CAMP JOHNSON, N.C. (WNCT) – Six Montford Point Marines or their family members received the highest civilian award today at Camp Johnson in Jacksonville.
WNCT spoke with one man who received the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of his father.
“I’ve been in the Marine Corps for 25 years and this is my proudest moment,” said Master Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Lawrence.
He not only shares the same name with his father, but also the same career. Both had the opportunity to serve with the Marines.
Now four decades after his father’s death, Lawrence got to see his father recognized.
“All throughout my life I tried to emulate my father and tried to make him proud through my career and the teachings of my children, this is the high point of my career,” said Lawrence.
Thursday’s ceremony honored the first African American recruits during World War II.
The men all fought when segregation laws prohibited blacks from training with whites, so a separate training facility was created for black recruits at Montford Point Camp in Jacksonville.
Colonel David Jones said, “How do you really go back and repay somebody for what they’ve endured. And I think that’s the most touching part of this, that those families are finally able to hold in their hands a symbol from the nation of what that nation thought of their actions.”
But for Lawrence, he’s always looked at his father as a source of strength due to his diligence to become a Marine.
“Every time I thought that things were bad I always looked at that and thought it wasn’t as bad as what those men went through, it always motivated me and pushed me along to do the best and be the best that I could be,” said Lawrence.
Nearly 20,000 African American men trained at Camp Johnson between 1942 and 1949.
The Montford Point Marine Association holds this ceremony every year.