When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order in June 1941 opening up defense jobs “without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin,” then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Thomas Holcomb responded, “If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather the whites.”
What followed soon after Holcomb’s infamous declaration was the 1942 establishment of the Montford Point Marines, an all-Black, North Carolina-based unit that fought valiantly in a number of the Pacific theater campaigns of World War II — most notably on Okinawa, Japan, where approximately 2,000 men saw intense action.
The unit’s battlefield success prompted the Marine commandant who succeeded Holcomb, Lt. Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, to adamantly dismiss his predecessor’s stance, stating, “They are Marines, period.”
Just over 80 years after the Montford Point Marines integrated the ranks of the Marine Corps, the historic unit is taking center stage as the subject of an upcoming iteration of ABC’s “Our America” documentary series.
The one-hour “Mission Montford Point” chronicles not only the accomplishments of the trailblazing — and oft-forgotten — Marines, but their ensuing fight for acknowledgement amongst a sea of World War II stories that too often exclude them.
More than 60 years elapsed following the unit’s dissolution — President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order in 1948 ending segregation in the Marine Corps — before recognition came. In 2012, then-President Barack Obama awarded a collective of nearly 20,000 Montford Point Marines with the Congressional Gold Medal. But despite that distinction, fewer than 2,000 Montford Point Marines have actually received their medals.
As part of the documentary, crews follow the indefatigable efforts by a handful of individuals to track down descendants of the Montford Point Marines, a task made all the more difficult given the dearth of a Montford Point personnel log.
“The legacy of the Montford Point Marines has been a largely hidden story and it is our responsibility to amplify the voices of these heroes while attempting to right a historic wrong,” Porsha Grant, ABC’s Race and Culture executive producer, said in a release.
“We hope this news special will encourage the audience to not only embrace the Marines’ contributions but also to be inspired by the strength it took to serve and love a nation that did not always love them back.”
The episode will be available beginning Sept. 20 via ABC-owned stations and most streaming platforms, including Apple TV, Hulu, Prime Video and Roku.
Watch the trailer below.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.