(NNPA)—History books and Hollywood have chronicled the Army’s Buffalo Soldiers and the Army Air Corps’ Tuskegee Airmen, but the men who integrated the Marines during World War II often have been forgotten. That is starting to change, beginning with the House’s 422-0 vote of H.R. 2447, a bill sponsored by Jacksonville, Fla., Congresswoman Corrine Brown.
Brown was elated upon passing her bill with strong bipartisan support (HR 2447), granting the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines Oct. 25 on the House floor.
“As a Member of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I am thrilled to see this piece of legislation finally come to fruition. H.R. 2447 is an extremely important measure that honors the first Black Marines with long overdue deserved recognition,” said the Congresswoman.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Marine Corps to accept Blacks. The Marine Corps was the last military branch to do so.
The Black Marines received their basic training adjacent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where conditions were harsh and the treatment from their fellow Marines could be even harsher. The Black Marines were not allowed to enter Camp Lejeune unless accompanied by a White officer. In the few times they participated in training exercises, they could not eat until the White Marines had finished. They were routinely passed over for promotions.
About 19,000 men trained at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949. Most have since died. Eugene Groves, a staff sergeant who fought in Korea, was one of four Montford Point veterans on hand for the vote Tuesday. The lawmakers gave the four a standing ovation shortly before the vote.
Groves, who trained at Montford Point in 1946, said he appreciated the recognition. He served in the Korean War and said he felt for a time like the Marine Corps did not want to acknowledge the Montford Marines service.
“They did not want us involved in the history,” Groves said. “It’s been a hard fight.”
More than 300 lawmakers were co-sponsors of the legislation, providing Republicans and Democrats with a rare moment of bipartisanship. Lawmakers from both parties spoke in favor of the resolution.
“This is a proud victory for the Montford Point Marines, as this Gold Medal will forever anchor their role in the history of our nation’s great military,” said Brown.
(Special to the NNPA from the Jacksonville Free-Press)