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Montford Point Marines observe training

Mar 5, 2004

Montford Point Marines observe modern-day recruit training

Photo by: Sgt. L. F. Langston
(right to left) Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Nathaniel R.
Hosea, retired Master Sgt. Willie E. Marbrey, retired 1st
Sgt. Barnett Person Sr., and retired 1st Sgt. Arthur J.
Smith observe a recruit graduation ceremony at Shepard
Field Feb. 13.

by Sgt. L. F. Langston
MCRD San Diego

Several of the pioneering Marines who trained at Montford
Point, N.C., in the 1940s visited the Depot Feb. 13 to
attend the morning colors ceremony and Company D's
graduation, followed by a visit to the command museum.

The Montford Point Marines blazed a trail into the Corps'
future while at the same time marking their place in its
history books as the first black Marines.

For decades the Marine Corps didn't accept African
Americans. It wasn't until 1941 when President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 to establish
the Fair Employment Practice Commission, banning
discrimination "because of race, creed, color, or national
origin" in all government agencies.

Among the Montford Point Marines visiting the Depot were
retired Sgt. Maj. Augustus "Gus" Willis, retired Master
Sgt. Willie E. Marbrey, retired Sgt. Maj. William "Movin"
Vann, Master Gunnery Sgt. Nathaniel R. Hosea and retired
1st Sgt. Barnett Person Sr.

While the Montford Point Marines play an important role in
black history, Willis said he likes to think of it as just
Marine Corps history. "To get a point across for history it
doesn't have to be about race, creed, or religion," he

Recruiting for the "Montford Marines" began June 1, 1942
and thousands of African-American men flocked to recruiting

One of those men was Marbrey, who joined in 1945 and
retired after 24 years of service. He expressed his
satisfaction with his Marine Corps career.

"I had a beautiful career. The military is our family and
the Marine Corps is our intimate family," said Marbrey.

Having close and personal family was one of the keys to
Marbrey's honorable 24 years of service.

"I was astonished at the camaraderie at the camp, and that
changed my attitude," Marbrey said.

Marbrey is not the only one who's success was aided by
someone close to him. Vann said his wife, Evangeline, was a
big part of his career.

"I have nine stars of good conduct. She helped me earn
them," Vann said.

With the ills of segregation and the demands of the Marine
Corps itself, Evangeline said she understood what it meant
to be a Marine's wife.

"I was trying to help him be where he wanted to be," said
Evangeline. "It was rough in the Marine Corps, but it was
also rough on the outside."

The early Montford Point Marines withstood a lot of the
discontent and upheaval of a diverse military. They paved
the way for Marines such as Hosea.

Hosea served 29 years, excelling and taking advantage of
the education and training the Corps offered. However, he
still experienced some of the discomforts of being a
minority in a changing world.

"In my 29 years, I was never in a group of more than five
black Marines and I was always the senior," said Hosea.

Hosea recalls how the Marines were accounted for every
morning on a roster.

"1,200 total Marines, 10 officers, 2 colored. That's the
way it was written on the master sheet at Signal School
Battalion," said Hosea.

Approximately 30,000 black Marines are on active duty today
and do not show up on morning rosters as colored, but as
enlisted or officer. The times of segregation and profound
racism in the military are in the past, but not forgotten.

The men of Montford Point proved their worth and set the
example, therefore the Montford Point Marine Association
plans on keeping their history alive.

"We want to preserve the legacy of the Montford Point
Marines and give the Marine Corps and civilian community
history and information they're not aware of," said Willis.



Historical advisor Byron Stewart PhD


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