Approximately 20,000 African-Americans enlisted in the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1949 – a time when the U.S. was at war, and the country was resistent to integration. These brave men became known as the “Montford Point Marines”. The Montford Pointers who actually saw the most combat on the war’s bloodiest beaches, from Iwo Jima and Okinawa to Peleliu and Saipan, were those who had the least combat training. The ammunition and depot companies, who were meant to see that frontline troops could keep advancing by stocking ammunition and supplies, became expert combat fighters and riflemen in the fire of battle. These Marines also acted as stretcher bearers, removing the wounded and dead from the frontlines. The nine black Marines killed and 78 wounded in action during World War II were not even supposed to have had contact with the Japanese.
The performance of these black troops in World War II helped other military personnel see what the men of Montford Point already knew: That they were more than able to perform as equals to those white Marines trained at other locations. The Montford Point Marines’ great performance in the Pacific during the war did not win them recognition or full acceptance, though. The Corps was required to retain some black Marines, but they reduced their percentage within ranks and continued segregation. Finally in 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which moved to abandon segregation as a federal policy and required desegregation of the entire military. The Marine Corps was slow to carry out integration orders, but they deactivated Montford Point as a segregated training facility in September of 1949 and started sending black Recruits to training at Parris Island and San Diego. 75 years ago today, they arrived at Montford Point for the first time. (U.S. Marine Corps video)