By Irene Loewenson
Grace King didn’t realize until a few years ago that her cousin, George J. Johnson, was a Marine veteran. And she didn’t realize until January that he was part of the Montford Point Marines, the first Black men allowed to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Her mother and Johnson were cousins, technically making him her first cousin once removed. But they were close. He and his wife, Hannah, often would come down from New York to stay with her family in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the summer.
Photo: Retired Army Maj. Gen. James W. Monroe presents former Cpl. George J. Johnson with a certificate of service from the National Montford Point Marine Association. (Norman’s Photoland/courtesy of Mallorie Berger)
It was strange to her that Johnson, now 101, hadn’t talked about being a Marine until recent years.
“George isn’t a very modest person,” King told Marine Corps Times. “He has that New York swagger.”
In January, King saw a local ABC segment on the Montford Point Marines. That led her to connect with Mallorie Berger, whose grandfather was a Montford Point Marine and who has joined efforts to track down these Marines and their families.
On Feb. 6, Johnson was honored with a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal honoring the first Black U.S. Marines, many of whom served in World War II.
The daughter of former Cpl. Moses Williams, another Montford Point Marine, also received a medal in her father’s honor.
Pamela Y. Williams had long known that Moses Williams was a member of military police in the Marine Corps. But her father, a soft-spoken man, didn’t talk about his experiences in the military. She had heard about Montford Point from a friend whose father also had served there, several decades after he died in 1970 at the age of 44.
Receiving the medal on her father’s behalf left her feeling “overwhelmed and just very, very proud.”
“I can only imagine what types of hardships they had to go through,” Pamela Y. Williams said. “But I know that they had no idea that they were making history — which is exactly what they did.”
Johnson, the other Montford Pointer honored on Feb. 6, now has failing health, according to King. It’s hard to get details from him on his time as a member of military police — though he does sometimes mention transporting prisoners to Alcatraz — and he wasn’t up for an interview with Marine Corps Times.
“When you mention Montford Point, he does light up,” King said.
Leaders of the National Montford Point Marine Association and local politicians attended the ceremony honoring Johnson and Williams, as did the junior ROTC class from Dillard High, Johnson’s alma mater, according to Berger.
Read the complete article on Marine Times.