In The Presence Of Greatness: The Montford Point Marines

February 7, 2020

By Marc Kelley

Syndicated by: Montana News

More than ever before, the people of our country have much to celebrate. Our economy is red hot, more people are working, the world once again recognizes US leadership and despite what the media wants us to believe, Patriotism and American Pride are once again on display. Seizing on yet another opportunity to display this new found American Pride, President Trump chose the State of the Union Address to deliver a message of prosperity, unity and the rebirth of the American Spirit. Throughout the address, President Trump honored several members of our Black community, our Armed Forces and recognized the youngest and most vulnerable of our citizens. While the haters will claim, our President was simply playing to his base supporters, the truth may come as a surprise, when you learn his message was right on point. While it is true, we have much to celebrate, the month of February was chosen by our nation, as the time to recognize our country's Black History. The month of February was chosen, because it is the birth month of Abraham Lincoln, February 12 and Frederick Douglass, February 14. Since the late 1800's members of the Black community, have paid honor to and celebrated the lives of these men and women. Rather than ripping the message apart, we chose to continue this tradition, and the next several weeks catalogs, will include historical accounts of Black Americans. We will pay honor to the contributions to our country and celebrate the many ways, in which ALL AMERICANS, strengthen the fabric of our society. 

 

If you are a military history buff, then you have probably heard of the Buffalo Soldiers who fought in the Civil War and the "war to end all wars" and of the Tuskegee Airman, who fought in the war after that. Both of these groups of brave men fought valiantly for our country, just as the many who came before them and the many who would come after. They fought because they loved their country and readily gave their lives, so you and I could live our lives, safe and secure here at home. Today, I would like to tell you about another group of brave men, individuals with whom many of you have never known. Men who continued in the footsteps of the Buffalo Soldiers and were known simply as, Montford Point Marines. The first Marines who served our country with honor and distinction, and just so happened, to be Black.

 

 

With Spring quickly approaching, I will not be surprised if we once again, hear the cries of how racist the people of the United States have become. How certain members of our society feel they have been oppressed and suffered under the cruel hand of the people of the United States. We will most likely hear again, we need to rid ourselves of the monuments of the past, in order to move forward with our future, as if ignoring history, would make this suffering more palatable. To attack any of the monuments to our veterans, is to attack every monument to our veterans. All of the men and women, who so proudly and willingly stepped forward to defend our country, should be honored, not only for their heroism, but their commitment to, and love of, our country.

 

There can be no question, the hateful ideology known as racism, has caused great pain to many who have suffered under the hand of oppression and violence. However, the story does not end here; but rather, it is here where it begins. We tore our country apart the last time we became so divided, many felt they had no choice but to pick up arms, against their brother. In the Civil War, our country lost over 620,000 people who fought over slavery and oppression. We have never since experienced the loss of life to this extent and I pray we will learn from the lessons of history, and never again, have to bury so many of our brothers and sisters. The Civil War is over, and we have made much progress since Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse, some 155 years ago. While we can never forget this stain on our country, It has not defined who we are today, or who we will be in the future. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing more the 3 million people from the bonds of slavery. While this action would not constitute the end of oppression in our country, or even the beginning of the end, it did indeed signal, the end of the beginning. 

 

In our fight for independence from the British, a dozen or so Black American Marines, fought alongside of their White brothers. However, in 1798, the USMC would begin following a racially discriminatory policy, denying African Americans the chance serve as Marines. It would take over 140 years to change this discriminatory policy, and in 1942, then President Franklin D. Roosevelt would issue Executive Order, number 8802, allowing African Americans to be recruited into the USMC. This action was seen as a small step in the effort for racial equality. However, the newly recruited African American Marines would not be sent to the traditional Marine bootcamps located at Paris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California, but rather, to a facility located at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which became known as, Montford Point. African Americans had gained the right to join the Marines, but they would remain segregated from the White, Hispanic and Asian Marines. The Montford Point Marine recruits were initially trained and drilled by all White officers and NCO's, but this policy would be short lived. In true Marine fashion, exceptional individuals like Private First Class, Edgar R. Huff and Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson, would rise above the crowd, and be recognized for their demanding training and exceptional leadership qualities. In 1943, the two men were among the first Black Drill Instructors at Montford Point and would be responsible for approximately 20,000 Marine recruits, who would receive training under their guidance.

 

As WWII came to its end, the initial intent was to discharge the African American Marines. However, despite strong opposition from his own Democrat Party, President Harry S. Truman, signed Executive Order number 9981, ending the segregation in our military. In 1949, Montford Point was deactivated and it was so ordered, ALL Marines, would receive their training at either Paris Island or Camp Pendleton, regardless of their race. In 1950, the Marine Corp began teaching their recruits about the Montford Point Marines. In 1974, Montford Point would be renamed, and would hence forth, be known as Camp Johnson. In honor of Sargent Major, Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson. Camp Johnson operates today as the home of the Marine Corp, Combat Service Support School. As you explore USMC history and their monuments, you will find more than a few are dedicated to the first Black Marines. In Jacksonville, North Carolina, you will find The Montford Point Marine Museum, run by the Montford Point Marine Association, their singular goal, to work tirelessly, to preserve the legacy and teach future generations about The Montford Point Marines.

 

Before we decide to tear up the message or tear down our monuments, simply because we don't like the period of history they represent, perhaps we should take some time and learn about why we have these monuments in the first place. The adage out of sight, out of mind, may provide comfort for some, but it will never erase the truth about our national history. Now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to acknowledge the fact, our differences make us stronger as a country, when we stand together, proudly, as one nation.

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