On June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which barred government agencies and federal contractors from refusing employment in industries engaged in defense production on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin. This was the first Presidential decree issued on race since Reconstruction and required the armed services, including the Marine Corps, to recruit and enlist African Americans. Until this time, the Marine Corps was the only military service that did not allow black recruits.
Recruiting for the “Montford Marines” began on June 1, 1942 and training began near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on August 26, 1942. Montford Marines were housed in fabricated huts near segregated Jacksonville, North Carolina, where railroad tracks divided white residents from blacks. These troops experienced racism on a daily basis and unless accompanied by a white Marine, they were not allowed to enter Camp Lejeune. In May 1943, while visiting his family, a young black Marine was arrested in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cleveland police had never heard of an African American Marine.
Initially trained by white officers and NCOs, exceptional African American recruits were singled out and recruited to serve as drill instructors. By May 1943 black Sergeants did all training at Montford Point. Over 20,000 Marine recruits trained at Montford Point between 1942 and 1929 and they distinguished themselves as the finest artillery gunners in the Marine Corps. Discrimination towards black Marines’ fighting abilities still existed and when shipped to the Pacific, the 51st and 52nd Composite Defense battalions were posted to outlying islands away from primary action. The only Montford Marines that saw action and recorded casualties were the Ammunition and Depot Companies in Saipan, Guam, and Peleliu. In 1949 President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981, eliminating segregation in the US Armed Forces but the Montford Marines will not be forgotten. On June 27, 2012, Congress recognized surviving Montford Point Marines with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
Cassandra Cantin, Sgt First Class U.S. Army (Ret.)
FROM CASSIE’S PERSPECTIVE
During my time of service after 2004, I encountered soldiers that were new recruits but did not want to deploy. It seemed to me that these soldiers enlisted not knowing that there was a war going on. I found myself asking them “if this is the case, why would you join the Army knowing that a war is going on?” The Montford Point Marines not only joined knowing that a war was going on, they fought to join an all white Marine Corps; they fought to join what was considered the most elite fighting force in the military.