The Montford Point Marines: a celebration of Black History

By Brianne M. Bender DLA Distribution Public Affairs

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DLA Distribution headquarters celebrated Black History Month by hosting guest speaker Retired Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Joseph H. Geeter, III, who provided a presentation on the Montford Point Marine Association Feb. 24.

The Montford Point Marine Association is a nonprofit military veterans organization, founded to memorialize the legacy of the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps. The organization supports educational assistance programs, veterans programs, and community services, with an emphasis on improving the social conditions of the growing population of military veterans who are disabled or senior citizens.

In addition to Geeter, Retired Marine Sgt. Henry N. Wilcots attended the event to share some of his experiences. Wilcots is one of approximately 500 remaining Montford Point Marines and a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, bestowed to The Montford Point Marine Association in June, 2012.

When asked about his first reaction when exiting the military truck at the gates of Montford Point, Wilcots said, “that moment I swore to myself, this choice was of my doing, they will not break me!”

Between 1942 and 1949, more than 20,000 men were trained at Montford Point. In July 1948, despite strong opposition from Democrats, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which required the desegregation of the military. In 1949 Montford Point was deactivated, and new black recruits were sent to Parris Island and Camp Pendleton. During the Korean War, the United States Marine Corps fully integrated.

In 1965, a reunion of Marines was held in Philadelphia, which included former Montford Point Marines. More than 400 Marines from throughout the United States gathered, and decided to establish the Montford Point Marine Association as a nonprofit veterans organization, to preserve military history and help people in need. The Association has many chapters, and is a member of the Marine Corps Council, a council of Marine-related service groups.

Geeter also touched on a few of the notable Montford Pointers, one being, Sgt. Maj. Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson. Johnson was one of the first African Americans to enlist in the United States Marine Corps, and also one of the first African American drill instructors in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Johnson was known as “Hashmark” because he had more service stripes than rank stripes. He retired in 1959 after 32 years of service in the U.S. armed forces, including 17 years as a Marine.  Two years after he died from a heart attack, the Montford Point facility at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was renamed Camp Gilbert H. Johnson in his honor. It was the first military installation to be named after an African American.

Additionally, the Montford Point Marine Association maintains a National Museum at Camp Gilbert H. Johnson. The association also holds an annual convention to celebrate the Montford Point Marines, makes organizational decisions, and distributes scholarships.