The Montford Point Marines Association honors the legacy of the 20,000 African-American men who trained in segregated facilities outside Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, during World War II. The Atlanta chapter convenes monthly in Smyrna.
Its projects include petitioning the county to name a street in Cobb for the organization in honor of a late member, Frank Finch, as well as raising money for a national memorial.
Freedom Quilters is made up of eight women who meet twice a month in Mableton to sew quilts for members of the armed forces. They are part of a larger international organization called Quilts of Valor, which has given more than 103,490 blankets to veterans and active duty servicemen and women in its 11-year history.
Most of the stitching is done by machine so the organization can meet the growing need for the quilts. The Cobb group tries to complete one unique quilt each month, said Freedom Quilters’ founder Renee LaFranca of Hiram.
The two groups were stitched together Saturday after a dozen quilts were presented to some of the first recruits to go through boot camp at Montford Point.
The quilt Alonza Jones of Atlanta received was an early birthday present. The former Lockheed and Postal Service worker will be 88 in two weeks. He joined the Marines out of high school in 1943 and served most of his 2½ years in the Pacific, including Guadalcanal and Okinawa.
Jones recalled when the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan in 1945.
“They dropped the A-bomb … and we were in Okinawa,’ Jones said. “We heard about it, and everybody hoorayed and everybody wondered when they were going to go home.”
In 1941, the Marine Corps was the last branch of the U.S. military to allow non-whites to join, and those who did remained in segregated units until President Harry Truman negated the policy in 1949.
Oregon Emerson III of Austell, who is president of the Atlanta MPMA chapter, said many who came through Montford Point had professions before the war, such as doctors or lawyers, and had volunteered to serve. Despite their level of education, every recruit was given the rank of private, he said.
“They started out initially as Marines removing bodies on the battlefield, cleaning latrines, doing laundry, that type stuff,” Emerson said. It was circa 1943 before they were allowed on the frontlines to fight with their fellow Marines, he said.
They faced segregation at home, too.
Gloria Duplessis, of Austell, said Frank Finch, her uncle, was initially denied being fed by a restaurant when his unit was traveling South. His commander, who would have been white, intervened, she said.
James Pack of Villa Rica, another quilt recipient, said he never ventured away from Montford Point.
I grew up in Ohio, and I knew the South was segregated,” Pack said. “When I finished boot camp, I didn’t go out because I didn’t want to get in trouble … so I stayed on the base until I was shipped overseas.” He served two campaigns in Saipan and Okinawa.
The quilters chose the Montford Point Marines to honor their service and recognize the obstacles they had to overcome.
“These men were isolated in segregation and someone needs to show them, I feel, that they have not been forgotten,” said quilter and Air Force retiree Sharon Beaulieu of Marietta.
Each retired Marine or family representative was wrapped in a quilt by Susan Gordon, Quilts of Valor’s executive director, so each recipient could consider themselves “hugged by the loving hands that created it especially for (them).”
Beaulieu said every quilt presentation is “heartfelt,” and described some other memorable recipients, including a Vietnam veteran and his son, who served in Iraq. Another is a man who suffers from PTSD, and his quilt gives him comfort “when he is troubled from the scars of war,” she said.
LaFranca recalled a quilt presentation for some of the WWII veterans who trained at Camp Toccoa at Currahee in northeast Georgia. She said those men were responsible for helping change the course of the war.
“Every time I make a presentation, I come away with that deep-down feeling that the recipient has been touched by what we do,” LaFranca said. “This group is about people, not politics, and we making a difference.”