Ship to be christened in honor of Montford Point Marines
The (Jacksonville, N.C.) Daily News
Eight members of the Camp Lejeune Montford Point Marine Association, including one original Montford Point Marine, will take part this weekend’s christening of the USNS Montford Point — the first of three mobile landing platforms (MLPs) released by the Department of the Navy.
“It being the best feeling is the only way I can describe this event,” said Montford Point Marine Norman Preston, 90, of Wallace. “It’s going to be something my grandkids can see and be proud of. For such a small organization to get recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal — and now — this is truly amazing.”
The ship’s sponsor, Jackie Bolden will ceremoniously break a bottle of champagne over the hull of the vessel at 10 a.m. today, March 2, in San Diego to commemorate the 20,000 black Marines who were trained at the segregated Montford Point from 1942 until 1949. The ship, which will not be operational until 2015 will provide capability for large-scale logistics movements such as the transfer of vehicles and equipment from sea to shore, significantly reducing the dependency on foreign ports.
“It’s amazing to be able to attend,” Preston said. “I can’t wait to see the ship. The whole thing isn’t going to hit me until I’m standing with the ship. I cannot wait. It’s going to help people realize the struggles we went through and what this organization means to us.”
Speakers at the event will include the Secretary of the Navy, Hon. Ray Mabus; the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos; the president of General Dynamics; and numerous members of Congress.
According to a Jan. 4 statement made by Mabus, he chose the name Montford Point “as a way to recognize these American pioneers and heroes both collectively and individually.”
“The courage shown by these Marines helped forge the Corps into the most formidable expeditionary force in the world,” the statement said.
The second MLP will honor Col. John Glenn, a decorated Marine pilot, astronaut, Congressional Space Medal of Honor recipient and U.S. Senator. The final MLP will honor Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated Marine in history. The MLP in its most basic form supports a vehicle staging area, side port ramp, large mooring fenders and up to three landing craft lanes.
Preston hopes that this ship will serve as an inspiration to future Marines.
“Look beyond color,” Preston said. “Strictly be a Marine. Regardless of race, creed or color we are all Marines. Telling our story to the younger generation shows them that you can accomplish your dreams mostly because it wasn’t always that way.”
Preston, who served from 1944 until 1946, was stationed at Pearl Harbor after completing his training at Montford Point and said that living and social conditions were not ideal for the Marines training aboard the base.
“They had to make a segregated area to train us,” Preston said. “In order to endure what we went through we had to establish a reputation for working hard. We earned what we were entitled to. We were determined to be successful.”
Preston now serves on the advisory board for the City of Wallace and attends all city council meetings.
Preston said that all of the Montford Point Marines’ efforts were worth it.
“We changed the image of the Marine Corps,” Preston said. “It’s incredible that an African American can now do anything because of the path we paved.”