Seventy years later, America's first black Marines have at last been recognized for their distinguished and heroic service with the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor. In a rare moment of Washington bipartisanship, the House voted this week to approve the medal, 422-0. If only other pressing issues facing Congress could be addressed with the same degree of comity.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Marine Corps to accept blacks in 1941, shortly before America's entry into World War II, when every able-bodied recruit was desperately needed. African-American leathernecks were subjected to harsher than usual Marine basic training at Montford Point, a segregated facility adjacent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The Montford Point Marines, who were not allowed to fight alongside white Marines, distinguished themselves on bloody battlefields throughout the Pacific theater.
The courage of the 20,000 Montford Point Marines was at risk of being forgotten. But the delayed recognition of Congress in honoring these men acknowledges their rightful place in the annals of Marine history while adhering, albeit belatedly, to the meaning of the Corps' motto, "Semper Fidelis" — always faithful.