Throughout the years, the Montford Point Marines received little recognition and few accolades for their contribution to U.S. history.
More than 19,000 black Marines trained at Montford Point Camp, a facility set up exclusively for blacks during World War II after President Franklin Roosevelt desegregated the Marine Corps. About 13,000 of them served overseas during the war.
Over the years, the vast majority of the men have passed away. Those who survived have grown old and gray.
Today, 63 years after the camp they trained at closed its doors, 368 surviving Montford Point Marines will finally be recognized by Congress with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the congressional gold medal.
“It’s a long time coming,” retired Sgt. Ruben McNair, 86, told ABC News last fall when he visited the Capitol to watch the House vote on the gold medal resolution. “Something you look forward to, wonder if you are going to make to live long enough to see it.”
William McDowell, representative of the Montford Point Marines, U.S. Marine Corps will accept the medal on behalf of all the honorees during the ceremony. The top congressional leaders from both parties are all scheduled to deliver remarks at the Capitol ceremony.
The Montford Point Marines will also be the guests of honor at a parade hosted by the Commandant of the Marine Corps at the Washington Marine Barracks on Thursday morning.
Just one congressional gold medal was struck at the U.S. Mint, a common practice when a group is honored. Sources say that medal will remain at the U.S. Mint until its final location is chosen, although each Montford Marine will receive a bronze replica medal at the parade Thursday.
Rep. Corrine Brown, the lead sponsor of the gold medal resolution passed by Congress last October, said that today’s ceremony “will go a long way towards correcting this past injustice, as this Gold Medal will forever anchor their role in the history of our nation’s great military.”
“Certainly, it is necessary to honor all of America’s war heroes’ selfless service and sacrifice, and in particular, those who served at Montford Point,” Brown, D-Fla., wrote in a statement. ”They answered our nation’s call at a time when our society was deeply divided along racial lines. As such, many of their contributions went unrecognized and many times they were not given the respect and recognition they deserved as Marines, as Americans, and as patriots.”