News: Tidewater area Montford Point Marines receive medals
Story by Cpl. Francisco Bedolla
CHESAPEAKE, Va. – Four Tidewater area Montford Point Marines received bronze replica Congressional Gold Medals during a ceremony Aug. 17 recognizing their service.
Honored were Nathaniel E. Harris of Portsmouth, Va., who served from 1947 to 1967 and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant; John R. Johnson of Chesapeake, Va., who served from 1945 to 1954 and attained the rank of Sergeant; Thomas A. Byrdsong of Newport News, Va., who served from 1943 to 1946 and attained the rank of Corporal; and Robert E. Kindred of Chesapeake, Va., who served from 1943 to 1945 and attained the rank of corporal.
From the years 1942 to 1949, training for African-American recruits was different than what other Marine recruits of that time had to go through.
These African-American recruits were not allowed to receive basic training at the traditional recruit depots of Parris Island or San Diego. These recruits, instead, were segregated and received training at Montford Point which was located at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The original intent was to discharge these Marines at the end of World War II, but they proved themselves just as capable to carry out tasks as well as all the other Marines regardless of race, color or creed.
On June 27, House and Senate leaders awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines Association during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center. Only one Congressional Gold Medal, one of the country's highest civilian honors, was minted.
Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, held a ceremony and parade in their honor the following day at Marine Barracks Washington, where individual bronze replica medals were presented to over 400 Montford Point Marines who could attend.
"To me, they were heroic for two reasons: they fought against the enemy during World War II while they also fought for their civil rights and the respect of their fellow Americans," said Amos. "It is fitting that we, as Americans, honor their selfless service and sacrifice with the Congressional Gold Medal and fully embrace their storied contributions to the history of our nation at war."
The August ceremony was a way the Marine Corps could reach out to the Montford Point Marines in the area who could not attend the Washington, D.C., ceremony.
"These men had to fight for the right to fight," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Averhart, national president of the Montford Point Marine Association, referring to the hostilities, discrimination, and racial adversity they had to overcome.
Lt. Gen. John Paxton Jr., commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command, was in attendance to present the medals to these ground-breaking individuals.
“I want to assure you that you are not a footnote in history and today isn't just a single day,” Paxton said. “The Marine Corps is a better place because of the Montford Point Marines, and we will never go back.”
There are so many men who would have deserved this recognition who are passed and gone, said Kindred, one of the four Montford Point Marines recognized. “I’m just glad I could be here to receive this award for them.”