Yesterday, on June 27, 2012 the Montford Point Marines were presented with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal. More than 19,000 men went through basic training at Camp Montford Point in New River, N.C., from 1942 to 1949. Before Camp Montford Point was established, African Americans were not allowed to enlist in the Marine Corps. On June 25, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, establishing a Fair Employment Practice Commission. This agency ensured that racial discrimination would not occur in any government institution, including the military.
On August 126 1942 the first African American recruits arrived at Montford Point, instead of being sent to Paris Island, S.C. or San Diego, where all other Marines underwent basic training. 120 men began training in September and started the journey of becoming Marines. “Montford Point was just a stone’s throw from Camp Lejeune, where the white Marines were trained, “ said retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Reuben J. McNair, one of the first African American men allowed to enlist in the Marine Corps. These recruits trained separately from white service members and after training, were only allowed to serve in exclusive units determined by race. In 1974, Montford Point was renamed Camp Johnson, which now serves as the only Marine Corps installation named after an African American Marine.
Today, only 430 Montford Point Marines are still alive and around 370 of these men attended the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony yesterday. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid presented the Montford Point Marines with the honorable award. Joining the ranks of George Washington, Ulysses Grant, Robert Frost, and the Tuskegee Airmen, the Montford Point Marines beamed proudly as memories came rushing back and as America recognized their sacrifices and courage in the face of adversity.
Today, June 28, 2012, a parade was held in honor of the Marines at the barracks in Washington, D.C. The Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos was the main speaker at the parade. “This is a legendary moment,” said Gen. Amos. “This is a historical moment in the lineage of our United States Marine Corps.” Gen. Amos went on to thank Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., and Kay Hagen, D-N.C., for spearheading the initiative in the House of Representative and Senate to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on this group of deserving Marines. Certainly a defining moment in the Marine Corps history and the history of the United States, AMVETS thanks the Montford Point Marines for their service and continued dedication to our country and the Marine Corps.
(Photos: Top: A copy of the Montford Point Marines' Congressional Gold Medal. Courtesy of U.S. Mint. Middle: Cpl. Alvin Ghazlo demonstrates a disarming technique of his assistan, Pvt. Ernest Jones. Official Marine Corps photo. Bottom: Lawrance Taylor, a Montford Point Marine, sits for a portrait. Photo by: Sgt. Alvin Williams)