Sergeant Major Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson, one of the first African-Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps, died of a heart attack on 5 August 1972 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, while addressing an annual meeting of the Montford Point Marine Association.
Born in rural Mount Hebron, Alabama, Johnson attended Stillman College in 1922, aspiring to become a minister. He left college the following year, however, and joined the Army. At the end of his enlistment in October 1929, Johnson was discharged as a corporal. After four years of civilian life, he decided to try the Navy. The Navy accepted Johnson into the Steward's Branch, the only job available to blacks at that time, and he served for nearly10 years. Johnson was aboard the USS Wyoming during the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
The following year, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the integration of the armed forces, Johnson requested transfer from the Navy to the Marine Corps. He went on to serve the last 17 of his 32-year military career in the Marine Corps. Throughout his Marine Corps career Johnson provided leadership to his younger and less experienced comrades. It was at Montford Point he was given the name "Hashmark," because of his age and many years of service.
In 1943, he was among the first black men to be trained as Marine drill instructors. He also served as field sergeant in charge of all recruit training at Montford Point. As a member of the 52d Defense Battalion on Guam in World War II, "Hashmark" asked that black Marines be assigned to combat patrols from which they were currently exempt. Once approved, he personally led 25 combat patrols.
Johnson later served in Korea with the 1st Shore Party Battalion, then later with 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, and finally as administrative advisor at the Headquarters of the Korean Marine Corps. Asked if he had experienced any problems as a senior black NCO serving in predominantly white units, Johnson characteristically said "I didn't encounter any difficulty. I accepted each individual for what he was and apparently they accepted me for what I was."
Johnson went on to become one of the first black sergeants major in the Marine Corps. Sergeant Major Johnson transferred to the Fleet Marine Force Reserve in 1957 and retired in 1959.
On 19 April 1974, the Montford Point facility at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was dedicated as Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, in honor of this outstanding Marine.
With infantry experience ranging from company clerk to mortar gunner and squad leader, Johnson felt he was ideally suited to become a Marine. As regulations required, he applied to the Secretary of the Navy, via the Commandant of the Marine Corps, for a discharge from the Navy in order to join the Marines. He received the necessary permission and reported to Montford Point on 14 November 1942, still wearing his steward's uniform.