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Wednesday, May 30, 2012
First group of African-American Marines will be honored next month
by Mike Gooding
HAMPTON ROADS -- It is the story of duty, honor and sacrifice, and it’s also the story of perseverance.
Some 20,000 African-American men enlisted in the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1949, becoming the first blacks to serve in that branch of the service. Collectively, they are known as the Montford Point Marines, named for the separate, segregated boot camp they were forced to attend.
From 1798 until president Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 eliminating racial discrimination from federal department, agencies and the military on June 25, 1941, the Marine Corps prohibited blacks from serving.
An estimated 532 Montford Point Marines are known to still be living today. At least seven of them reside in Hampton Roads. And they are about to be honored for their service.
Last November, President Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines. The ceremony will take place June 27th.
“If I had anything at all to say, I’m just happy I had the opportunity to serve,“ said Montford Point Maine Charles Norman.
“I wasn’t mad about it at all, “ said Montford Point Marine Tommy Deramus. “I figured everybody should have the opportunity. It was a pleasure to serve the country.”
Montford Point Marine Association, Inc. National President Dr. James T. Averhart, Jr. says future generations need to learn about what the original Montford Point Marines endured.
“This is not just black history, Marine Corps history, this is American history, and the world needs to know about the Montford Point Marines,” he said.
Past recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States Congress, include Winston Churchill, Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II, Walt Disney, the Wright Brothers and the Tuskegee Airmen.