JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — On July 22, 2010, Congress passed Senate Resolution 587, which designated August 26 as Montford Point Marine Day. 

“While the Montford Point Marines initially experienced discrimination, they believed in a higher ordeal higher value that they were represented,” said Dr. Gregory Clark, son of Montford Point Marine Cpl. Clarence L. Clark.

Nearly 20,000 African Americans served in the Marine Corps from 1942-1949. The celebration on Thursday was a chance to honor their legacy to this day. Executive Order 8802 was signed on June 25, 1941, by then-President Franklin Roosevelt, which prohibited racial discrimination in the national defense industry. After the federal action was signed, African American men enlisted into the Marine Corps.

African Americans who enlisted reported to a segregated training base near Jacksonville called Montford Marine Camp over 70 years ago. Retired 1st Sgt. Jack McDowell is a Montford Point Marine veteran. He joined in 1945 and served for 23 years. He said he transferred to Korea in 1950 and reflected on his first experience with all-white troops.

“That’s actually the first time in 1950,” McDowell said. “I served with white troops. And, all of a sudden and overnight, I was in charge of 28 of them. Most of them didn’t even know Black guys were in the Marine Corps.” 

Their service was honored by many distinguished guests, speakers, and performances, including the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger. There was also a performance by the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Team.

Another one of the Montford Point Marines honored was Cpl. Clarence L. Clark. His son, Dr. Gregory Clark, accepted the award on his behalf. He said what this moment would have meant to his father.

“I know my dad was always very, very proud to be a Marine,” Clark said. “I once asked him, ‘What was it like to be a Marine?’ He said, ‘There’s no such thing as was a Marine, you are a Marine forever.”

Clark said his father became a Civil Rights activist and worked on a campaign to help elect the first Black representative in North Carolina.

“Our father was very, very strong, very, very determined,” Clark said. “He was also active in civil rights.” 

McDowell said everything he learned in the Marine Corps, he used when he retired. He attributes that to his success afterward.

“But my motto was never quit,” McDowell said. “You know, you’ve heard it before. It’s not how many times you get knocked down. It’s how many times you refuse to get up.”