Black History Month: Remembering our heroes

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NROTC students compete in the Montford Point Challenge each year during February’s Black History Month. The competition commemorates the valor of Black Marines, who were not allowed to join the USMC until 1942 and who had to train separately at Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C. — Photos courtesy ASU NROTC

By Noah Kutz

“Among the Americans serving on Iwo island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Admiral Chester Nimitz offered his recollections after the inconceivable sacrifices American warriors made at the battle of Iwo Jima nearly 74 years ago.

This island bears the bloodiest days in the history of the United States Marine Corps, making up one third of the total deaths suffered in the USMC during WWII.

Over the course of this war, young men became Marines, Marines became heroes, heroes became legends, and the legendary actions of these uncommon men became stories passed down through generations.

Unfortunately, these unforgotten tales commonly neglect to mention some of the most important aspects of the battles fought by these uncommon men, aspects that are now remembered and celebrated across all generations.

Black Marines who wished to serve in the USMC were unable to join until 1942, where they were sent to Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C. to be trained separately.

Because of these racial biases, the Montford Point Marines were unable to serve in the front-line infantry battalions, but instead primarily became the warriors who resupplied the infantrymen, carried the casualties away from the conflict and supported the other Marines in any way possible.

These segregated Americans quickly became the backbone of the Marine Corps during each horrific assault on the Japanese islands, and experienced the same gruesome battles while bearing the same grit and tenacity with which every Marine is born.

In light of this history within the Marine Corps, the Montford Point Challenge has become an annual event for various portions of the USMC as well as Naval ROTC battalions during February (Black History Month). The challenge is designed to put Marines (or in the case of NROTC, Midshipmen), in leadership roles to demonstrate their ability to command a squad while under pressure.

They negotiate a series of obstacles over a lengthy course that are designed to replicate some of the challenges which Montford Point Marines faced in battle.

Says Midshipman 3/C Wilson, who planned this year’s Montford Point Challenge at ASU’s NROTC battalion:

“We do this physically intensive event every year in order to remember some of the missions and challenges those Marines faced during their service to our country, which didn’t value them at that time.”

In the case of the NROTC battalion in Tempe, squad leaders navigated a labyrinth of challenges across ASU’s campus, carrying ammo cans and water jugs up tall buildings and through sand pits, hoisting stretchers with simulated casualties on their shoulders, and decisively maneuvering their way through simulated mine fields.

They remember these events so that “the Marines may live on in our warfighting heritage,” says Wilson.

These challenges, conducted on college campuses all across America by Navy and Marine Corps future officers, represent a drive and determination to never forget mistakes made in the past.

By remembering the hardships these Marines endured, not only at Montford Point and during WWII but also in the following years in the Civil Rights Movement, this nation’s military can reflect on the lessons learned and the actions it will take in the years to come.

Semper Fidelis, or Always Faithful, has been the Marine Corps motto since 1883.

The Marines of Montford Point demonstrated an uncommon faithfulness which remained unseen by many during the battle of “uncommon valor.”

No matter the color of the Marine’s skin, the blood that stains the beaches, uniforms and hands of these warriors will always stay red.

Noah Kutz is a member of the Wrangler News staff. He attends ASU and is a Midshipman in the university’s NROTC unit.

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