Newsletters & Information > Montford Point Marines Honored at DoD Observance
Montford Point Marines Honored at DoD Observance

Feb 28, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 28, 2006 – The Defense Department
honored five black military pioneers during its observance
of National African American History Month here at
Huston-Tillotson University Feb. 24-25.

Silver Star medal recipient retired 1st Sgt. Barnett Person
of Fort Worth, Texas, (left) chats with Horace P. Williams,
president of Buffalo Soldiers/First Ladies of Texas, at an
outdoor exhibit at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin,
Texas, Feb. 25. Person was in town to be honored along with
four other Montford Point Marines - the first black Marines
during World War II. Photo by Rudi Williams (Click photo
for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image
available.

Among the five honorees were two battlefield heroes, Silver
Star medal recipient Barnett Person of Fort Worth, Texas,
and Bronze Star with V device for valor recipient Jack
McDowell of Long Beach, Calif.

Person, a retired first sergeant decorated with the Silver
Star Medal for gallantry in Vietnam, also received two
Purple Hearts in Vietnam. Person said he was hit by enemy
fire on May 8, 1967, and again on Aug. 29.

The tank retriever driver and later a tank gunner said
wasn't wounded during the Korean War.

The Silver Star citation cited Person for conspicuous
gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as a
platoon sergeant with Company A, 3rd Tank Battalion, 3rd
Marine Division, in Vietnam.

The decoration's citation stated that during the early
morning hours of May 8, 1967, the area in which Person's
and other units came under intense enemy mortar and
artillery fire from a numerically superior North Vietnamese
Army force.

When the enemy penetrated the perimeter defenses in several
place, "Person reacted instantly, calmly directed his 90 mm
canister fire into the oncoming Viet Cong," the citation
read. "Disregarding enemy attempts to destroy his tank by
exploding satchel charges against the turret, Person
fearlessly increased his fire, employing both his main
armament and his machine guns.

The citation said he "was responsible for killing more than
40 North Vietnamese soldiers, preventing the perimeter from
being overrun and undoubtedly turned what could have been a
potentially dangerous situation for friendly troops into a
complete rout of a numerically superior enemy force."

Retired 1st Sgt. Jack McDowell, 79, joined the Marines in
April 1945, and served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars as
well. He earned the Bronze Star with V device for valor and
three Purple Hearts.

He suffered a gunshot wound to his left foot in North Korea
in 1951. McDowell was wounded in his back by shrapnel from
a rocket-propelled grenade in Vietnam in May 1967. He
received gunshot wounds to his left leg by a .51-caliber
machine gun on July 29. His leg was amputated on Navy
hospital ship USS Sanctuary.

McDowell was decorated with the Bronze Star with V device
for valor in Vietnam. The award citation stated that
McDowell was cited "for heroic achievement in combat
operations as first sergeant of Company G, 2nd Battalion,
9th Marines, on July 29, 1967.

"The battalion's lead company triggered an ambush that soon
engulfed the unit in a heavy barrage of small arms,
automatic weapons fire and artillery," the citation
continued.

McDowell assisted in gathering casualties and directing the
priorities of fire, the citation stated. "After being
wounded by a gunshot in the foot, McDowell continued his
actions and assisted in establishment of a secure defensive
position," the citation read. "Throughout the encounter, he
bolstered morale and aided in re-establishing organization
amidst the confusion generated by the attack."

Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Joe Geeter, national president
of the Montford Point Marine Association, introduced the
two veterans and told the audience about the contributions
of five American military pioneers.

Geeter, who said he's too young to be an original Montford
Pointer, then introduced retired Lt. Col. Joseph Carpenter,
a Montford Pointer who was later commissioned. He served as
a data processing officer and later worked as a civil
affairs officer.

Carpenter, who retired on June 19, 1986, said he was
assigned a chief clerk at Montford Point.

Geeter pointed out that Carpenter, who resides in
Washington, is national historian for the Montford Point
Marines Association and travels with presentation that
tells the story of Montford Point.

"Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Robert Reid served during the
Korean and Vietnam wars and reached the highest enlisted
rank and paved the way for the next generation of
African-American Marines like myself," said Geeter. Reid
lives in Norco, Calif.

Charleston, S.C., resident Ellis Cunningham, a retired
first sergeant, is an Iwo Jima survivor and Korean War
Purple Heart recipient.

More than 2,000 African Americans participated in the World
War II fight for Okinawa. American flag was raised on Mount
Suribachi at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.

Maj. Gen. James R. Myles, commander of the Army Test and
Evaluation Command, walked gave special recognition to
Cunningham and his wife, Lucille, for being married for 52
years. The command co-hosted the reception with DoD.

Geeter said he joined the association because he was
motivated when he first heard the story of these heroes. "I
wanted to make sure their legacy was not forgotten," said
Geeter, a corporate employee relations manager for AmeriGas
Propane. "I've been teaching younger Marines about their
African American heritage since 1978."

Geeter said, on June 25, 1941, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 8802 establishing the
fair employment practice that began to erase discrimination
in the armed forces and paved the way for African Americans
to enlist in the Marine Corps.

But it wasn't until 1942 when Roosevelt established a
presidential directive giving African Americans an
opportunity to be recruited into the Marine Corps. But
instead of training at the Parris Island, S.C., and San
Diego boot camps, they trained separately at Montford Point
Camp - a part of Camp Lejeune and New River, N.C.

African Americans who trained the nation's first black
Marines became known as the Montford Point Marines.

"It was a long time coming," Geeter said. "These men had to
fight to get into Montford Point."

 JAMES E STEWART JR PRESIDENT

JOHN TILLMAN VICE PRESIDENT

Historical advisor Byron Stewart PhD

 

5708 CHRIS MAR AVE
CLINTON MARYLAND, 20735
240-535-5580
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