First black Marines deserve congressional gold medal, House says
The House on Tuesday approved awarding the congressional gold medal to the first black Marines for their service during World War II in the face of discrimination.
They're known as the Montford Point Marines after the segregated North Carolina camp where they underwent training. That training began after President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 signed an executive order opening the Marine Corps to African Americans.
Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos expressed his support for the medal, saying in a letter to lawmakers that the Montford Point Marines "served with distinction in three of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific -- Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa," "defended a society that enjoyed freedoms they did not share" and "contributed, in large measure, to President Truman's decision to order the desegregation of the Armed Forces in 1948.''
"The Montford Point Marines fought an enemy abroad and injustice at home,'' Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) said during House consideration of the measure.
According to the legislation, a single gold medal would be awarded to the Montford Point Marines, collectively, "in recognition of their personal sacrifice and service to their country." The measure would also authorize the sale of duplicates made of bronze.
The resolution was approved, 422-0, with four Montford Point Marines in the gallery for the vote.
Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), the bill's chief sponsor, called it a "long overdue'' recognition.
Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, where it has bipartisan support. About 20,000 African American Marines received training at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949.
Other recipients of the congressional gold medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, include the Tuskegee Airmen, Japanese American World War II veterans, Rosa Parks, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Walt Disney.
-- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.
Photo: A platoon of Montford Point Marine recruits is shown in New River, N.C., in this April 1943 image provided by the Marine Corps. Nearly 70 years after the Marine Corps, the last military branch to racially integrate, accepted segregated black units, the corps' top general is pushing to honor the history of the Montford Point Marines. Credit: AP Photo / Gregory Bull