CARLSBAD, Calif. – He stands tall with his shoulders rolled slightly back as the long-awaited moment approaches. He’s an older Marine, 87 years old, but he stood at the position of attention like any other Marine. Among many of his characteristics he’s black, typically an irrelevant feature in the Corps, but very significant this day because he represented many black Marines.
The room was quiet except for the sobs of his two daughters. Lucious Bryant was presented the Congressional Gold Medal replica by Maj. Gen. Ronald Bailey, the commanding general of 1st Marine Division, at his home, Sept. 14.
Bryant served with the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1946, a time when the Corps first began desegregation. Bryant over-came adversity by completing recruit training at Montford Point, N.C., becoming a Marine when even his instructors didn’t want him to become one.
On June 25, 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the participation of all persons regardless of color, race, creed, or national origin in all branches of the military.
The Marine Corps response to this was the opening of Montford Point, a place were black recruits trained to become Marines.
Bryant said he turned from the ways of his childhood where he considered himself “a young man bound to be in jail.”
He grew up in Columbus, Miss., where he was a wild teen who enjoyed hanging out with friends whom he often got into trouble with much to his father’s disapproval.
His father was the Rev. J.D. Bryant who preached at the local church and was a well-respected member of the community, said Bryant. He said he didn’t notice it back then, but his father was the most influential person in his life.
“He was always doing the right thing,” said Bryant. “My father didn’t just preach, he made sure he was practicing what he was preaching.”
Bryant attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, he received a letter in the mail one day in 1942 saying he was drafted to join the Marine Corps. Bryant said at that very moment, his life changed forever.
“I remembered my parents’ disapproval, but there was nothing we could do about it,” Bryant said. “I had to just roll with the punches.”
Bryant rode a bus from Columbus, Miss., to Montford Point in 1942 marking the start of his time in the Marine Corps.
Bryant said Montford Point was a swampy area with many big mosquitoes that often kept him awake at night. He didn’t recall much about his drill instructors, but he said there was a lot of racial tension.
“The instructors didn’t want us to graduate boot camp,” Bryant said. “They didn’t want us there as much as we didn’t want to be there.”
Bryant had a wife and kids back home, and said he couldn’t go back to them as a quitter.
With his wife and kids in his thoughts Bryant completed recruit training and graduated, earning the title of United States Marine.
“It takes an exceptional person with a lot of patience and the ability to persevere to endure the harshness and to be able to complete recruit training at Montford Point,” said Bailey.
Bryant said he was very proud to return home as a Marine. Everyone looked at him with respect – even his father, he added.
“When my father got back on leave, he sang the Marines Hymn so much we learned it,” said Dempres Sims, Bryant’s youngest daughter.
Sims, a 60-year-old native of Carlsbad, Calif., said her dad was a really big part of their family – even when he was gone to his duty station.
“He loved us and made sure that we knew it every time he came home,” said Sims.
Bryant was first stationed in Hawaii where he said there was still a lot of racial tension.
After about two years serving in Hawaii, he changed duty stations to Camp Pendleton where he served with 1st Marine Division.
“I liked being stationed at Camp Pendleton,” said Bryant. “It was great, and the Marines were a lot more friendly there.
After Bryant’s contract ended with the Marine Corps, he became a truck driver and moved his family to Carlsbad.
Bryant didn’t remember much of what happened 60 years ago, but after he received his medal, he surprised everyone in the room when he called out his recruit training serial number.
“That even surprised me,” Sims said. “He doesn’t remember how to get home sometimes, but he remembered his serial number from boot camp. That man is full of surprises.”
Bryant said his drill instructors had him say it so much, he could never forget it.
Toward the end of the event, Bailey said he believes that this was long overdue. He said the Marines of the past are why the Marine Corps is strong today. The Marines should have been honored a long time ago.
“One of the things the Corps prides itself in is knowing its history, said Bailey. “Understanding the heritage and legacy of why we are an elite Corps. The Montford Point Marines are a big part of that legacy, because of their leadership, war fighting prowess and patriotism during that time period.”
Once the event concluded Bryant gave a speech where he thanked the Marines for coming out, and he said he would remember this moment for the rest of his life.
“The Marine Corps has done a fantastic thing for me,” said Bryant. “I feel like what we did back then actually counts for something.”