TORRANCE, Calif. (KABC) -- Students and staff at El Camino College in Torrance honored a unique military legacy: the Montford Point Marines, who were the first African-Americans allowed to join the United States Marine Corps.
Theirs is an American story of courage and perseverance. But it's also a story that's been a secret kept for decades.
"It's the best kept secret in the Marine Corps. Montford Point was a place where African-Americans, when they were allowed to join the Marine Corps in 1942, August the 26th, were trained separately from white Marines," said Dave Culmer, a member of the Montford Point Marines Association.
Between 1942 and 1949, blacks entering the Marine Corps trained separately at Montford Point camp, now called Camp Johnson, in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Thousands went on to fight in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.
"History was a bit unkind and most people didn't realize African Americans were in all these island battles with the Japanese," said Montford Point Marine Jack McDowell.
But they were there. And decades later, these men are still here.
In honor of Black History Month, ten Montford Point Marines, received recognition at at the school for the sacrifices they made to protect this country.
"Amazingly enough, we have survivors here in Los Angeles. They are like the Tuskegee Airmen, only for the Marine Corps," said Brenda Threatt, the assistant director of Veterans Services at El Camino College.
Now in their late 80s and 90s, the Marines shared stories and life lessons. Some brought tears to the eyes of students and staff, others told stories that made people smile.
"I looked at the Navy and said no, no, I don't like the Popeye outfit," one said.