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Montford Point Marines listen to Col. John C. Church, Jr., of 3rd Civil Affairs Group, Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve, Feb. 6, 2016, as he welcomes them and thanks them for their contributions to the Marine Corps. The Marines of 3rd CAG had the opportunity to listen to the stories of the Montford Point Marines and had the chance to ask them questions.

Photo by Sgt. Darren B. Madden

Montford Point Marines visit 3rd Civil Affairs Group

24 Feb 2016 | Sgt. Darren B. Madden Marine Corps Forces Reserves

On June 25, a sunny summer day in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 which prohibited racial discrimination in the national defense services. Segregation and racial discrimination, even in the military services, was a normal practice in the United States. Because the topic of racial discrimination was so sensitive, leaders of the Marine Corps understood that drastic changes needed to be handled carefully.  As a result, then U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Keller E. Rocher, organized a board to oversee and study the integration of African Americans assigned to the Composite Defense Battalion, which included coastal artillery, antiaircraft, infantry and tank units.

Executive Order 8802 did not result in full integration of the Marine Corps, but it permitted African Americans to be recruited into the Marine Corps who were trained separately and barred from combat within Caucasian units. African American Marines were trained at Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Complete desegregation of the military services would not come until July 26, 1948, when President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981. 

Fast forward to February 6, 2016, 68 years later. Marines with 3rd Civil Affairs Group, Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve, were honored to host living history by having the Marines who experienced Montford Point firsthand tell their stories and take their audience back in time. Three Montford Point Marines who served in battles from World War II to Vietnam and two Marine Corps veterans from the Montford Point Marine Association spoke about their service.

A brief introduction was given by Col. John C. Church, Jr., commanding officer of 3rd CAG, where he stressed the amazing contributions of the Montford Point Marines and spoke about the legacy Marines enjoy today. Following the introduction, Maj. Frank Albi, the unit’s Professional Military Education Officer, introduced the guests and set the stage for a robust question and answer session. 

The men and women of the Montford Point Marines and Montford Point Marine Association told their stories, which covered being drafted, basic training, and their overall experiences while serving in a time when their abilities were distrusted because of the color of their skin.  Harry Hamilton, a Montford Point Marine, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943. Hamilton joined the 52nd Defense Battalion, one of the battalions charged with coastal defense of various naval bases in the Pacific during World War II.  Hamilton closed his story by saying, “If I had to go back in, I would still go with the Marines because I thought they were the best group.”

Another Montford Point Marine, John Vanoy, was drafted in 1943 and trained for two months before being reassigned to Hawaii.  In September of that year, he was sent to Nagasaki, Japan, to be part of the armed occupation of the Japanese Empire. He recounted the story of his most memorable moment in the Marine Corps about how he turned down the steward’s branch, a place where African Americans traditionally had served.

The MPMA President, Sharon Stokes-Perry, a Marine Corps veteran herself, and Tyrone Smiley, a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran also presented their insights and experiences in this legacy of breaking the racial barrier.  Ms. Perry left 3rd CAG with parting words, “If not for he, the first African-American Marine, I could not have served as a woman, I stood on the shoulders of my heroes.”

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