Montford01

Montford Point Marines Memorial

On this lunchtime bike ride I found myself in Arlington National Cemetery.  And  because bike riding is prohibited in the cemetery, I decided to go for a walk.  It was during my walk that I happened upon a marker in the shade of a tree, in Section 23 of the cemetery, off Farragut Drive (MAP).  On the marker is an inscription that reads:

“The footprints of the Montford Point Marines were left on the beaches of Roi-Namur, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The tides and winds have, long ago, washed them out into the seas of history; but,
“The Chosen Few”
in field shoes and canvas leggings, also left their marks in the firm concrete of Marine Corps history. And as new generations of Marines learn to march in those footprints, their cadence assumes the proud stride of the men of Montford Point.”
Gen. Leonard F. Chapman, Jr.

So later, after I got back from my ride, I decided to do some research on the marker, and the Montford Point marines, to learn more about them.

The marker was placed in the cemetery and dedicated on November 13, 1996, by the Montford Point Marine Association, as a memorial to the legacy of the first African-Americans to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, which took place after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order in June 1941, establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission and ordering the armed services, including the Marine Corps, to recruit and enlist African Americans.

These marines got their name because they trained at the then-segregated Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina, beginning on August 26, 1942.  Between 1942 and 1949, more than 20,000 men were trained at Montford Point.  In July 1948, despite strong opposition from Democrats of the segregated South, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which required the desegregation of the military.   The resulting changes caused the camp do be decommissioned in September of the following year, and new African-American recruits were then-after trained along with other marines at Parris Island and Camp Pendleton.

Some of the more notable Montford Point marines include: Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson, one of the first African Americans to enlist and serve as a drill instructor in the Marine Corps; Frederick C. Branch, the first African-American officer of the United States Marine Corps; David Dinkins, former Mayor of New York City; Arthur Earley, Pennsylvania State Representative, and; Marion Meredith Beal, an original member and a recipient of Congressional Gold Medal as an appreciation for the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. However, we only know the names of about 1,200 of the approximately 20,000 Montford Point marines. Only approximately 300 of these marines are still alive, and we are losing them rapidly, which makes memorials like this one all the more important.

Note:  There is also an official memorial to the Montford Point Marines located within the LeJeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, N.C., and a Montford Point Marine Museum, located on the grounds of Montford Point Camp in the East Wing of building M101, Marine Corps Base, Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, Jacksonville, N.C.

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