That was over 70 years ago. America has travelled quite some distance from the time of that racist statement to the election and re-election of a black President.
Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, was not just another picture-perfect sunny California day. It was the proudest day of my life and in the life of my family. My father, Randolph Elder, posthumously received the highest civilian award Congress can grant, the Congressional Gold Medal.
At a special ceremony at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, the 5th Marine Regiment commanding officer, Col. Jason Q. Bohm, said, "The Montford Point Marines are part of the Marine Corps' legacy. ... To be here today to actually present the medal to the family of one of those Montford Point Marines is a true honor."
My dad, after the attack at Pearl Harbor, like millions of Americans, joined the military. He chose the Marines. Why the Marines? "I liked the uniforms," Dad said. "And they go where the action is."
In 1941 President Roosevelt signed an executive order demanding fair employment in the Armed Services. In the then-all-white Marine Corps, many officers resisted. Holcomb said, "There would be a definite loss of efficiency in the Marine Corps if we have to take Negroes."
But black enlistment began a year later, and two black battalions were formed. These first black Marines trained at a segregated base in Montford Point, N.C. From 1942 to 1949, 20,000 blacks went through that boot camp.
My dad, during his three years from 1943 to 1946, served as a cook in Guam. Promoted four times and an excellent marksman, Dad achieved the rank of staff sergeant. Montford Pointers also served in Saipan, Tinian, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Japan and China.
Montford Pointers faced even more discrimination off base than on base. When off base, they had difficulty getting back on time. Buses were segregated, and a black Marine never knew whether there would be space in the rear. Many uniformed Montford Pointers were arrested for impersonation. No one had ever heard of, let alone seen, a black Marine.
The Montford Pointers served with great distinction, sometimes facing fire while working manual jobs like cooks, transporters, ammunition carriers, stewards, stevedores and in other support capacities. Lt. Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, who succeeded Holcomb as the Corps' commandant, said: "The Negro Marines are no longer on trial. They are Marines, period."
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