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Marines of Montford Point: Unknown Stories

Montford Marines in training in North Carolina. Black

Montford Marines in training in North Carolina. Black service members helped spur the early civil-rights movement. Credit: AP

The Marines of Montford Point are a group of men that history almost forgot. Though they broke racial barriers, their story is not as well-known as that of Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson or the famed Tuskegee Airmen. Yet, the impact of their effort was the same -- it altered history.

For that, they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2012. Their road to history was fraught with pain and discrimination, but failure was not an option.

"The racial prejudice they encountered both in the Marine Corps and in the civilian world combined with a sense that their failure would prevent the Corps from continuing to accept African-Americans [resulted in] a fierce camaraderie among the Marines at Montford Point," according to the nonprofit Montford Point Marine Association, which promotes the legacy of black Marines.

Other notable Montford facts:

Sgt. Maj. Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson was one of the first and most respected black drill instructors in the Corps. He wrote a letter to President Harry S. Truman expressing the loyalty and commitment of the black Marines. The Montford Point facility at Camp Lejeune was renamed in his honor.

More than 12,000 Montford recruits saw duty in the South Pacific during World War II, including in Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins arrived at Montford Point in 1945. In a 2005 interview, he recalled his Marine Corps experience and his time at Montford Point.

"There was pride in being a Marine," he said. And the training was rigorous. "They used to hang clothes up wet and told you to run around them 'til they dry."

The camp's first black Marine was Howard P. Perry of Charlotte, N.C.

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Source: Montford Point Marine Association

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