LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- Five original Montford Point Marines visited the Exchange at Langley Air Force Base, Va., July 2 to share their story with local airmen.
The retired Marines are part of the Tidewater chapter of the Montford Point Marine Association, a non-profit organization founded to memorialize the legacy of the first African-Americans to serve in the Marine Corps.
"These men are not only a part of military history, but American history," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Dawn McBride-Smith, Air Combat Command air traffic control training and operations superintendent. "They represent where we're from, and how far we've come in such a short time."
On June 25, 1941, just months before America's entrance into World War II, then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 which prohibited government agencies and defense contractors from refusing employment based on race, color or creed. The order required fair employment practices in all federal services, including the armed forces.
In 1942, Roosevelt established a presidential directive giving African-Americans the opportunity to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps for the first time since 1778. When recruitment for African-American Marines began, thousands of young men flocked to recruiting offices nationwide. The first class of African-American recruits was admitted to basic training June 1, 1942, and sent to Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C., a segregated training camp located adjacent to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
In July 1948, former president Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which required equal treatment of all people in the U.S. military.
By the time Montford Point closed in 1949, more than 20,000 Marines were trained within its walls. Following its deactivation, African-American recruits were sent to newly-integrated basic training at Recruit Depot Paris Island, S.C., and Camp Pendleton, Calif., ending seven years of segregation.
The training camp was later renamed Camp Johnson in honor of the late Sgt. Maj. Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson, one of the first Montford Point Marines and a distinguished drill instructor.
The Marines who visited Langley trained under Johnson and other well-known drill instructors like Sgt. Maj. Edgar Huff, and provided unique insight into a pivotal moment in military history by answering questions and providing signed photos to members of the Langley community.
Among the Marines sat retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Jim Hargrove, a Montford Point Marine pleased to share his story with fellow Service members.
"At first, I didn't give [being a Montford Point Marine] much thought. I was just doing my job," he said. "Looking back now, it's rewarding to feel we set goals and provided guidance to the younger generation of Service members."
Hargrove and the other members of the association feel it's important for Service members of all branches of the military to learn about each other's legacies. This sentiment was echoed by those in attendance.
"It's important to share what these men have done for Marines and all Service members. They represent what the military is today," said Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael Stephens, an event attendee. "The Montford Point Marines are where we've come from, not just as African-Americans, but Service members of all races, colors and creeds in all branches of the military."
In recognition of their important contributions to U.S. history, the Montford Point Marines received the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest civilian honors, on June 27, 2012, further cementing their place in history while setting a shining example of pride and resiliency to Service members everywhere.