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Posted on: August 9, 2017

Montford Point Marines Celebrate 75th Anniversary of First Service

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On, August 24, 2017, the Montford Point Marine Association will mark the 75th year since the first African-American Marines in the United States arrived at Montford Point in Jacksonville to train during World War II. The anniversary will be remembered at the Montford Point Marine Day Ceremony at the Montford Point Memorial, dedicated July 29, 2016.

The ceremony begins at 9AM. Four men will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal recognizing their membership in the Montford Point Marines by the officers of the Montford Point Marine Association.

From 1942 to 1949, approximately 20,000 African American men were admitted to the Marine Corps. With segregation in place, these men trained at a separate base at Montford Point, a part of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. During World War II, just months after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the order to admit African Americans into the Corps. The Marines were the last branch of the service to include African Americans.

During the Pacific Campaign, the Montford Point Marines were called into service, first as defense units holding land far behind the front or as ammunition carriers. Later, about 8,000 black Marine stevedores and ammunition handlers served under enemy fire during offensive operations in the Pacific. After the June 1944 Battle of Saipan, USMC General Alexander Vandegrift praised the performance and heroism of the 3rd Marine Ammunition Company. "The Negro Marines are no longer on trial. They are Marines, period," he said.

After a Presidential order from Harry S. Truman in 1948 to desegregate the military, Montford Point was deactivated as a black training facility. In 1974, it was renamed Camp Gilbert H. Johnson in honor of the man who served as one of the first blacks who was promoted to drill instructor while the camp was segregated. He continued to serve in the Marine Corps after desegregation including service in the Korean War retiring with the rank of Sergeant Major.

The Montford Point Marines significant service to the Marine Corps and the nation was recognized in 2012 when all men known to have served were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. With no official record of those who served from 1942 to 1949, the Montford Point Marine Association has sought to recognize and continue awarding the medal to the families of the men who served but were not recognized.

Four persons previously unrecognized in the Gold Medal honor have been identified. The families of those men will receive the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously at the Montford Point Marine Day Ceremony on Thursday, August 24.

Those men include:
- Dr. Joseph Orthello Johnson of Leesburg, Virginia
- Virgil W. Johnson of Woodbridge, Virginia
- John Thomas Robinson of Ypsilanti, Michigan
- Leroy Lee, Sr. of Augusta, Georgia

The search for these heroes continues. Do you have a family member or friend who was a Montford Point Marine? Some "Montford Pointers," as they are often called, left the service and rarely discussed this chapter of their lives. If you know a Montford Point Marine that has not been recognized, contact Carman Cole, National Secretary, Montford Point Marine Association, Inc at 706 840-1789 or nationalsecretary@montfordpointmarines.org

To be documented and receive the medal, individuals or their families must show their discharge documents. The medal can be awarded posthumously to family members.

Other events taking place during the 75th Anniversary include a Golf Tournament at Paradise Point Golf Course on Thursday, August  25; a Motorcycle Ride on Saturday, August 26; and a 7.5K Virtual Run.

The Montford Point Marine Association is made up of original Montford Point Marines, family members and interested citizens. A nonprofit military veteran's organization, it was founded to memorialize the legacy of the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps. The group continues to identify those who served. Learn more about the association at http://www.montfordpointmarines.com/About

Montford Point Marine Memorial: http://visitjacksonvillenc.com/165/Montford-Point-Marine-Memorial

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