A proud “oooh rah” reverberated throughout the ranks of some 45 original Montford Point Marines that gathered in honor of the first black Marines to serve in the United States during a time of intense racial segregation.
In a ceremony on Friday morning, the community witnessed the dedication of phase one of the national Montford Point Marine Memorial, located within Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
At the ceremony, guests had the opportunity to explore the memorial, which includes a restored 90-mm M1A1 anti-aircraft gun, a 15-foot bronze statue of a Montford Point Marine and a “Wall of Stars” that represents all of the Marines who trained at the segregated Montford Point boot camp during the 1940s.
One Marine that trained at the Montford Point Camp was Thomas E. Cork, a medically discharged lance corporal that served from 1948 until 1951.
“When I first arrived the conditions at Montford Point were unique to a point. I’m from Kentucky and I’m used to snakes, but there’s one that was unusual to me called a Cottonmouth and they were very aggressive. One time I woke up with one in my bed, it didn’t bite me but it gave me a good scare,” reminisced Cook after the dedication ceremony.
He deployed to Korea in 1950 and was involved in the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, where he was stranded for 13 days and subsequently lost part of right foot that froze during that time.
“When they told me that I had lost part of my foot, I asked the doctors, ‘Now what kind of shoes will I wear now?’ I was into nice clothes and shoes at the time,” Cook quipped.
Cook was one of many Montford Point Marines at the ceremony that donned their Congressional Gold Medals, the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress that were awarded in 2012.
“These men came forward in a time when the didn’t want them, when the Commandant didn’t want them… They weren’t allowed to go out in town to eat and when they came down on trains they had to move to the front cars…(where) all that heat and soot got all over them. And they were on their way to Montford Point to be Marines,” said retired Gen. James Amos, 35th Commandant of the . “I look at that and I have not met a single bitter one, not one. It’s absolutely just the opposite.”
In the 1940s, Montford Point recruits were often met with phrases such as, “Don’t cross the tracks in downtown Jacksonville” or “whites only”; clearly delineating what parts of the city were off limits to the black community. BlackMarines could only go onto Camp Lejeune if they were accompanied by a white Marine.
Amos recently campaigned to have all incoming Marines know of Montford Point Marines and their battle against racial barriers.
Also attending the dedication ceremony was retired Col. Adele E. Hodge, a previous commander of Camp Lejeune.
“They fought to be Marines. Knowing what they went through, gave me the ability to strive to be the best Marine that I could be. When I was in command I fought to command as a Marine, not as a female and not as a black Marine, but as a Marine commander. Their legacy started that,” said Hodges. “It’s an honor to be here.”
Hodges became the first woman and colonel to serve as commanding officer of Camp Lejeune, leaving in 2008 to serve in the Inspector General’s Office at Headquarter in Arlington, Virginia before retiring.
The began accepting black service members after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 on June 25, 1941, which prohibited racial discrimination in the national defense industry.
It was the first federal action, though not a law, that promoted equal opportunity and prohibited employment discrimination in the United States.
That federal action prompted the construction of Montford Point, where approximately 20,000 black recruits trained from 1942-1949, until President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that ended segregation in the military on July 26, 1948.
Montford Point Marines forged a pathway for themselves, the and the black community through their dedication to serving the United States and each other.
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