Veteran Marines share their historical legacy
March 2, 2012
The first African American Marines, known as the Montford Point Marines, told their stories to a new generation at the Marine Club on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Feb. 28.
In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt established a presidential directive giving African-Americans an opportunity to join the Marine Corps. However, these Marines did not attend boot camp at the traditional Parris Island, S.C. or San Diego, Calif., locations. Instead, they were segregated and sent to a facility at Camp Lejeune, N.C., called Montford Point.
Fifteen Marines, from the Montford Point Marine Association, D.C. Chapter 6, sat and had lunch with JBM-HH Marines. During the meal, a low murmur of conversation and bursts of laughter filled the club.
"Why would you join the Marine Corps when you weren't liked?" asked Pfc. Toneasha Caddle, Henderson Hall administrative clerk. His question was directed to retired Gunnery Sgt. Reuben McNair Sr., a Marine who entered into the Corps through the Montford Point facility.
McNair explained that despite the segregation, he felt the need to fight for what he believed in. "You have to fight for what you want," he said.
"To actually meet someone who lived [through] segregation back in the 40s and to get to ask them questions and talk to them in person is pretty amazing," said Caddle.
Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Pat Hackbarth, president of the D.C. chapter, originally joined the association by spending time with members of the chapter. She would sit around and listen to them tell their stories. She later became involved in bridging the gap between past and present Marines. The luncheon was an opportunity for H&S Bn., HQMC, JBM-HH Marines to meet the first African American Marines and ask questions of these history makers said Hackbarth.
"They [Montford Point Marines] have history, knowledge and if we don't grab it now, it will be gone forever," she warned.
During the luncheon, the Montford Point Marines were treated to a special ceremony. They had the opportunity to witness Cpl. Benjamin Moore reenlist for another four years.
"It was just perfect timing," said Moore, who reenlisted into a new military occupation speciality: aviation mechanic. "I thought it would be a great honor if I had my reenlistment with them."
After the lunch, Col. Stephanie C. Smith, USMC special project officer, announced to the Montford Marines the design was approved for the Congressional Gold Medal. President Barack Obama awarded the Marines the special award Nov. 23, 2011 "in recognition of their personal sacrifice and service to their country."
"We weren't welcomed into the service," said Marine veteran Willie Woods. "A colonel was discouraging us all the way. He had his orders and he had to follow them, but some of his feelings came out along with his duties. He was telling us we accept you, but we can do without you."
The Montford Point Marines blazed the way for many more devil dogs. Marines from Henderson Hall will be able to carry on the history and legacy passed on to them from these historic Marines.