Edward Norman, Alpha Gainous and George McIvory of Jacksonville are among living Montford Point Marines who will receive Congressional Gold Medal.
Marine Corps was the last military service to integrate beginning in 1942.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three African-American men from Jacksonville who were among the first to integrate the Marine Corps will receive the Congressional Gold Medal this spring.
Edward Norman, Alpha Gainous, and George McIvory were special guests Sunday during morning services at the Greater Macedonia Baptist Church on Edgewood Avenue. They were recognized for their achievements as part of the churches' Black History Month activities.
The three are members of the Montford Point Marines. Twenty-thousand black men who entered the Marine Corps in the 1940's trained at Montford Point, not at Camp Lejeune where white Marines trained. The Marine Corps was the last of the military services to integrate.
About 500 Montford Point Marines are still living and will receive the Congressional Gold Medal from President Barack Obama at the White House. These three men are each 86 years old and served in World War II.
The three remember the training as very rough. " Maybe a little more severe because of where we were and who we were," said Edward Norman. "We were trying to prove we were ready and qualified to serve in the Marine Corps."
"It was very hard for us," said George McIvory." We had white officers, there were no black commissioned officers, quite hard for us under the circumstances in that time of segregation."
They remember their time in the service with great pride and have no regrets about becoming a Marine, it made them better men.
"It was one of the most beautiful experiences even though there was death and corruption all around us," said Alpha Gainous. " I was able to endure such hardships and come out and be a man. It was rough but wonderful. I wanted the whole unit to be proud of my performance."
"I look back with pride and joy knowing I was able to stand the test," said Norman. " To prove we could stand and be worthy."
The plan was for them to be released from the Marine Corps as soon as the war ended but that did not happen.
"Once given the chance , they showed they were just as capable as other Marines," said Tony Hill, a member of the church who introduced the veterans to the congregation.
The three were truly honored to be there today. " A beautiful moment for me," said Gainous. " I will embrace this day," said McIvory.
400 Montford Point Marines met for a reunion back in 1966 in Philadelphia and later formed the Montford Point Marine Assocation that was established as a non-profit veterans organization. Today there are 36 chapters throughout the United States.
First Coast News