Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Honor a Long Time Coming First Black Unit to Serve in Pacific in World War II to Be Honored in D.C

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Honor a Long Time Coming First Black Unit to Serve in Pacific in World War II to Be Honored in D.C

Article excerpt

The first African-American Marines unit to serve in the Pacific during World War II has gone unnoticed for decades. Now, it has found a national stage. Evansville resident George Bennett is one of the few Montford Point Marines still alive. He said he can't wait to attend a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in May, when he and the other Montford Point Marines will be honored. "I'm proud to have served my country," said Bennett, 86, who stayed stateside during the war. "When I find out the exact date (of the ceremony), I will fly with my three daughters from Evansville to Washington, D.C., because this is very important to me. Not because I'm a Marine, because I believe in America."

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the armed forces to admit African-American recruits. A year later, the Marine Corps began its first boot camp for African-Americans at Montford Point, next to Camp Lejeune, N.C. The camp trained more than 19,000 African-American Marines until 1949.

It was closed after President Harry Truman's executive order to desegregate the armed forces.

"The white Marines were right across the street from us," said Bennett. "However, we weren't allowed over there and they weren't allowed over here."

At the time, he didn't worry about race or the future - only the task at hand.

"Being a Marine, I didn't think much about racism," said Bennett, who was born in Muhlenberg County, Ky.

"Whether it was stateside or the guys over there fighting, all we were thinking about was keeping Americans alive. After the war, in retrospect, you think about all you've been through."

President Barack Obama signed a bill Nov. 23, awarding the Montford Point Marines a Congressional Gold Medal - Congress' highest civilian honor. The gold medal eventually will be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.

"The Montford Point Marines' selfless service and sacrifice during a time when their contributions to our nation were not fully appreciated or recognized, have made this country a better place for all Americans," said Marine Corps Commandant James Amos. …

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