Washington, D.C. --
Every branch of the U.S. armed forces has its own legacy and traditions. The Marine Corps is known for upholding its traditions and never forgetting its storied history, good or bad.
One chapter of the Corps’ history depicts a tumultuous time when things changed drastically — World War II.
On top of the war, the country and military services were dealing with the cultural and social issue of discrimination. In 1941, to help address the issue, President Roosevelt established Executive Order 8802, also known as the Fair Employment Act. The presidential directive prohibited employment discrimination in the United States and gave African-Americans an opportunity to enlist in the Marine Corps.
The men came from every part of the country to start basic training, but were still segregated. African-American Marines received their basic training at Montford Point, a facility in Jacksonville, N.C., instead of the traditional boot camps of Parris Island, S. C., and San Diego.
Nearly 70 years later, part of this history was revisited when the Montford Point Marines were hosted as the guests of honor in the final parade of the 2011 season at Marine Barracks Washington, Aug. 26.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling to see the original Montford Pointers being honored at an event like this,” said John Tabler, a member of the Quantico chapter of the Montford Point Marine Association. “The amount of attention and respect that those guys received was amazing.”
The visitors highlighted during the ceremony were a small portion of the approximately 20,000 men who received basic training at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949.
The Montford Point Marines walked the grounds prior to and after the ceremony to talk with the men and women who joined the Corps during a time of war, just as they did nearly seven decades ago.
“It was a nice experience sharing with the Montford Marines,” said Sgt. Christopher Bryant, the Barracks assistant supply chief. “I considered it an honor being around those guys.”
Earlier this summer, the Montford Point Marines had a chance to enjoy part of the parade experience when the Silent Drill Platoon performed at the opening of the association’s convention, held in Atlanta in mid-July.
“Performing at the convention was definitely a great experience,” said Lance Cpl. Steven Akarim, a member of the SDP. “It’s definitely a good feeling to be able to show our appreciation to these gentlemen for what they’ve done and what they stood for.”
The Montford Point Marines made the final parade of the season special to the Barracks’ Marines for many reasons.
“The Marines really appreciated what the men of Montford Point endured during a time of change and adversity,” said retired Gunnery Sgt. Jason Mathis, president of the Quantico chapter of the Montford Point Marine Association.
Today, Camp Johnson occupies the legendary grounds of Montford Point, named in honor of the late Sgt. Maj. Gilbert H. “Hashmark” Johnson.
Johnson was one of the first African-Americans to join the Corps, a distinguished Montford Point drill instructor and a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.
The camp remains the Corps’ only Marine Corps installation named in honor of an African-American.
The contributions of the Montford Point Marines continues to this day, as their association plays a major role in supporting educational assistance in multiple communities, veterans programs, and through the promotion of community services.
The association works to improve the social conditions of their veterans, local families, youth and the growing population of senior citizens.
The Montford Point Marines, their association and its members remain a close part of the “Marine Corps family,” and a pillar in the history of the world’s finest fighting organization.