MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – As service members begin to settle into the new year, some look to the past in reverence and thanks for freedoms that weren’t available to them 72 years ago – because of the color of their skin.
Black History Month, which takes place in February every year, serves as a reminder to service members of the hardships of those who came before them like the Montford Point Marines.
These Marines became the first African-Americans to enlist and train in the United States Marine Corps June 1942. They trained and deployed to fight in World War II just as any other Marine.
“We came as a trial in the Marine Corps,” said Joe Jackson, retired first sergeant, one of the original Montford Point Marines who served from Feb. 12, 1943 to March 26, 1969. “After the war was over, we were over.”
This trial period left something for these men to achieve. They performed their duties exceedingly well, according to Jackson. He also explained that Gen. Alexander Vandegrift, commandant of the Marine Corps in 1945, denied the termination of segregated units and allowed for African-Americans to become a fully-fledged force in the Marine Corps, according to Jackson.
“We had to fight, we had to fight two fights,” said Jackson. “You can’t push a recruit like they pushed us. Our drill instructors said, ‘you’re going to be the best Marines in the Marine Corps.’ They didn’t know we were going to be in competition with Caucasians, they just wanted us to be the best, and that is what we became. They did everything they could to make us quit, the training was the same as any other recruit, but they pushed us harder than any other recruit. They pushed us longer and harder, and we were better for it.”
The transition from all-black units to complete integration took years, but the Marines successfully accomplished the task as can be seen by today’s Marine Corps – a fully racially integrated fighting force in readiness.
“We’ve come a long way since the Montford Point Marines,” said Capt. Zerbin Singleton, CH-46E Sea Knight pilot and flight line officer in charge with Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164. “Those Marines were the giants who enabled a lot of black Marines to continue on this rise through adversity. We owe everything to them.”
The Marine Corps continues to provide Marines with equal opportunity training on an annual basis. Marines from all over the country with different beliefs and backgrounds come together making the Marine Corps a cultural melting pot.
“It pays dividends to pay attention to the many different cultures coming into the Marine Corps,” said Sgt. Maj. Donna Dunbar, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303 sergeant major. “These different cultures, different experiences, bring very different things to the table and once you mix something like that together you get something truly magical. That’s what the Marine Corps is all about, it’s what we do and will continue to do.”
Dunbar explained that it isn’t about a Marine’s skin color, what religion or creed they hold faith to, or even their gender, what matters is the individual and what they bring to the bigger picture. These individuals will also carry the torch into the future not only as Marines, but as members of the community too.
“What I truly love about the Marine Corps is how we are and what we build as a reflection of ourselves in society,” said Dunbar. “What I find important is that we take some time to realize and explain to not only our children, but the community as a whole exactly how important it is to celebrate these milestones. I will retire one day and pass the Corps on to younger Marines, but when I get out I’m still a mother, wife and member of my community and I still have that responsibility to continue to pass on what I have learned.”
Marines like Dunbar and Jackson continue passing on the legacy of the Montford Point Marines, their victories and the continued struggles of African-Americans in the Marine Corps, in hopes that the future will lead to even greater heights and glories, not just racially but as a whole Corps – brotherhood at its finest.