JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – A celebration in Jacksonville marked the 80-year anniversary of the first African-American recruits to join the Marine Corps.  

August 26 is known as Montford Point Marine Day. People near and far gathered at Lejeune Memorial Gardens to celebrate the brave 20,000 Marines that paved the way for others. 

“When I came into the Marine Corps, you know, the Marine Corps was completely segregated,” said retired GySgt and original Montford Point Marine, F. M. Hooper Jr. 

It’s been over 70 years and Hooper still remembers the day he stepped off the bus at Montford Point.  

“When I raised my right hand and said ‘I do.’ I thought I was being shipped to Parris Island. I didn’t realize it,” said Hooper.  

A lot has changed since then. Montford Point is now Camp Johnson, and the mess hall is now a museum. During the ceremony, they paid tribute to Hooper along with his fellow brothers, both living and passed on. James Cook Jr.’s father was also a Montford Point Marine. He accepted the Congressional Gold Medal in his honor. It was one of several that were awarded on Thursday.

“It’s just been unreal. You know? And I get so upset because he’s not here. You know, my sister was saying he’s looking down, but I’d rather have him sitting next to me, you know, but if that’s the way it is, so be it,” said Cook.  

The celebration had the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team and distinguished speakers like the Secretary of the Navy. 

“It’s just a great honor to be here today on this solemn day and to pay them tribute for the sacrifices that they made throughout the years. And the example that they set for thousands upon thousands of others who followed in their footsteps,” said the Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro. 

To read more about the history of the Montford Point Marines, click here.