JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — A celebration was held Friday morning to honor a group of Marines who paved the way for future generations.

The National Montford Point Marine Association hosted its 2023 Montford Point Marine Day as part of the 58th annual National Convention being held this weekend at the Camp Lejeune Paradise Point Officers’ Club in Jacksonville. The event, which took place at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens, recognized nine original Montford Point Marines and the families of the fallen.

They were honored for their courage, bravery and social change within the Marine Corps after the first members enlisted 81 years ago.

CLICK HERE to watch Friday’s ceremony

“This is not just Black history or Marine Corps history. This is the American history and the world to know about the Montford Point Marines,” said Dr. James T. Avert Jr., president of the National Montford Point Marines Association.

In World War II, these true heroes stepped up to defend our country and constitution, even though they were not treated as equals at the time.

“There is no such thing as a black, brown, red, white, or yellow. We’re all Marines,” said F.M. Hooper Jr., a retired Montford Point Marine.

It all inspired the integration of all the Armed Forces in 1948. Today, over 50 Montford Point Marines were recognized with Congressional Gold Medals for paving the way for Black service members who came after them.

“I like all, like all Americans, have an aversion to killing people. And so I’m glad that this metal was for humanitarian things, and not for killing people,” said Theodore Roosevelt Britton Jr., another retired Montford Point Marine.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein was present to pay his respects.

“Not only did these recruits have to overcome the physical challenges that we all associate with becoming one of the first fights, they were forcing people to see the content of their characters and not the color of their skin,” Stein said.

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The Marines expressed pride in what they did and what they accomplished.

“I’m glad I was one of them to be able to go ahead and join and fight for my country and live on and carry on that tradition about a Montford Point Marines. Ooh Ra, Semper Fi,” Hooper said.

More information can be found on their website at www.montfordpointmarines.org.