MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. - --
Members of the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point community gathered for a celebration commemorating the Montford Point Marines, the first blacks allowed into the Marine Corps, at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Theater Friday.
“There are so many Montford Point Marines that we have stood on the shoulders of from past to present, that have gotten us where we are today,” said Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Arnold E. Breckenridge, the secretary of the Cherry Point Chapter of the Montford Point Marine Association.
February is black history month, so it is important to remember the history of black Marines, added Breckenridge.
“The purpose of this event is to recognize our heroes, the Montford Point Marines,” said Breckenridge. “Without them paving the way, I would not have been able to obtain the rank of master gunnery sergeant while I was enlisted.
“But more importantly, I would not even have been able to become a Marine,” he said.
Although these few made history as the first black Marines, they still went through the trials of the time – segregation, said Gunnery Sgt. Harsheen T. Eady, MCAS Cherry Point’s equal opportunity advisor.
“In 1942, the black recruits weren’t allowed to go to Parris Island or San Diego, because of segregation,” Eady said. “Therefore, Montford Point Base, an all black recruit training camp, was stood up outside of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.”
The Marine Corps was the last military branch to accept blacks after receiving orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, said Eady. Much like the African-American innovators that joined the other branches of service, black Marines made their mark in history.
“Originally, the Marines were going to be discharged after World War II ended, but they proved they were just as vital to the Marine Corps as all of the other Marines that had ever fought and died for this country,” said Eady.
During his opening remarks, Breckenridge recounted his experiences as a Marine.
“When I was a young Marine at Parris Island, I remember opening up the notebook of information I was given that contained all of the Marine Corps history, from the first commandant to where and how the Corps was made,” Breckenridge said. “There was nothing about African Americans.”
The Montford Point Marines will now get recognition at various installations across the Corps, said Breckenridge.
“The history of the Marine Corps is being rewritten so the young Marines that come into our Corps will understand what these special men stood for, and what they have contributed to history,” Breckenridge said.
“Despite being denied many basic rights, the Montford Point Marines committed to serve our country with selfless patriotism,” said Barack Obama, President of the United States. “They embodied the Marine Corps motto of Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful.
“These heroes paved the way for future generations of warriors, regardless of background, to serve in the finest military the world has ever known.”
That message was heavily conveyed through the duration of the program.
During the program, attendees sang ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’, watched a presentation of the proposed Montford Point Marine Memorial and heard remarks from various speakers.
Retired and active duty Marines from all over North Carolina were in attendance at the event.
“It is very inspiring to see all different kinds of Marines present here today,” said Eady.
“It’s phenomenal to see the members of the Order of the Purple Heart here supporting the cause with the purple heart emblem on their purple ties, alongside the Montford Point Marines Association members with an eagle, globe and anchor etched on their red ties,” he said.
It is important for everyone from the upper echelon to retirees and civilians to know the story of the Montford Point Marines, said Breckenridge.
“Every Marine — from private to general — will know the history of those men who crossed the threshold to fight not only the enemy they were soon to know overseas, but the enemy of racism and segregation in their own country,” said General John F. Amos, the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps, during his remarks in an inspirational video played during the program.
“We must continue to champion the cause for the preservation of the legacy of the Montford Point Marines,” said Dr. James T. Averhart Jr., national president of MPMA.
“This is not just black history, or Marine Corps history. This is American history, and the world should know.”