Article by Jim Michaels for tucsoncitizen.com, June 28, 2012:
Some relied on walkers, others canes. But they all struggled to their feet Thursday as the color guard passed and the Marine Band began playing in their honor.
Under hazy skies, the Marine Corps honored more than 400 African-American Marines, many of whom served during World War II and are now well into their 80s. The men went to a segregated boot camp, called Montford Point, and served in all-black units afterward.
“I never thought this day would ever come,” said George Kidd, 87, who entered the Marines in 1943 and was sent to Montford Point. “They could never bestow any greater recognition than this.”
The Montford Point Marines, as they are sometimes known, received the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday. William “Jack” McDowell of Long Beach accepted the medal on behalf of all Montford Point veterans.
During a ceremony Thursday at the Marine barracks not far from the Capitol Building, Marine general officers walked down the ranks of Montford Point Marines, presenting replicas of the medal — the nation’s highest civilian honor — to each veteran.
The Montford Point Marines never had a prominent place in history like the Tuskegee Airmen, black pilots who flew during World War II, or the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American units that fought during the Indian wars. In recent years, the Marine Corps became determined to change that.
“I’ve been looking for this for 69 years,” said Andrew Miles, 86, pointing to the medal hanging around his neck. “I feel good now. I can go away peacefully.”
About 20,000 Marines passed through Montford Point from 1942 and 1949, when it was closed and recruit training was integrated. Most of the African-American Marine units were support or guard units, but that made little difference in places such as Iwo Jima, where everyone with a rifle fought.
Some encountered racism when they returned from overseas. Many tell of being refused service by Red Cross workers who were handing out free coffee when they traveled on troop trains in the United States. On the way to Montford Point they had to sit in special rail cars reserved for blacks.
The men who arrived Thursday did not appear to harbor bitterness, saying the Marine Corps simply reflected society at the time.
“Even though we knew we were not getting the same treatment as other Marines, we still loved the Marine Corps,” said Theodore Peters, 89, of Chicago.
Miles pointed out the presence of ranking black officers at the historic Marine Barracks, established in 1801.The Montford Point Marines helped pave the way for younger generations of African-Americans by proving themselves in training and in battle.
“That makes me feel good,” Miles said. “We proved to them we could do it.”