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Montford Point Marines honored with Congressional medal

By Alison Parker
Published On: Aug 26 2013 02:41:55 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 26 2013 02:44:16 PM CDT
CAMP JOHNSON, ONSLOW COUNTY -

Marines aboard Camp Johnson hosted a ceremony Monday morning honoring 10 Montford Point Marines -- six surviving, and four families of those who passed.

They were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest forms of recognition to have.

Aboard Montford Point in 1942, whether you were black or white, you were above all a Marine.

"I've had good times, bad times, and all, but you know what? I'm still here," said Norman Preston, a retired 91-year-old Montford Point Marine. "I've overcome many first-time barriers."

Discrimination was one of those obstacles that Preston faced as he and thousands of other black men broke the color barrier in the Marine Corps.

"This segregated town in [those] years -- you cannot believe what you would hear and what you had to endure," Preston said.

Preston trained aboard Montford Point, now Camp Johnson, from 1943 to 1944. Now having a Congressional medal is something he'll never forget.

"It brought tears to my eyes, and I just thank god that I was able to be a part of that," Preston said. "This is a day I will always remember. I'll document this for my children and my grandchildren."

Sergeant Maj. Rodney Robinson says he's now a Marine because of their determination and hopes new corpsmen can follow the same path.

"With perseverance, you can do anything," Robinson said. "When people tell you you can't do something, hopefully they'll see the perseverance and hard work and dedication the Montford Point Marines had, and give them inspiration maybe to keep going when they want to quit."

Here's a little bit of history:

Montford Point was established August 18, 1942.

In April 1947, the camp was renamed as Camp Johnson, in honor of Sgt. Maj. Gilbert H. Johnson, the first black sergeant major.

The Marine Corps began enlisting African Americans on June 1, 1942. According to records, the first class of 1,200 volunteers trained for three months to become members of the 51st Composite Defense Battalion at Montford Point.

The first African American to enlist was Howard P. Perry.