Next week the Montford Point Marines will receive, as a group, the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, DC. This honor recognizes their contributions - as the first black recruits of the U.S. Marine Corps - to the World War II war effort.
|The front (or "obverse") of the Montford Point Marines Congressional Gold Medal|
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor awarded to an individual or group because of their service to the country. The Continental Congress awarded the first one to George Washington in 1776.
Although Congress approved this Medal in November of last year, the ceremony is just coming up. [This delay is not unusual – the Tuskegee Airmen’s Medal was approved in April 2006 but the award ceremony didn’t take place in Washington DC until the following March.]
The Montford Point Marines got their name because they all trained at Montford Point Camp, a segregated facility just outside the iconic Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The Camp was one of three that served as a Marine boot camp during WWII, along with Parris Island and San Diego. It was the only one that was segregated.
|Training at Montford Point Camp|
Six of the marines who trained at Montford live in central Florida and have been getting a lot of well-deserved press as the date of the awards ceremony approaches. The oldest of the six is 97 and the youngest is 83. They were “just kids” when they served as marines during WWII. Like the Tuskegee Airmen, they were on the receiving end of mindless insults and putdowns caused by the accepted attitudes of American society and the U.S. military at the time towards Americans with black skin.
Like the Tuskegee Airmen, these exceptional men consider themselves to have been pioneers who needed to prove that black men could cut it as Marines. In newspaper articles and other interviews, they recall being told that they were not wanted, that the Marines had been in business for 167 years and could go another 167 years without them. Many of them were given dangerous jobs handling ammunition and retrieving the wounded - as well as dead comrades - while under fire.
|On a troop ship, still segregated.|
Each man interviewed indicated that he is proud to be a Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine, no matter your age or service status.) We of the CAF Red Tail Squadron congratulate the Montford Point Marines on the occasion of receiving a Congressional Gold Medal.
Montford Point Camp was decommissioned in 1949 as a result of the desegregation of all U.S. Armed Services in 1948. In 1974, Montford Point Camp was renamed Camp Gilbert H. Johnson – after one of the first black drill instructors at Montford.
The Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are at the Capitol City Ford Indianapolis Air Show this weekend.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.