Nearly complete is a project that was started in 2019 to restore and protect key buildings used by the Black Marines aEUR".
During the 1940s about 20,000 men trained in harsh conditions at Montford Point, a racially-segregated base in North Carolina. It is now part of Camp Lejeune aEUR", the main Marine Corps infantry unit for the East Coast aEUR", and is named Camp Johnson after Sgt. Major Gilbert "Hashmark", Johnson, a well-known drill instructor.
Nearly all of the men who saved these buildings are gone. Only a few of the 300 Montford Point Marines who survived were able to return in April to see the newly-restored museum in their former mess hall.
Retired First Sergeant. William McDowell, a retired First Sgt., flew in from Long Beach (Calif.). He stated that the restoration was important for the Marines as well as the nation.
He said, "I don't like to dwell on the past." "I think it's a good idea for educational and historical purposes to remind people of the past and present.
He said, "There was a moment when the Marine Corps would rather the fact it was racially separated was forgotten about."
It's not anymore.
Officials from Montford Point Marine Association claim that the Corps treated them as a partner in the restoration process by working closely with them throughout the planning stages of key details, such as which buildings to preserve. The nature of the restoration was also discussed by the Marines and Navy.
After Hurricane Florence, which pounded Camp Lejeune with strong winds and three days worth of record-breaking rainfall in 2018, dozens of buildings from Montford Point had to be destroyed.
Many of the old Montford Point buildings were severely damaged and were too close to flooding and storm surges.
"We see climate change as an issue of readiness," said Navy Commander Ross Campbell, Camp Lejeune’s Public Works Officer. "We have to take into account sea level rise, and ensure that the structures at the water's edge can withstand climate change.
Five important buildings will be saved and renovated under the restoration plan. The gym is the final to be restored and is nearing completion. The chapel was too badly damaged to be saved, so the military will rebuild it.
This was done to save historic buildings and make them less susceptible to the effects of climate change.
Campbell stated that the goal was to save historic buildings and make them less vulnerable to climate change.
He says that the ability to renovate these buildings was viewed holistically. It was not just an opportunity to bring them up to the mission set but also to consider resilience from all angles. "Not just storms and climate change, but also energy efficiency and building efficiency as well as building health and indoor air quality."
This means that the Montford Point buildings which are still standing are being strengthened. Their wood is being replaced with waterproof materials and their shingles replaced by wind-resistant metal roofing.
The weather-resistant, white cement-based siding is designed to look just like the original painted wood planks. Metal roofs are also colored to match the original shingles.
The heating and cooling systems have been upgraded to reduce energy consumption and prevent wood rot and mold from the humidity.
Carroll Braxton (97), a Virginia retired master gunnery sergeant, vividly recalls the humidity and worse.
Braxton says, "It was near where we were." "The drill instructors would take me right by that swamp, and make me stand at attention. He would then say, "You N-words, what did you eat?" "
"Well, let them (expletive). mosquitoes eat right now!" "
Braxton claims that the bites were so severe that his mother thought Braxton had smallpox when he returned home from furlough.
He said that the verbal and physical abuses directed at the men seemed to be endless. Some recruits who were caught smoking were made to use buckets and blankets as a way of smoking. He heard that one man was forced by his superior to drink his own urine.
Braxton: "See, they were dogged." "As though we weren't humans."
The Marine Corps was the last military service to accept Black recruits. It didn't do so willingly. This was only possible because President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the order.
Melton McLaurin is an emeritus historian at UNC-Wilmington and the author of The Marines of Montford Point. This oral history is by Melton McLaurin.
He claims that Major General Thomas Holcomb, the Commandant of Marine Corps at the time made it clear his feelings.
McLaurin states that McLaurin said McLaurin told him that if given the choice between 250,000 Black Marines or 5,000 whites, McLaurin would choose the whites. "They wanted nothing to do with African American marines."
Jack McDowell, a retired first sergeant, was originally from Brooklyn. He had a lower tolerance of racism than his Southern counterparts. McDowell claims that he was once imprisoned and sentenced in Jacksonville for refusing to give the sidewalk to a white man.
He remained with the Marines for over 23 years, participating in three wars and winning three Purple Hearts. He said he would have stayed longer if he had not lost a leg in Vietnam.
His service included a lengthy stretch of the Corps' struggle with race and he has stories that illuminate it.
He says, "As quiet and peaceful as it's kept on the islands Iwo Jima, Okinawa, there was African American Marines there." Okinawa had a few thousand. However, if you looked at any pictures or newsreels or newsreels about the incident, you would not have seen any Black men.
He is giddy about one part of that forgotten history.
He says, "I might suggest that when they run out of blood and ask for donors blood, that a lot of white men are running around with African American Blood."
He was one of the few Black Marines who were sent to desegregate white units during the Korean War.
He says, "I ended up being responsible for 28 white men." "It was 1950 and most of them didn’t know that Black Marine Corps personnel existed. Then, suddenly, there was one. He's my boss."
The first few weeks were not a success.
McDowell states, "The sergeant I relieved was quite belligerent." McDowell says that he kept using the N word, and we had to get to the knuckle junction twice or three times. Black eyes and more busted lips. We fought and the Koreans thought that we were crazy."
McDowell was again wounded months later. That same sergeant ran to McDowell's rescue.
He says, "And complaining all along, you know? Using the N-word."
McDowell was able to get to know McDowell well enough to invite him to his funeral.
He said that some Montford Point Marines are still bitter about their time there. He says that the military has improved relations with race and that he and other early Black Marines have had better lives because of Montford Point.
McDowell states, "It helped my in many, many ways." It gave me the motivation to go to school to get a degree... The combination of that and the schooling made it clear that I was not afraid to take decisions.
McDowell, 94, says that he is certain this will be his last trip to his boot camp. He fears that their importance may also be lost after the Montford Point Marines have left.
He says, "As the time passes, I think that this whole Montford Point business becomes fuzzy." "You know what? That whole business will kind of fade into oblivion."
Some of the buildings that they once used will remain as a reminder. These buildings are now better protected against storms and time.