On this day at Camp Pendleton, nearly 200 Marines in dress blues stood during the entire one-hour ceremony. In the dedication for Staff Sgt. Randolph Elder, Col. Bohm spoke about the prejudice and abuse the Marines endured. Noting that my dad was a cook, he said, "There are two things a Marine will never let you mess with -- his pay and his chow."
After the ceremony, young Marines came up to my brother and me, thanking Dad for being a Montford Point "pioneer." As a standard part of orientation, the Marine Corps now includes the history of the Montford Point Marines.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., spoke movingly at the ceremony about his Marine dad, who also served in World War II. He presented my family with a flag he had arranged to be flown at the top of the Capitol Building in my dad's name. I also want to thank Kathleen Staunton, the congressman's district director, who worked tirelessly for nearly a year to put this ceremony together.
The Congressional Gold Medal came with a proclamation issued by the Montford Point Marine Association. It reads, in part:
"In a unanimous and bipartisan vote by the members of the One Hundred and Twelfth Congress of the United States, the Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded for his pioneering spirit as one of the very first African American Marine recruits to enlist and attend boot camp training at Camp Montford Point, North Carolina, during World War II. His dedicated contribution has paved the way for outstanding perseverance and courage on and off the battlefield that inspired social change in the United States Marine Corps. ... His devotion to duty reflected great credit upon himself and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."
My latest book, "Dear Father, Dear Son," is about my dad. He was a gruff, tough, humble man. He would have been awed by this ceremony. He would have wondered about "all this fuss over my little life," an expression he used whenever he was complimented on his service to our country. He would have asked me why the ceremony required me to take the whole day off from work -- something he never did as the operator of Elder's Snack Bar, a small restaurant Dad started after years working as a janitor.
So, "Semper Fi, Staff Sgt. Randolph Elder, May 25, 1915, to March 31, 2011. Semper Fi.