Montford Point Marines observe modern-day recruit training; reflect on service during segregation
By Sgt. L. F. Langston
| | February 27, 2004
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
Several of the pioneering Marines who trained at Montford Point, N.C., in the 1940s visited the Depot Feb. 13 to attend the morning colors ceremony and Company D's graduation, followed by a visit to the command museum.
The Montford Point Marines blazed a trail into the Corps' future while at the same time marking their place in its history books as the first black Marines.
For decades the Marine Corps didn't accept African Americans. It wasn't until 1941 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 to establish the Fair Employment Practice Commission, banning discrimination "because of race, creed, color, or national origin" in all government agencies.
Among the Montford Point Marines visiting the Depot were retired Sgt. Maj. Augustus "Gus" Willis, retired Master Sgt. Willie E. Marbrey, retired Sgt. Maj. William "Movin" Vann, Master Gunnery Sgt. Nathaniel R. Hosea and retired 1st Sgt. Barnett Person Sr.
While the Montford Point Marines play an important role in black history, Willis said he likes to think of it as just Marine Corps history.
"To get a point across for history it doesn't have to be about race, creed, or religion," he said.
Recruiting for the "Montford Marines" began June 1, 1942 and thousands of African-American men flocked to recruiting offices.
One of those men was Marbrey, who joined in 1945 and retired after 24 years of service. He expressed his satisfaction with his Marine Corps career.
"I had a beautiful career. The military is our family and the Marine Corps is our intimate family," said Marbrey.
Having close and personal family was one of the keys to Marbrey's honorable 24 years of service.
"I was astonished at the camaraderie at the camp, and that changed my attitude," Marbrey said.
Marbrey is not the only one who's success was aided by someone close to him. Vann said his wife, Evangeline, was a big part of his career.
"I have nine stars of good conduct. She helped me earn them," Vann said.
With the ills of segregation and the demands of the Marine Corps itself, Evangeline said she understood what it meant to be a Marine's wife.
"I was trying to help him be where he wanted to be," said Evangeline. "It was rough in the Marine Corps, but it was also rough on the outside."
The early Montford Point Marines withstood a lot of the discontent and upheaval of a diverse military. They paved the way for Marines such as Hosea.
Hosea served 29 years, excelling and taking advantage of the education and training the Corps offered. However, he still experienced some of the discomforts of being a minority in a changing world.
"In my 29 years, I was never in a group of more than five black Marines and I was always the senior," said Hosea.
Hosea recalls how the Marines were accounted for every morning on a roster.
"1,200 total Marines, 10 officers, 2 colored. That's the way it was written on the master sheet at Signal School Battalion," said Hosea.
Approximately 30,000 black Marines are on active duty today and do not show up on morning rosters as colored, but as enlisted or officer. The times of segregation and profound racism in the military are in the past, but not forgotten.
The men of Montford Point proved their worth and set the example, therefore the Montford Point Marine Association plans on keeping their history alive.
"We want to preserve the legacy of the Montford Point Marines and give the Marine Corps and civilian community history and information they're not aware of," said Willis.