Courtesy: Detroit Free Press
Burlington, NC - This story begins in June of 1941. President Franklin Roosevelt issued a presidential directive ordering the armed services, including the United States Marine Corps, to recruit and enlist African-Americans. Recruiting for the USMC began the next June.
Between 1942 and 1949, thousands of African-Americans enlisted and received basic training not at Parris Island or Camp Lejeune, but at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
This was a segregated base and the 'Montford Point Marines' were not allowed to go to nearby Camp Lejeune unless accompanied by a white Marine. In 1948, President Harry Truman ordered all military bases be desegregated and in 1949, Montford Point was deactivated.
It's not a part of our history we're comfortable with, and definitely not something we're proud of.
They enlisted, and risked their lives but they weren't recognized for their sacrifice because of the color of their skin.
Back then, they weren't treated with dignity or respect.
But now, they're finally getting the honor they deserve.
"They picked us in cattle cars and took us to Montford Point, and we knew we were in a ride looking at the place," said retired Sergeant John Phoenix, Montford Point Marine.
"As far as being segregated, I was used to that anyway, but the training, that's what I had to get used to," explained retired Corporal Clero Florence, Montford Point Marine.
"The thing about it, the segregation and the treatment and what not, followed us overseas," said retired Corporal John Thompson, Montford Point Marine.
"It didn't set well with me but what can you do?" asked Phoenix.
"When they threw the bombs down, everybody came together until the war was over, we all went our separate ways again," said Florence.
"We were segregated overseas and the feeling was still there. You know, that's one thing that hurt, that hurt a lot," said Thompson.
"We had nobody to relate to. We had no one to talk to. There were no black commanders period, and that was rough," said Phoenix.
"Even before the service, I didn't like the segregation. I hated it going to the back door, sitting in the back of the bus, I didn't like that at all," explained Florence.
"If I could do it again, I would," said retired Corporal Roland Eubanks, Montford Point Marine.
"Things are changing, gradually," explained Thompson.
"A marine is a marine and that's what it's all about," said Phoenix.
"It's long overdue I think, long overdue. But, I really appreciate the recognition that we've gotten," said Thompson.
"I feel like I have accomplished something now, and I can feel a little better about myself," said Florence.
"The people are coming together; you understand what I'm saying? It doesn't matter what color you are. It doesn't have nothing to do with it," said Phoenix.
Monday night, these four veterans were honored by the Marine Corps League Lance Corporal Alan D Lam Detachment in Burlington.
In June, they received the Congressional Gold Medal. That is the highest honor a civilian can receive.
WFMY News 2