In 1942 black Marines were first enlisted but were placed on inactive status until the Marines could build a training-size unit in segregated facilities at Montford Point (thus were called the Montford Pointers), a training reservation at Marine Barracks, New River, NC (later named Camp Lejune). When training began for the first black contingent, the 51st Defense Battalion, Howard P. Perry was the first person to report on that day.
In recognition of their service and sacrifices during World War II, Montford Point Marines received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2011, the highest civilian honor the U.S. Congress gives.
In 1974, Camp Montford Point was renamed Camp Gilbert H. Johnson in honor of the African American sergeant major who served as a drill instructor there. It’s the only Marine installation named after an African American, said John Lyles, an archivist at the Library of the Marine Corps. (A U.S. Navy ship bears the camp’s name.)
Nearly 440 of America’s first black Marines are still alive, said Forest Spencer, president of the National Montford Point Marine Association.
Former sergeant Edward Fizer (92) wants the next generation to know Montford Pointers’ struggles and to recognize times have changed for the better. “I want them to be able to appreciate how we overcame adversity,” Fizer said. “This is a foundation that we have built, and they stand on the shoulders of us. And go from there.”
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