CHESAPEAKE--Some of the nation's first African-American Marines received Congressional Gold Medals Friday morning recognizing their service to the United States in WWII and beyond.
Lt. Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., Commander U.S Marine Corps Forces Command, presented the medals to Thomas A. Byrdsong of Newport News, John R. Johnson of Chesapeake, Robert E. Kindred of Chesapeake and Nathaniel E. Harris of Portsmouth.
These four original Montford Point Marines couldn't attend the June 27-28 presentation in Washington, DC.
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a presidential directive allowing African Americans to be recruited into the Marine Corps. From 1942 to 1949, about 20,000 African-American recruits were segregated and received basic training at Montford Point, a facility at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The Marine Corps says the men were to be discharged at the end of WW II, but they proved themselves just as capable as all other Marines, regardless of race, color or creed.
In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 ending segregation, and in September 1949, Montford Point was deactivated ending seven years of segregated recruit training. The camp was renamed Camp Johnson after Sgt. Maj. Gilbert 'Hashmark' Johnson, one of the first African Americans to join the Marine Corps.
In 2011, Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, pressed for the surviving members of the Montford Point Marines to receive the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM), the nations highest civilian award. Following passage in the House and the Senate the bill was signed by President Barack Obama before Thanksgiving.