Montford Point Marines forged a pathway for themselves, the and the black community through their dedication to serving the United States and each other. Here’s a list of five interesting facts that you may not have know about these Marines.
1. In 1942, Mumford Point Recruit Depot (now Montford Point) was established at the Marine Barracks, New River, N.C by Col Samuel A. Woods, Jr. He was often called the “Great White Father” by black Marines and served as the first commanding officer of the 51st Composite Defense Battalion. The Marine Barracks were soon renamed Camp Lejeune, a facility that had already established a reputation as the major East Coast combat training facility; it was also the only training site for black Marines. The Montford Point Marine Museum is currently housed in the chow hall the Montford Point Marines used during the 1940s.
2.The first black male Marine to step foot on Montford Point was Pvt. Howard P. Perry of Charlotte, N.C. Perry was the first of 10 black recruits that arrived at Montford Point on Aug. 26, 1942.
Pvt. Opha Mae Johnson became the first female to enlist on Aug. 13, 1918, where she served in the Women’s Reserve. The first women Marines were often called Marinettes. Women did not become a part of the official active duty enlistment until Nov. 10, 1948. They were often assigned as clerics, parachute riggers, mechanics, radio operators, motor transport support, photographers, control tower operators, cryptographers, cartographers and welders throughout much of the 1940s.
3. The first black Marine officer was Frederick C. Branch, who was commissioned on Nov. 10, 1945, as a second lieutenant in the Reserves. Branch went into the reserves and remained there until he was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. Branch was laid to rest at Quantico National Cemetery on April 20th 2005 with the internment of captain.
The first female black Marine officer was Annie L. Grimes, who was commissioned as a warrant office in 1966. “I picked up warrant officer in 1966, and shortly after that, there were some others who received a regular commission,” Grimes previously reported to The Daily News on July 14, 2000.
Grimes served from 1950 until she retired in 1970.
4. Camp Johnson was named after Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson, a retired sergeant major, for his dedication as an original Montford Point drill instructor. In one of his 1972 speeches he said, “I was an Ogre to some of you that met me on the drill field and in the huts on Montford Point more than a quarter century ago … I had a job to do-I brainwashed you. But, I remembered something you did. You measured up…”
5. The Marines that trained at Montford Point were often involved in numerous sports activities like basketball, baseball and boxing championships, and were often won by Montford Point Marine Teams. Teams competed against other black service members stationed at nearby Camp Davis in Holly Ridge, the Army Air Corps Base and naval shipyard in Wilmington and Fort Bragg Army Base near Fayetteville. It is noted in the Montford Point Marine Museum that black marines played softball and basketball in the Pacific Theater and while stationed in China.
Below are excerpts from two newspaper clippings that highlight the Montford Point Teams:
“52nd Softball Team Wins
Following it successes on the cage court, the 52nd Defense softball team rang the victory bell with a 12-5 win of the 4th Ammo Depot yesterday at the 52nd diamond. The crack Negro team scored its 14th win in 18 contests, and Montford Point Marines Basketball Team.
The team won the Eastern Seaboard championship during the period 1944-1946. Opponents included Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, Tuskegee Airmen (Army Air Corps) and other Eastern Seaboard teams.”
For more information contact the Montford Point Marine Museum at 910-450-1340 or 850-499-6727.
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