A look back in Marine Corps history with two men who were Montford Point Marines, training aboard Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in the 1940’s. Segregated from the white Marines, but when it came down to fighting in a war, they say there were one United States of America.
These two Marines made history in Jacksonville, North Carolina, as reported by WITN. They were one of the first African-American Marines to go into battle; two of the first to desegregate the Marine Corps.
“When the war started in ’41, they had what they called a draft — and I was drafted,” says Norman Preston.
Preston was from Selma, Alabama and had to leave behind his wife and two young daughters to serve his country.
Serving at Montford as well was John Spencer who lied about his age to serve. He was just 15. “I ran away from home and said I’m going to join the Marine Corps.”
These men were among the 20,000 who came to Montford Point, a satellite of Camp Lejeune, the only boot camp for black Marines in 1941. Separated for training, but then united with fellow Marines on the battlefield.
Spencer fought in the World War II battle of Guadal Canal. “Everybody was fighting for the same cause. You didn’t have a white or black cause, you had one goal. That was to protect the United States of America.”
Preston became a military police officer. He didn’t engage in active battle but endured being an officer with little power as a black man. Preston said, “The only blacks on the base at Camp Lejeune was working people… I was a military policeman, even I wasn’t allowed over there.”
Montford Point served as a black training base for seven years. It was then renamed Camp Johnson, in honor of the late Sergeant Major Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson, one of the first African Americans to join the Corps and became a drill instructor and a veteran of World War II and Korea.
The Mortford Point Association has turned the old mess hall into the Montford Point Museum. The president of the museum, retired Sgt Major Johnny Young, Junior, “It is a part of Marine Corps history and we should never let that die.
Despite their segregation, the mission for those who served was always clear. “The four years I spent, I don’t regret one day of it,” says Preston.
“…I already had a little bit of it, but the meaning of togetherness. Semper Fi, meant something,” remembers Spencer.
Always faithful, that’s who the Montford men are.
In 2012, the Montford Point Marines were awarded the Congressional Gold medal honing the legacy of the black Marines along with their sacrifices. Preston and Spencer were in Washington DC to get their medals.