Grace King didn’t notice till a number of years in the past that her cousin, George J. Johnson, was a Marine veteran. And she didn’t notice till January that he was half of the Montford Point Marines, the first Black males allowed to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Her mom and Johnson had been cousins, technically making him her first cousin as soon as eliminated. But they had been shut. He and his spouse, Hannah, usually would come down from New York to stick with her household in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the summer time.
It was unusual to her that Johnson, now 101, hadn’t talked about being a Marine till current years.
“George isn’t a very modest person,” King informed Marine Corps Times. “He has that New York swagger.”
In January, King noticed an area ABC phase on the Montford Point Marines. That led her to attach with Mallorie Berger, whose grandfather was a Montford Point Marine and who has joined efforts to trace down these Marines and their households.
On Feb. 6, Johnson was honored with a bronze reproduction of the Congressional Gold Medal honoring the first Black U.S. Marines, many of whom served in World War II.
The daughter of former Cpl. Moses Williams, one other Montford Point Marine, additionally acquired a medal in her father’s honor.
Pamela Y. Williams had lengthy identified that Moses Williams was a member of navy police in the Marine Corps. But her father, a soft-spoken man, didn’t speak about his experiences in the navy. She had heard about Montford Point from a buddy whose father additionally had served there, a number of a long time after he died in 1970 at the age of 44.
Receiving the medal on her father’s behalf left her feeling “overwhelmed and just very, very proud.”
“I can only imagine what types of hardships they had to go through,” Pamela Y. Williams stated. “But I know that they had no idea that they were making history — which is exactly what they did.”
Johnson, the different Montford Pointer honored on Feb. 6, now has failing well being, in response to King. It’s onerous to get particulars from him on his time as a member of navy police — although he does typically point out transporting prisoners to Alcatraz — and he wasn’t up for an interview with Marine Corps Times.
“When you mention Montford Point, he does light up,” King stated.
Leaders of the National Montford Point Marine Association and native politicians attended the ceremony honoring Johnson and Williams, as did the junior ROTC class from Dillard High, Johnson’s alma mater, in response to Berger.
“It’s almost like (Johnson) was a star because everybody wanted to take a picture with him,” King stated.
Johnson discovered the ceremony, held at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, “very moving,” in response to King.
“It’s hard to believe. It’s very incredible,” Johnson informed an area ABC affiliate. “Those that gave it to me and those who made it possible for me to have it.”
King informed Marine Corps Times that the presence of two different dwelling Montford Pointers — former Cpl. George McIvory and former Sgt. Allen Williams — and of retired Army Maj. Gen. James W. Monroe, who is aware of each Johnson’s and Williams’ households, made the ceremony much more particular for her cousin.
A trailblazing group of Marines
During the American Revolution, a minimum of 13 of the 2,000 males in the Continental Marines, the forerunner to the Marine Corps, had been Black, in response to the National Museum of the Marine Corps. But starting in the final decade of the 18th century, Black males had been barred from serving in the Corps.
In June 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an government order opening all of the navy companies to Black males. The response from then-Commandant Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb was, “If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather the whites.”
In 1942, following Roosevelt’s order, the Marine Corps established a segregated publish for Black Marines at Montford Point close to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The males needed to construct the camp from the floor up, they usually endured significantly harsh remedy.
By the time Montford Point closed in 1949 amid the desegregation of the navy, roughly 20,000 males had served there. Around 2,000 of them noticed fight in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, Japan, alone.
In 2011, President Barack Obama signed a regulation authorizing a Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded collectively to all the Montford Point Marines.
“Despite being denied many basic rights, the Montford Point Marines committed to serve our country with selfless patriotism,” Obama acknowledged at the time.
To date, the National Montford Point Marine Association has awarded roughly 3,000 medal replicas to Montford Pointers or their households, in response to Joe Geeter, a spokesman for the affiliation.
But that’s solely a fraction of the Marines who served at Montford Point.
Part of the problem is that there isn’t a personnel log for these Marines. Only roughly 400 are nonetheless alive, in response to Geeter. And, Berger stated, it’s widespread for Montford Point Marines to not inform their households about their service in the Corps.
“There was a lot of abuse that happened to them,” she stated. “So how do you come home and share those stories with your family that were abused, outside of the rigors of boot camp?”
Berger stated she believes many of the Montford Point Marines developed what would now be known as post-traumatic stress from their service.
For her half, she didn’t know that her grandfather, former Pvt. Maurice L. Burns Sr., was half of the Montford Point Marines till 2021 — lengthy after his dying in 1996. She occurred upon an article about Montford Point on-line, and that prompted her to look by a field of papers she had discovered when she cleared out her grandmother’s home years in the past.
There was her grandfather’s discharge paperwork, together with a letter he had written to his former assistant drill teacher asking for his assist in getting the Veterans Administration to compensate him for his severe service-related again ache.
Berger has since labored to boost consciousness about Montford Point and to seek out those that served there and their households.
“Unwittingly and unknowingly, they were civil right activists,” Berger stated.
If you imagine you or a beloved one deserves recognition for serving as a Montford Point Marine, contact the National Montford Point Marine Association by emailing Info@montfordpointmarines.org or one of the regional contacts listed on its web site. Include your full title, mailing deal with and cellphone quantity; in case you are reaching out on behalf of a Montford Pointer, additionally embrace his full title.
Originally printed by Military Times, our sister publication.