1942 would prove to be a year of opportunity for African-American soldiers. On August 26th of that year, 600 recruits, now known to the world as the Montford Point Marines, began training in North Carolina. Until this time, black soldiers had not been allowed in the so-called “toughest outfit” of the segregated United States armed forces. In March, the first class of Tuskegee Airmen completed training in Alabama. The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 had now drawn The United States into World War II. The time was right.
The previously all-white Marine Corps., did not exactly welcome the new troops. African-Americans were segregated into the 51st and 52nd Composite Defense Battalions. They trained separately at a small section of Camp Lejeune, called Montford Point. Early on, the soldiers were trained by white officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs). As exceptional recruits emerged, black NCOs became drill instructors.
The men of the 51st established themselves as the Marines’ finest artillery gunners. Discrimination persisted, however, in attitudes about their fighting abilities. Being posted at outlying areas, away from most of the fighting, the 51st and 52nd never got the chance to proive themselves. The only Montfort Marines to see action, and record casualties, were the Ammunition and Depot Companies in Saipan, Guam, and Peleliu. Private Kenneth Tibbs was the first black Marine to lose his life on June 15, 1944. The Montford Point Marine training facility was abolished in 1949 after President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces.