MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. - With African American History Month in full swing, it is important, especially for service members, to remember the people who paved the way for African American troops today.
The Montford Point Marines were the first African Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps, earning the name after completing training at Recruit Depot Montford Point, N.C., a separate training facility made for blacks due to segregation in the armed forces during the 1940s.
“These men wanted to prove something to the nation and felt the only way to do so was to join the Corps,” said Louise Greggs, the assistant director for the Montford Point Marine Museum, located at Camp Gilbert H. Johnson.
More than 20,000 recruits trained at Montford Point between 1942-1949. After a decade, the Marine Corps integrated fully in 1960, said Greggs.
“These men started a legacy and opened up the doors for those that came after them,” she said. “The more I learned about them the more I wanted to preserve their history.”
Montford Point Marines served in support units in the Pacific during WWII, seeing action on Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Some Montford Point Marines served beyond WWII, with deployments to Korea in the 1950s and Vietnam a decade later. The Nation finally recognized the Montford Point Marines in 2011 for their personal sacrifice and service to the country, awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal.
“I was present for the ceremony and I remember seeing these men, getting up to go see the black generals,” said Greggs. “Now remember, these Marines had never seen a black general when they served, so these men were standing up despite their age to salute these officers. I was in tears.”
The Montford Point Marine Museum opened in 2001 to preserve the history of the first African American Marines with photos, exhibits and articles. Greggs has been a volunteer since then and is now the assistant director for the museum alongside her husband, Finney Greggs, who was appointed director of the museum in 2003.
A chance encounter with one of the original Montford Point Marines led to her interest in the Montford Point Marines and their history, she said.
Edgar R. Huff was the first African American Marine to earn the rank of sergeant major and was one of the original Montford Point Marines. He was admitted into the hospital while Gregg’s husband, who served in the Navy, was stationed in Philadelphia in 1987.
“Everyone in the area at the time was talking about this man and the legacy that he had and I got to talk to him; it was unreal,” said Greggs. “The thing that I remember the most about our meeting is him saying ‘If I could go back and do it again, I would,’ and that was what led me to want to do something to share their history.”
The museum is located in the original mess hall on the hallowed grounds of what used to be Montford Point Camp. The history of the Marines runs through the building and everything inside it, said Greggs.
“These Marines did everything with perseverance and courage while opening up many doors for the men that followed them,” she said. “This isn’t just black history; this is United States Marine Corps History.”