- Feb 28, 2009
Pioneering black Marines get their badge of courage
By John Tuohy, The Indianapolis Star
Congress voted Tuesday to grant the first black fighters of the last military branch to accept them the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor.
- U.S. Marine Corps, via APMontford Point Marine recruits stand at parade rest in April 1943 in New River, N.C. Nearly 70 years after the Marine Corps accepted segregated black units, the Marine Corps' top general is pushing to honor the history of the Montford Point Marines.
U.S. Marine Corps, via APMontford Point Marine recruits stand at parade rest in April 1943 in New River, N.C. Nearly 70 years after the Marine Corps accepted segregated black units, the Marine Corps' top general is pushing to honor the history of the Montford Point Marines.
The 422-0 vote honors about 20,000 Montford Point Marines, who trained in a separate facility called Montford Point that operated at Camp Lejeune, N.C., from 1942 to 1949 when all military branches were segregated.
"This has been a real long time coming," said Johnny C. Washington, 82. "It seems like everything we did for a long time was hidden. It's been real frustrating when you see others get recognition and not us."
While the African-American Army Buffalo Soldiers and the Air Force Tuskegee Airmen have had some measure of renown, the first black Marines have grown old mostly in obscurity.
The Army and Navy had been recruiting blacks since the Civil War. But even when they did join, the Montford Point Marines never achieved officer status and were assigned mostly to ammunition and supply duty.
Some fought at Iwo Jima and went to Japan to clean up the ash after the atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki.
Averitte Corley, 84, and Washington said basic training was brutal, their barracks were in ramshackle huts, and the Marines often were kicked and slapped during drills.
"They tried to make us better Marines," Washington said.
Some didn't make it through, Corley said.
"We were the first blacks, and they wanted to make sure you measured up," said Corley, whose platoon included former New York City Mayor David Dinkins...
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