Alfonzo Jones has never been one for accolades or recognition. So, when he was presented with the opportunity to receive the congressional gold medal for his service as a Montford Point Marine, he declined.
One day, he was sitting in the living room watching TV when he came across a news story about Montford Point Marines being honored. He had a change of heart.
“I started thinking about the old times, some of the good times. We had some bad times. [I] changed my mind,” the 95-year-old Birmingham, Ala native told QCity Metro. “I figured I had it coming to me since I went through the experience. Times were rough when I came through those days.”
Between 1942 and 1949, around 20,000 Black men joined the Marine Corps. Due to segregation laws, Black recruits trained separately at Montford Point, located in Jacksonville, N.C., a section of the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. To honor their service, President Barack Obama awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States, in 2011.
With no record of who served, the Montford Point Marine Association, which helped reconnect Jones and others like him, looks to find and continue awarding the medal to the surviving men or families of the men who served but were not recognized.
Sgt. Alfonzo Jones was one of 55 Marines to be recognized on Aug. 25 at the Montford Point Marine Memorial.
Serving during segregation
Jones struggled to find work when he was 17 years old, so he decided to go into the military. The decision was opposed by his mother, who refused to sign his documents to join the Army or the Navy.
A year later, he chose a different branch.
“She didn’t have to sign papers for me to go into the Marines because I was 18,” he said.
Jones enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in June 1946. He spent a short time at a camp in Kinston, N.C., before arriving at Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C.
Jones said the Jacksonville, N.C. camp felt like a “hell hole” when he first arrived because of the number of drills recruits were instructed to do.
One drill saw the recruits run three miles from the barracks to the mess hall to get food.
“By the time you get back to your barrack, you’re hungry again because you had to go another three miles,” he said.
During another drill, instructors wake recruits out of their sleep to carry footlockers up hills of coal before the crack of dawn, he said.
Despite tough training, Jones had Black drill sergeants, something that wouldn’t have been seen years prior to his arrival.
After basic training, Jones was stationed in South Japan and Guam for two years, before returning to the United States.
He briefly left the military to test out civilian life, where he worked various odd jobs but decided to reenlist just two months later.
He was then stationed overseas in Hawaii and Japan for three years before returning to the United States to marry his wife in 1953.
Jones retired from the Marines after 21 years of service and began working at a textile company in Johnsonville, S.C. He retired in 1990.
A legacy worth sharing
Jones’ youngest son, Norman, spent time in the U.S. Navy.
He said he always commended his father’s service during a time when Black soldiers weren’t treated as equals. He reflected on times when his father couldn’t even go inside certain bus stations when he was on work-related trips.
“Here’s a man serving his country in the Marines, and yet he’s being treated as a second-class citizen,” Norman Jones said.
Though his father is aging, he’s grateful for the few memories he is able to share.
Jones looks forward to the ceremony and having his family there to support him.
“I enjoyed my time in the Marines. I had some good days and some bad days,” he said. “I’m just glad it is over.”
If you know a Montford Point Marine or family, visit MontfordPointMarines.org and reach out National Public Relations Officer Joe Geeter via firstname.lastname@example.org or call (610) 608-5786.
A previous version of this story stated that Mr.Jones received the Medal of Honor, instead of the Congressional Gold Medal.