Montford Point Marines honored on 75th anniversary

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT)–Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Montford Point Marines, the first black Marines in the nation who served during a time of segregation and racism.

Even among the joy of Thursday’s celebration were the memories of a time when our nation was divided.

Many original Marines remember the discrimination they faced after coming to Jacksonville.

“It’s very honorable,” Joy Momon, daughter of Dr. Joseph Orthello Johnson (CPL), said. “They endured some very difficult decisions and circumstances when they were in the service but they’re Marines to the core.”

F.M. Hooper Jr. was one of the first Marines on base.

He describes a difficult time when black Marines weren’t accepted in the community.

“The Montford Point Marines led the way for this great nation of ours,” F.M. Hooper Jr., said. “It was segregated, very segregated, but today it’s open to all.”

During Thursday’s ceremony, four Marines, GySgt. Leroy Lee Sr., Sgt. Virgil Johnson, Dr. Joseph Orthello Johnson, and PFC. John Thomas Robinson all posthumously received Congressional Gold Medals for their service.

Commanding Officer of Camp Johnson, formerly Montford Point, Col. David Grant, told the crowd the sacrifices of these Marines must always be remembered for.

“They were very bold and brave men,” Penelope Johnson Brown, niece of Sgt. Virgil Johnson, said. “They were trend setters. They encountered racism at home and abroad. Their goal was to serve our country and they were proud to do that.”

The first phase of the memorial was completed last year.

The $1.1 million memorial features a restored M1-A1 anti-aircraft gun and a 15 foot bronze statue of a Montford Point Marine climbing uphill to equality.

The second phase which includes adding benches, lighting and commemorative bricks will be completed at the end of this year.

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