MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina — Montford Point, North Carolina. This was segregated training ground from 1942 to 1949 for the nation’s first African-American Marines. Now, a new memorial stands outside the gates of Camp Johnson to commemorate their historic achievements in the face of racial segregation.

Hundreds of Montford Point Marines, family members, active duty servicemembers and supporters gathered to witness the official dedication of the National Montford Point Marine Memorial at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune July 29.

“Today, as a result of the hard work and perseverance of so many of you here, across the country and those no longer with us, that vision is now a reality,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East – Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. “This inspiring memorial takes it rightful place among the other silent testimonials to the courage, dedication and sacrifice of our men and women who have worn the cloth of this nation.”

In the center of the grounds, a bronze 15-foot statue represents those African-American Marines who left behind combat support duties in the Marine Corps to pick up a rifle to be a part of the main effort along with their counterparts.

Behind the statue stands the 90-mm M1A1 anti-aircraft gun, the primary anti-aircraft weapon of the Montford Point Marines with the 51st and 52nd Defense Battalions.

To the statue’s left is a marble wall with 20,000 stars to honor the approximate number of African American Marines who trained there before they were integrated. No official records were kept at the time to identify each one.

“This is something that I never thought would be possible,” said Ivor Griffin, Montford Point Marine who served 23 years enlisted. “I heard about it being in the making, and I thought it couldn’t be true, I thought we were the forgotten 20,000.”

Smiles and tears shown on the faces of these aged Marines each time a new speaker came to the podium and recounted the history of what these men had done, and on more than one occasion, they gave motivated shouts of encouragement; this was their day.

“I’m very thrilled to be here and very thrilled knowing that we will be remembered,” said Griffin. “[There are] only about 400 of us living, but those of us who are able to be here, we are grateful for what has happened here today, and what has happened in the past.”