MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – The surviving family of a Montford Point Marine received the Congressional Gold Medal on his behalf during an award ceremony at Camp San Mateo here, Aug. 16.
Larry and Kirk Elder, sons of Staff Sgt. Randolph Elder, were presented the nation’s highest civilian award by U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California 48th District, and Col. Jason Q. Bohm, 5th Marine Regiment commanding officer, for their father’s service as one of the first African American Marines to enlist and undergo recruit training at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
President Franklin Roosevelt opened the armed forces to all races in 1941. Montford Point was a segregated recruit training facility where more than 20,000 African American Marines trained between 1942 and 1949. Many graduates of Montford Point served during World War II, as well as in Korea and Vietnam.
During 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal collectively to all Montford Point Marines for their sacrifices and service to the nation.
Elder passed away on March 31, 2011. His sons worked with the 5th Marine Regiment to verify their father’s military service and organize the award ceremony.
“I am just proud that my dad was a pioneer,” said Larry, a Los Angeles radio personality and host of the Larry Elder Show on 790 KABC. “He was kind of like a Jackie Robinson of Montford Point Marines. (Seeing the diversity in the Marines) lets me know that he left a footprint, that others are inspired by him and that he was a role model for the country.”
Elder was born during 1915 in Athens, Ga., where he lived in poverty and was kicked out of his house by his mother and her boyfriend, Larry said. He worked a series of menial jobs before enlisting in the Marine Corps on Nov. 13, 1943.
During the Pacific Campaign, Elder worked as a cook and served hot meals to troops on Guam who were preparing to invade mainland Japan. He quickly rose to the rank of staff sergeant before departing the service on April 9, 1946.
Larry said his father was very proud of his service, and the work ethic and values he learned as a Marine stayed with him throughout his life. Elder lived a very structured life and focused to attain each of his goals. At 47 years old, he opened a restaurant in Los Angeles, Elder’s Snack Bar, and for 30 years he woke up each morning at 4 a.m. to open the restaurant for breakfast.
Bohm, a native of Oyster Bay, N.Y., said he recognized much of the Marine Corps ethos in Staff Sgt. Elder.
As the previous director of the Marine Corps Liaison Office in the U.S. House of Representatives, Bohm and his staff, under the direction of Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, worked hard to get the Congressional Gold Medal approved in Congress.
“The Montford Point Marines are part of the Marine Corps’ legacy,” Bohm said. “If you stand in front of a formation of Marines, you can see the diversity that exists in the Corps today. To be here today to actually present the medal to the family of one of those Montford Point Marines is a true honor.”