On August 25, 2016, at the Bachelor Officers Quarters aboard Camp Johnson, the families of three Montford Point Marines that began a legacy of service in 1942 were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress. This is to honor the sacrifice and service of the Nation’s first African American Marines.
According to Will Smith, a retired Marine, the medal ceremony is the culmination of his grandfathers legacy when he courageously and bravely stepped foot in the then known Montford Point that was racially segregated in order to become a member of the United States Marine Corps.
“My grandfather was one of the original Montford Point Marines. He enlisted in the Marine Corps back in 1942 and served in Saipan, California, and … here on Camp Johnson. This is where all of the character and integrity was instilled in him.” Said Smith.
Smith accepted the medal on behalf of his grandfather, Sherman Ray during the medal ceremony.
“The amazing thing is I was able to get promoted the first time and the last time right on this same base. It brought back some nostalgia and a lot of history of our family that we can keep the legacy going.” Smith said
On behalf of their fathers, Rufus Rountree and John Henry Dockery, their sons Luther Rountree and John Cassidy Dockery also accepted their medals during the ceremony.
On June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 that prohibited racial discrimination . This was the first federal action that the United States of America has made that gave equal opportunity to all African Americans living in the United States. On that same year, the United States Marine Corps started accepting black service members into their ranks.
The signed Executive Order 8802 was also the catalyst in the construction of the Montford Point. And from 1942-1949, there were more than 20,000 African American recruits that were trained by the Marine Corps.
On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that finally ended military segregation in the United States Military.
The United States Senate also made August 26 as Montford Point Marines Day in 2010.
The families of the honored former Montford Marines also received a special letter from President Barack Obama, a Congressional Gold Medal Citation and Senate Resolution 587.
Commanding officer of Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools and area commander of Camp Johnson Col. David Grant said, “The legacy that the Montford Point Marines left behind them is very important for the Marines coming through Camp Johnson. We’re actually standing on, or very close to, where those first Marines trained. This was the training ground. This ceremony today is a debt that we can’t ever repay to those Marines that came before us, but it is our form of showing respect.”