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Black Marines' honor short on U.S. Senate support
Only 32 senators back congressional medal bill
 
Published Monday, November 7, 2011 2:00 pm
by Herbert L. White

A bill that would convey a congressional award to the first black Marines is short on votes in the U.S. Senate.

The House of Representatives vote last month to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on the Montford Point Marines, who trained near Jacksonville, N.C., from 1942-49, but the Senate bill doesn’t have the 67 cosponsors needed to bring it to the floor for a vote. Thirty-two senators support the measure.

“This legislation is 50 years overdue,” said Sen. Kay R. Hagan (D-N.C.), a cosponsor of the bill along with Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patrick Roberts (R-Kansas) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “The Montford Point Marines, based out of North Carolina, have waited too long already for recognition they deserve for their service and sacrifice.  The courage and dedication with which these brave men served our country despite discrimination and intolerance is nothing less than heroic.”

OFFICE OF U.S. SEN. KAY HAGAN
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) with retired Montford Point Marine Nathaniel James Jr. at the Joining Forces rally in May in Fayetteville. Hagan and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) are cosponsors of a bill that would confer the Congressional Gold Medal on the Montford Point Marines, the first Africans to join the Corps. They trained at Camp Montford Point near Jacksonville, N.C.  

Cosponsors of the bill are lobbying to have a vote by Nov. 10, the Marine Corps’ 236th anniversary.

 “As the first African American Marines, the Montford Marines courageously fought on two fronts: in WWII and at home,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “They put their lives at risk for their country while challenging racism and segregation, and their bravery is a testament to the valor of the Marine Corps as a whole. There is no better way to celebrate the …anniversary of the Marine Corps than to honor their perseverance and patriotism by passing this bill and awarding the Montford Marines the Congressional Gold Medal.” 

African Americans were recruited into the Marine Corps in 1941 through an executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that made discrimination in defense industries and government illegal. The Marines was the last branch of the military to allow blacks in its ranks. A Montford Point grad, Johnson C. Smith University alumnus Fred Branch, was the Marines’ first black officer.

“As the Senate’s most senior Marine, I urge my colleagues to support this bill in honor of 19,168 African American Marines that fought bravely for our freedom in World War II despite segregation and intolerance,” Roberts said. “They made our nation and the Corps what it is today.”

Montford Point graduates trained at Camp Montford Point 52 miles northeast of Wilmington and served in the Pacific during World War II with the 51st and 52nd Defense Battalions in support roles for white troops. They also fought the Japanese in critical U.S. victories at Iwo Jima and Saipan.

“Many of them were cooks or stewards, but many of them wound up in combat,” Montford Point Marines Museum director 1st Sgt. (Ret.) Finney Greggs said in a 2004 Post article. “As the enemy advanced at that point in time, it became very clear that these guys were needed to win the war.” 

 

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