WASHINGTON — Two Montford Point Marines, who were among the first to integrate the U.S. Marine Corps, reflect on their time at a segregated boot camp and explain the need for survivors and their family members to come forward for a special honor.
When African-Americans were allowed to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942, they were sent to Montford Point Camp in Jacksonville, North Carolina. It was a segregated boot camp on swamp land surrounded by woods. The conditions were far from ideal.
Staff Sgt. Ivor Griffin, 92, and Staff Sgt. Eugene Groves, 90, were among the first to get training there. They joined the U.S. Marine Corps in the mid-1940s.
"As soon as we arrived at the gate and came in, they [white marines] started calling us names and talking about our family members," Groves said.
"At that time, when people talked about your mama and your daddy, you wanted to fight," he said.
Griffin said their part of the base was a lot different from where their white counterparts trained, which was at Camp Lejeune. Montford Point Camp was on a small section of the base.
"It was a lot different," Griffin said. "Some of the barracks weren't built, so we built some of the barracks down there."
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 on June 25, 1941, which prohibited racial and employment discrimination in the services, it opened the door for people like Groves and Griffin to join the U.S. Marine Corps. It was a dream come true despite the conditions.
Griffin left home at the age of 17 in Philadelphia. Groves was also 17 when he left home in South Carolina. Both said training during a time of segregation was rough.
"It was some hard times, but I said I'm going to make it through," Groves said.
"Up north in Philadelphia where I came from, it had a little bit of it, but not as bad as the south," Griffin said.
Nearly 20,000 marines trained at Montford Point Camp before it closed in 1949. President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that desegregated the military the year before.
In 2011, former President Obama signed a law to award all Montford Point Marines with congressional gold medals for their sacrifice and service during WWII.
Groves and Griffin received their medal in 2012.
"It made me feel proud that I'm a marine," Griffin said, while holding the heavy medal.
Now, thousands of Montford Point Marines have not been identified or awarded.
The Montford Point Marine Association Washington, D.C. Inc. Chapter 6 along with the national association are working hard to find them.
If you know an African American Marine who served between 1942 and 1949 please find their DD 214 papers and contact WUSA9 or the Montford Point Marine Association.