to the courage, bravery, and sacrifice of those 20,000 men who will forever be known in Marine Corps history and lore as “The Montford Point Marines.”
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]