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Crossroads of the Marine Corps


Montford Point Marines honored at The Basic School

11 Aug 2014 | John Hollis

It’s one thing to read about history from a book, another entirely to hear it directly from those involved.

That’s just what Col. Todd S. Desgrosseilliers, commander of The Basic School, had in mind for his young Marines with the running of the 2nd Annual Montford Point Biathlon at Camp Barrett on July 25. Many of the Marines competing in the daunting combined running and shooting exercise visited with one of the original Montford Point Marines, Gunnery Sgt. Richard H. Walker, following the event’s completion. Information about the Montfort Point Marines was posted along the course the young Marines ran.

“People need to know who they are,” Desgrosseilliers said. “People know who Chesty Puller was. We need to honor their sacrifice and their many accomplishments.”

The Montford Point Marines became the first African-Americans to serve in the Marine Corps following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decree in 1941 that required the armed services to admit them. The military was still segregated at the time, meaning the eager Marines were forced to undergo their basic training at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C., rather than join their white counterparts at Parris Island or San Diego.

They endured discrimination at every level, but persevered because of a deep of love of country. Roughly 20,000 Marines trained at Montford Point between 1942 and the camp’s deactivation in 1949.

President Harry S. Truman integrated the military in 1948.

“[Coleman] and the folks like him allowed me to stand on his shoulders,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ronald Coleman, who followed Frank Petersen in becoming just the second African-American Marine to become a three-star general.

Walker, a Woodbridge resident who will turn 86 in September, arrived at Montford Point in 1946. The proud Marine spent 23 years in the Corps, serving in both Korea and Vietnam among other stops before retiring in 1970.

“I wanted to do something for this country,” he said. “I am a Southern boy who saw a lot of stuff, so I just wanted to be like everybody else. No different.”

His accomplishments and determination to serve a country that hadn’t always done right by him hardly went unnoticed by the young Marines present.

“I just appreciate anybody who served before me,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Jimenez, Weapons Training Battalion, a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq. “These guys paved the way for us. I wouldn’t be able to anything I’m doing today without them. There’s nothing but respect for these guys.”

Twenty-one four-man teams and their individual logistical support competed in the Montford Point Biathlon. Designed to simulate combat conditions, the competition involved a run of seven miles from Camp Barrett to Weapons Range 4 and back while in boots and utes, and carrying an M-16. The top three teams, the two best shooters and the fastest runner were honored following the event’s completion.

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