The first African Americans to ever serve in the Marine Crops were honored on Saturday during a special ceremony at Joe C. Davidson Park in Burlington, North Carolina.
For the 75th anniversary of Montford Point Marine Day ― which marks the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order to intregrate the Marines ― the Corps honored the black men who were trained at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina to become Marines in the 1940s.
Between 1942 and 1949, more than 20,000 servicemen received their basic training at Montford Point, according to the Camp Lejeune Globe. About 300 of them are still alive. Four of those men ― John Thompson, Cleo Florence, Robert Thomas and Mack Haynes ― were in attendance for Saturday’s ceremony, the Burlington Times News reports.
“When I went in in 1947, how things was then and how things have progressed and how they are today... there’s been a great change, but there still be more change and we may be able to have one nation under God and one people,” Thomas told WFMY.
Larry Hall, the secretary of the state Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, spoke to the audience about how significant it is to recognize these men, per the Times News.
“We stand on the shoulders of these great men and their families and the community that raised them,” Hall said. “And it is important for the new leaders to let future leaders stand on their shoulders as well.”
On the Thursday prior, three living Montford Point Marines and the families of four gathered to posthumously pay tribute to four former Marines, Leroy Lee, Virgil W. Johnson, Joseph Orthello Johnson and Thomas Robinson. The families accepted Congressional Gold Medals on their behalf.
See more from Saturday’s event in the video above.