Entries in Congressional Gold Medal (3)


Congress to Honor Montford Point Marines with Gold Medal

John Foxx/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Throughout the years, the Montford Point Marines received little recognition and few accolades for their contribution to U.S. history.

More than 19,000 black Marines trained at Montford Point Camp, a facility set up exclusively for blacks during World War II after President Franklin Roosevelt desegregated the Marine Corps.  About 13,000 of them served overseas during the war.

Over the years, the vast majority of the men have passed away.  Those who survived have grown old and gray.

On Wednesday, 63 years after the camp where they trained closed its doors, 368 surviving Montford Point Marines will finally be recognized by Congress with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the congressional gold medal.

“It’s a long time coming,” retired Sgt. Ruben McNair, 86, told ABC News last fall when he visited the Capitol to watch the House vote on the gold medal resolution.  “Something you look forward to, wonder if you are going to make to live long enough to see it.”

William McDowell, representative of the Montford Point Marines, will accept the medal on behalf of all the honorees during the ceremony.  The top congressional leaders from both parties are all scheduled to deliver remarks at the Capitol ceremony.

The Montford Point Marines will also be the guests of honor at a parade hosted by the Commandant of the Marine Corps at the Washington Marine Barracks on Thursday morning.

Just one congressional gold medal was struck at the U.S. Mint, a common practice when a group is honored.  Sources say that medal will remain at the U.S. Mint until its final location is chosen, although each Montford Marine will receive a bronze replica medal at the parade on Thursday.

Rep. Corrine Brown, the lead sponsor of the gold medal resolution passed by Congress last October, said that Wednesday’s ceremony “will go a long way towards correcting this past injustice, as this Gold Medal will forever anchor their role in the history of our nation’s great military.”

“Certainly, it is necessary to honor all of America’s war heroes’ selfless service and sacrifice, and in particular, those who served at Montford Point,” Brown, D-Fla., wrote in a statement.  ”They answered our nation’s call at a time when our society was deeply divided along racial lines.  As such, many of their contributions went unrecognized and many times they were not given the respect and recognition they deserved as Marines, as Americans, and as patriots.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Japanese-American Veterans Honored with Congressional Gold Medal

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Members of Congress gathered Wednesday to award the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by Congress, to World War II Japanese-American veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and Military Intelligence Service.

What separates these veterans of Japanese-American descent from other World War II veterans is not only that many of them and their families were placed in internment camps after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but they were also exempt from the draft.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, who himself was part of the 442nd, said that after the bombing, Japanese-Americans “were declared by the government of this country as being enemy agents...and, as such, unfit to put on the uniform of this flag.”

“But we didn’t sit by and do nothing about it,” said Inouye, D-Hawaii. “We petitioned the government to give us an opportunity to demonstrate our love of country and our patriotism, which you granted to us.”

The 442nd Regiment, which includes the 100th Infantry, is one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. history, a feat that did not go unnoticed by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“Together, the 100th and 442nd became the most highly decorated outfit in U.S. Army history,” Boehner said. “They received more than 9,000 Purple Hearts. They earned thousands of Bronze and Silver Stars. They earned 52 Distinguished Service Crosses and 21 Medals of Honor. They even won medals from the Italians and the French."

“Since our founding, Americans have believed that our liberties, our Constitution, our way of life, even our flag are things worth fighting and dying for,” Boehner said. “We have also believed these ideas are not limited to one race or people, that the struggle for these ideas can unite all our people.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself a war veteran, welcomed the bipartisan effort of Congress to “pay tribute to fellow citizens who have served a just cause greater than their own self.”

“What began as a Senate resolution over two years ago has now become a reality,” McCain said. “Today at long last, we award the Congressional Gold Medal to a group of Americans who are as deserving of it as any I have ever known.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the awardees for being “willing to go for broke” -- adopting the phrase from the regiment’s official motto -- "in the fight against tyranny abroad and, in doing so, fight discrimination here at home."

“Again, as others have mentioned, despite the injustices of the internment of Japanese-Americans, today’s awardees rose above being embittered,” Pelosi said. “Indeed, many felt empowered to prove their loyalty and love of our country.”

She added her congratulations to the veterans and their family members, who she said “bring luster to this award and you bring honor to this Congress.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Congressional Gold Medal Awarded to First Black Marines

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When the Rev. Norflette Mersier became a U.S. Marine, it was not so easy. His mother feared he would get killed in battle. His commanders would not let him go see his wife when he was picked for overseas duty. But perhaps the biggest obstacle Mersier faced was the rampant racism that existed when he joined the Marines in 1942.

Mersier is one of the roughly 19,000 black Marines who trained at Montford Point Camp, a facility set up specifically for blacks after President Roosevelt desegregated the Marine Corps. Based in Camp Lejune, N.C., the camp was established the same year Norflette joined the Marines, at the height of segregation.

The Montford Point Camp has received little attention. But Tuesday, 62 years after the camp closed, black Marines like Mersier were honored by Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives granted the nation’s highest civilian honor, the congressional gold medal, to Montford Point Marines, with a unanimous vote.

“I had to somewhat hold back tears. It’s a long time coming....Something you look forward to, wonder if you are going to make to live long enough to see it,” says retired Sgt. Ruben McNair, 86, who came to Washington, D.C., Tuesday to attend the historic event.

House members gave a standing ovation to the Montford Point Marines, saluting them for their service to the country.

“Negro marines are no longer on trial, they are Marines,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.

At the height of World War II, about 75 percent of Montford Point trainees served overseas, but the racism went beyond U.S. borders, Mersier says.

When they were deployed to Okinawa, the 2,000 black Marines who served there were rarely called for physical fighting. Instead they were used mainly to bring supplies in, he recalls.

At home, the mental abuse of segregation was exacerbated by physical abuse.

“Our DI’s [drill instructors] were at liberty to do anything they chose to do to us except break our legs,” he recalls. “They had no restrictions at all. They were very hard on us. We got kicked. We got slapped. We couldn’t do anything except say ‘Yes, sir’ and accept it.”

The black Marines were also not allowed to visit neighboring Camp Lejeune unless they were with a white officer, or eat meals with their white counterparts.

Montford Point was deactivated in 1949 after President Truman issued an executive order barring segregation. In 1974, it was renamed Camp Johnson after one of its trainees, Sgt. Major Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson.

The push for Tuesday’s congressional honor was spearheaded by Commandant Gen. James Amos, who took over his position in 2010. Amos has openly acknowledged that the recognition should have come years ago.

“It is long overdue, and we need to quit admiring this oversight and make this happen,” Amos said in a speech recently. “My promise to you this evening is that your story will not be forgotten. It will take its rightful place, and it will be forever anchored in the rich history of the United States Marine Corp.”

As part of this pledge, the history of Montford Point will be taught at all Marine Corps schools and training facilities.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio