After years of discrimination, mistreatment and near invisibility postwar, African-American Marines of World War II are on the verge of getting the Congressional Gold Medal, the Detroit Free Press reports.
It's about time, too, Robert Hassler, 86, told the paper. Hassler says he lied about his age to enlist 70 years ago. "It's always bothered me -- every year for Black History Month, they talk about the Tuskegee Airmen," Hassler said. "Nobody knows about the Montford Point Marines."
A Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian honor, could change that.
More than 16 million Americans answered the call to arms in World War II. Of those, 600,000 were the few, the proud, the Marines.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the armed forces to accept African Americans into their ranks, and the Marine Corps was the last to fall in line. Even then, segregation remained as the black recruits and draftees were trained in their own facility -- a patch of land adjacent to Camp Lejeune, N.C., called Montford Point. They were forbidden from entering Camp Lejeune without special authorization.
According to the paper, these men endured top brass hostility, segregated training, scornful treatment and the demeaning belief that they didn't have the guts, character and discipline to defend their country in combat.
With probably fewer than 300 of them still alive, the Montford Point Marines are within reach of a Congressional Gold Medal. The measure cleared the House of Representatives last month without a dissenting vote, and its backers hope it will win Senate approval by the Marine Corps birthday on Thursday.